Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 26, 2015


What the Ark can teach us about worship


        The study of Jewish history leads eventually to the Ark of the Covenant. And surprisingly, the story of the ark offers valuable insights into the nature of authentic worship. To explore that subject let’s begin with King David for whom, most of the time, the worship of almighty God was serious business.

        David reverenced holy things. The lessons of Hebrew history were not lost on him. He understood the sacred place of the Ark of the Covenant in Israelite worship. His sense of timing was superb; he realized when the time had come for the ark to be moved to Jerusalem.

        While David did not have the wisdom of his son Solomon, he did have the common sense to learn from his mistakes. After failing in his attempt to move the ark, he took great care to move it successfully the second time. No stone was left unturned. He made sure the right people, the Levites, would carry the ark in the prescribed manner – on their shoulders using poles that extended through the gold rings on the ark. We can imagine David saying to the leader of the Levites, “Don’t even think about loading the ark on a wagon again!”

        David prepared a special place for the ark. A sacred symbol, it deserved a place of honor. It would not be stuck in a corner and pulled out for special occasions. A designated place elevated its significance to the Israelites.

        The arrival of the ark called for a celebration. David assembled all Israel in Jerusalem for a carefully orchestrated time of worship. While they had no bulletins to pass out, they did have an “order” of worship. Their worship was not haphazard or spontaneous. They did not invite the audience to request favorite songs. Gifted musicians were asked to play all kinds of musical instruments. Kenaniah, “the head Levite,” was chosen, because of his exceptional skill, to prepare choirs to sing “joyful songs.” David pulled out all the stops and made it a memorable day for the people.

        What may we learn from this?

        First, that it is good to have reverence for holy things in our houses of worship. We need to recover a sense of the sacred that is largely missing in today’s culture. While we no longer designate a sacred place for a historic relic like the Ark of the Covenant, we can consecrate a special place for holy things such as the communion table, the altar, the Bible and the cross. We can teach our children to share our reverence for holy things in a holy place. We can choose not to eat spaghetti and play basketball in the same space used to house the sacred symbols of our faith. As much as we enjoy the “casual” flavor of our culture, there may be a line beyond which we should not go.

        Second, that worship can be consistently awesome and exciting when planned well. Casual worship can be tempered with historic liturgy that reminds us of our spiritual heritage. While liturgies can become tedious, a simplistic pattern of singing and preaching may not provide people with all they need to feel connected to the universal “Church Militant.”

The recitation of a creed may seem obsolete but it helps us remember who we are and why we have gathered to worship almighty God. We may be cheating worshipers if we offer a steady diet of “new” songs and never offer the thrill of singing the great old hymns of the faith. The church that serves God best may be the one that offers authentic worship in both contemporary and traditional styles – and remains open to other innovative styles of worship as the Spirit leads. We should never forget that our God is always “doing a new thing.”

Third, that authentic worship will help people hear God’s call to serve him in the common life. David helped people “connect” the Ark of the Covenant with daily living. True worship inspires us to “go forth” from worship to honor Christ in all we do. Worship is not an end in itself. True worship will inspire us to love and serve God – and to love the people for whom Christ died.  It will motivate us to serve God in deeds of love and mercy, through giving, praying and praising God with both our lips and our lives. Creative “doing” will flow out of authentic “being.”

Authentic worship is participatory; it is not a “spectator sport.”  Worshipers should share fully in singing, prayer and praise – not simply watch and applaud gifted people perform on a stage. The audience must be engaged by worship leaders to the point that they “feel” they are worshipping, not watching a performance. True worship creates an atmosphere in which people can passionately praise God, then open their hearts to receive the inspiration, comfort and guidance that God provides when his people gather to praise him for his chain-breaking mercy.  + + +