My wife and I started up family worship this April. We’re guided by Johnathan Gibson’s Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship, a gift from my pastor to some of the young couples in our congregation which includes my wife and I. Because we have a little one on the way I thought a daily worship practice would be proactive in establishing us as a markedly Christian family, and, ultimately, maturing our faith. Coming babies will cause you to self-assess.
Time to Commune Together
We’ve been enjoying this daily worship very much (we call it “family worship”, though for my purposes here I’ll refer to it as “daily worship”). I find it has not only brought us closer to The Lord, but it serves as a time for us to commune with one another on a level that’s deeper than the normal social motions. There are plenty of laughs and smiles. Right now we’re in Genesis. My wife laughs when I try to pronounce some of the ancient names. And while the sweet moments are great, it’s double the joy to encounter things in scripture together we had not before.
Those pleasures aside, it’s dawned on me late there’s a derivative benefit to daily worship. One night before dinner I was in quite a mood. The week was stressful. I had loads of Ph.D. research duties on my plate; I was scheduled for two presentations, an exam, and some other research obligations were looming over me. I was walking around the house in a cloud of cantankerousness. My stress was visible in my appearance and, likely, audible in my tone. I was not controlling my emotions like I ought to.
Solomon says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his own spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
I wasn’t capturing any cities.
Thankfully, I recognized how I was acting before meeting my wife at the table. I knew we would soon worship together. It came to me that my attitude was in the way of things, was jeopardizing the time, and would soon ruin the pleasure of eating a hand-made meal (a pleasure that is more than mere eating) and turn the air sour before worship. What a shame. And could I be so pompous as to facilitate the liturgical exercises of worship in an ungrateful state? Facilitate them before the triune God? I tightened up once aware of my ire. Shortly after reading the law, confession, and catechesis, my emotions had faded. Soon I was settled.
How did my emotions subside? The derivative benefit of daily worship that I’ve discovered is this: Daily worship trains us to hone a certain mastery over ourselves—to override what we may feel in the moment, and eventually obtain how we ought to feel and how we ought to act according to the context. The primary mechanism that trains us is the expectation of worship itself. Those who practice daily worship are, of course, daily benefactors. I think few would dispute when we approach worship of the triune God there’s an expectation that one ought to feel and act a certain way. We ought to have great feelings of joy, reverence, and awe of Christ. “Heart posture” (though a clichè, the term aids my purposes here) ought not to be sour in this context. We should “act right”. This is not to say that we never have the correct heart posture and feel genuine joy before worship; Marks of a genuine believer are deep yearnings to praise God. Though, our flesh can get in the way, and often tugs on our minds to other places.
When that heart posture is not there, the liturgical exercises aid us in obtaining it. This happens by acting ingenuine, though only at first. Perhaps into worship, we carry bags of emotion and stress that we’ve filled throughout the day. Perhaps we are unable to empty them before beginning the liturgical exercises. We have to straighten up and act like we want to be there. But this is no issue. The exercises we perform will eventually inform the self by osmosis, by shifting our focus to what is taking place objectively and not focusing on whatever gunk may be storming inside. As the exercises shift our attention outside, the inside becomes fertile ground for a proper heart posture. That ground is then sown with seeds from the outside context, in this case, worship. Ironically, our most “genuine” self—emotions and all—is shaped when we act ingenuine on the outside.
Once furnished, this skill can be utilized in other social contexts but it chiefly guards us from the modern subjectivism that’s so prevalent today.
Consider how being “ingenuine” is contra the modern subjectivist mindset. Often the modern mind takes the inner and impresses it on the outer, letting one’s emotions and subjective states rule the day. “Authenticity” is the chief virtue. People are praised for expressing their truest self without shame. Modern aphorisms like “your truth” are indicative of this mindset, for example. Among the milieu of transgenderism, such is the most explicit. In modern social environments, the true self is granted a type of immunity, free and even defended from critique, as long as the truest self is expressed. If you’re being genuine, you get off Scot-free no matter what the expression looks like or what the social context is.
Carl Trueman neatly describes this mind in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self:
“…this move surely found its most eloquent psychological expression in the work of Rousseau, for whom society and culture were the problems, the things that corrupted the individual and prevented him from being truly authentic. Given that the hierarchies of honor-based societies would be examples of precisely the kind of corrupting conventions that the egalitarian Rousseau would have regarded with disdain, the clear notion is that all human beings are created intrinsically equal. As Rousseau famously expressed it at the start of The Social Contract, ‘Man is born free and everywhere is in chains.’ And the implication of this thinking is that all human beings, therefore, possess equal dignity.”
Does this subjectivism comport with the Christian worldview? It’s unreasonable to entertain. Our “truly authentic” self is often sinful. In my case it would have been sinful if I embraced my cantankerousness, ruining dinner and coming into worship with an improper heart posture. Moreover, that would have been immature on its face, a character flaw that is not talked highly of in scripture. Modern subjectivists would purport that I should have been my authentic self, or that the environment ought to have catered for me. Perhaps they would levy my wife should have coddled me or “bear my burden” or “be more empathetic”. But embracing whatever phenomena arises from the self is to presume they are free of sin. This does not make much sense after a cursory reading of Paul, wherein he seems to war with the flesh in his letter to the Romans:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the working out of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:18-19)
Modern subjectivism and Christianity are like water and oil. Christians are to pursue The Lord and act like someone else—Christ. We are called to imitation in the most literal sense, a teaching diametrically opposed to modern subjectivism, and if my statements are true, I think you could argue the nature of daily worship itself also. Paul exhorts the Corinthian parishioners to “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) The apostle likewise pens in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us because we did not act in an unruly manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the authority, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you so that you would imitate us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8)
Never does the apostle, or scripture, extort parishioners to “be authentic” or “be yourself”. Daily worship aids us to never fall into these modern tropes by training us to rule over our flesh and to serve as a reminder that the triune God—not us or how we might feel in the moment—is the one who is all deserving.