I’m a reader. I love reading books. However, there are few books that I continuously come back to after they are placed on my shelves. On Worship is one of them. I love this book. Let me repeat for the people in the back, I LOVE THIS BOOK. H.B. Charles, pastor-teacher at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida wrote this book to help “church leaders and members think through biblical principles and practices of worship (10).”
According to Charles, “this book is more like a compass than a road map. It seeks to point you in the right direction (10).” The book is divided into three sections: Understanding Worship, Participating in Worship, and Leading Worship. Although the first two sections can and should be read by all members, the third section is geared primarily toward the leaders of the worship service (but that doesn’t mean it’s unhelpful for the congregant).
The chapters are short (roughly 5-6 pages each). The topics range from church attendance, preparing for worship, how to participate in worship, prayer, and should one worship while on vacation?
I have read countless books on worship. I have listened to talks on the subject as well as sermons. This book is on the top of my go-to list for the subject. I have even utilized this work in preparation for our new members class at church. Why did/do I enjoy this book so much? It’s biblical, practical, and God-glorifying. I could spend time analyzing each chapter, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll only engage with a few.
How Do We Worship God?
Christians are to worship God on His terms. Much ink has been spilled arguing over the second commandment. Are pictures of Christ acceptable? Is it a violation of the commandment to craft an artistic expression of the Son of God?
Again, we must worship God on His terms. According to Charles, “there are two primary ways finite man seeks to know the infinite God: by imagination or revelation (20).” However, “seeking to know God by trying to imagine who He is does not work (20).” I could dive to the depths in distinguishing between general and special revelation, but I’ll save that for another time. We should, however, recognize that general revelation (creation) cannot declare the name of God. “To know God personally,” argues Charles, “we need special revelation (21).”
God has revealed Himself to man through His Word. What a gift! Reading, studying, and knowing God’s Word is how we can know Him truly. H.B. says, “worship is not about images to see. It is about words to hear. True worship is Word-based, Word-saturated, and Word-driven. We are to sing the word, read the word, pray the word, preach the word, and see the Word (21).”
I argue for the same principles in the ordering of our services at our local church. The service should be grounded upon the Word of God. Why? because the Word of God is the means that God uses to save and sanctify His people.
How Can We Prepare for Worship?
Do you realize that there is a spiritual battle raging as we prepare and engage in worship? Charles states, “Corporate worship is spiritual warfare. Every time the redeemed community of the baptized in Christ meets for worship, Satan fights back (72).” Therefore, Christians ought to pray. We must pray prior to worship, and we must pray as we engage in worship.
When the church meets for worship, our services should reflect our steadfast devotion to prayer. Our worship services should be prayer services (73). Isn’t this what Jesus states in the Gospel of Matthew? He says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers (Matt. 21:13).” Years ago, I served on staff in a fairly large church. It seemed that prayer in the service was more of a transitory element than a central piece of the service. We need the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, encourage us, and lead us as we worship God in Spirit and in truth, fighting back against the spiritual darkness.
But prayer isn’t only reserved for the Sunday service. We should be engaging in prayer prior to the service. Charles states, “throughout the week, however, you should spend time in prayer for the upcoming worship services. Pray for the atmosphere of the service. Pray for the leaders of the service. Pray for the elements of the service. Pray for the participants of the service. Pray for the fruitfulness of the service (74).” I wonder how different our services would be and how much more beneficial they would be for our souls if we bathed them in prayer prior to our arrival.
Have you ever attended a worship service, but your mind wasn’t engaged? You hear the prayers, you hear the music, you hear the sermon, but something was off. Could it be that you began preparing too late for the service? I wonder if we prepare for worship. Charles asks, “On Sunday mornings, do you get up, get dressed, and go to church without preparation? Or do you take great care to prepare yourself physically, making sure your attire and appearance are presentable—while your heart and mind are not (78)? He adds, “do you prepare your inner person to gather with the redeemed saints before the throne of grace?”
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the writer warns his readers “to guard your steps when you go to the house of God (5:1).” Does this describe us? What you put into something determines what you will get out of it (78). This is true of worship. It has often been said, “Sunday morning worship is a Saturday night decision,” and I agree with that. However, I would argue, after reading this book, Sunday morning worship is an all-week preparatory decision.
For the Worship Leaders
The first two sections of this book are geared toward all believers in Christ. However, the final section is written primarily for those tasked with the leading of God’s people to worship. H.B. offers three petitions for worship leaders. First, he says that we should be dependent on God to guard our thoughts. There are a ton of distractions within the worship service. Babies cry, people sneeze or cough, others get up and walk, while some straight fall asleep! We need God to help us stay focused. “God can bring to your memory what you need to remember. God can enable you to disregard vain thoughts (161).” We must learn to pray as we lead.
Second, we must ask God to guard our hearts. It does not matter if your head is in the game, if your heart is not. You should come to the task of leading worship with a prepared assignment, a rested body, and a consecrated heart (161). Leaders of the worship service would do well to pray along with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting (Ps. 139:23-24)!”
Are our hearts right with the Lord when we stand up to fulfill our tasks?
Third, we must ask God to guide our words. Words are powerful. James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).” The preacher is not the only teacher. The singer teaches and the one who prays teaches. We are teaching every time we stand before God’s people to lead them in worship, no matter the assignment. May we learn to pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19:14).”
I have barely scratched the surface of this amazing book. Charles writes, “I pray that On Worship will help you grow in your understanding, leadership, and offering of worship to the glory of God (10).” His prayer was certainly realized in me. As Tim Challies states in his review, “This is a book that will benefit every Christian, whether or not we have been called to take a leadership role in worship, it most certainly falls to each one of us to understand it and participate in it.”
Soli Deo Gloria,
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.