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How Liturgy Can Save Your Soul

The words are hundreds if not thousands of years old and have been part of the way believers across epochs and continents have worshiped. He loved coming in each week knowing that readings had been assigned, and that he, like millions of others, would be submitting himself to the sacred texts, not subjecting it to his own consumeristic impulse. Daniel the worship leader and Matt the vicar and all the wonderful folks at Holy Trinity are not trying to get something out of the service—they are trying to give themselves to it. And what is worship if it is not the giving of ourselves to God in response to His great self-giving to us?

That’s when the service at Holy Trinity became not just a beautiful liturgy; it became a convicting experience.
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Recently, I had the chance to step aside from my own worship tradition and experience someone else’s. On a Sunday that I wasn’t scheduled to play, my wife and I went to Holy Trinity Anglican Church. It’s a wonderful church with a vicar named Matt who does a remarkable job explaining the richness of their tradition. They’ve tried to incorporate a few “sing-along choruses” led by a young man named Daniel that are woven within the corporate readings and confessions. It was beautiful.

Until I realized why.

Daniel, their “worship leader,” explained to me after the service that he had been a typically rock ‘n’ roll worship guy but had fallen in love with liturgy because it was something much larger than himself. The words are hundreds if not thousands of years old and have been part of the way believers across epochs and continents have worshiped. He loved coming in each week knowing that readings had been assigned, and that he, like millions of others, would be submitting himself to the sacred texts, not subjecting it to his own consumeristic impulse. Daniel the worship leader and Matt the vicar and all the wonderful folks at Holy Trinity are not trying to get something out of the service—they are trying to give themselves to it. And what is worship if it is not the giving of ourselves to God in response to His great self-giving to us?

That’s when the service at Holy Trinity became not just a beautiful liturgy; it became a convicting experience.

I have a liturgy at my “rock ‘n’ roll” worship church. And the point of a liturgy—whether it’s creeds and confessions or indie rock ‘n’ roll anthems—is to take our eyes off ourselves. A good liturgy reminds us that we don’t shape worship; worship shapes us.

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But just giving in to a liturgy, to a worship routine, is in itself the perfect antidote to our addiction to innovation. It made me wonder if we are trying so hard to be different, to be unique, that we’ve placed ourselves firmly in the center of all discussions of church and worship. Maybe the point is not to “do church” the way you and your generation wants to. Maybe it’s not about having a worship service that is creative and inventive. Maybe we live in a culture of spiritual boredom. And church and worship is a cheap drug, a quick thrill, to break the monotony.

Maybe it’s time we stopped treating people like consumers whose tastes must constantly be discerned and appeased, and taught people instead to submit themselves to a liturgy, to a worship routine—whether it’s “praise choruses” or the Book of Common Prayer. Maybe when we give ourselves to ancient words and sacred texts, and embrace routines and traditions, we can remember that we are not here for what we can get out of worship; we are here to give ourselves away in worship.

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