Every second of the Christian life is living sacrifice, and all of life is worship (Rom 12:1–2). And yet when the redeemed gather together for the corporate worship of God, our collective energies are focused on seeking a heightened experience of the presence of God and ascribing to him the glory due his name (Ps 29:2).
We do not want to try to artificially manufacture a manipulated response, but we do want to facilitate an atmosphere of reverent celebration: not presumptuous but confident (Heb 4:16), not giddy but joyful (Ps 20:5), not paralyzed with terror but fearful (Exod 20:20), not stuffy but sober (1 Tim 3:2), not depressed but repentant (2 Cor 7:10), not flippant but free (John 8:36).
In order to cultivate these emotions, we should examine everything that happens during the worship service, from the demeanor of the first person who addresses the congregation to the point when the service concludes. Here are some thoughts on how we can strive together to make the public reading of Scripture in worship more worshipful:
- Whoever schedules the passages to be read in the service needs to get the text to the readers by Saturday so that the people who will read the text in worship on Sunday morning will have an opportunity to read over it several times.
- The purpose of reading over the text several times is so that the reader can get a sense of the flow of thought in the text and pronounce it accordingly. Here's what I mean: pronounce the following sentence first by placing the stress on Jesus Christ–"JESUS CHRIST is Lord." This communicates emphasis. Now pronounce it by placing the emphasis on "is Lord"–"Jesus Christ IS LORD." This is a slightly different emphasis, and by seeking to discern the flow of thought in the text, we're trying to articulate where the emphasis lies as we read over the text. This can add meaning and depth to the reading of God's word. We might interpret the inflections in the text differently, but a reading that attempts to follow the emphases in the text will surely be more worshipful than the alternative. We don’t want to be ostentatious about this, and we certainly don’t want to draw attention to ourselves as we read. But the person who reads the Scripture publicly is, in a sense, leading the people of God in worship. He is worthy of our best efforts, of our cognitive and emotive engagement, and reading the Bible this way helps us render to him the glory due his name.
- Prior to the reading of the text during the worship service, when the reader stands in the pulpit, the text to be read should be announced at least twice ("The text to be read is Matthew 5:1–13, Matthew 5:1–13"). Before beginning to read the text, the reader should allow time for the congregation to find the passage.
- Why not incorporate a corporate response of worship immediately into the flow of the service? One way to do this is to punctuate the completion of the reading with the reader saying, "The Word of the Lord," and the congregation responding, "Thanks be to God, Amen!" The intonation of the reader’s statement ("The Word of the Lord") will correspond with the mood of the passage just read—if sobering, the words will be spoken softly; if triumphant, exultantly.
Having said all this, it is important that I balance these comments with the recognition that people have different gifts and are at different places. What I mean is that while we want to cultivate an uninterrupted flow of worship, we do not want to put so much pressure on people that they do not want to read or feel uncomfortable. Let us strive for excellence, but let us not bulldoze the people of God we seek to lead in worship.
May the Lord bless the reading and the hearing of his most holy Word.