As, piggybacking on Jonathan Landry Cruse’s excellent book on worship, we have considered the question, what happens when we worship?, we have concluded, thus far, that at least two things happen. First, we engage in the most important thing we can possibly do; and, second, God shapes us into what we ought to be. A third thing that happens when we worship, argues Cruse, is that we meet with God.
Remember that we are speaking in the context of corporate worship. We are saying that, in the context of corporate worship, we meet with God. This immediately raises an important question: Can we not meet with God outside of corporate worship? While that is possible, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman in the context of corporate worship. When she perceived that he was a prophet and asked about the proper location for worship (Mount Gerizim, where Samaritans worshipped, or Mount Zion, where Jews worshipped), he replied, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).
While the locale would become a secondary concern, Jesus nevertheless recognised that it was in the context of worship that God meets with his people meet. Wherever the people of God gather—under a tree, in a cave, in a home, or in a church building—there God meets them. But it is as they gather that this happens. Corporate worship, in a unique sense, is the context in which we meet with God.
Of course, God is omnipresent, which means that we can also meet with God in the context of private and family worship. But corporate worship is the unique setting in which God’s people together meet with him. As we gather with other believers to sing, pray, read, listen, give, and partake together, we meet with God.
Cruse relates an illustration offered by T. David Gordon of a coin collector. Gordon notes that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a coin collector might stumble upon a coin while hiking. But if you want to find collectible coins, there are better places to go. There are places where coins are traded and sold and you are far more likely to find what you are looking for there than you are to stumble across a collectible coin on a hiking trail.
We have no doubt all had those moments where we have sensed the presence of God in a tangible way in a setting that was not corporate worship. But that doesn’t negate the truth that God meets his people in a special way in the context of corporate worship. If you want to meet with God, you might meet him in a context outside of worship, but you will meet him in the context of worship.
The Reformers spoke of the elements of corporate worship (Scripture reading, preaching, singing, giving, prayer, and the sacraments) as “ordinary means of grace.” They recognised that God might meet with a believer in an extraordinary setting, but to establish a regular pattern of meeting with God, we should give ourselves regularly to the gathered worship of the church. A successful coin collector will not bank his odds on stumbling across coins on hiking trails; so Christians, who desire to worship God, should look primarily to the place where he promises to meet with his people to have this desire met.
This pattern of God meeting his people in the context of corporate worship is well established in the Bible. God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle precisely so that he could dwell among his people (Exodus 25:8) and promised, in a particular way, “There I will meet with you” (vv. 21–22). While we don’t meet in a tabernacle or temple, the corporate gathering remains the place where God meets with his people (Hebrews 10:19–22). When we gather for worship,
we come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
We meet God and Jesus in a particular way when we gather with the saints for worship. If you want to meet with God, go to where he promises to meet with his people: in the context of gathered worship as his people read together, pray together, partake together, give together, sing together, and listen to the word preached together. Meet with him where he has promised to meet with us.