A few Sundays ago, I was on the mend from having been sick. Since I didn’t go to church, I thought I’d bring worship to me. I used to do this in my early twenties when I wasn’t sick. Like many others my age, I felt the deepest times of worship were those times when I was alone with God worshipping him privately.
I brought out a vinyl recording of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat by the Berlin Philharmonic. I love the piece but hadn’t heard this recording of it. I was immediately disappointed, and just as quickly I went into critique mode listing all the things I disliked about it. Suddenly I realized how private worship can become destructive to the body of Christ.
Like a temperamental lover, everything has to be exactly right for the private worshiper. If it isn’t, he simply can’t get in the mood. A pattern of private worship creates a mean critic not a deep worshipper, and when that critic does come to public worship, he brings his critical spirit with him. He judges the church just as if he were sitting at home.
It’s essential to remember that to worship means to serve. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to connect worship with giving rather than being a consumer (which necessarily includes critiquing), so I worship with others to practice giving. I use my faulty voice to practice giving in humility. I pray on behalf of the one who is engaging with the word to practice giving my attention. And because I am sharing with others, I am also able to receive encouragement.
I think the private worshiper would feel differently about secluding himself if he spoke with those who have no choice in the matter, a widow, for example, who is confined to her home because of illness. Can she worship God in private? Yes. Does he bless her abundantly in that service? Absolutely, yes! But nine times out of ten, you will find that the thing she most longs for is the ability to meet with God’s family and to worship in chorus with them, because she has learned through painful hours alone that the gathered body of Christ gives strength and joy for life that cannot be replaced, replicated, or reproduced in one’s living room.