O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise. . .O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker. Psalm 95: 1-2, 6

For many people, there seems to be a misunderstanding that prayer and worship go hand in hand.  There are people who think that weekly worship absolves them of daily prayer.  They worship faithfully but they do not pray alone.  On the other side, there are people who pray but who do not worship.  (And yes, we are talking outside of the covid-19, there are people who with good reason are not worshipping, either because churches are closed in some states or they are in a high risk group.  We are talking about people who never worship.)  There are many who say “I can worship in my own way while golfing or fishing or being out in nature.”

Prayer is our private devotion with God.  Prayer can be done at any time, in any place.  Prayer can utilize formal words or informal ones.  Prayer is all about a personal connection with God.

Worship on the other hand, is when we come to God in a corporate way.  Worship, at least in the Orthodox Church, generally happens in the church, or in a prescribed way outside the church, such as at a retreat or summer camp.  Worship isn’t done in homes, generally.  Worship does utilize “formal” words.  We are not talking about Elizabethan English, but there are formal phrases used in worship, like “Lord, have mercy,” rather than something informal like “yea, Lord.”  Worship is done utilizing services and prayers that are done the same way the whole world over.  Yes, these services might be done in a different language, but the structure of the Divine Liturgy, as an example, is the same regardless of what country it is celebrated in or what language is used.

Worship brings a different connection with God than private prayer.  Certainly prayer is part of worship.  But the prayer done in the context of community is different.  First of all, many voices lift up the same prayer at the same time.  Secondly, worship involves a spiritual dialogue between the priest who offers petitions, and the people, who offer responses.  Third, worship is validating.  When I have doubts about my faith, or doubts about the faith in general, being in a large group of people helps give me confidence in my faith, i.e. if all these people are doing it or believing it, it must be true.  If I only pray on my own, there is no comfort and validation on the days when my faith is weak.

Fourth, worship reminds me that God’s greatest commandments are not only to love Him, but to love one another.  In prayer, when it is just a personal dialogue only between me and God, there could be a temptation to forget the others.  Surrounded by neighbors reinforces that we should love our neighbors.

Fifth, worship oftentimes provides the words and prayers that we would forget to pray.  For instance, the Divine Liturgy is a very complete and extensive prayer. In our daily prayers, we may forget to pray for our country, the President, our civil authorities, for temperate weather, for those who are sick or suffering, etc.  The Divine Liturgy covers anything we could possibly prayer for, so when we attend at least once a week, we are assured to remember all the important things and people each time we attend.

Sixth, worship provides an opportunity to learn and be a student.  Most worship services include a scripture reading which is interpreted with a sermon.  While many of the hymns of worship praise God and other supplicate God (ask God for things), the overwhelming majority of hymns actually teach us about the Lord.  So, worship is a place where we learn.

Seventh, in worship we call to mind the needs of those around us.  When we are offering prayers for those who are sick and suffering, we are praying for the needs of the people in the church and people in the world.

Eighth, during the Divine Liturgy, the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to come down on those present as well as on the Holy Gifts.  Even if a person is not going to receive Holy Communion, they are present to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit that is called down on everyone.

Ninth, and most important, we only receive Holy Communion in the context of worship (unless we are sick).  We worship the Lord, and in return, in the Divine Liturgy, we receive the Lord.

There are many more reasons to worship and benefits of worship.  Today’s reflection brings to mind some of them.  Psalm 95 reminds us of the importance of worship and calls on us to worship.  In this time of Covid, when some churches are closed and some people are not comfortable going to church in person, it is important that we worship on-line.  While not the same as in person, there is a benefit to experiencing the Divine Liturgy even virtually.  And while some may not feel comfortable receiving Holy Communion, there is still a benefit of worshipping even when we don’t receive.  When this period is over, it is imperative that we return to in person worship and receiving Holy Communion.

O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!  For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also.  The sea is His, for He made it; for His hands formed the dry land.  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel for the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.  O that today you would hearken to His voice! Psalm 95:1-7

Make worship a priority!