Learning From New Monasticism: Daily Worship

New-MonasticismHow do we fight against the daily bombardment of sinful influences around us? There so much that American Christians participate in day after day that tempts us away from following Jesus. Our general consumption habits often inform a worldview contrary to that of the Biblical call to die to self and follow Christ. To counter this inundation of worldly influence we need to develop a habit of daily worship.

Worship is at the heart of our fighting. There is a tremendous power in worship, it is inseparably tied to our being “imaging” beings. We are created to “image,” to reflect something else. What we worship we will reflect. In the words of G.K. Beale, “We become like what we worship.” The Bible connects our imaging and our worship through this idea. What we worship drives how we live. Psalm 115 most clearly states this truth, there we read:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (v. 4-8)

Worship shapes us. As Beale writes:

God has made all people to reflect, to be imaging beings. People will always reflect something, whether it be God’s character or some feature of the world. If people are committed to God, they will become like him; if they are committed to something other than God, they will become like that thing, always spiritually inanimate and empty like the lifeless and vain aspect of creation to which they have committed themselves. Such likeness to idols of the world is a form of judgment. Israel resembled what they revered, which was an expression of retribution for their idolatry and led to their spiritual ruin. What Isaiah and the faithful remnant of the Old Testament and believers of the early church epoch revered, they resembled for their restoration and blessing. The same is true with people today. (We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, 284)

As we consider, then, how the practices of our daily lives are cultivating hearts of worship we ought to ask whether we are being driven to the worship of God, or to the worship of some other thing.

We saw last week the value of abstention, but abstention alone will not be enough to cultivate godliness in us. The Biblical model of transformation is put off and put on (Eph. 4:22-24). So we need to replace ungodly worship with godly worship. We need to cultivate a habit, a rhythm, of daily worship. Maturing believers recognize the value of this habit. They know that daily reading of Scripture and prayer are essential for spiritual growth. These disciplines, however, are often done in isolation and can, if not checked, lead to further adoption of the cultural obsession with individualism. It is at this point that New Monasticism offers us something better: a routine of communal worship.

Monasticism is, at its heart, a communal project. In the monastic mindset it was not enough for one person to see the contamination of the church, and flee it to sustain a healthy model of the faith. It had to be a community project if the church was going to survive. So they started communities, and the spent time together in communion, prayer, worship, and work. They lived together and loved one another. The faith must be communal. God made us a communal people and He made our faith a community faith. Our Triune God made us in His image, meaning we are to be a people of community. And our faith cannot be lived out in isolation (how do you love, forgive, encourage, and witness alone?). So, too, our daily worship needs to be a communal habit.

This community is important for several key reasons. First, it spurs me on when my faith is weak. Developing a habit of daily worship is hard; it is especially hard on my own. The encouragement and example of others spurs me on when I am inclined to give up and go back to the easy routines of the world. Secondly, it keeps me accountable. The community helps me to seriously address sin, temptation, and laziness. It keeps me close to the text of Scripture instead of drifting off into my own made-up brand of “worship.” It invites me to be honest about my struggles and not let them go unchecked. Finally, it gives me hope. Worshipping with the community illustrates the God’s goodness for me. When I doubt it I need only to look at other’s lives, hear their stories, and enjoy their joy. When I don’t know what to do I can ask for counsel and receive encouragement. When I feel alone, I experience the blessings of genuine fellowship. The practice of individual worship cannot afford me these blessings. I need to communal worship, and I need it more than just one hour a week. That’s why developing a habit of daily worship is so essential for fighting against the “liturgies” of our world.

This is, of course, not an easy habit to develop, but it is not completely impossible or unreasonable. James K.A. Smith explains:

The monastic traditions (and other premodern configurations of society)…point to habits of daily worship that are communal and sacramental, including daily communion – practices of daily gathered worship that are holistic, activating the imagination through bodily participation. Who says that the shape of worship we’ve described above only has to happen on Sundays? A rich legacy in the history of the church suggests that this could be otherwise – that not just monks but also families and students, laborers and lawyers could find ways to gather daily for worship that is nourishing and formative. (Desiring the Kingdom, 211)

The church has a history of this kind of habit-forming communal participation. The only thing that limits its possibility now is us. Smith gives an example to help flesh out the possibility. He writes:

For instance, many urban churches offer daily noontime communion, which makes it possible for those engaged in nonmonastic vocations to nonetheless gather with others for full-bodied worship. Often reflective of “intentional community” (which can take many forms), such daily gatherings can be fostered by geographical proximity. You might say this is fighting quantity with quantity; Dietrich Bonhoeffer simply describes it as “life together.” (211)

We can cultivate daily habits of communal worship by following that principle of geographic proximity and encouraging people to gather together once a day for a brief time of prayer, reading Scripture, praise, and even celebrating communion. The forms can be varied, but the idea is to meet together regularly for worship. To fight the quantity of worldly cultural participation with a quantity of godly cultural participation we need more than a once-a-week-gathering. We need rhythms of daily worship with believers.

This is not convenient. To make communal worship part of our daily routine is to add something rather substantial to our already busy schedules. But the question is one of importance: does daily worship matter? The answer has to be yes. As we swim in cultural influences that tempt us away from Jesus we must fight quantity with quantity. The new monastic movement sets a good example for us in this regard. Daily worship can be an immensely powerful tool in our spiritual growth.

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