In a previous post I commented on three types of worship, including personal worship, and some have asked me to expand on the latter. Personal worship has come under some scrutiny recently with the rise in interest in “spiritual formation.” The topic is quite relevant to the lesson on Conformity, Compromise and Crisis in Worship because it touches on the issues of conformity and compromise. Rather than criticize the compromise, let me emphasize those aspects of personal worship that I think are appropriate and a blessing.
First of all let me describe my own personal worship. I tend to be more opportunistic than regular these days. I find myself with some quiet time and I will have an idea that I want to contemplate and explore. I may read a Bible verse, a chapter, or even a whole book of the Bible. Sometimes I will spend less than a minute, at others half the night. Likewise prayer could be a few seconds, or spread over several hours. I find that I am less formal with my personal worship than I used to be but more frequent. (I am not saying that this is the only way to conduct personal worship.)
I find that my best personal worship experiences come when I have freedom from distraction (that does not stop me from whipping out the iPad with its 37 Bibles on it while I am on a train or waiting in an airport lounge). However, when I really want to explore an idea I need to be free from distraction. No TV in the background, no reminders of chores that need doing — just the sound of my own breathing and maybe a few birds singing. Secondly, I like to spend part of my prayer time listening in quiet contemplation. I believe that all too often we say our prayers without giving God time to talk to us by directing our thoughts. Prayer is like conversation — talk and listen.
The problem that I have is that the more extreme variants of the spiritual formation movement have taken the terms “silence” and “contemplative prayer” to describe experiences and practices to me that border on self-hypnosis or the invoking of a trance-like state. Some Christians believe that by letting go of the control of their mind, they arrive at a state where God speaks to them. I suggest that such practices are psychologically dangerous and do not describe my own worship style. It is quite possible to draw near to God in quiet contemplation without giving up control over your mind.
While I value my quiet time and my prayerful contemplation, I also understand the need to reconnect with my community of believers and the rest of the world around me. Jesus gave us a fine example when he would go to a quiet place for personal worship, to recharge his spiritual batteries. But then he would come back to his disciples and go out to meet the world and make a difference to society. Our personal worship should be the powerhouse that drives our public worship and more importantly, our living worship.