Christians must practice private worship, Whitney says

Communications Staff — November 4, 2003

Private worship is an essential part of a healthy relationship with God, said prominent Christian author Donald Whitney.

Whitney, who spoke as part of the Institute for Christian Worship’s lecture series Oct. 14-15 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., is associate professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

“How can once-a-week worship satisfy the heart of those who know and long after God?” Whitney asked. “How in the world can anyone walk out of a worship service where God has been exalted and they claim they have met with God and say … ‘Well, I don’t need anymore of that for a week?’

“How can you meet with God and not be compelled to want to meet with Him more often than just what is convenient once a week?”

Ministers are especially prone to ignore personal worship as they settle into the daily routine of ministry, he said.

Ignoring personal worship, however, will transform a minister into “the politicking and the ladder-climbing and the name-dropping and the prideful string-pulling sort of person that seems to take more delight in politics than preaching sermons or preparing for ministry,” Whitney said.

Statistically, only one of every 20 seminary graduates will remain in ministry through age 65, he said, and the attrition rate is due largely to a neglect of private worship.

Without private worship, ministers “will burn out because there’s no drinking from the wells of living water,” Whitney said.

“In private worship God reveals Himself through His Word, shining divine light upon the divine book so that we might find our minds instructed by God, our hearts encouraged by God, our hopes refreshed by God and our spiritual hungers satisfied by God,” he said.

“Here we can delight in God, sing to God, weep to God, pour our thoughts to God, confess our sins to God and feel the worth of God. When with God alone we can rejoice in His forgiveness, revel in His goodness, thank Him for His blessings and bask in His love.”

In particular, private worship includes three essential elements, Whitney said.

First, private worship includes the intake of God’s Word.

Reading, studying and memorizing the Bible are all vital parts of taking in God’s Word, he said, but meditation on the Scriptures is perhaps the most important activity of private worship.

“Meditation on Scripture is not just leaning back and staring at the ceiling after reading a bit of the Bible. Meditation as worship means focused thinking on the text of Scripture, and thus on God and the things of God revealed in the words of Scripture,” he said.

Second, private worship includes prayer.

Despite an active public ministry, Jesus took significant blocks of time to pray by Himself, Whitney said. As followers of Jesus, we must do the same.

“To pray during the intake of Scripture is a valuable way of absorbing and applying the text and a way of conversing with God about what He is saying through these words or how He would have you put them into practice,” Whitney said.

“… Some passages lend themselves to such prayerful reading more easily than others. Frequently you might read an entire chapter and pray no more than, ‘Lord, please keep me from ever sinning like the man in this story.’ But whatever the text, don’t just read it—respond to it.”

Third, private worship includes worshipful song.

Singing praises to God is “part of letting the Word of Christ richly dwell in you,” Whitney said.

Citing the example of eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards, Whitney encouraged Christians to sing their prayers and praises to God in private.

“In some situations it may be impractical to sing aloud in private worship,” he said. “But unless there’s a compelling reason to sing in a whisper or only in your mind, why not sing aloud? It’s almost impossible to envision public worship without openly singing our praise to God. What makes private worship so different?”

Whitney warned students, “The risks of rushing through life without resting beside the quite waters of daily worship, virtually unmindful of God, are many and great. But so are the benefits and blessings [of private worship].”

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