Editors’ note: 

This article is adapted from George Robertson’s recent book Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms (New Growth Press, 2020).

Many years ago, I read an article that significantly affected the way I think about corporate worship. The writer made the point that we should be aware that pastoral care is occurring in the midst of worship. In the worship service, people are being put back together.

A young person terrified of the future is being comforted as he sings, “Father, I know that all my life is portioned out for me.” A mother who grew up in a dysfunctional home is learning how to train up her children in love as she watches an older mother and daughter worship together. An addict is beginning to understand that he is not left to his own resources to find freedom. A beaten-up public leader basks in the unconditional love of his brothers and sisters in Christ.

That article caught my attention because at the time I was ministering to the most confused, conflicted, and degraded man I had ever met in my life. He had come to Christ and was desperate to be set free from his sins and healed of his pathologies. He would come to worship late and leave early because he couldn’t bear to speak with anyone. To be free of distractions, he would often sit in the cry room (my little church didn’t have many babies then!). He said those were the only sane moments of his week.

In the worship service, people are being put back together.

Something real happens when God’s people are gathered in God’s house to worship—something that cannot happen by video or audio or in your personal quiet time. The Puritan Richard Sibbes said, “Particular visible churches under visible pastors . . . now are God’s tabernacle.” And Hebrews 10:25 instructs that we must not “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”

Scripture reminds us that we do not come to worship just for ourselves; we come for each other.

David’s Experience of Corporate Worship

In Psalm 27, David longs for liberation. While the exact circumstances surrounding this psalm are unknown, it’s clear David is emotionally affected. Trapped in emotional turmoil, he waits in defiant hope for emancipation. Because God has been his helper in the past, he knows that God is worth waiting for.

As David looks around him, he sees several reasons to wait confidently for God’s deliverance. One reason is that he is surrounded by the people of God:

One thing I ask from the LORD,

this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the LORD

and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble

he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted

above the enemies who surround me;

at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make music to the LORD. (vv. 4–6)

This psalm highlights three aspects of corporate worship that David finds beneficial in his time of distress:

1. Worship Is an Experience of God’s Beauty

Worship should be the experience of God’s beauty in contrast to a world made ugly by selfish attitudes, violence, and pain. Every reasonable effort should be given to make any place God’s people gather for worship beautiful. We are embodied souls, so our physical environment shapes the way we think and feel. We gather in worship to gaze on the “fair beauty of the Lord” (v. 4) with spiritual eyes, but, as C. S. Lewis noted, our physical senses will be either aided in that pursuit or distracted by our setting.

2. Worship Reminds Us We’re Not Alone

We also recognize in corporate worship that we are not alone. There is safety in numbers. Elijah was distressed until God told him there were 7,000 in Israel who still worshiped him (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:3–9; Rom. 11:2–5). In Psalm 22:22, David finally finds shelter “in the midst of the congregation.”

Scripture reminds us that we do not come to worship just for ourselves; we come for each other.

When you come together with other believers on Sunday morning, you have a shelter that others wish they had. It’s painful to watch those who don’t know God and don’t worship with his people grieve a tragedy all by themselves, welcome a new baby alone, endure a physical trauma without the prayers of the saints, or worry because their kids don’t have good friends. There is safety in God’s house. Among God’s people, we can experience “joy” (v. 6).

3. Worship Realigns Our Perspective

You will find little reason to rejoice if television, social media, or the daily news are your primary diet. But in corporate worship, your perspective is realigned.

After a week of news about terrorist attacks, it is in worship that you joyfully remember this world isn’t your home. After a week of feeling like you’re the only Christian in your school, it is in worship that you joyfully realize you aren’t alone. After a week of criticism from a relative, it is in worship that you can joyfully hear God’s sweet words of grace to you. After a week of confusion over the future, it is in worship that you can joyfully refocus on the God who is sovereign over your life.

Through the gift of corporate worship, God will enable you to “sacrifice with shouts of joy” and to “sing and make music to the LORD” (Ps. 27:6).