I grew up in a Pentecostal church. Hand raising, dancing, and tongue-speaking were all every day occurrences. In that kind of church, when things don’t go as planned, it’s celebrated. It’s called “letting the Spirit lead.”
When I was in high school, I started helping out a lot more in services — running sound, or lights, or slides. Every Sunday morning, the pastor handed out the “order of service.” It was a little piece of paper with the outline of the service given to all of the people involved in it that day.
At the top of the paper every week was the phrase, “Subject to HS.”
It meant that while we’ve got an outline for how things are going to go today, we’re Pentecostal, and things might not go as planned — our service is subject to the Holy Spirit.
It’s really a profound statement, one that should probably be written at the top of our life plans and daily to-do lists. While we may plot out our lives, God is going to direct our path.
But this emphasis I grew up with caused me to eschew the whole idea of liturgy. Pentecostals often look down on the liturgical churches. Their services are stuffy, rigid, and most definitely not “Subject to HS.”
This dichotomy, though, is unnecessary. While our lives should be directed by God, he often works through habit and ritual.
Our lives are filled with habits, and those habits change the way we think and live. If you form a habit of checking your phone every time have a spare moment, your mind will then crave that time, it will become important to you, even if you don’t want it to.
There’s an episode of the 90s TV show Friends where they go to a resort in Barbados to support Ross, who is speaking at a paleontology conference there. They meet a professor who is starstruck upon meeting Ross, which surprises Joey — an actual TV star. Joey then introduces himself, attempting to point out his star status. The woman says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a TV.” Joey, perplexed, responds, “You don’t have a TV? Then what’s all your furniture pointing at?”
Most American homes have a living room, where the family spends much of their time. And I hadn’t really noticed before that scene, but typically, all the furniture in those homes is pointing to a TV.
So when you go to sit on your couch, your eyes will be facing the TV, subconsciously urging your mind to turn it on and watch it. While you may not value TV above everything else in your home, the way you have your home set up is urging you to. It reinforces that habit of watching TV. And that habit ingrains itself in the way you live your life.
Like a stream running along a mountain, over years and years it eventually forms a valley. Your habits are the same. You may not realize it, but they are shaping you, reinforcing ideas you may or may not actually believe.
Another word for habit is liturgy. And this is the benefit of liturgy. Habits, good or bad, have an eroding force that ingrain ideas into us. They form what we love.
Liturgy is valuable because it uses that power to orient us to the good. Simply attending church every week is a form of liturgy that orients your life around what’s important. By going to church every week, you’re reminding yourself that God is a constant, he will always be there, just like church is there every Sunday. And you’re reminding yourself that fellowship with other believers is a priority.
Within the last couple years, my wife and I started going to a Presbyterian church. While we don’t hold to all the theology of the Presbyterians, we really appreciate the liturgical nature of the service. In our chaotic world, it’s been refreshing to have that hour and a half of Godly order. An hour and a half of reflecting on the beauty and goodness of God in communion with other believers — who are all doing this act together. Whether it be reciting the Lord’s prayer together, taking communion together, or singing the Doxology together. We’re together, and we serve a great God.
Liturgy isn’t dry ritual. It’s beautiful habit God uses to form us.
I want to encourage you to take the time to recognize what your habits are forming in you, and find places to insert good liturgy into your life, even if it’s as simple as going to church every Sunday.