One drop of water on a rock has little effect, but a steady dripping will eventually wear a hole into a seemingly impenetrable stone. Singing the Doxology every week is like getting a steady drip of life-giving Trinitarian water over hardened hearts.
James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us. We don’t just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon. Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path. For instance, I have been in a context where I have experienced the same weekly liturgy of Confession, Assurance, and Repentance for over ten years now. I now find that I have new instincts and desires when I slip into sin. With nearly Pavlovian certainty, my heart drops to its knees, I acknowledge it before God, I preach the good news to my heart of God’s assurance of my pardon through Christ, and I find greater strength to turn and re-commit myself to God’s service. Repeated liturgy makes you love it and live it every day of the week. There are many things that we could point out about the shaping effect of the Doxology. I will mention three.
First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
The first line gives us the “why” of worship (because of what He does). But next is the “who.” First, “all creatures” are summoned to God’s praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity. It is an activity of all creation. Before the fall, somehow all creation was more attuned to the worship of God, and there was a sense of solidarity between human beings and creation in the act of worship. ”Praise Him, all creatures here below” is a summons toward fall-reversal, saying to the earth, “Return, and worship the One who made you.”
When we realize this, singing this weekly shapes us into a people dissatisfied with a hyper distinction between sacred and secular. We become a people who grate against our society’s bifurcation of our private, personal religion and our public self. God’s demand for worship has equal authority in our schools, homes, and workplaces as it does in the sanctuary. Our worship is whole, because the summons isn’t “Praise Him, all Christians here below.” We become a people who are passionate about the reclamation and return of all of the earth’s worship to its rightful Owner and Object.
Second, the Doxology blows open the supernatural nature of worship.
When we begin worship, I will often start by reminding congregants that today’s worship attendance numbers are larger than they appear. If the folks tallying our worship count were really being honest, every week, they’d write “myriads upon myriads.” Revelation 4-5 reminds us that when we enter into gathered worship on earth, we step into the already moving stream of the perpetual worship of heaven – the elders, the heavenly beings, the white-robed martyrs, the saints that have gone before. In the Doxology, we sing:
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.
The Doxology does not allow us to tally worship attendance based on who is seen physically in the room. We are forced outward and upward. The Doxology shapes us into heavenly worshipers. The antiphonal, back-and-forth calls bounce from heaven to earth: “Hey angels, praise Him!” “No, you earthlings, you praise Him.” It’s an inspiring vision that is not without effect. The Doxology tunes us in to heavenly worshipers, shattering our culture’s implicit naturalism. We’re no longer allowed to be a people who can stomach the notion that all we see is all there is. We are a people who have been places you cannot see and touch but are nevertheless just as real as our terra firma (or perhaps, as John Jefferson Davis would argue in Worship and the Reality of God, even more real).
Third, the Doxology makes us a Trinitarian people.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Is the Trinity just an esoteric theological construct, or does it have existential import? In other words, what good is it to us in our day to day lives that our God is one, yet three? To tease out just one implication, it reminds us that because God exists in interdependent community, so should we. The Doxology challenges our American rugged individualism. It shapes us into a people who crave community and authentic relationship, because such desires reflect the heart of our great Triune God. The Doxology beats “Lone Ranger Christianity” out of us. Each week we sing it, our individualistic selves receive another blow that reminds us, “You are not enough.” The Doxology makes us more instinctively Trinitarian, and therefore instinctively communal. This, in turn, helps us to deal with sin and to grow in Christ. Authentic community just does that.
So how can we worship leaders allow this shaping to take greater effect? If we lead and sing the Doxology weekly, we can pause for twenty seconds before we sing it and share one insight like some of what’s above. We can perhaps send out a “value added” email to our congregation during the week about what the Doxology does to us. And we can certainly minister the Doxology to folks in our one-on-one meetings and pastoring. Things like these help make the implicit shaping turn into more explicit formation. Who knew that so much could be packed into four lines?