The final frontier of biological research is still the enigmatic human brain. And at the cutting edge of recent study has been this phenomenon we call “habits.” One important finding has been what researchers and popularizers call “keystone habits” — simple, but catalytic new routines that inspire other fresh patterns of behavior.
Take, for example, the habit of drinking more water daily. A little intentionality here might lead to making better food choices, and may even help inspire exercise. For some, quitting smoking is a keystone habit that starts a domino effect of good lifestyle changes. For others, simply forming the habit of putting on running shoes in the morning leads to walking for exercise, then light jogging, and eventually to becoming a full-fledged regular runner.
Find the right keystone, and you could unleash a string of good habits in your life.
Keystone for Christians?
While I cannot commend one keystone habit that will make the difference for every believer, I do want to speak up on behalf of one weekly habit that is utterly essential to any healthy, life-giving, joy-producing Christian walk: corporate worship. And it is all too often neglected, or taken very lightly, in our day of disembodiment and in our proclivity for being noncommittal. In fact, I do not think it is too strong to call corporate worship the single most important habit of the Christian life.
We may think it’s a new temptation today to play fast and loose with corporate worship, but the book of Hebrews gives another impression. Actually, speaking of habits, Hebrews 10:24–25 is the only use of the word “habit” in our English translations of the New Testament.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
By clearly delineating a bad habit that we must not develop — “neglecting to meet together” — Hebrews is also making clear what good habit we should cultivate, and feed: meeting together. Today’s temptation to underestimate the importance of the weekly assembly is as old as the church itself. And yet, the great irony is that the habit of meeting together with Christ’s people to worship him is utterly crucial for the Christian life.
But why? What is it about corporate worship that would lead us to think so highly of this as a habit to make — and to suspect for some that this may indeed be the keystone habit they desperately need for life-change?
Why Corporate Worship Is Critical
The reason corporate worship may be the single most important Christian habit, and our greatest weapon in the fight for joy, is because like no other single habit, corporate worship combines all three essential principles of God’s ongoing supply of grace for the Christian life: hearing his voice (in his word), having his ear (in prayer), and belonging to his body (in the fellowship of the church).
In corporate worship, we hear from God, in the pastor’s call to worship, in the reading of Scripture, in the faithful preaching of the gospel, in the words of institution at the Table, in the commission to be lights in the world. In corporate worship, we respond to God in prayer, in confession, in singing, in thanksgiving, in recitation, in petitions, in taking the elements in faith. And in corporate worship, we do it all together.
“God didn’t make us to live as solitary individuals. Neglecting corporate worship sows seeds of unbelief in our soul.”
God didn’t make us to live and worship as solitary individuals. Personal Bible meditation and prayer are glorious gifts and essential, not to be neglected or taken for granted. And they are appointed by God as rhythms for personal communion with him that thrive only in the context of regular communal communion with him.
Make It a Habit
Settle it now. Make it a habit. Corporate worship is too important to revisit each weekend and wrestle, Will I go this weekend, or sit this one out? If you leave it open-ended, as so many do, excuse after excuse will keep you from the storehouses of grace God loves to open in corporate worship. Over time your soul will become dry and shallow because of it. Neglecting to meet together will soon sow and nourish seeds of unbelief in your soul.
Decide now, and begin putting it as a pattern into your life, not to revisit the decision each weekend, and not to bow out on community group (or whatever other regular corporate gatherings are vital in the structure of your local church) because of lame, myopic excuses. Of course, unusual circumstances will arise, when you’re out of town, or at the hospital with a new baby, or something else manifestly restricting. But the sad truth is we are far too prone to give ourselves a pass on meeting together, when we really should have made it a habit ahead of time, entertaining only the rarest of exceptions.
Make it a habit. Corporate worship is too important to revisit each weekend and wrestle, “Will I go this Sunday?”
And just to be sure, the reason to make corporate worship a habit is not to check the box on perfect attendance, and not because corporate worship alone is enough to fully power the Christian life, and not because mere attendance in worship will save your soul. This is not a call for legalistic going-through-the-motions. The hope is not just to show up and be a shell.
Rather, this is a summons to harness the power of habit to rescue our souls from empty excuses that keep us from spiritual riches and increasing joy. Negligence and chronic minimizing of the importance of corporate worship reveal something unhealthy and scary in our souls. Let’s resist it with fresh resolve.
For our deep and enduring joy, there is simply no replacement for corporate worship.
David Mathis is the author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines, now available in hardback, for Kindle, in audio book, and free of charge as a full PDF. He also has written a study guide workbook to facilitate individual and group study. To learn more, sign up for the email course of five short videos, provided by Crossway Books.