Worship in Recollection

Come and see what our God has done, what awesome miracles he performs for people! (Psalm 66:5 NLT)

We know the Psalms as “The Bible’s hymnbook,” but very few of us sing Psalms exclusively in our churches on Sunday mornings. Whether we sing through the Psalms or not, the Psalms show us the depth and breadth of worship. John Witvliet points out that the Psalms teach us to know God’s character by calling to mind what God has done in the past.[1] Sometimes the Psalms are general in their recollection of God’s action, “For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8–9 NIV). Elsewhere, the Psalmist is very specific about God’s faithful action toward Israel, such as in Psalm 136, which recounts God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

For churches that are wondering, “What’s next for our church?” maybe the answer the Psalms offer is, “What’s happened?” The Psalms provide a template for us to use in our worship, but many of our Sunday morning services don’t make space to recall God’s action. Here are three ways recollection can strengthen your church’s worship:

  1. Sustains Collective Memories—a community is built on its collective memories. By calling to mind God’s faithfulness to your specific community, the stories of God’s faithfulness are passed around again and again. The community’s identity is strengthened, but without falling prey to sentimentalism of the good old days. Remembering God’s work in the past allows a community to enter into the future confidently, knowing that God will provide.
  2. Provides Concrete Assurance—too often our worship services ignore the reality of doubt in the lives of those who fill the seats on Sunday morning. Doubt need not be feared, and can function positively in the life of a Christian, especially in a supportive faith community. During times of hardship and doubt, the Psalms grapple honestly with feeling distant from God, but do so remembering God’s past faithfulness. Reminding ourselves that God was once at work can provide the assurance we need that God will once again be present with us.
  3. Orients us toward God—we are well aware that worship isn’t about us. By reciting what God has done, the whole congregation becomes centered on God rather than one person or group of people up on stage. It’s not about how much a specific church has accomplished or what we are achieving. Rather than set up a consumerist model of profit return, recollection reminds the community that God is the one who brings growth.[2]

What could recollection look like in your church? I have a few ideas and welcome suggestions of what has worked for your congregation. There are a number of songs that could be used in a context of communal recollection. For instance, verses from recollection Psalms could be read between verses in “10,000 Reasons” or another appropriate song. The congregation may also wish to write their own short contributions to create a communal Psalm of recollection. Individuals or groups may be encouraged to share a story of God’s provision during a time set apart in the service. Or a congregation may choose to commission an artwork to remember a particularly important season in the church’s life. The more we practice recollecting, the easier it will be to say with the psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”[3]

Hilary Ritchie graduated from Bethel University with a degree in history and biblical & theological studies. She is pursuing a Master’s of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. When she’s not reading for class, she likes to play guitar and violin, talk worship and theology, or explore the outdoors.

[1] John D. Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2007), 20.

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:7.

[3] Psalm 103:2.

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