Every day we are bombarded by rival gods vying for control of our hearts. Although we have been transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13), we are still immersed in a culture that is constantly (de)forming us. The world relentlessly entices and captivates us with competing visions of the good life. Rather than being shaped by God’s story of redemption and his purpose for our lives, we often buy into the narratives of individualism, consumerism, and nationalism. As a result, the desires of our hearts become warped.
Whether we know it or not, our loves and longings are being shaped by the places we shop, the sports we pursue, the music we hear, the movies we watch, the shows we binge, and the phones we use. We don’t just do these activities; they do something to us. They subtly train us to adopt certain values, to desire certain goals, and to believe certain things about the world. Over time, we can find our relationship with God out of focus, out of tune, and in need of adjustment. We need the things of earth to grow strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace. We need to reorient our lives around the gospel and recalibrate our hearts.
Discipleship as Heart Recalibration
Christian discipleship can be described as the recalibrating of our hearts to be pointed towards God. In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith explains that the command to follow Christ “is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all” (2). Biblically, it involves putting off “the old self with its practices” (Col. 3:9) and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, making “no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14).
Spiritual disciplines are meant to recalibrate our hearts and tune them to sing God’s grace daily. Bible intake—reading, meditating, memorizing, and singing—saturates us with what is true, good, beautiful, and lasting, and keeps us from sin and worthless things (Ps 119:11; 37). Like the readers of John’s revelation, Scripture gives us a heavenly perspective on the world and motivates us to live counter-culturally. In addition, prayer and fasting reorient us around what truly matters and help us to delight ourselves in the Lord. These disciplines train us to desire God and his kingdom more than food, social media, and super bowls.
Historic Christian Worship as Discipleship
In addition to spiritual disciplines, one of the primary ways our hearts are recalibrated and our lives are reoriented is through historic Christian worship. Traditionally, regular church attendance would be considered a normal part of Christian discipleship. However, in our anti-institutional and individualistic age, church attendance and membership is tragically becoming an optional component. As a result, we miss out on a vital reorienting means of grace. Each Lord’s Day gathering helps reset, recalibrate, and reorient us around God and the gospel. Smith writes:
Christian worship is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life (You Are What You Love, 25).
This is why the phrase historic is important. Only recently has worship been reduced to merely “expression” and the “music part” of a church gathering. Historically (and biblically), worship is not only meant to be expressive but formative. Christian worship is not only something we do, its something done to us. Smith sums it up well:
Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts (77, emphasis added).
This means that the worship team and preacher should not be seen as the primary actors, but God. It is through word-centered worship and the ordinary means of grace that we acquire new hungers. Through the ordinary Sunday service, God is molding us more and more into the image of his Son, by his Spirit, through the word.
Where Do We Go from Here?
So, if we are in need of constant heart recalibration, and if discipleship and worship are the means by which we are reoriented and realigned around the story of the gospel, then where do we go from here? Obviously, we must be a people who practice spiritual disciplines and who regularly attend and are committed to a local church. But there is more involved.
First, one vital aspect of discipleship must be uncovering the cultural influences, routines, and rituals which shape our desires and cause us to run after idols. We need to be vigilant in identifying the false narratives we subtly buy into. This means taking inventory of the shows we watch, the media we consume, our smart phone habits, and all the things that distract us from a commitment to spiritual disciplines and the local church.
Second, if our worship is formative, then we should consider what we are actually doing in our worship services. We should be intentional about the form our worship takes. Do our corporate gatherings help us remember our identity as sons of God and citizens of his kingdom? Are we relying on the all-sufficient word of God to correct and train us in righteousness? Is our church proclaiming the gospel of grace that alone can teach us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:14)? Or do our worship ‘experiences’ entertain and subtly (de)form us by smuggling in the false narratives of individualism, consumerism, or nationalism, all in the name of ‘relevance’?
Discipleship and Worship are Non-negotiable
Every day we are being enticed and formed by rival gods and kingdoms. There is not a day that goes by where our hearts don’t need recalibration. We need our lives reoriented around the true, good, and beautiful gospel. And this happens through discipleship and worship. To think we aren’t in need of daily recalibration, and that discipleship and worship are optional for the Christian life, is to prove the very point being made here.
Of course, spiritual disciplines and church attendance in no way merit salvation for us. Yet, at the same time, they are vital for all Christians. Why? Because we are exiles, living and passing through a land that is not our home. Every minute of our waking lives we are being pulled away from God’s kingdom and being pressured to swear allegiance to the world system opposed to God. And the disciplines of discipleship are habits of grace that God uses to remind and reorient us around the kingdom to which we actually belong (Php. 3:20).
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have two sons, Oliver and Micah, and are foster parents. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk