Ask Pastor George: Morning & Evening Worship

Nov 09, 2017

Why Worship Morning & Evening? 

Anyone who knows me or has heard me preach knows that one of the practices of the church that I am particularly passionate about is morning and evening worship on the Sabbath. I have made a point to encourage people to worship like this at every turn of my ministry.

 

Recently, I was asked for a scriptural basis for morning and evening worship. I love questions like this for two reasons: 1) It gives me a chance to again encourage others in a practice that is deeply beneficial and 2) It shows that this individual is eager to ensure that every practice is founded in the Bible.

 

In this post, I will give a brief explanation by looking at Old and New Testament practice as well as church history. For those who wish to go further in their study of this topic, I have also included an in-depth study of Psalm 92 and the wealth of reasons it provides.

 

Old Testament

First, let us think about the Old Testament sacrificial code. Of course, the sacrifices are no longer incumbent upon us, however, the principles they represent are. God commanded the priests to make sacrifices every morning and every evening. Specifically, they were to sacrifice one lamb with a grain and drink offering every morning and evening of the week. (It is referred to as the tamid). However, on the Sabbath day they were to double both the lambs and the drink and the grain offerings (cf. Ex. 29:39,41; 30:8; Nu. 28:4,8). Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, references are made to the practice of morning and evening sacrifice (2 Ch. 13:11; Ez. 3:3; Da. 9:21; Ps. 141:2; cf. Ps. 34:1; 55:17; 119:164).[1]

 

New Testament

Though no explicit statement is made in the Old Testament about frequency of worship, there is ample circumstantial evidence that the New Testament Church viewed the whole day as belonging to the Lord (Acts 20:7; 1 Co. 16:2; Re. 1:10). There is never any debate among the Apostolic Fathers as to the appropriateness of the Church meeting for worship both morning and evening on the Lord’s Day. Since the Old Testament commanded that sacrifices be made at the opening and close of each day, and since prayer is the New Testament successor to sacrifices, then it was clear to them that they must worship morning and evening.

 

Church History

Scripture is our ultimate authority, but God gives us church history so that we might see how the Spirit has led our forefathers to interpret and apply scripture as well. Like the Old and New Testaments, we see a commitment to morning and evening worship throughout church history as well. The only deviation is the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic Church thought that God could not be properly worshiped except in the cloister.[2] The Reformers and the Puritans liberated worship from its clerical bondage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[3] They too took seriously the Old Testament call to daily morning and evening worship, especially on the Lord’s Day. By the practice of family worship morning and evening, the Puritans recaptured the daily reminder of the sacrifices that we belong to the Lord and depend on him all the day for his mercies.

 

Matthew Henry wrote two classics to help Christian families worship morning and evening, A Method of Prayer and Directions for Beginning, Spending and Closing Each Day with God.[4] The Westminster Directory for Worship, a Puritan document in our heritage, prescribes family worship for “morning and evening.” Reflecting the doubled sacrifices on the Sabbath day, Puritan worship was intensified morning and evening of the Lord’s Day.[5] Somehow Protestants and Evangelicals have by-in-large forsaken their tradition of morning and evening worship.

 

The biblical prescription and the historical practice of our forbearers calls us to make morning and evening worship to be some part of our daily practice and especially our practice on Sunday.

 

Psalm 92

Those two reasons would be enough, but Psalm 92 provides the most compelling motivation for worshiping God at the beginning and end of each Lord’s Day.

 

The Mishnah records that certain Psalms were prescribed for certain days of the week in Temple worship. For example: Sunday, Psalm 24; Monday, Psalm 48; Tuesday, Psalm 82; Wednesday, Psalm 94; Thursday, Psalm 81; Friday, Psalm 93; and Saturday, the Sabbath Day, Psalm 92.[6] The superscription to this psalm clearly identifies it as a song for the Sabbath day and v. 2 records the psalmist’s delight in worshiping God on that day both in the morning and the evening.

 

While the psalmist says it is a good thing to do, does the Bible teach us that it is something we should do?

 

Look first at vv. 1,2—God is good. God’s goodness is manifested in his love for us and faithfulness to us. And because he is so good, worshiping him is “good.” In fact, the Hebrew is more colorful, indicating that it is “delightful” or “delectable” to begin and end one day in seven in corporate worship. Throughout the centuries, Christians have recognized from this and other passages that our focus in the morning and evening services is to be somewhat different. Let us look at what they are.

 

Morning (4-7)

The psalmist tells us that we must praise God in the morning for his love. In Matthew Henry’s book A Method of Prayer, he outlines three areas that should be included in our morning praise. We must first praise God for the abundance of his gifts to us in the creation, remembering the covenant with day and night he made with Noah. Secondly, we must pray for our families,

remembering each one by name like Job did. Thirdly, we must pray that God would strengthen us to perform all of our duties in every area including family and vocation.[7]

 

Notice that these themes are captured in one way or another in the first half of this psalm.

 

Care through the night (2b)

It is by his love that we are not consumed in the night and awaken in the morning. The Bible impresses us with the rhythm of life even in the creation account when it records the creation events by means of “evening and morning.” It seems to desire to impress upon us that the necessity of going to bed at night and rising in the morning to face our work means that we are constantly dependent on God. No one is strong enough to function perpetually without sleep, and no one awakens in the morning unless God allows it. Both the Apostolic Fathers and the Puritans saw the morning and evening as a representation of resurrection and death. When we arise in the morning we must give praise to God for his loving preservation through the night. Anything could have happened—our house could have burned down, we could have had a stroke, someone could have attacked us—but God preserved us.

 

Deeds (4-7)

Further, we are struck by God’s love in the morning as we contemplate his deeds. The beauty of the creation and breakfast on the table should convince us of God’s loving supply. The very existence of the morning convinces us that God’s work of redemption is not complete. The regularity of the sun’s rising, the seasons, and the stability of the solar system convince that what the psalmist says is true—God’s rational thoughts rule the works of his hands. On the Lord’s Day in particular, we must give praise for God’s greatest work, Christ’s resurrection which guaranteed our resurrection from the death of sin and guarantees our future resurrection from the grave.

 

Joy (4-7)

Looking over these verses once more we cannot miss that the whole section is characterized by joy. The chief characteristic of morning devotions both individually and corporately must be joy. In teaching his people how to worship God in the morning, St. Basil said, “And let us not take anything into consideration before we are gladdened by the thought of God, as it is written: ‘I was mindful of God and was gladdened’ (Ps. 76:4).”[8]  One aid to our joy is to contrast our lot with that of the unbeliever who does not praise God because he has no reason to. He finds no real purpose to his life and work. The very possibility of being joyful should make us happy. Our joy in the morning comes from the fact that we belong to him and that means that there is purpose to the day. The Lord’s Day morning in particular must be characterized by joy because we recognize on this first day of the week that our lives have purpose because they are centered on God.

 

Evening (8-15)

Just as we praise God in the morning for his love, we must praise him in the evening for his faithfulness. As the Apostolic Fathers and Puritans found in Scripture three themes for morning prayer, so they found three for the evening.

 

Care through the day (8-11)

Evening prayers, like morning, were to be chiefly characterized by thanksgiving. As we reflect on the day, surely we will conclude that God faithfully protected us. In Psalm 92 the writer remembers that he was protected from his enemies (9,11). He was also made strong in the battle against them and blessed before their eyes (10, cm. Ps. 23). Surely if we will pause and reflect, we must conclude that God preserved our lives from lethal disease, our vocations from insidious attack, our souls from damning compromise, and our bodies from deadly forces. We were only nourished and strengthened by our food because God made it so. And we were surrounded by his angels who preserved us from untold dangers that we never see. Sunday evenings provide us with longer occasions to reflect, not just on our days but the whole of our lives. Part of Sunday evening worship should be spent in thanking God for his faithful protection from a lifetime of enemies.  

 

Purposefulness (12-14)

Further, the psalmist says something remarkably encouraging to us. He says that those who are regularly planted in his house worshiping and receiving instruction will never lack purpose. Those who live by God’s rhythm, worshiping him daily and twice on Sunday will inevitably grow, and as a consequence, their lives will produce more godly fruit than those who try to go their own way.

 

A good friend of mine pastored the same church for over forty years, so he can speak with some authority about patterns. At his thirty-seventh year, he reflected on those he had witnessed who followed a faithful rhythm of worship. Over the years of his pastorate, 1000 souls had come and gone through his church. He said that among those who had been faithful to the morning and evening worship services there was a “remarkable record of family stability and spiritual productivity.” In fact, there had been only three divorces among them.[9]  

 

The great pastor William Still, who served his congregation in Aberdeen for nearly sixty years said that he never saw a child fail to walk with the Lord whose family regularly attended Sunday morning and evening services along with the midweek prayer meeting.

 

My point in sharing these illustrations is not to give a “magical” formula for spiritual growth or to make this legalistic; it is simply to say that we should expect to see some visible fruit from doing things God’s way. And it is not farfetched to believe that parents and children who weekly remind themselves morning and evening that they belong entirely to the Lord will experience happier and more productive lives as a result. Morning and evening worship is less a legalistic measure and more a way to allow ourselves the joy and faithfulness God has for us when we intentionally come before him (Psalm 16:11).

 

Repentance (15)

Finally, the psalmist recognizes that there is no wickedness in God, which surely drives him (the psalmist) to repentance. It was universally recognized by all practitioners of evening worship that confession should be a part. Each evening we must examine our consciences that we might confess our sins and plead again the blood of Christ. It is because the Christian has this ready access to forgiveness that the Puritans also taught that he is able to lie down and sleep in peace. As the Apostolic Fathers and Puritans saw each morning to be a reminder of our resurrection in Christ to a new life, so they also saw each evening to be a reminder of our death to sin in Christ.

 

The Sabbath is one day in seven God has given you for spiritual devotion to him. Morning and evening worship is the biblical pattern and has been the almost unbroken tradition of the church throughout history. But most of all, I invite you to morning and evening worship because I am convinced that you will conclude with the psalmist that God is good and worshiping him is delectable.

 

[1] Cf. John Calvin, Commentary: Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, s.v. Second Commandment, p. 301.

[2] Juan Mateos, “The Morning and Evening Office,” Worship 42 (Ja 1968): 31-47.

[3] Douglas F. Kelly, “Family Worship: Biblical, Reformed, and Viable for Today,” Worship in the Presence of God (Greenville: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Press, 1992): 103-129.

[4] See discussion of these books by Hughes Oliphant Old, “The Reformed Daily Office: A Reformed Perspective,” Reformed Liturgy and Music 12:4 (1978): 9-18.

[5] J.I. Packer, “The Puritans and the Lord’s Day,” A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 241.

[6] J.J. Stewart Perowne, introduction to comments on Psalm 92.

[7] Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, 15.

[8] Juan Mateos, “The Morning and Evening Office,” Worship 42 (Ja 1968): 34.

[9] Paul Alexander, “Let’s Keep Our Sunday Evening Worship,” 4.