Friends' Way of Worship
We sit in silence. There is no order of worship, no hired minister, no human director, no choir. You ask, “Then what is there?”
Deep within each person there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, the Spirit of God to which we may turn. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) We wait in silence to hear Christ’s knock, to open the door, and to bid Him welcome. We find peace as we unite with and belong to Christ Jesus. When we commit ourselves in body, mind and soul to finding Jesus, the Light Within, and following His direction, we have found the beginning of true life.
The Inward Light, which is Jesus Christ working within us, is the true guide of life. He shows us new and unsuspected defects in ourselves, and new and amazing possibilities in other people. Christ experienced within us urges us by secret persuasion to look upon the entire world through His eyes of love, and to rejoice in the joy of His presence. If you will yield yourself to Him, you will find Him to be a far better teacher than anyone else could possibly be. You will find the One who has been seeking you and has died for your redemption.
That practice of inner worship and listening is the heart of religion. It is the secret of our inner life with Jesus. He expects this secret to be freshly discovered in everyone who would be His follower. When people embrace that discovery, they find themselves in an amazing fellowship that knows no denominational divisions, a society grounded in reverence, love and service to God. It is the special property of no group or sect.
The Society of Friends arose as a rediscovery of Jesus Christ within, during a time centuries ago when the forms of traditional religion left many people feeling spiritually empty. Dedicating themselves to attendance upon the Inward Living Christ, the first Quakers called people to listen to Jesus speaking within them. George Fox wrote, “Dear Friends, keep close to that which is pure within you, which leads you up to God.” The witness of Quakers in the world today does not lie merely in outward deeds of service. It lies in the call to all people to practice being in inward adoration, seeking the divine power of Jesus Christ in their hearts and finding anew what it means to dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
Often when Friends are gathered together in the stillness of a meeting for worship, the Spirit of God impresses upon someone a message that is to be spoken aloud, for all to hear. The message may begin with a quotation from Scripture and may be as short as a few sentences, or as long as five or ten minutes. It may be a song of praise or a prayer, addressed aloud to God. Quakers may recognize over time that the messages given by a particular person are especially useful in clarifying the Light of Christ. In due course the meeting for business may act to record the gift of ministry in such a member. However, in a given meeting for worship, anyone may be called upon by God to speak - man or woman, young or old, recorded minister or not.
Friends believe that the Light of Christ is not just for meetings for worship. This Light in the inner sanctuary of the soul is also a workaday Light for every aspect of life. It can direct our employment, it can order our relationships with other people, and it can be a guide when we are uncertain of the way we should go. We need to be inwardly sensitive to the Light of Christ even if we are busy in the world of daily affairs. John Woolman, a Quaker tailor in the Seventeenth Century, resolved so to order his outward affairs that absolutely nothing would crowd out his prime attendance upon the indwelling Christ. When his business prospered and was threatening to displace his time of meditation and worship, he sent his extra work to another tailor.
Our way of worship demands a great deal from us. We do not expect someone else to relate to God for us. Each one of us is responsible for seeking out the Lord’s will, for listening to Him, for doing His bidding. This is work, real labor of the soul. It requires discipline to quiet our thoughts that we may hear the still small Voice in which our Lord speaks. Sometimes it requires still more discipline to follow through on what we understand God to be telling us to do, or not to do. Often the discipline that we ourselves bring to a situation is insufficient. we must seek God’s direct help in our spiritual life.
What is more, we learn to help each other in our local congregation, or meeting. Those who encourage each other are ordinary people - homemakers, laborers, plumbers, nurses, teachers, doctors, learned or uneducated, poor or rich - who have found the secret of life hidden in Christ, who have committed themselves to it, and who walk in newness of life in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Their lives are lifted up, enabling the Light of Christ to shine through them to help individual members in their spiritual growth, that together we may glory in the majesty of God.
This is our expectation in the stillness of Friends’ meeting for worship. As we gather together in an attitude of worship, with our thoughts kneeling before God, Jesus Christ is in our midst. He is ready to be our guide, our teacher who knows us - our struggles, our failures, and our joys. It is He who can lead us into all Truth. Our aim is to walk humbly in the presence and guidance of God, and to share with everyone the faith and the joy that He gives us.
- Jack Smith