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Worship with Gladness: Understanding Worship from the Heart

Joyce Ann Zimmerman
Published by Eerdmans in 2023

Joyce Ann Zimmerman offers a wonderfully clear portrayal of worship in her book,
Worship with Gladness: Understanding Worship from the Heart. This book serves as an
introductory guide to the subject, encouraging readers to delve into the various meanings and
practices of worship, rather than merely providing definitions. Zimmerman skillfully addresses
multiple perspectives, discussing topics such as the elements of worship that overcome
denominational distinctions, the insights Scripture offers on participation in worship, and the
expressions of authentic worship in everyday life. Each section concludes with a “Reflecting
Pause,” a series of thought-provoking prompts designed to evoke reflection and application of
the concepts discussed.

Our lives in this world should reflect our Christian faith, which is the foundation of
genuine worship. Worship is not about escaping from life; on the contrary, worship transforms
how we live. Essentially, worship is more than just music and prayer – it represents an entire
way of life. As a worship leader, I sometimes encounter individuals who are resistant to change,
preferring the status quo where they feel secure and unchallenged. Against such stasis,
Zimmerman urges that worship is meant to connect faith and life, and that good worship
invariably leads to personal growth and transformation (15).

Early in the book, Zimmerman presents a table contrasting two approaches to Christian
Sunday assembly: “worship” and “liturgy.” She characterizes worship as “devotional and
expressive,” while liturgy is described as “ritualized and formative” (22). The book explores
Christian services in terms of both approaches and the relationship between the two. For instance, Zimmerman explains that “all liturgy is worship, but not all worship is liturgy” (20). She emphasizes that liturgy embodies the life, redemptive mission, suffering and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as well as the sending of the Spirit and the establishment of the church (21). This discussion is both fascinating and well-structured.

In chapter two, Zimmerman looks at how worship is understood and conveyed in the
Bible. Her focus is primarily on the Psalms and Revelation. What I found particularly intriguing
was the structure of worship in the Psalms of Lament, which typically commence with complaint
before transitioning into declarations of trust. In her third chapter, Zimmerman discusses Catholic resources, specifically the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) that emerged from Vatican II (1962-1965). She describes the influence of the Council in this way: “The decades after the Council were a time of worship renewal that included experimentation, change, ecumenical sharing, and joint learning…[The Constitution] can be so helpful for so many different Christian congregations because its real focus is not at all on “how to,” but on the principles that are essential for Christian worship renewal…principles that make the Constitution such a fruitful resource for worship renewal across denominational boundaries” (100).

While Protestants may question the relevance of these resources, it is important to recognize that Vatican II initiated liturgical renewal, not only within the Catholic Church, but also among Protestant denominations. As the world changes, worship in churches is also changing. However, I believe the challenge lies in maintaining balance between tradition and renewal. Determining the appropriate approach to a balanced renewal of worship can be difficult. Zimmerman explains that “[w]orship renewal is a long and gradual process…when worship renewal happens in a congregation, it breathes new life, new enthusiasm, and new meaning into the worship experience” (98). Therefore, embracing worship renewal is vital for the life and vibrancy of the Christian community. In this part of her book, Zimmerman explores further the topics of baptismal identity, the Paschal Mystery, and the call for “active, conscious, and full participation.” She highlights essential elements of worship that should not be overlooked by those planning services, such as prayer, profession, confession, intercession, blessing, mission, and silence. I agree that silence, in particular, offers us the opportunity to reflect on the proceedings, keep pace with the flow of worship, contemplate what we have heard, and attune ourselves to the gentle guidance of God’s spirit. For this reason, more worship leaders and planners should consider incorporating silence into their services.

The subtitle of this book, “Understanding Worship from the Heart,” reflects the way Zimmerman approaches worship. Rather than presenting arid definitions, she provides evocative descriptions: “Worship is surrendering ourselves before a loving and merciful God whom we encounter any time we open ourselves to the abiding Triune Presence, a surrender and an encounter played out in relationships and circumstances of daily living that reflect our ethical choices and commitments, our concern and care for others”(152). I appreciate this description, which emphasizes the key elements of surrender, encounter, daily living, and ethical choices. By surrendering to God, we experience an encounter with the divine, allowing worship to permeate our daily lives and shape our ethical commitments. Zimmerman argues that “authentic worship” is manifest through action. Worship with Gladness directs our focus toward the crucial theological and practical aspects of worship. The book is both accessible and thought-provoking, making it valuable for a wide range of audiences, from high school classes and adult groups, to church officers, seminarians, and pastoral ministers.

Sewon Jang

Sewon Jang, a PhD candidate in Liturgical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, holds master's degrees in Worship and Liturgical Studies from Calvin Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School. In addition to his roles as a pastor and worship leader, he serves as a US Army Reserve Chaplain (CPT).

One Comment

  • Joel Slenk says:

    Thank you for summarizing this book for us. The comparison of worship to liturgy resonates with us Episcopalians.