I know it is only Monday but I hope you are already looking forward to gathering together with your church family this coming Sunday. Gathering with other believers should be one of the greatest joys in the life of the Christian. It is a tremendous privilege that we should not take for granted. It is also a tremendous responsibility. Paul wrote, in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The idea that a Christian would not be actively involved in a local church is unbiblical. In fact, the Scriptures set the expectation that every believer will gather weekly, not as a spectator but as an active participant. We gather to sing, pray, give, and encourage one another. There are no 2nd string Christians. We are all on the team and we are all in the game together.
Considering this reality, I think it would be helpful to take some steps to prepare ourselves as we anticipate the weekly gathering of our local church:
1. Commit. We live in a day and age of weak commitment to the local church. Many Christians are more committed to their child’s little league team that they are to their local church. This should not be so. Active involvement in the local church is not a suggestion. It is not a matter of convenience. It is the very lifeline of a believer’s spiritual life and it is the expectation of our Lord.
Commit to your local church. Make it a priority to be present when your church gathers to worship. I have heard every excuse in the book for why families are sporadic in their attendance and many of the excuses are good. But missing the weekly gathering of your local church should be the rare exception. Imagine if every family in your church made a commitment to be actively involved each week unless providentially hindered. We can tell our kids all day long that church is important but we must show them with our lives and our schedules.
Will you commit to your local church?
2. Worship Throughout The Week. It is naive to believe that you can walking into church and experience all that God intends for you to experience with the gathered body of Christ if you have not been worshipping throughout the week. Often I hear believers say something like, “I came to church today to get filled up because my spiritual tank has been empty all week.” I understand what they are saying. But imagine if we gathered every Sunday with a tank already filled up because we had been worshipping all week. Now you have a room full of filled up believers ready to worship together and encourage one another!
I think the reason why many churches today seem lifeless is that the people gathered have not worshipped all week long. The reality is that our corporate worship gatherings will look just like our personal worship. Worship is not an event we attend each week but a way of life for the believer.
Will you go to your local church this Sunday having worshipped all week?
3. Pray. I think we underestimate the power of prayer as we prepare to gather together each week. Often church leaders invest a tremendous amount of time and energy in planning worship services each week and very little time praying for those services. I would dare say many church members have never considered that they should pray for their church’s weekly gathering. We don’t pray because we are self sufficient but, in reality, what we desperately need is the presence of God in our churches.
Imagine if every church member prayed daily for the weekly worship gathering. What would happen if we prayed every week for the gospel to be clearly presented and for unbelievers to respond? What would happen if we asked God’s Spirit to show up in power each week? What if we prayed for our fellow believers and ourselves to be revived and energized to carry out the Great Commission? I believe God would answer those prayers!
Will you pray for your local church as you prepare to gather each week?
4. Read. One of the things I encourage our church to do each week is read the sermon text before we meet on Sundays. Imagine if ever believer read the text for the sermon several times leading up to the worship gathering and asked God to apply it to their lives. I think that would have a tremendous affect! Instead of adopting the, “What do you have for me today, Preacher?” mindset you come having already read the text looking for greater insight and life application.
Oftentimes, pastors feel the pressure of having to cover every aspect of the particular passage they are preaching. But if believers come to the worship gathering familiar with the text then it enables pastors to focus their teaching time more directly on the text and its application. This is a benefit for both the pastor and the people.
Will you read the sermon text before gathering for worship this week?
5. Arrive Early. It happens just about every week about 5 minutes after the service starts… someone comes into the parking lot on 2 wheels running 60mph with their hair on fire! I know the challenges of getting ready and out the door on Sunday mornings but it is interesting to me that we are able to get to work on time and get our kids to school on time during the week. The reason we are late on Sundays is that the weekly worship gathering is not a priority. I fully understand that crazy things happen but, again, being late on Sundays should be the exception and not the rule. Imagine if all the believers gathered together before the service began and had an opportunity to encourage one another and fellowship together!
Take some practical steps on Saturday night to prepare for worship on Sunday. Pick out your clothes the night before and lay them out. Set your alarm clock. Eat something reasonably easy and quick for breakfast. Talk with your family on Saturday night and remind them about the priority of weekly worship (this would be a great time to pray and read the sermon text together as a family).
Will you arrive early to your church this week?
“Let us thoroughly understand ourselves and understand, also, this great business of prayer. Our one great business is prayer, and we will never do it well without we fasten to it by all binding force. We will never do it well without arranging the best conditions of doing it well. Satan has suffered so much by good praying that all his wily, shrewd and ensnaring devices will be used to cripple its performances.
We must, by all the fastenings we can find, cable ourselves to prayer. To be loose in time and place is to open the door to Satan. To be exact, prompt, unswerving, and careful in even the little things, is to buttress ourselves against the Evil One.” (E. M. Bounds in The Reality of Prayer)
“If we believe with our minds that God is holy, we must also come to find his holiness enjoyable and satisfying just to praise it. If we believe the great God of the universe really loves us, it should make us emotionally unshakable in the face of criticism, suffering, and death. In short, we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity – that is, in name only – and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
“Meditation is likened to tree roots taking in water. That means not merely knowing a truth but taking it inside and making it part of yourself. Meditation is spiritually ‘tasting’ the Scripture – delighting in it, sensing the sweetness of the teaching, feeling the conviction of what it tells us about ourselves, and thanking God and praising God for what it shows us about him. Meditation is also spiritually ‘digesting’ the Scripture – applying it, thinking out how it affects you, describes you, guides you in the most practical way. It is drawing strength from the Scripture, letting it give you hope, using it to remember how loved you are. To shift metaphors, meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
As we witness our culture turning further and further away from God’s Word, I have often wondered what should we, as believers, expect in the years ahead? Will the day come when verbal persecution of believers in America turns to physical persecution as many of our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world? Will we be imprisoned for speaking God’s truth? It is certainly possible.
I have been reading through the book of Acts lately and came across a verse that, I believe, answers the question of what we should expect. It can be found in Acts 12:24 but before I give you the verse I want to put it into context. The church was born just a few chapters earlier in Acts and God was moving powerfully. But the Jewish religious leaders and the secular Roman government began to persecute the church. They were told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were beaten and jailed. Immediately leading up to Acts 12:24, James the brother of John had been martyred for the faith and Paul was imprisoned.
Yet, here is what we read in Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” During one of the most intense seasons of persecution of believers in the history of the church, the truth of the gospel was preached and it increased and multiplied! I think this is what we should expect in the years ahead. But we must be faithful, as God’s people, to be who he has called us to be and do what he has called us to do.
Take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:
- Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my heart and life? Can I echo with David, the Psalmist, that the word of God is “more to be desired than gold” and “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:10)?
- Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my family? Am I following the Lord’s command to teach my children diligently the truths of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)?
- Is the word of God increasing and multiplying in my other spheres of influence (family, workplace, neighborhood, etc.)? Am I the “light of the world” and the “city set on the hill” that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:14-16?
Many Christians are lamenting where we are as a nation but I’m much more concerned with where we are as believers and as Christ’s church. We may very well face intense persecution in the years ahead, both verbal and physical. But if believers are saturated with God’s word, if the church holds fast to the Scriptures regardless of which way the cultural winds blow, if we see people the way Jesus did as sheep without a shepherd, if we love the lost and boldly proclaim the glorious gospel, then I believe we will experience what the early church experienced. We will see the word of God increase and multiply throughout this world. And God’s promise is that His word will go forth, it will not return empty and it will accomplish what he intends for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). That is good news!
“Galatians 4:6-7 says that the Spirit leads us to call out passionately to God as our loving Father. Paul refers to this experience as ‘knowing God’ (4:8). That’s the ground motive of Spirit-directed, Christ-mediated prayer – to simply know him better and enjoy his presence.
Consider how different this is from the normal way we use prayer. In our natural state we pray to God to get things. We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We therefore pray mainly when our career or finances are in trouble, or when some relationship or social status is in jeopardy. When life is going smoothly, and our truest heart treasures seem safe, it does not occur to us to pray. Also, ordinarily our prayers are not varied – they consist usually of petitions, occasionally some confession (if we have just done something wrong). Seldom or never do we spend sustained time adoring and praising God. In short, we have no positive, inner desire to pray. We do it only when circumstances force us. Why? We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he had not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.
All this changes when we discover that we have been mired all our lives in forms of self-salvation, and we turn to Christ. When we grasp his astonishing, costly sacrifice for us, transfer our trust and hopes from other things to Christ, and ask for God’s acceptance and grace for Christ’s sake, we begin to realize with the Spirits’s help the magnitude of our benefits and blessings in Christ. Then we begin to want almost desperately to know and love God for himself. His love and regard make popularity and worldly status look pale and thin. Being delighted in him and delighting him become inherently fulfilling and beautiful.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
“All prayer is responding to God. In all cases God is the initiator – ‘hearing’ always precedes asking. God comes to us first or we would never reach out to him. Yet all prayers are not alike or equally effective in relating to God. The clearer our understanding of who God is, the better our prayers. Instinctive prayer is like an emergency flare in reaction to a general sense of God’s reality. Prayer as a spiritual gift is a genuine, personal conversation in reply to God’s specific, verbal revelation.
Yet prayer can be even more than that. Many or perhaps most of our conversations are relatively superficial. Persons can exchange information without much self-disclosure. Some conversations, however, go deep and we sense that both of us are revealing not just information but our very selves. The conversation then becomes a personal encounter, a true connection.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)