It is a cool, crisp fall day. Everyone is up early this Saturday morning looking forward to the upcoming worship service. This is not just any normal worship service. Thousands of people show up early so that they put up tents and cookout in anticipation. Many drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars just to get there. They love to get together, strangers even, to talk about past worship services and dream about what may happen at future ones.
As the time for the worship service draws near people pile in to the worship center. It will hold 80,000-100,000 people and you can be certain that every seat will be filled. Those filling the seats will scream and jump and sing and cheer for the entire three hours during the worship service. What’s even better is when it runs long….they call it overtime. No one complains – they actually love when this happens. When the worship service is over, people linger almost as if they don’t want to leave. They take pictures and talk to strangers, sometimes high-fiving and hugging people they’ve only just met. Interestingly, those who did not make it to the worship service in person watched it on TV with friends. In fact, they say they would “never miss one!”
The other worship service it a bit different. It happens on Sunday mornings and few people are anticipating this gathering. They roll out of bed groggily wishing they could get just a few more minutes of sleep. When they are finally dressed they casually make their way to the service, usually showing up a few minutes late. Few speak to people that they do not know and, unlike the day before, people don’t seem all that excited about this worship service. In fact, it seems like they are ready for it to be over so they can go about their day.
As the worship service starts, the people who were cheering and singing yesterday are subdued. If they do sing, it is with very little emotion. If they do clap, it is done half-heartedly. There are plenty of empty seats but it has come to be expected because there are other more important things that need to be done on Sunday mornings. After the singing, the people sit and listen to someone for a while. Many times they get distracted thinking about other things and they get fidgety if the worship service goes into overtime. At the previous worship service they willingly spent hundreds of dollars for travel, tickets and food but don’t seem to contribute much at this service. When it is over, they bolt out the door instead of mixing and mingling like they did the day before. Those who didn’t make it this week may make it next week but only if nothing else is going on.
“Ambitious and self-seeking Christian workers, like the priest and the Levite, pass by on the other side of the street in order to devote themselves to a higher stratum of society. They are not willing to keep teaching the elements of the gospel to simple believers, or to endeavor to encourage backsliders onto the narrow way. They want a ministry more worthy of their powers.
Jesus, however, found delight and satisfaction in stooping to serve those whom most choose to ignore. His skillful, loving care caused the broken reed once again to produce heavenly music and fanned the dimly burning wick into a glowing flame. He never entirely crushed of concerned the penitent. It is noble work to care for those whom the world ignores.” (J. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Discipleship)
-J. Oswald Sanders received a letter with these words: “Our modern emphases are so experience-oriented, and so centered on happiness and warm feelings instead of holiness and hard thinking, that some Christians’ faith in nearer to the Buddhist’s search for peace in the environment than to the message of the cross of history.” Wow! That is so powerful and so true!
-I am eagerly awaiting the cover of my book Parent Driven Discipleship which will be published by Energion Publications. I hope that it will be available for purchase in the next couple of weeks. Take a moment and check out their website energion.co.
-Last night I had the privilege of meeting with one of the families in our church and talking with one of their daughters about salvation. She prayed to receive Christ as her savior last night!!! Her dad sent me a message that her twin sister also prayed to receive Christ as her savior later in the evening. The kingdom of God grew yesterday!
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)