“The inner action of prayer takes precedence over the outer action of proclamation. The implication of this for pastoral work is plain: it begins in prayer. Anything creative, anything powerful, anything biblical, insofar as we are participants in it, originates in prayer. Pastors who imitate the preaching and moral action of the prophets without also imitating the prophets’ deep praying and worship so evident in the Psalms are an embarrassment to the faith and an encumbrance to the church.” (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)
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.
The Christian pastor holds the greatest office of human responsibility in all creation. He is called to preach the Word, to teach the truth to God’s people, to lead God’s people in worship, to tend the flock as a caring shepherd, and to mobilize the church for Christian witness and service. The pastor’s role also includes an entire complex of administrative and leadership tasks. Souls are entrusted to his care, the trust is entrusted to his stewardship, and eternal realities hand in the balance. Who can fulfill this job description?
Of course, the answer is that no man can fulfill this calling. The Christian pastor much continue acknowledge his absolute dependence upon the grace and mercy of God. As the apostle Paul instructs us, we are but earthen vessels employed for God’s glory. On his own, no man is up to this task. (Albert Mohler in On Being A Pastor)
Worship is the glorifying of God, the making much of him, the magnifying of him so that he increases in coordination with our decrease.
Jesus tells his disciples that their good works should be lights shined on God (Matt. 5:16), meant to illuminate him for the benefit of those in the darkness, showing them the way out. The only way our good works will work this way – to repeat, the only way – is if our good works are acts of worship. This means our good works must be our response to the finished good work of Christ. If our good works are viewed as currency to exchange for the good work of Christ, they will be seen by the lost not as illuminating God’s goodness but illuminating ours.
Good works as worship are acts of thankfulness and joy. Good works as merit are acts of leverage and bribery. They do not magnify the God of free grace but make him appear like a loan officer. And God is not accepting applications for service; he is redeeming captives who then gratefully serve him of their own free(d) will. We invite the Spirit’s filling with our good works as we “sow to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8), but we do not earn him with them. (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
This morning I read through John Piper’s chapter entitled “Marriage” in his book Desiring God. I thought I would reprint some of his words which focus on men stepping up in the home. If you are a husband, you need to read this! If you are married to a man, you need to put this in front of him! If you plan to be a husband one day or have a husband one day, you and he need to read this!
I address the men directly for a moment: Do not the let the rhetoric of unbiblical feminism cow you into thinking that Christlike leadership from husbands is bad. It is what our homes need more than anything. For all your meekness and all your servanthood and all you submission to your wife’s deep desires and needs, you are still the head, the leader.
What I mean is this: You should feel the greater responsibility to take the lead in the things of the Spirit: you should lead the family in a life of prayer, in the study of God’s Word, and in worship; you should lead in giving the family a vision of its meaning and mission; you should take the lead in shaping the moral fabric of the home and in governing its happy peace. I have never met a woman who chafes under such Christlike leadership. But I know of too many wives who are unhappy because their husbands have abdicated their God-ordained leadership and have no moral vision, no spiritual conception of what a family is for, and therefore no desire to lead anyone anywhere.
A famous cigarette billboard pictures a curly-headed, bronzed-faced, muscular macho with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. The sign says, “Where a man belongs.” That is a lie. Where a man belongs is at the bedside of his children, leading in devotion and prayer. Where a man belongs is leading his family to the house of God. Where a man belongs is up early and alone with God seeking vision and direction for his family.
I have been working my way through John Stott’s book, The Living Church, and was struck by his discussion of transcendence in worship. Here is what he wrote concerning the church:
This quest for transcendence is a challenge to us and to the quality of our public worship. Does it offer what people are craving – the element of mystery, the “sense of the numinous”; in biblical language “the fear of God,” in modern language “transcendence”? My answer to my own question is “Not often.” The church is not always conspicuous for the profound reality of its worship. In particular, we who call ourselves “evangelical” do not know much how to worship. Evangelism is our specialty, not worship. We seem to have little sense of the greatness and glory of Almighty God. We do not bow down before him in awe and wonder. Our tendency is to be cocky, flippant and proud. We take little trouble to prepare our worship services. In consequence, they are sometimes slovenly, mechanical, perfunctory and dull. At other times they are frivolous, to the point of irreverence. No wonder those seeking reality often pass us by.
In response to this analysis, he offers three things that are needed in the church:
1. We need such a faithful reading a preaching of God’s word that through it his living voice is heard addressing his people again.
2. We need such a reverent and expectant administration of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper that (I choose my words carefully) there is a Real Presence of Jesus Christ. His presence is not in the elements, but among his people and at his table, Jesus Christ himself objectively and really present, coming to meet us, ready to make himself known to us through the breaking of bread, and anxious to give himself to us, so that we may feed on him in our hearts by faith.
3. We need such a sincere offering of praise and prayer, that God’s people say with Jacob, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16), and unbelievers present will fall down and worship God, exclaiming “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
Stott is such a great communicator and I have benefitted tremendously from his discussing on the church. This particular discussion concerning worship within the church was powerful. I encourage you to pick up this book and read it!