I grew up in a Dutch Reformed Church. I can remember as a little guy, going to church with my family and sitting in the wooden pews. We sang hymns and we knew which ones to sing by the numbers up on the wooden display on the wall. There was a choir, in robes, and the pastor wore a robe when he preached. The same pattern was adhered to every week. We would sing, recite the Apostles Creed, sing the Doxology, pass the offering plate, the choir would sing, pastor would preach and at the end the pastor would be somehow at the church door, waiting to shake hands and say goodbye. In his black robe.
Question: was that worship?
What makes for an inspiring, life changing, God pleasing experience in a church on a Sunday morning?
It’s one where the Presence of God Himself is known. Only an encounter with the Living God, individually and together, makes what happens on Sunday morning in a church worthwhile. And worship.
So it isn’t the format. It isn’t the physical building. It isn’t the personality of the leader or leaders. Those things may help, but they are only helps.
Why are we here? Why are you here?
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
The day of Pentecost, in some ways the birthday of the church.
What was that day like? People got up. They got themselves ready somehow. Brushed their hair, put on something presentable, if they had that sort of thing, and got themselves to the Upper Room. It was maybe a walk across town, maybe with some fear that the authorities might find them and hurt them somehow. There were the greetings, the small catch up talk. Too early in history for Tim Horton’s. The recent impressive but fading memory of Jesus talking and telling them to wait in Jerusalem was in the back of everyone’s mind.
Was that what made this service noteworthy?
It was the Presence of the Living God that made this otherwise normal meeting historic. And it’s the Presence of the Living God and your interaction with Him that makes any worship service life changing.
We can think of other meetings in the Scriptures that were amazing. Elijah on the mount with the 450 prophets of Baal. It became life changing when God showed up and consumed the offering, the altar and the water in a millisecond. When Solomon dedicated the temple that he and the people of Israel constructed, the Lord filled the Temple building and the priests couldn’t perform their worship duties. They were not able to stand. Whoa.
So is that what we’re looking for today? Is that the norm of Christian Sunday morning worship? To some degree, the answer is yes. The Presence of the Lord Himself and our worship of Him is supposed to be the norm of every meeting. That’s why in Hebrews it says we shouldn’t neglect to meet together. Because when we miss worship on a Sunday morning we miss a meeting with Him.
Remember Thomas? He’s often called “Doubting Thomas”, as he expressed his doubts about Jesus even after the Resurrection.
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
Did you know that Thomas’ life was in turmoil because he missed a meeting? We don’t know why. But he missed a meeting where God Himself was present. So he missed a transformative meeting and he became Doubting Thomas because of it. Wait, what?? Those must have been 8 long days for him until Jesus was there for the next meeting.
How do we contribute to setting the stage for and getting the most from meeting with God? He always does His part by being faithfully Himself and being there. We contribute our part in this:
Preparation, and it looks like this:
…above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
There’s a heart work that we need to do before we come to a worship service. And that heart work includes love, peace, thanks, His Word and a determination that this isn’t about me, it’s about Him. My life is about Him.
Time, before you go to meet with other people and worship God, is essential. Because all of us need to be used by God in Sunday corporate worship. Not all will preach. Not all will lead in worship. But an encouraging word, prepared in you by the Holy Spirit can change a life. A warm smile. A kind hand. Service of some kind. Coffee. Kids ministry. Sound, so everyone can hear. Video so everyone can see. The ways to contribute to our best outreach are so many.
But most Sundays we’re consumed with ourselves or the business of life and kids and food and cars. We don’t create margin for the Lord. No wonder we go to worship and miss the main reason we’re here. If we come at all.
What does it look like when we’re not prepared to have an encounter with God in a corporate meeting for worship on a Sunday morning?
We may not come.
We all have busy lives and I’m tired and Sunday is my only day to sleep in. That thought tells me that there’s little understanding or belief that God is here. Can we miss a Sunday and still belong to God? Of course. But if it’s consistent it can only mean that there’s very little faith present in that life to believe that God will be present at that service.
We consider the beginning of the service is just for the leaders and the worship team.
So we hang with our friends, drink coffee, eat Timbits and wander into worship late or not at all. That tells me that there is very little faith that God is here, present and real, in the service.
If this is the place where we meet with and experience God in a way that’s different than our individual time with Him, shouldn’t we see different evidences of our belief?
Shouldn’t every service be fun and scary at the same time?
Joy and reverence.
Shouldn’t we be as excellent as we can without becoming OCD?
So that there’s no hindrances to anyone who is new or not.
Shouldn’t we be overwhelmed by the numbers of people wanting to serve in every capacity to contribute to the service?
Instead it’s often this:
I come here because it meets my needs and wants. For now. In my time frame. Someone will provide for and serve me and my kids and when they don’t I’ll complain or move on.
I criticize the worship team or the message. It’s just boring.
Or we compare: It’s not as good as _____________. Insert: My favorite worship band. My favorite preacher or pod-caster. I’m waiting to be served and impressed.
Those are consumerist thoughts. Consumers aren’t contributors to the atmosphere and environment that invites and receives the Presence of the Living God.
But if you’re called here you need to be ready to receive from God Himself here, and serve Him here.
Heart prep. Family prep. Margin prep. Gifts prep. Service prep. Expectation prep.
What should Sundays look like?
Expect to meet God. And every worship service you ever go to, no matter the format, will transform you. Because meeting with God never leaves you the same. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss Him.