If you’re anything like me, when you hear the call to prepare for the Lord’s Supper by confessing your sins, you never think, “Golly, I did pretty well this week. I can’t think of a single thing I would’ve done differently!” Unfortunately, each week brings its own list of sins I need to confess and repent of—sometimes actions that happened even on the way to church.
How about the sins we commit, though, while sitting in the Sanctuary? Do you ever need to repent of things done during the worship service itself? What I’m thinking of in particular is refusing to worship God with your whole heart in the presence of the congregation… lip-syncing your way through the singing; text-messaging your way through the sermon; pondering the rest of your day’s plans during communion; mentally checking out during share times because you sure aren’t going to stand to share anything and don’t expect to glean much from those who always do.
A disclaimer or two is in order before I go any further… I don’t pretend to know what’s in anyone else’s heart, the place from which true worship emanates. And I realize the condition of our hearts varies from week to week. There are times when the best we can do is to just show up. But I also know my own heart which is described well in the hymn “Come Thou Fount” —prone to wander. That’s me. And I’m sure there are at least some of you who can relate. So perhaps a reminder is in order as we begin another year together as to what we’re doing when we come together and the importance of fighting the tendency to wander our way through a time of corporate worship.
Worship is about both giving and receiving. I’ve heard people try to make a case that it is solely about one or the other, but I don’t buy it. When we gather to worship, we come to receive. God doesn’t need anything that we have to offer him. Unless we come ready to acknowledge our poverty before God and humbly plead for what we most desperately need and what only he can give, something has gone terribly wrong with our worship. It is also true, however, that worship is about giving. Like the saints of old who came with sacrifices and offerings, so too, we must come ready to give to God. He doesn’t need anything from us, but he instructs us to come with an offering for our benefit and for his glory. The form of our sacrifices and offerings have changed since Old Testament times. The one sacrifice for sins has already been offered and we need not, and cannot, bring anything that will merit his acceptance. But nonetheless, worship is still about offerings and sacrifices. Romans 12:1 says, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Likewise, Hebrews 13:15 exhorts us, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. This is true of our worship all through the week, but no less so on Sundays as we gather together in Jesus’ name.
So, as we come to worship, we ought to come ready to receive from God and to give to God. And there is a way to receive from God that glorifies him and a way that does not. If we come with the understanding that God is the giver of every perfect gift (which he is) and that what he has to offer us is truly precious (and it is), we will come expectantly and eagerly for his wisdom and comfort and guidance.
Thus, as was true for the Israelites thousands of years ago, so too for us: there is a way to give to God that is honoring to him and a way that is dishonoring. For the Israelites, not just any lamb would do for a sacrifice. It was to be a spotless lamb, without defect. The firstfruits of the harvest were to be offered, not the left-overs. The principle holds true for us—we are to bring our best (which varies person to person and day to day).
It bothers me (and it should bother you), when I see someone half-heartedly engaging in worship or when I realize that I am only half-heartedly engaged. If we’re going to sing together, let us offer our best. Our musicians should do their best and so should the rest of the church. Come prepared to sing with your mind, and heart and voice. Don’t hold back! If God is the recipient of this gift of praise, give him what he deserves. I would hope that when new people arrive at SBCC, the first thing that jumps out at them when it comes to the music is not the musicians on stage, but the voices of the church members. They must think God is truly great, to sing so passionately to Him. Whether we can sing on key or not, let us pour out our hearts in song!
If we’re going to listen to God’s word and grapple with its meaning and implications together, let us give ourselves fully to the task. If your mind tends to wander, bring something to write with and jot down lines that stick out to you or evoke questions in you. Sit in a place in the Sanctuary where you won’t be bothered by as many distractions. Ask your friends or family members afterwards about what stuck out to them and be willing to share your thoughts.
You get the idea… We have 90 minutes each week when we come together to worship God—to hear his word proclaimed, to sing together of his majesty and grace, to eat and drink together at Christ’s table, and more. Let us do so in a way that proclaims the worthiness of the One we worship!