Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long Process Of Preparing For Worship

     What are church services really for? Have you ever wondered, or have you just assumed that church services are whatever the pastor or the 'worship leader' decides church services are for?
     In the New Testament we see two things taking place that people typically conflate into a single type of event, the evangelistic gathering (usually outdoors) where the gospel is proclaimed and the gathering of Christians for worship. The prime example of an outdoor evangelistic gathering is found in the record in Acts 2 of the Apostle Peter's sermon delivered to thousands with great effectiveness and 3,000 conversions on the Day of Pentecost. On a much smaller scale we see a similar type of event take place in Acts 3 following the healing of a man lame from his mother's womb, providing an occasion for more gospel preaching to those who reacted with curiosity and interest to the lame man's healing. For insight into the worship of God's people in a congregational setting we take note of First Corinthians 14 and First Timothy 2.
     Careful consideration of the two types of events reveals that they are decidedly different in intent. I propose a consideration of the second type of event, the church congregation's gathering for worship, for instruction, and for training. What is oftentimes ignored in planning a church service is the distinction between the two types of events shown in the New Testament. This is understandable in light of the fact that real evangelism takes place at both types of events though the primary thrust of the two types of events is not the same (an issue I will deal with at another time).
     For now, I urge the reader to focus on the matter of Christians gathering to worship God in Spirit and in truth. To begin I call upon you to seriously reflect on the Savior's rebuke of the believers on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection, wherein He said in Luke 24.25, "Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken." Of course, it falls upon you to be sure by considering the surrounding context that you grasp what the Savior has said, but I direct your attention to the phrase "slow of heart to believe." Isn't that something worth investigating? We find our Lord rebuking two believers for being "slow of heart to believe."
     Human beings have two aspects to our nature, the physical aspect and also the spiritual aspect. We could label them as being material and immaterial. That which comprises the immaterial portion of our being includes man's spirit, man's soul, man's mind, man's conscience, and man's heart. As to where one part of man's immaterial composition ends and another part ends no one pretends to fully know. However, we know enough about our immaterial side to readily admit that our minds are typically very quick and agile, capable of turning on a dime, prone to shortness of attention span, and having other characteristics. What can be said about the heart? Though it used to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (prior to being given a new heart when Christ was trusted), we learned from the Savior Himself in Luke 24.25 that the heart is slow. May I set forth a visual analogy? If the mind is something like a small boat with an outboard motor in its agility and ease of directional change, the heart should perhaps be likened to an oil tanker that can be maneuvered only slowly because of its tendency to respond only gradually.
     What are some implications derived from the differences between the responsiveness of the mind and the heart in a believer?  Assuming the spiritual leader desires to have his greatest impact on the hearts of those he ministers to instead of provoking them to quick decisions that have little lasting effect, he must take into account the slowness of the heart to believe. After all, it is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, is it not? If the heart tends to be slower in its responsiveness than the human mind then consideration must be given to that tendency when ministering grace to others, and when seeking to be ministered to by someone.
     My own conclusions resulting from these considerations are that one cannot laugh and joke with teens for 30-40 minutes before settling into a 10-15 minute devotional from God's Word, and that one cannot tell several interesting stories before driving home a 'spiritual' conclusion in the lives of adult listeners who have arrived on the scene without any preparation for receiving life-changing truths. To be sure, you can work teens into convulsive laughter with a good comedy skit and then turn them on a dime with heart-rending stories and a few verses from the Bible that will leave them in tears and willing to make a decision. However, it will as likely as not be a decision that is purely mental with no heart response. Why not? The Savior Himself said the heart was slow to believe, did He not? As well, even if the pastor preaching to adults is not imitating a comedian doing a stand-up routine before he turns toward a convincing and 'spiritual' climax to his sermon, the people he is speaking to are likely incapable in their hearts of turning about so quickly that genuine heart responses are possible on such short notice. The issue at hand is the nature of the human heart.
     Granted, from time to time the Spirit of God working in someone's life provokes deep and thoughtful consideration of spiritual verities so that the response that is evidenced at a youth rally or on a Sunday morning is genuine. However, such is the exception rather than the typical consequence of most decisions. For the heart to be engaged more time is typically needed.
     Do you want your heart engaged in worship? Do you want to engage the hearts of the people during worship? Then I suggest that preparation for Sunday morning worship actually begin Saturday night, at least with serious consideration of tomorrow's worship of God being a topic for bedtime prayers. Some family discussion of the worship time the next day would also be advised. Then, after a good night of sleep (please, no video games or television viewing late into the night), an unhurried and nourishing breakfast preceded by prayer for the worship service, and a relaxed time of preparing for church, recognizing that preparation for church should be so much more than dressing.
     I am convinced such an approach to worship accomplishes three things: First, attention will be given to actually praying and preparing the heart for handling spiritual truth. Next, an unhurried and planned approach to worship will minimize or eliminate carnal distractions leading up to worship. Finally, what is prayed for and planned for will actually be anticipated, God working in your life because you want Him to work in your life, you have asked Him to work in your life, and you have prepared for Him to work in your life.
     Most spiritual behavior is planned. Therefore, plan to worship God and you will be far more likely to actually worship God.