Our general topic is how to enjoy the presence of our Great God and King, and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Many are the views which advocate the best way to enter into the Lord’s presence. That we should draw near to God is the clear command of Holy Scripture, and the natural inclination of the redeemed heart. Man was created to know God, and to enjoy Him forever. The gospel invitation is still, “Draw near to God.”
Sin has entered into the soul of man to drive him in fear and shame from the face of the righteous and holy God, and sin, unless overruled will keep a person from worshipping God. Even the professing believer must struggle with the constant temptation to avoid worship.
Sin whispers into the soul, worship is boring.
Sin whispers into the soul, worship is irrelevant…
And then, a list of reasons flash through the mind why worship is boring, or worship is irrelevant. Worship is boring because of, “What?” For whatever reason might be given, I would submit there is a very simple way to make any worship service meaningful.
Worship can be made meaningful amidst the trappings of splendor and grandeur, of dead symbols, and sights, and sounds.
Worship can be made meaningful when the walls are bare and there are even bars on the windows.
The testimony of the saints of the ages testifies to the simple principle that where God is there is joy. I dare say that if Jesus were to walk bodily into this assembly today, there would be a wide range of emotions, from breathless silence, to majestic awe of His presence. Eagerly would we listen to Him. Anxiously, would we gaze upon Him. And, if Jesus allowed, we would move to touch Him.
We would ask to see the scars in His hands. We would want to say, “Lord, teach us.” “Tell us what to do.” “Forgive our sins.” The same excitement that such a moment in time would generate can be captured each week if we will do these things.
First, let us put away living in any known sin. There are sins of the tongue, and sins of the body. There are secret sins that drain the soul of spiritual vitality. These activities cannot be enjoyed during the week and then suddenly there is a sense of entering into the presence of God. Richard Baxter said it well, “Living in any known sin is a ground impediment to a heavenly conversation.”
Second, let us cultivate a heavenly mind. This heavenly mind can be acquired in part through meditation. Christian, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
God and money, earth and heaven cannot both have the delight of the heart. One will dominate. He who knows the secret thoughts, knows how many minutes we give to meditating on holy things. Meditation is a lost art to the Western world except as some metaphysical fad, but it is important to the people of God.
Besides meditation there is the joy of Christian conversation. So much conversation is meaningless when it could be meaningful as we exhort each other to good works or talk of the good things of God.
The Puritan author Richard Baxter wrote, “It is a great pity Christians should ever meet together, without some talk of their meeting in heaven, or of the way to it, before they part. It is a pity so much time is spent in vain conversation, and useless disputes, and not a serious word of heaven among them.”
The Word of God tells us how to talk to each other.
“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6).
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29).
What is corrupt communication?
Corrupt communication is that which brings another person down.
Corrupt communication is that which reduces people to tears.
Corrupt communication is that which tries to dominate attention.
In addition to meditation, and holy conversation, prayer will help us to enter into the presence of God. In particular there is the specific prayer, “Lord, speak to my heart. Lord, speak to my heart.”
There is something else to help in the cultivation of a heavenly mind, and that is to listen to the preaching of the Word of God.
In our day, the preaching portion of the service has fallen into disrepute. There is a movement in the land to replace the focus of the worship service on other things besides worshipping God through the hearing of the Word. Movies, liturgical dancing, drama, and rousing musical numbers of the rock and roll variety is more entertaining than seeking the presence of the Majesty from on High.
Nevertheless, Paul’s command to young Timothy was to, “Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.”
The Bible says that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God for, “How then shall they all on Him in when they have not believed. And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15).
True preaching of God’s Word has as its ultimate goal, leading the people to worship God.
The argument can be made that in the apostolic church, the ministry of the Word of God had the pre-eminent place. Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel for the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 17,18).
The story is told of a man who took his friend to hear Charles Spurgeon. After the service the man asked, “How did you like Mr. Spurgeon?” And the answer came, “I forget to investigate Mr. Spurgeon, my attention was drawn so closely to the Savior of whom he was preaching.”
Week after week it is the privilege of the pastor and various teachers to set before people the excellencies of Christ, the glory of God, the mighty work of God the Holy Spirit.
Week after week, the opportunities to hear the Word of God is either accepted or rejected, and in the Day of Judgment, it shall all be evaluated to determine what was done with God’s gracious opportunities. We will all give an account for how we have spent our time. Until then, every effort will be made, by those of us who minister in the Word, to give ourselves to study, so that the Word of God may dwell richly in your hearts. And as you listen, it is possible that you will be drawn toward heaven and focus upon the King of kings and Lord of lords.
All the other elements of true worship are important, but let us especially listen to the preaching of the Word, because it is the primary means “whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of His mediation” (G.I. Williamson).
Here, we want to be careful lest we reduce the significance of the place of the sacraments as part of Scriptural worship.
We believe that when duly administered, and properly received, the Lord’s Super can be a vital aid in worship.
Let there be no misunderstanding. The sacraments, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, are not a means of converting sinners unto Christ.
The Word of God can convert a sinner, but not the sacraments. The sacraments become a means of strengthening and confirming faith in the hearts of believers.
If we would worship, let us put away living in known sin; let us cultivate a heavenly mind; and let us listen seriously, consciously, often to the preaching of God’s Word, and let us remember the Lord’s death till He comes. “This do in remembrance of me,” said Jesus. (I Corinthians 11:29) The will of the Lord is known. But, how often should we remember His death, formally?
The question is not, “Should the Lord’s Supper be observed.” Of course it should be observed. But how often? Unfortunately, for some of us, Jesus did not establish a specific number of times for the observance of communion. We wish He had. So then, “How can the question be answered?”
One-way is to appeal to the worship practice of the apostolic churches, which was passed on to the next generation.
Church historians tend to agree that during the first two centuries at least, the worship of the church was comparatively simple.
An analysis of the early Christian worship reveals that the service was composed of two parts.
The first part consisted of the following elements: Scripture readings, Old and New Testament, an exhortation, preaching of the Word, and prayers, collective and individual.
The second part of the service focused upon the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Here is a way to reconcile having the Word of God be pre-eminent in our worship, and still allow an exalted place for the Lord’s Supper.
We do not have to choose between Word and Sacrament. What God has joined together, we do not want to put asunder or divide. Now let us deal with some concerns about observing the Lord’s Supper too often. The concerns might be put this way:
“Question. Is there not a danger in communion becoming too artificial and meaningless?”
The answer is yes. But the same could be said of prayer, singing songs, hearing sermons, and any other religious act. But communion does not have to become meaningless, boring, or irrelevant. There can be safe guards to protect the observance of the communion service. Variation of speakers, different modes for the elements (baked bread), various songs to learn and sing, are some of the few.
“Question. Is this not something the Catholics do?” The answer is yes. But Catholicism is not what we want to react against. We simply want to go to the Bible and derive from it the principles and practices of the apostolic church. This is in line with our rich Protestant heritage.
“Question. Do I have to take communion each week?” The answer is no. In fact our text forbids it. Freely the Church must worship God. But we do believe that spiritual leaders are responsible to set before the Church the opportunity to worship.
On the positive side, let us remember that Jesus’ desire is that we observe His death often. If I did something only once a year, or once a quarter, would that be considered “often?”
If a man told his wife he loved her only twelve times a year, would that be considered frequent? But to do something at least once a week, that is often. At least the early Church thought so.
As the local Church considers the matter of worship in general and communion in particular let us keep in mind: There is an essential unity between the Word and the Sacrament. It is the will of Jesus that we observe Communion often.
The Lord’s will should take priority over our own preferences to observe communion. The desire of the apostolic church was to be in the company of the Lord’s presence often. All the means that God has given us to draw closer to Himself should be considered, and used.
Regardless of the present forms of worship, my own heart’s desire is to lead the Church, with joy, into the presence of our great God and King who is worthy to receive glory and honor and power. Amen.