Imagine, if you will, someone who loves to go for a walk in the countryside. This person takes the same route each time, and yet always find something fresh in what they see and hear. They pause every time to peer over this bridge – they always choose this fork in the road rather than that one – they look back down the path from the same vantage point each time.
Perhaps other people cannot comprehend the hold this same old route has on that person. They think it must just be a mere habit. However, for the individual we are considering, there is rarely an occasion when they don’t encounter something new, inspiring or delightful.
Now think of the forms which we as Christians use when we gather to worship. The process is more or less the same every time, with different numbers of prayers, hymns, psalms, Bible readings, sermons, etc., in various combinations.
Even though the forms are the same, something different can happen every time. The Holy Spirit can use the various parts of worship – especially Bible reading and preaching – to bring about the conversion of sinners and the edification of believers, in ways as multi-faceted as the individuals who gather and their personal characteristics and circumstances. In this, God is sovereign. Sometimes he works in such a way that his presence and power is unmistakeable – think of the day of Pentecost, when 5,000 souls were converted. Other times he works in a way less visible to the human eye. On Elijah’s mountain, God was not in the fire or the earthquake, but the still small voice. The wind blows where it wishes, both in tremendous gales and in barely perceptible breezes.
However, the means of grace are ordained as the channels through which he usually works – the preaching of the Word, prayer, praise, the Lord’s supper, the fellowship of believers – and one way or the other, he works in and through these means. And, even though we always use these same forms; what we want, is to be like that person repeatedly walking the same route but finding something new each time.
No wonder then that our ancestors (who so often had a much deeper, more serious grasp on the realities of Christian doctrine and experience) invested so much in the public means of grace and kept on using these same means over and over again. They understood that this was what God has ordained. They realised that God’s Word is full of new things to discover and different things to see. Each text of Scripture is like a flower, for example, with many beautiful petals to admire. A panoramic view might open up in one of the Psalms of the infinite riches of grace in the gospel. There might be a precious glimpse of the Saviour ‘through the lattice’ of the Word. Less comfortably, there could be ugly views of our own guilt and sin in the Bible’s mirror. Perhaps other parts might give terrifying prospects of a powerful enemy or an angry God. Yet even the sobering sights are worthwhile if they make you look more intently for the one and only Saviour.
This is exciting!
Worship in God’s way should be compelling, profoundly satisfying, stirring, heart-warming – and exciting. Imagine attending each service full of anticipation, eager to know what the Spirit will reveal to you this time? Imagine singing with David ‘I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.‘ And I say imagine because if you are like me, you’re oftener not like this. Sadly, perhaps duty, routine and habit describe why we come, and distracted, even bored, are better words to describe our state of mind.
There are many reasons, internal and external, why this might be, but it’s crucial to realise that to achieve excitement, don’t mean resorting to the extraordinary.
The Lord has ordained the ‘ordinary’ means. We can’t attempt to do the Spirit’s work for him, by innovating in worship and changing the appointed forms with styles that appeal to the mood of the moment. We can’t displace preaching, prayer or praise with other activities. We don’t come to church to be entertained, we come to worship a holy God and to receive the blessings he has promised to give.
What we need is a renewed confidence in the ordinary ministry and to double down on our prayers and preparation for this. Then, through faith, we’ll have the expectation that exciting things will happen as the Spirit works, in and through the way he has appointed.[A00113 – 21/06/2019]