Recently, as my wife and I settled into our favorite pew a few minutes before the morning worship service, we greeted the people around us. The woman to our right was waiting for her husband, she said, and would not be remaining in that pew. A couple of minutes later he arrived.
Before she left, the woman leaned over and said to my wife, “This is going to be a very difficult service.” When Bertha asked why, she said, “I’m not at liberty to say. But you’ll see.”
That changed everything for me in that service.
Our church is pastorless at the moment, so I knew we were not going to be hit with a resignation of our shepherd. Those are always tough. The staff is fairly depleted these days, and we have an interim pastor who flies in on weekends from another state. We’re in the early stages of raising several million dollars for renovation, but that seems to be moving seamlessly.
I had no clue.
When we sang “The church victorious,” I did so with a greater appreciation. Our victory in Christ is not dependent on the ups and downs of a single congregation or the momentary conditions concerning one tiny portion of the Kingdom. Whether the staff stays or leaves, whether we are meeting the budget or struggling, Christ is Lord and we are all overcomers through Him who loved us.
We take the long view. Our eyes fixed on the Lord. Worshiping Him. Bringing ourselves to Him, making ourselves completely available to Him.
Each Sunday, as we settle in to worship, we buckle our seat belt. Whatever comes, Lord, my trust is in you.
Church services have known to be turbulent. And sometimes what upsets our boats is God’s truth and not man’s fumblings. In every case, we look to Him by faith.
“We walk by faith and not by sight.”
“Thy will be done, O Lord.”
So, what happened in the service? I’m not real sure.
The church’s missions committee chairman came to the pulpit. Perhaps this is it, I thought. He told of all the missions our congregation will be taking this year, and urged prayerful support. All is well.
The chair of the church’s pastor search spoke for some time. But it was all old news. “We are just now beginning our search. Here’s our email address. Pray for us.” All is well.
Nothing revolutionary there.
Then they played a video. One of our key staff members appeared on the screen, accompanied by his wife. He’s taking the rest of this month and the next month off, for rest and recuperation, he said.
When the service was over, that was the only thing out of the ordinary.
Why that was so difficult, I have yet to figure out. Twice during my long ministry, I’ve taken six weeks off to rest and worship with other churches, attend conferences, and get alone with the Lord. In both cases, the rest was wonderful.
But suppose we started every service this way….
Imagine this with me for a moment. What if someone approached us at the start of every worship service and said, “This is going to be a life-changing service. I can’t tell you any more than that. You’ll see.”
I’ve known a great many of just such services. You too?
When I was 11 years old, God called me to Himself in a worship service. I went forward to the altar and was born again into the family of God through faith in Jesus. Someone could have told me at the start of the service, “This is going to be a life-changing service. You’ll see.”
They’d have been right.
Ten years later, while singing in the choir during a revival service, I was called by God into His service as a minister. This was every bit as life-altering as the earlier call. What if someone had caught me just before we started into the choir loft that night and said, “Pay attention, Joe. This service is going to change your life.” They’d have been right.
A few thoughts…
One. Let every follower of Jesus Christ approach every service this way. The simple fact is an hour of worship is something that “cannot be taken away from us” (see Luke 10). And many of those hours sees people being born into the kingdom, called into the Lord’s service, or getting redirection in other ways.
Two. Let every pastor begin the worship service with the sure knowledge that the Lord is in this place and He has big plans for each of us. Let him pray and prepare with this in mind, and let him begin the service in a way to prepare the people to receive whatever He has for them.
I love it when the worship leader approaches the microphone and says something uplifting and praise-worthy to begin the service. Not something trite (“Wasn’t that a great ball game last night?” Lord, please deliver us!) or even silly (“Don’t you love Deacon Wright’s necktie?”). Something like…
–“I will call upon the Lord who is greatly to be praised! So shall I be saved from my enemies! The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock! And let the God of my salvation be exalted!” (Psalm 18)
–“He has said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ So that we may boldly say the Lord is my Helper and I will not be afraid!” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
–“The Lord is a sun and a shield! The Lord gives grace and glory! No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly!” (Psalm 84:11)
If you do this, worship leader, please say these lines from memory. All it takes is a caring heart and a tiny bit of preparation. Say them slowly and firmly, at full voice and in radiant confidence that this is the truth of God for His people.
“Heavenly Father, every time we come together may we open our hearts to Thee and believe that You are here in this place and that You have big plans for us in this hour. May we listen and obey. For Jesus’ sake.”