“When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your…appointed feasts; they have become a burden to me…. Even when you multiply prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1)
Often while preparing a sermon, I pray, “Lord, help me not to squander Thy blessing, waste their time, or miss this opportunity!”
Today, we’re talking about the second of these: Wasting time.
We do a lot of that in church, I fear.
We waste time in church every time we find ourselves:
–praising the God whose word you are flouting, pretending to adore the God whose will is the last thing you want.
–voicing hymns which express truths you do not believe and adoration you do not share.
–bringing pitiful offerings in place of something meaningful. Or even worse, bringing an offering while griping about pastors preaching on money.
–saying prayers by rote when your mind is a thousand miles away.
Our Lord said, “This people honors me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8).
Such worshipers are wasting their time.
If we’re not going to do what God tells us, then a worship service in which we say all the right things and act like we believe Him and believe in Him, is an exercise in folly. Jesus asked such time-wasters, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Why indeed?
“Wash yourselves,” says the Lord in the Isaiah chapter 1 passage. “Make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Reprove the ruthless. Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow.” Only then would their worship be genuine.
So many ways to waste time in church
When I asked some friends what they perceive as the biggest time-wasters in church, the consensus was that making announcements already printed in the bulletin ranks at the top of the list.
I’m not sure I agree.
The announcements might take three or four minutes. The sermon takes a half-hour.
–Others thought the hand-shaking time in the middle of the service was the biggest time-waster.
–Some opted for too many choruses, too much praise band.
–Some pastors engage in foolish banter to establish rapport with the people. “Hey, how about that game Friday night?” Or they will tease some member of the congregation, laughing at an inside joke shared by only a small portion of the congregation. Definitely time-wasting.
The biggest waste of time in a church service comes when we shift our minds into neutral in order to endure the sermon.
Fully a third to one half of the typical congregation takes a hike during that time.
Contrary to what the typical church member might think, the problem is not just boring sermons. Well, it might be. But it’s not always.
Sometimes the problem is the congregation…
When I was a teen, I accompanied my girlfriend to her family reunion. I knew almost no one, could not relate to any of the stories, and did not expect to see most of these people ever again. But I got through it. They served a great lunch, and I liked my sweetheart, so it wasn’t all bad. But most of it was a waste of time.
People who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ are attending someone else’s party when they come to church. They are not expected to appreciate it as fully as “the family” does.
But church members–those who claim to be the redeemed of Christ–often get it wrong too. The four chapters of Malachi address the matter of shoddy worship. The people are disrespecting God. “If I am a Master,” God says, “Where is my respect?” (1:6). How are we dissing you? asked the people. The answers were numerous. By defiled food on the altar (1:7), by the insulting offerings (1:8), and by their constant griping (1:12) about the service.
Then, if that’s not bad enough, God says, “you cover the altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because I’m not accepting your offerings.” The problem, the Lord pointed out, was that the men were being unfaithful to their spouses. Adultery and divorce were rampant. So, it wasn’t just about the offerings and hymns and announcements. How they lived during the week had everything to do with whether and how they worshiped on the Lord’s Day.
It did then; it does now.
The Lord is watching how we worship. He hears the prayers and pays attention to the hymns, and He knows the heart of the worshiper. If that doesn’t strike terror into your heart, you’re not paying attention.
Sometimes the problem is the pulpit….
Some pastors make the mistake of dressing down so non-church-goers will feel comfortable. They use slang language for the same reason. Big mistake. The world is not impressed when the church starts aping them. The world is lost. They’re looking for someone who knows the way out of this misery, an escape from this miry clay. They’re looking for something other than what they have found. And if all they find at church is worldly music, worldly slang, and slick productions to rival Dancing with the Stars, only the shallow-minded will be drawn in. Those who think for themselves will move along, looking for someone who is real.
God is not pleased when we preachers feel we have to entertain the crowd. So, we dumb down our teaching and pep it up with tidbits to rival the tabloids.
Let us teach the Word. Let us be faithful. Let us take seriously the charge we have received from the Lord.
The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. They will want to have their ears tickled, and will follow teachers who say what they want to hear. But don’t you be one of them. Preach the word. Be faithful. Be sober in all things. Put up with hardship. Fulfill your ministry. (from 2 Timothy 4:1ff)
Pastors erroneously think their biggest critics, those whom they have to please, are the deacons or some official board. Not even close. The God who called you into this work is the One above all others whom you have to please. He gives each of us a certain amount of time, a limited number of days. We must not squander them but make full use of them.
Lord, teach us pastors to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. And not waste this good time Thou hast given us.