by Dermot Cottuli
Have you ever watched a circuit training class at a gym? As everyone’s milling around before the start you can tell that some are in better shape than others but on the whole they all look relaxed and ready to go. 30 minutes later though it’s more like a war zone than a social gathering. No-one looks good, everyone is hot and sweaty, most have red blotchy faces and what ever hairstyle they started with has long since passed its use by date. Some look positively ill but a few look like they could go another round. You can tell the ones who are fitter than the rest by the time the class is over. You can also tell the ones who are new to extended physical activity. They’re the ones bent over at the waist or lying collapsed on the floor struggling to breath. But they all have something in common, they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone and have put their bodies on the line. By doing so they’ve started a process in their lives that will bring great benefit to them if they, persevere.
That last little word there, is where things always seem to come unstuck though. Statistically the majority of people who sign up for a gym membership don’t get past the first 90 days. Why? You should hear some of the excuses. Change rooms too smelly. Music too loud. Exercise too boring. Nobody talks to them or takes an interest in their progress. Their buddy quit. They got injured. They’re too busy. It’s easier to stay home and watch TV then get in the car and drive there after work . . . The list goes on and on.
The stark truth though for why people stop going to the gym is really quite simple. [Slide] They stop going. Who stops going? [Slide] THEY stop going. You see the issue is always [Slide] ME. I can come up with excuses for why I don’t go but at the end of the day the truth is that I choose not to go. What’s sad is that most people who start going to a gym go because they realise that regular exercise will change their life and bring incredible benefits that won’t just impact on their time at the gym but will have a rollover effect on every other area of their lives as well. [Slide] But along the way something happens and they settle for non-engagement over long-term change to their great detriment and regret, further on down the road.
1 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
Today I want to take what I’ve just described as a modern day parable and apply it to something we engage with every time we meet together as the Church.
A part of our service that you all have the opportunity to participate in each week is our worship time that we start every one of our services with.
Before we get to the announcements or an offering or communion or the teaching or even our welcome of new people and visitors we begin by worshipping God through song. It’s not a warmup for the rest of the service but rather an acknowledgement at the very beginning of our time together that we’re here because of Jesus and for the pleasure of God. Worship was never meant to be a spectator sport or considered part of the pre-game entertainment. It’s actually the start of the main event.
Now I may step on some religious toes today, but then again I may not. It could be that we’re all on the same page and everything you’re about to hear will simply serve to reinforce what you already agree with. If that’s the case, fantastic. If I do however say something that conflicts with your perspective, opinion, point of view, tradition, or worldview try not to react too quickly but instead throw what I’m saying up against your current belief and see what happens. It could be that your thinking needs to change slightly. It could be that you’re right and I’m wrong.
Worship is intensely personal but in the context of a church service, it’s also corporate – our worship effects others and not just us.
Before we get into our topic today I want to stress that if your heart isn’t in the right place it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, your worship will be unproductive.
Worship brings us into the presence of God quicker and more directly than anything else we can engage in.
Psalm 100:1-5 (NLT)
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
When we worship we actively acknowledge God’s place of preeminence in our lives. That’s why some people teach that worship is more than just our singing in a church service. It’s part of everything we do IF we place God first in everything we do. I believe it’s a really important truth that helps us to draw near to God daily when we’re aware of it. However there is incredible benefit to setting aside time each week to actively engage in worship with God’s people that can help fast track our relationship with God.
I’ve noticed that my relationship with Jesus can get snowed under during the week by busyness and the stress of life. I can start to take him for granted if I’m not careful and far too often when that happens in our lives we run the risk of drifting. It’s the danger inherent in any relationship. It happens far too often in marriage and is the silent assassin of far too many Christians. We don’t even notice it happening. It also happens with our health. We wake up one day and look in the mirror and wonder who the person is who is staring out at us or we go for a run and wonder when one of our lungs stopped working. We don’t notice the decline because we’ve become used to it over time and it’s happened so slowly.
Every one of us has a base fitness level which stays constant due to our average weekly activity and diet. When we add an exercise program to our weekly activity we’re able to ramp up our level of fitness exponentially. When we do it consistently the benefits start to compound. I look at corporate worship the same way. Spending time once a week purposefully focusing on Jesus and lifting him up starts to change me. I’m drawn closer to Jesus and our relationship is strengthened by our time together. My faith is strengthened and my joy and peace increases. The Bible tells me that when I spend time in the presence of God I’m changed from glory to glory into His image. What’s not to like about that?
Now before you get all super spiritual on me let me just say that thinking about the benefits that worship brings into my life isn’t a terrible thing. In fact Jesus had no problem in talking about rewards for certain behaviour. For example
John 4:23 (NLT)
But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.
Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
What can I do to make corporate worship the best it can possibly be for me, Jesus and others?
1) Prepare beforehand
On the days leading up to Sunday spend time feeding your soul great food. Read your bible and allow God’s truths to fill you rather than the junk food that so much of our society feeds itself on. Spend time praying in the Spirit and talking to God about your life and His plans for you. On your way to church settle your heart and focus on what you’re about to do. Come with an expectation of meeting with God and hearing from him. Faith creates the door and then your actions in the service opens the door and allows God free access to your life.
2) Regular attendance
If you’re not there you’re not there. You don’t get any benefit from a scheduled workout that you fail to turn up for. You get no benefit from a church that meets regularly if you don’t turn up. Hey this is kinda basic but when we get the basics wrong we can’t expect the sort of progress that’s on offer to those who persevere.
Turning up is the most important part of the equation, participating with intent is the next most important.
If someone was to observe you during our worship time would you give them enough evidence to convict you of being a worshipper? Armchair athletes can know more about the game they’re watching than the players on the field but will never experience any of the benefits of participation whilst all they ever do is watch.
But some will say that they worship on the inside and to them I’d say “Listen to the words of Jesus.”
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
What we see on the outside is a reflection of what’s happening on the inside.
Please listen up. I’m not saying there’s no place for quiet reflective worship, I often engage in that style of worship but the key point here is engage. I don’t stand around waiting for worship to finish. I’m engaged right from the start. Standing there with your arms folded looking around and occasionally scratching your head isn’t engaging with Jesus.
You’ll never change if you don’t engage.
And you need to engage with your whole heart. Throw yourself into worship, don’t hold back. Don’t worry about appearances but give it your all. Don’t just go through the motions, but worship with focus and intensity. You’re here to meet with Jesus, don’t back off until you do.
There was a saying that used to get bandied around a lot when I first became a Christian. Worship leaders would often encourage us by saying we needed to break through into the presence of a God. Great saying to get people motivated but theologically wrong and detrimental to our understanding of God and his intention toward us. I realised after a while that it wasn’t a case of breaking through because there was no barrier between us and God because of what Jesus had done for us, but rather it was a case of breaking free of all the distractions that wanted my attention. And that required focused attention on my behalf. No-one ever rolled to the top of a mountain.
4) Bring others along on the journey with you.
The greatest teacher is example and in a public service like ours we don’t just impact on our own progress but on the progress of everyone around us through our engagement or non-engagement in worship. When we actively engage in worship we encourage others to worship as well. Part of my motivation each week when we get together in worship is to be an encouragement to those who might be feeling a little under the weather and need a little push to get them going. It works for me when I’m surrounded by worshippers so I know it works for others. We’re called by Jesus to love others the same way He loves us so we should be aware of others and not just ourselves. Thinking about others is a hallmark of maturity and it’s not determined by age or how long you’ve been a Christian. It comes when you “get it.” When you understand Jesus’ message – when you move from self-love to loving others. Unfortunately not everyone makes the transition but we’re determined here at Grace to get as many across that line as we can.
5) Lead yourself where you know you should go.
You can create a spirit of faith and expectancy within yourself even if it’s not there to start with.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
YOU’LL NEVER CHANGE IF YOU DON’T ENGAGE