Public Worship: These Times
Still, Strong, and Brave (Part II)
What These Times Demand
With true stillness of spirit in the power of the Holy Spirit comes strength of spirit, the power to obey the Lord, the endurance to finish each task, and peace throughout the day and deep into the night.
Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
1 Timothy 4:7-10 NLT
Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it.
It is surprising what makes us strong: simple tasks anyone can perform, daily disciplines anyone can master, measurable actions anyone can take and fundamental skills anyone can practice For those on Weight Watchers, the essential things are: keeping a food diary, weighing and measuring your portions and going to the meetings—simple things. Do them and all your weight will eventually come off. I’ve been trying, off and on, for more than 40 years! Simple things can really be a challenge! Easy tasks are not so easy. Measurable things can lose their proportion and fundamentals easily slip away from the most skillful of us.
Private Worship makes us strong.
This is the deliberate stillness of the soul we have been talking about. Just as a carefully planned and executed weight loss or body building plan does its work a little at the time, day by day, so does this “spirit-building” plan. “Praying without ceasing” (framing the day in prayer) not only makes us strong, but it is the essential starting place and the essential maintenance program. Quite simply, regular stillness before God makes all the other parts of the plan work.
Public Worship makes us strong.
The verse most often quoted in support of meeting together with the church is this:
Hebrews 10:25 NIV
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Believers need to come together and worship God. It is that simple, that fundamental. Period. End of sentence. No elaboration required. No excuses accepted for the able-bodied and able-minded. If you can get there—go! It makes us strong. Conversely, to stay away makes us weak. Encouragement is at the heart of this apostolic command. We need each other! It is delusion of the first order to think that we can make it by ourselves and be truly strong in the things of God.
There are, of course, hindrances. Wow, are there hindrances! Most of the hindrances are personal:
- we don’t trust preachers;
- we love Jesus, we just don’t like Christians;
- we don’t want to give up our only day off;
- we don’t like the music or the people;
- the music is too loud or too soft;
- we can’t understand what’s going on;
- it is irrelevant to my life;
- they’re just a bunch of hypocrites;
- they’re unfriendly;
- they’re too nosey and so on, ad infinitum.
Excuses make us weak while they do nothing to hold preachers accountable, or make Christians likeable, or make the worship service time well spent, or make better music that is just the right volume, or make the liturgy clearer or more relevant, or make the people more genuine or friendly or respectful. Excuses serve only to weaken the one making them.
Public Worship, even with all the hindrances, makes us stronger. After all the writer to the Hebrews says that when we worship under the New Covenant, we are really meeting with God Himself, thousands of angels in joyful assembly and even those who have gone before us into the presence of God. (Heb 12:22-24) Even if we totally dismiss our brothers and sisters as corrupt beyond redemption (which they are not, of course!) meeting with God, the angels and the souls of people made perfect in heaven is surely of some benefit to us, I would think. Don’t dismiss the simple thing of attending public worship in these troubled times. Public Worship makes us strong.
Bible Reading makes us strong.
The Beloved Disciple, John, says this, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14NIV) Like the young men of the early church, when the Word of God lives in us, we are strong. It is such a simple thing to read the Bible, yet it can be a vocation for a lifetime. For each believer it is a life’s pursuit. We may read the Bible through in a year or two or three but we never finish. Truth is here, layer upon layer, line upon line, precept upon precept to satisfy the greatest intellect. Wisdom is here within the reach of the least able minded among us: “Jesus love me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
My study, now beyond the doctoral level in men’s eyes, began as a print of the painting of Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding on His shoulders the little lamb with the broken leg. The picture was hanging on the wall of my first Sunday School class room where my Mom was teaching. I was four or five and I wanted to be that little lamb. I wanted Jesus to be my Shepherd. When my mother led us in singing “Oh How I Love Jesus,” I felt His presence. I was as still as a little boy could be and I knew. The Word was in that picture and it transferred to my little heart and started working mightily in me through the song. My little boy arms were not strong. My little legs would not carry me far or fast, but my spirit was not little. It was eternal and it was strong because the Word was alive in me.
Bible Study makes us strong.
The difference between Bible reading and Bible study is one of approach: in Bible reading we open ourselves to the Word of God; in Bible study we open the book toward a particular end—a topic or a specific book or author.
- Bible reading is really a form of prayer and should be a part of the private worship we do each day.
- Bible study is an investigation of the Scriptures for the purpose of enrichment and practice. Bible study at the level of principles and directives, metaphors and themes is one way the Word of God works in us richly, to use Paul’s language.(Col 3:16-17 NIV)
Bible reading builds us up spiritually; Bible study makes us wise in the ways of God. We need both kinds of strength.
Giving and Christian Service make us strong.
At the heart of Christian life is the blessedness of giving and serving. In his meeting with the elders of Ephesus Paul said,
Acts 20:35 NIV
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Spiritual strength comes when blessings flow through our lives rather than pile up in our lives. Giving is about money and everything else we have. We are to keep sowing good things into the church, into people’s lives, in and out of the church, but especially in the household of faith. (Gal 6:10 NIV) Caring for our brothers and sisters in the family of God, and ministry to the poor, the captive, the sick of spirit and body is ministry that strengthens us even as we give of what we have. Of course it includes tithes and offerings, but it also includes giving of the compassion we have in our hearts, the skills we have in our hands and the wisdom we have in our minds. Like the “cruse of oil unfailing,” the more we empty ourselves, the fuller we grow!
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved