Church Attendance: Getting the Most out of Sunday Service (Part 2) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines
Sunday morning isn’t the sum of the Christian faith experience, but it can be a conduit, a beginning to it, if we take the time and effort to prepare ourselves and be ready for what God wants for us for each Sunday morning. I spent some time yesterday going through the first five ways we can prepare ourselves and get the most out of the Church service and today we’re going to jump right into the last five. As I told you before, this sermon is an expansion of a top-ten list that John Piper posted on his blog a while back.
6. Forbear One Another on Sunday Morning
His full title for this section was “Forebear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.”
We should already know that there are lots and lots of different kinds of Christians. God calls all kinds of people into His Kingdom. And because we are not the same, it stands to reason that we are not going to agree on everything all the time. We are going to have different opinions, styles and ideas – not about core issues, but about non-essential things that have to do with our personal preferences. Some people like having flowers up here, others don’t. Some people want to have more music, others less. Some think that church should have a certain dress code, others believe that church definitely shouldn’t have a dress code. None of this is core to the faith, and it creates many disagreements among brothers and sisters that make Satan laugh.
Do you want to know the best way to ruin your Sunday morning, or someone else’s? Start grumbling. Grumbling is demonic, did you know that? It’s a sin. Muttering under your breath, rolling your eyes, making others feel small, elevating your own opinion above others… all sin. Grumbling will ruin your Sunday morning because you won’t be able to see the good things going on, but only the bad. It’s like putting on the sunglasses and gas-mask I talked about during the anniversary service. Grumbling comes from a bitter, upset heart.
Listen to the words of Philippians 2:14-15:
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”
Every Sunday there is a demonic little voice inside your head that says:
“You deserve more.
Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
Your opinion outweighs others.
Everything is miserable.
Nothing’s going right.
You mentioned this and it didn’t change.
You should go somewhere else.
You should let others know how upset you are about this, but don’t tell them because nothing will happen… just grump around.
Feed the bitter root.
Start an argument with someone about something trivial.
It’s your right to complain and since everyone is here at church, this is the best time.”
Grumbling is a temptation for families on the way to church, when they arrive at church, during service, and then after service as well. There are lots of opportunities to grumble, ever Sunday morning.
So how do we combat this? By making the choice to have a longer fuse on Sunday morning.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with [Forbear] each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
What that means is that we give each other the same grace and forgiveness we have been given by God through Jesus Christ. We embody the gospel in our relationships to one another.
Does this mean that we just ignore everything and never have a conversation about what we like or dislike? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we just suck-it-up and drop it –
James 1:19 says that we are to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.
But other times, when we just can’t let it go, on Sunday morning we must “forbear”. To forbear means to refrain, abstain, hold back, and to be patient and self-controlled when you are annoyed or provoked. It means to hang on to it for a little bit and wait for the right time and place, and then privately talk to the right person about the issue to come to a peaceful resolution. Wait until Monday or Wednesday after you’ve had a chance to think and pray about it, and then if you still have a problem, call that person on the phone, or better, invite them over for coffee.
We don’t want to be like the people described in Psalm 106:25 where it says “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Nobody wins when we grumble against each other and then refuse to gather together because of our own hard hearts.
7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come
James 1:21 says, “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” This goes for all of us, including me. If we show up thinking we know it all, have a chip on our shoulder, and assume that we are God’s gift to the Church, then we are going to get absolutely nothing out of Sunday service.
Scriptures says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” so if you are sitting in service thinking “I could run sound or powerpoint better than that. I could sing better, pray better, read better, teach better, play better, or make better coffee…” then scripture says God is opposing you this morning. I know I sometimes struggle with this whenever I go to another church. I have to be extra careful that I don’t harbour critical thoughts.
When it comes to the sermon, to come with meekness and humility doesn’t mean that you are blindly accepting every word I say as though I’m Moses or the Apostle Paul. Dr. Piper says this:
“Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.”
The simple point here is to come asking the question, “What does God want to say to me through the people who are leading the service this morning?” The service leader prepares an opening scripture… what did God say to you during that reading? Did you miss a blessing because you forgot to listen? The music was prayed over and specially chosen. Did you pay attention to the words and what the Spirit of God was doing during the singing? Were you paying attention to the offertory prayer? Maybe God had a message for you there. What does God want to tell you in this sermon, at this time? If you come with a “longing to be changed” and a “meek and humble openness to God’s truth”, He will do something special.
Let me also say this: I love teaching and if you want to challenge something I’ve said, something I’ve done, something you think you’ve heard, or whatever else about me or the service, let’s talk about it during the week. Contact me or let’s set up another time so we can chew the issue out together.
8. Purposefully Focus Your Mind on God
When you come into the sanctuary, sometimes there is a lot of noise, kids, music practicing and activity. I praise God for that activity, because I’ve been in churches where it’s more like a mausoleum and that’s depressing. No matter the conditions of the room, when you come in seek to “focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on God.”
What do you do when you first pull up into the church parking lot? That’s a great time to start obeying Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take the steps from your car to the church to prepare yourself for service. When you enter the sanctuary, focus your mind on why you are here, Who you are here to meet, and then choose to give you attention to God.
Perhaps just a quick prayer to God, thanking Him for this place, these people, this time, and asking Him to begin tilling the soil of your heart so you are prepared to receive Him. Something simple like, “God, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here. I want to meet you today.”
Come expecting to meet God because He is here to meet with you! Socializing is really good, and I encourage everyone here to be super-friendly and loving and supportive… but taking that moment to focus on God will change your whole attitude. Maybe, as the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” for just a little while.
9. Think About What is Sung, Prayed and Preached.
We’ve covered this a bit already, but the encouragement here is to keep your brain in gear. One of my struggles in life is not activating my mind – it’s focusing it. I have to make a conscious effort each week to read the words on the screen, sing them with meaning, and not go into auto-pilot even during the sermon. Do you ever go on auto-pilot during the service, and then wake up an hour later and can’t remember what happened? I’ve done that, and I can’t tell you how many blessings I’ve missed out on.
1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”.
Some of us were raised on Michael Bay films and Teletoon, and have been conditioned towards 30 second attention spans. I’m sure some of us could really use a commercial break or two during in the middle of the message. My encouragement is to do your best to stay with me, and stay with the music. I’ll try to prepare something worth hearing, if you’ll make the effort to listen.
It’s a good habit to try to memorize the songs so that you can sing them during the week without using the PowerPoint so you can close your eyes and concentrate on God. It’s a little depressing when the PowerPoint goes down and no one remembers a song they’ve sang 50 times. Open your ears, you minds and your hearts to listen to the words God is bringing to you.
10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More than You Desire Riches or Food.
1 Peter 2:2 tells us: “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
This is something that comes as you mature in Christ. I know you can’t simply will yourself to want the word of God more, but you can put yourself in a place where you learn that the Word of God is of more value to you than anything you could possibly buy, and where you realize that it provides greater sustenance than anything you could possibly eat.
“as you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:9-11 says about the Words of God.” (Piper) They are “true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
They really are. The words contained within the Bible, the Spirit which empowers them, the God who wrote them, the Lord Jesus whom they are all about, are good, precious, filling, wonderful, and are worthy to build our lives on.
A Christian church service can give you a taste of heaven and a hint of what Christian maturity is all about. Sunday morning service, if you let it, can give you a thirst for God, a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, and help you want a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus.
Church Attendance: Getting The Most out of Sunday Service (Part 1) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines
Attending Church is one of the Four Core Christian Disciplines, but some believers are not in the habit of attending church on a consistent basis — or, hop from church to church seeking to find the perfect place to “get fed”. Being around other believer is an important and complex endeavour. We come to church from a variety of different situations, perspectives and backgrounds, with different needs and requirements to get the most out of our time at church. Consider how different we are.
A Diverse Group
Most of us are busy people. There’s a lot going on these days. It’s summer, the weather is warming up and it’s time to for yard-work, fishing and vacation. There have been a lot of sports finals to watch, and even more coming this summer, so there’s lots to be interested in. It’s block-buster movie season so there’s lots of good things playing at the theatre. There’s a tonne going on in local, provincial and national news – not to mention all the global crisis’ that we are supposed to keep up with. Some of you have some very serious things on your mind, experiencing troubles with your family or friends while others are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s all of our other day-to-day tasks and events. We’ve got a lot on our plates.
Physically speaking, some are feeling pretty good, had a great rest, a nice breakfast and can’t wait to get to whatever you’re doing later today. Others had really rough sleep last night and can barely stay awake. Maybe you’re feeling physically ill today or have been in chronic pain.
Practically speaking some of you are visual learners and have a hard time listening to someone speak for a long time – so just the idea of a 35 minute lecture puts you to sleep – so you stare at the PowerPoint hoping that it will keep you interested. Others of you are auditory learners and get distracted by the PowerPoint. Some of you are tactile learners who are having a really tough time right now because you’re having to sit still and try to pay attention, so you have to fiddle with a pen or tap your foot, or do something or you’ll go bananas.
There were some people who like “church music”, others don’t. Some like guitar, others piano. Some like to sing, others don’t. Some love going upstairs to hang out with people, others just want to get in and out without being bothered by a bunch of people who don’t really care about them anyway.
Some looked at the title and thought “that might be interesting”, others groaned knowing this had nothing to do with them. Some people are mad at other people. Some are mad at people who aren’t even alive anymore. Some have been hurt but won’t show it. Some are barely holding it together, hoping that no one notices. Others are desperately hoping someone will notice. Some are wondering why the intro is so long and wondering when we are going to get into the Bible. Others are glad there’s an intro because there’s been way too many verses for them to follow lately. Some have a deep, growing and flourishing relationship with their friend, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Others don’t even know what that looks like.
So, with all this diversity of background, levels of spiritual maturity, emotional and relational baggage, personal preferences, unique life situations, and learning styles, how can we possibly create a Sunday morning experience that helps everyone in the church grow closer to God, learn more about Jesus, worship Him in an intimate, personal way, grow closer in relationships with the group, and then go home blessed, comforted, uplifted and challenged to apply something new to their lives throughout the week. That’s a tall order!
You Have What You Need
Here’s the thing:
If God is present with us,
Jesus is alive and active,
and the Holy Spirit is still powerful,
then you already have everything you need
to experience Him no matter where you are.
If you’re at church and the worship music is well rehearsed, has God-honouring lyrics, and presented with excellence, regardless of style a path to worship is available for you to take. If the Bible is being read and preached with humility and truth, then there is something to learn. And i you are surrounded by people who love Jesus, then I believe we have some very good conditions to see God do some special and amazing things. Yes, we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes the songs are a little off, and my sermon is boring, and the technology doesn’t work, and the room is too hot or cold… but by and large, I believe deep in my heart that most church services are fertile ground for God to grow our spirits each week.
What must be done is for you and I to come in a receptive condition for what God wants to do. We must stop using others as the excuse for our own spiritual weakness and realize that getting the most out of the Sunday morning experience falls on us as individuals.
Getting the Most out of Sunday Service
So if that’s right, then the question we must ask ourselves is this: “How can I ensure that when I come to church I can experience the presence of God, worship Jesus from the bottom of my heart, obey Him in whatever He desires, and walk away encouraged and challenged as a disciple of Jesus each Sunday?” In short, “What can I do to get the most out of Sunday Service?”
I read an article by Pastor John Piper a while back called “Take Heed How You Hear” where he presents 10 different ways we can ensure that we are spiritually ready for whatever God wants to do during the Sunday service. I found them very helpful, and I believe you will too.
1. Pray that God Would Prepare Your Heart
So, as we’ve been saying all along, prayer is where all of our spiritual development begins. I went through a book a while back called “Power through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds which was written to preachers to implore them to realize the desperate necessity of constant and passionate prayer. One of his points was that no matter how good the scholarship, the illustrations, the force, the emotion, and excellence of the delivery of the sermon, it will mean nothing – and could even do damage to the people listening if it is not built on the foundation of a prayerful relationship with God.
But it works both ways. Those who come to listen, to sing, to serve, to give, and to learn need to come with their hearts prepared to receive. Piper says, “The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we [have to] pray for it.” A soft heart for God isn’t something we can generate within ourselves, it must come from God. Remember Ezekiel 36:26 where God says “I will give you a new heart.” We’ve covered this many times before, but remember that if we don’t take time to ask God to prepare our hearts, we have no chance of being changed by the music we sing, the word we hear, or the believers around us.
Think of your heart as a cup. If we come each week full of jealousy, pride, covetousness, fear, sin, unrighteous anger, worldly pleasure, or anything else, what else can fit into it?
Think of your heart as soil. If the soil is hard and dry, and hasn’t been tilled and turned over, softened by the healing rains of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then whatever seeds of change are cast out by the music, offering, prayers, sermon, service or fellowship will just bounce off the ground and won’t take root.
Our prayer each week should be before we come on Sunday, “[Lord, I don’t know what you have for me at church today, but please] give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.” (JP)
2. Feed Yourself During the Week
Don’t let the Sunday service be the first and last place you see God’s Word, worship Jesus, and talk to Him each week. The Christian life is so much more than Sunday morning! The meat and potatoes of your faith happen during the week – this is just the appetizer before the meal that will be your week.
Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” Imagine that the word of God is your food, and prayer, worship and fellowship is like your drink. It is certainly nourishment for your soul, but what if it also affected your body. What if you only ate and drank once a week? What if you starved yourself the whole week long and then came crawling into the building each week, famished and exhausted for the one meal you know will be set for you. Would you enjoy the food? Would it help you grow and strengthen your muscles? No, you would come in starving, barely surviving, and when it was served you wouldn’t treasure it, smell it, taste it and enjoy it… would you? You’d barely taste it, and it wouldn’t be enough. Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it and might even make you sick because you’re not used to eating.
Sunday morning can’t be your whole spiritual diet. Think of it like a big pot-luck dinner with your family and friends each week. It’s a special time where you get to experience foods that you don’t have to make, and which you don’t usually get. It’s a place you can savour, and pause, and converse over the food, push back from the table and drink from your cup, try things you’ve never experienced, and lean over to people and say “try this, it’s good!”.
If you’ve ever heard someone say that they left a church because “they weren’t being fed”, I would almost guarantee that they didn’t have the practice of feeding themselves during the week. “Not being fed” isn’t a biblical excuse to leave a church. Heresy, which is where the church is serving poison food, is a good reason to leave a church.
I promise that if you come prepared by feeding yourself the word, and drinking in prayer, worship and fellowship regularly during the week, that you will have a much better appetite for Sunday morning and will enjoy it more and grow more quickly in Christ.
3. Purify Your Mind
A corrupt, sinful, indulgent heart and mind will dramatically affect your spiritual life during the week and on Sunday mornings. You know this, but perhaps you don’t realize how dramatically it effects your attitudes towards worship, study, prayer and other Christians.
James 1:21 says that Christians need to be, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Philippians 4:8 implores us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is a challenge to me because I’ve incorporated worldly entertainment into my rest time. I’m not as bad as I once was, but it’s still something I have to watch and be careful of.
Let me read directly from Piper on this because I’m not sure I would have ever written this sentence myself.
“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship.”
Chew on that for a moment. Consider the tv shows and movies that you watch and ask if they are banal (meaning unoriginal, obvious and boring), empty, silly and trivial. I only get about 5 channels on my TV, but if I ever turn it on to surf I always regret it because it really is empty, silly, trivial and boring. It’s like eating cotton or listening to white-noise – just empty filler with no redeeming quality.
Worse, perhaps, are the shows and movies that are titillating, suggestive and immodest. The most popular shows today, on the specialty channels like HBO, Showcase and Spike have these sensuality designed into them! You say you want to watch it for the plot, the action, etc., but right along with is sexual immorality, suggestive themes, and outright pornography.
Watching these shows makes us small in our minds – because we import no new, good, helpful information. It makes us weak in our spirits – because we are consistently giving Satan more and more images and memories to distract, tempt and entice us to sin. It messes up our vision of reality and creates unholy and unrealistic desires that make us unhappy and discontent.
It would be amazing if Christians could stop putting this stuff in their brains altogether, but at the very least, let’s try to make Saturday night a “garbage free zone” where we only watch or read “something true and great and beautiful and pure and honourable and excellent and worthy of praise.” I love how Piper says the result will be,
“Your heart will shrivel and be able to feel greatness again.”
I have felt that shrivelling of my heart before, and I have also experienced God unshrivelling it and filling my heart back up to make it full and ready for Him. I know that there are some people who have slain this demon already and can attest to this truth too. This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand and begin afraid of culture, or about throwing our TV’s out and never going to the theatre. It’s about being able to focus our hearts on God. Can you imagine how different your Sunday morning would be if it began on Saturday night?
4. Settle Your Mind
This is all about trusting in the truth that you already have so you can grow and develop more truths. Some people have struggles with their faith that they just can’t get past, and it is a roadblock to their spiritual development. They come week after week, but they are not growing because they are stuck on one or two big questions that make them doubt God, their Salvation, their Faith and the grace of God.
There are other people who have many answers, but have not put them into practice. They are theoretical, but they have not become real. This means that they never really learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them because it never goes from their mind to their heart and hands – so God keeps repeating the same lesson over and over and over because they’ve never taken the step of obedience so they can move to the next lesson.
The encouragement here is to settle certain things in your minds – and move on. If you have a struggle with some aspect of Christianity then investigate those areas and settle them in your minds so you might be able to extend your roots deep into the soil. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Do the work of learning what God says, do what needs to be done practically to make that real, and then settle your heart and mind on that subject.
For example: If you come every week doubting that the Holy Spirit is real and wonder if the book He wrote may not be truth, then you will not be able to grow deeper. If so, then you need to read, study, and talk to me and other believers about the authority of the scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. Do the work, have it settled, then move on.
If you spend your week in difficulty and wonder if God is good or bad, present or absent, it will stunt your spiritual growth. Settle in your hearts that your immortal soul was purchased once and for all on the cross by Jesus Christ, that if God is for you who can be against you, and that there is nothing you can do to earn or lose your salvation because it is the free gift of grace. If you have to wonder each moment if you are good enough to be accepted by God, or if the sin you committed means God doesn’t love you today, then there is no way you will be able to worship effectively, pray personally, sing joyfully or listen to the Bible attentively. When trials come, if your roots are not deep, and your faith is unsettled, your faith will fail you.
If God has been working on you in an area of obedience like how much time you spend doing something so you can avoid your family, indulging in pornography or courting an affair, something that you need to change in your attitude or outlook, or something you need to give away… whatever it is… it’s my experience that your spiritual growth will be stunted and stalled until you deal with that area. You can tinker with the car engine, adjust the mirrors, clean the carpets and get all the pretty decorations you want, but if your tires are flat, you’re not going anywhere.
5. Get Some Sleep on Saturday Night
This one seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says this, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” That’s Bible talk for “Yes, you’re an adult and you can go to bed whenever you want… but being an adult also means doing the right and responsible thing.”
There is no law for what you are supposed to do or not do on a Saturday night. There is no bedtime or specific bible verses that say what you are supposed to be doing the night before. Sure, you’ve got some guidelines about drunkenness and orgies, but there are lots of things you can do on Saturday nights that aren’t sin, but that will absolutely ruin your Sunday morning worship experience. When you are tired you are more susceptible to temptation and Satan can use your weakened physical state to distract you, play with your emotions, and enslave you. And you get into a cycle of lack of sleep and then spend the day jacked up on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, then you are absolutely destined to fall for temptation – you’re easy prey.
And when you add the spiritual side of coming to church – the battle that rages to keep Christians away from worship, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of believers, then you are in real trouble. Lack of sleep is something people use to torture the enemy and weaken their resolve so they will crack under pressure. Sunday morning is a spiritual battleground, and sleepy soldiers are no help to anyone.
I like what Piper says here too:
“Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel [is to] decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.”
I read that knowing that I need to learn it too. I’ve built some boundaries that have really changed my life and my Sunday morning experience, but I need to do better for my own spirit and my family’s’ as well. I hope that you will pray though this list and that you will grow on Sunday mornings even more.