When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions.
Yet, we have two realities that bind us together.
The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him.
Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people.
As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking with many through their pain. Miscarriages. Ailing parents. Straying children. Aching bodies. Haunting depression. Relentless temptations. Unemployment. Longing to be married. Tired of their marriage. Loneliness. Persecutions. Our afflictions could fill a library.
Yet week in and week out, month after month, year after year, we gather to worship.
Gathering is not always easy. Swirling political and racial tension drains many of us. The constant reports of terrorism and natural disasters overwhelm us. Personal pains and tempter’s snares at one time or another have slowed each of our steps.
But we still gather to worship because God has graciously commanded us to do so. He has promised that through our gathering, he strengthens us and uses us to spur one another on. And through all of this, he is glorified—in his weak, feeble, worshiping bride.
God’s Strength On Display
Our weakness supplies the perfect opportunity for God’s strength to be put on display (2 Cor 12:9). One of the primary ways God strengthens his people is through the corporate worship gathering.
“The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Ps 28:8–9, ESV).
When we gather in faith around his Word, God supernaturally supplies strength to aid our weary souls. This truth is entwined throughout the New Testament, but is explicitly taught in the book of Hebrews. Consider this exhortation:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:23–25, ESV).
The author directly connects our enduring confession of Jesus with the intentional gathering of his people. God uses the local church as a means of exhortation and encouragement to persevere in faith until we reach our heavenly home.
Neglecting to gather with the church puts our soul in danger. Sin can overtake us by its deceitful attacks (Heb 3:12–13). We risk isolating ourselves from other believers especially when we suffer. But we must resist the temptation to withdraw and instead gather in hope of receiving God’s strengthening grace.
Good News for Struggling Saints
We need to hear God’s voice especially during our greatest times of trial. We know that when we proclaim Scripture, God speaks to us. This is why every element of our worship services ought to be filled with the Word. Let’s consider this together. God strengthens us through preaching. We could fill up volumes that describe the ways God uses his preached Word to help his people. Chief among them is to assure us that he remains faithful to keep his promises.
Disorienting lies swirl in our minds when we travel through the wilderness of affliction. This is why it’s safe to say there is nothing more relevant to the human heart than the Word of God.
His Word is filled with precious and very great promiseswhich supply everything we need in our trials (2 Pet 1:4). We find assurance that our weakness is not a curse but an opportunity for God to show his power (Exod 14; 2 Cor 12:8–9). When the Word is preached in the gathering, both the one preaching and those listening receive what they need most.
God’s Word teaches the good news for struggling saints like us. It reminds us that we never graduate from the gospel. Jesus is not only the Savior of lost people, he is also the shepherd of pilgrim people. Our desperation, brokenness, weariness, and needs never stop. And he never ceases being a faithful, powerful, compassionate, sympathetic Savior.
God strengthens his people when they gather around his Word. He calls us to come near and be refreshed by the promise of fresh mercies purchased for us by the blood of Jesus (Lam 3:22–24).
God also strengthens us through observing ordinances. While preaching helps us hear the gospel, the ordinances help us see it. When a sinner plunges into the waters of baptism, we are freshly reminded of God’s mercy toward us. When we take the Lord’s Supper together, we tangibly consider Jesus who entered into our broken world and suffered for us.
God designed these ordinances to be taken together by the church to remind us that we have a High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). They call us to Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, and his fast-approaching return (1 Cor 11:26). They are memorials of mercy God uses to strengthen our faith in him.
Prayer also helps. God strengthens his people through praying. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, esv).
Setting Our Gaze on God
Prayer is one of the most fundamental reasons believers gather. Prayerfulness marked the early church and should mark us as well. We pray for all the saints (Eph 6:18) and especially for the sick, those who suffer, and those ensnared in sin (Jas 5:13–20). Though we often do not know what to pray, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness (Rom 8:26).
When we read the Scriptures, we find a variety of prayers. Each type of prayer highlights a different part of our relationship with God. Though public prayer looks different in every gathering, it should always aid the congregation in remembering that our help comes from the Lord (Ps 121).
Prayers of praise set our gaze on the God who ordains and orchestrates all things for the good of his people (Rom 8:28). Prayers of confession bring our transgressions to mind and lead us to humbly bring them to his throne of grace (Ps 38, 51; Heb 4:14–16). Prayers of thanks help us remember his faithfulness while prayers of supplication teach us to bring all our needs to a heavenly Father who cares for us (Matt 6:8; 1 Pet 5:7).
As we hear others pray, we are reminded of specific ways God has worked in the past which gives hope in the present to trust him in the future. Corporate prayer strengthens weary saints.
Making a Melody to the Lord
God strengthens us through our singing, as we “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph 5:19, ESV).
One of my great joys is to sing with the saints at our church. Not only do their strong voices move me, but also the heart of faith that leads their voices. This verse teaches us that when we sing songs filled with his Word, they serve in two ways:
First, they serve as personal testimony to the Lord. Through singing, we proclaim words about God to him. He delights when his people gather before him and declare truths about him. He is glorified in this, and we are edified.
This singing should be done “with your heart.” Heart-oriented worship is always God’s desire (Ps 51:17, esv). When we feel the weariness of sorrow, our hearts are prone to retreat from God and find refuge in idols.
Yet, singing truths to God helps us to follow David’s example of forcing our soul to fix its gaze upon the God who rules and reigns over all our sorrows. “Why are you cast down, O my soul . . . hope in God; for I shall again praise him” (Ps 42:11, ESV).
Word-infused songs to God serve as a balm to the soul. The lies of the deceiver can overcome anyone. Instead, lift a melody of hope to the Lord in the face of sorrow. God is greatly glorified by this logic-defying worship, and he is not the only one who is blessed by it.
Secondly, singing serves as an encouragement to each other. Suprisingly, God actually commands us to “address one another” in song (Eph 5:19). When we sing truths about God’s love or faithfulness, they fall upon the ears of other saints gathered with us.
When I watch our church sing “When Trials Come,” I know their song springs from hearts that have known heavy hardship. There’s guilt over abortions, scars from sexual abuse, and wounds from harsh words. Some of their bodies grow weary from having a family or from disease. Others simply fade with age. Yet they sing to a God who never fails them.
“One day all things will be made new I’ll see the hope you called me to, And in your kingdom paved with gold, I’ll praise your faithfulness of old I’ll praise your faithfulness of old.”
The faithfulness of God will forever be the anthem of our songs. Today we sing these songs by faith. When we approach each other sober-minded and with our sufferings in light of eternity, it strengthens us to keep trusting until the day when faith will become sight.
Until That Great Day
When our gathering ends, we scatter. Yet we do not go alone. We go out as a community strengthened from what God has done among us. From our gathering we grow in unity. Relationships have formed, grown, and furthered.
God uses these Spirit-empowered, Word-strengthened relationships to help each other toward heaven. We need each other because we are not strong at the same time. We bear each other’s burdens as we go about the work the Lord has given us to do (Gal 6:2).
That work includes telling sufferers about the hope we have in Jesus. We go to the lost and say that Jesus has rescued us from our sins and he can rescue them as well. We call people to repent and believe in Jesus, the Savior of sinners and sufferers.
This is what we do. We gather and scatter together until that great day when we shall gather in the land where crying and pain will cease to exist. What a day that will be when we shall see how the orchestrator of eternity has worked all things, wonderful and hurtful, into a marvelous tapestry for his glory and our good (Rom 8:18, 28; 2 Cor 4:17; 1 Pet 5:10).
“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth . . . In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation’” (Isa 25:8–9, see Rev 21:1–7).
Let us gather together in worship, strengthening each other in all we do, making ourselves ready for the Lord Jesus to arrive.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!