Jimmy Davis: We rightly expect our pastors to spend hours preparing before they preach on Sundays. But what should the people in the pew be doing? How can God’s people prepare to receive the message the preacher has prepared? While reading through Acts, I noticed a pattern of preparation tucked away in chapter 10. When Peter arrived to preach the gospel to Cornelius, he was welcomed with these words: “I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33). Cornelius displays the desire we ought to have as we wait on God’s Word to be delivered to us. We can prepare our hearts for preaching by cultivating five characteristics. 1. Eagerness to Hear from God As soon as Cornelius heard from the angel that God had a message for him, he “sent for
Can We Worship God When We Feel Nothing?
Sam Storms: I’ve been asked that question countless times. Many have responded to it by saying that we are morally obligated to worship God even when we feel nothing for him. But if your reason for worshiping God is merely from a sense of moral duty, God would rather you not worship him at all. To say that God is pleased with worship that lacks passion is to say God endorses hypocrisy. How can one ever forget the stinging rebuke Jesus made of the Pharisees in this regard? “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:7-9) If ever there were a scary verse in the Bible, this is it. It frightens me to think that it is possible for me to have “singing lips” and a “distant heart”
Worship Isn’t About You
What I Learned After Years of Leading – By Bob Kauflin: The year was 1997. After serving as a pastor for twelve years, I was taking on a new role at a large church in the Washington, D.C., area. My focus was going to be less on pastoral care and more on music and worship. After getting a degree in piano, touring with a Christian band, leading congregational worship for over twenty years, and being featured on a couple of worship albums, I thought I couldn’t be more prepared. A few months after I arrived, my senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney, walked into my office with three books he wanted me to read. One of them was Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David Peterson, an author I had never heard of. It looked more academic than most books on worship, and Peterson didn’t appear to be a musician. But I knew C.J. would only recommend books he thought would serve
What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and truth”?
Sam Storms: Everyone is familiar with the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. But not everyone can explain what Jesus meant when he said that the Father is seeking men and women who will worship him “in spirit and truth” (v. 23)? To say that we must worship God “in spirit” means, among other things, that it must originate from within, from the heart; it must be sincere, motivated by our love for God and gratitude for all he is and has done. Worship cannot be mechanical or formalistic. That does not necessarily rule out certain rituals or liturgy. But it does demand that all physical postures or symbolic actions must be infused with heart-felt commitment and faith and love and zeal. But the word “spirit” here may also be a reference to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul said that Christians “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no
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The Answer to God’s Seeming Megalomania
Sam Storms: I recently returned to reading John Piper’s book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, and was stunned yet again by a truth that has utterly transformed my life. That’s not an overstatement. I can’t think of another theological principle that has meant more to me than what you are about to read. I have often in my books tried to say the same thing, but it always seems to fall short of how John has expressed it. John begins by citing C. S. Lewis and his description of how he struggled with the incessant demand by God that all creation praise him. Lewis confessed that God sounded like “a vain woman who wants compliments.” Then came the discovery that changed Lewis’s life too: “But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.
How Not to Worship Your Worship
Bob Kauflin: It was almost forty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. At the end of an evening church meeting, we flowed seamlessly into an “afterglow service.” For the first time in my life I heard and sang these words, penned by Laurie Klein: I love you, Lord And I lift my voice To worship you. O my soul, rejoice. Take joy, my King, in what you hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear. I was moved to tears, not simply by the beautiful melody, but by the realization that my ultimate desire in life really was to love the Lord. To be pleasing to him, to bring him delight. In the seemingly constant swirl of worldly temptations, sensual distractions, and seasons of apathy, I had a moment of clarity. I loved the Lord. Importance of the Heart Telling the Lord how we feel about him is a healthy and natural part
Are You Too Earthly-Minded to Do Earthly Good?
Kyle Strobel: We often think of heaven as something that affects us after we die, with little impact on our daily lives now. Heaven feels speculative, ethereal, and impractical; we’re better off spending our time dealing with down-to-earth things. But Jonathan Edwards believed that being “too heavenly minded for earthly good” is an impossibility. The only way to be of true earthly good is to be heavenly minded. Thinking about heaven doesn’t take our eyes off of the world; it allows us to live in the world according to the way of Christ. Knowing God To live a heavenly life now you must “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). The “things that are above” don’t primarily reference a place, but the triune God. Heaven is only “heavenly” because God is there. He’s the spring of love that gives life and direction to that place. The life we know
How to Give Thanks in Every Circumstance
Nancy Guthrie: A couple of years ago, social media revolted against the hashtag #blessed. It often seemed to be employed to brag about expensive vacations or impressive accomplishments under the guise of humility. But home décor stores do not seem to have gotten the message. They have shelves stocked with all kinds of signs and accessories so we can declare to the world — or at least anyone who comes into our houses — that we are indeed “blessed.” But what do we mean when we say that we are blessed? Is it an expression of gratitude for the things we have, the health we enjoy, or the people we love? Are these things really at the center of what it means to be blessed? The Source of Blessing From the first chapter to the last, the Bible’s story is one of blessing — blessing pronounced, blessing promised, blessing anticipated, and blessing experienced. We begin to get a sense of
What’s the Purpose of the Church?
Tim Challies: Whatever else we may know about Christians, we know this: Christians are supposed to go to church. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship God and spend time in fellowship. But do we actually know why we do this? Do we pause to consider the purpose of the local church? In this series of articles we are considering the purpose of many things we may take for granted, and so far we have looked at marriage, sex, and children. Today we are broadening our perspective from family to the church. It is important to note that our concern here is not the universal church, which is comprised of all Christians of all times and places. Rather, we are answering the question: What is the purpose of the local church? In other words, why do we as Christians gather together in local congregations? Common Views of The Church As we consider why we gather week by week, we can
Entertainment and Worship
Joe Thorn: In every church and every generation of Christians, there is the potential to lose our focus on the things that are most important (Heb. 2:1). We must constantly remind ourselves and re-center our churches lest we find ourselves trusting in something other than the gospel of God and the Word of God. One of the more dangerous drifts happening in our local churches today is within our corporate worship. In many churches there is a de-emphasis on the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments or ordinances), and a reliance on entertainment. Some try to balance the two in the name of reaching more people with the gospel, but there is an inescapable danger in overvaluing entertainment and implementing it in corporate worship. This is not a new phenomenon. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the
Why God Demands Worship
Don Carson: I have been doing university missions off and on for about thirty-five years. About a dozen years ago, I started stumbling across a question from university undergraduates that I never received when I was a young man. This relatively recent question is put variously, but it generally runs something like this: “Amongst human beings, anyone who wants to have all of the attention and garner all the praise, anyone who wants to be the focus of everyone’s constant admiration, with everyone stroking that person and fawning all over him, would be thought of as massively egocentric. The God you are trying to push on us looks to me to be very egocentric. He keeps demanding that we praise Him all the time. For goodness sake, is He insecure? Isn’t He, at very least, morally defective? What do you say to that? The reason I never heard that sort of question in the past, I suspect, is because until fairly
Worship is an End in Itself
Sam Storms: Worship is utterly and eternally unique in one critically important respect: unlike every other Christian responsibility or experience, worship is an end in itself. In other words, worship that glorifies God must be expressed in conscious awareness that this is the ultimate goal for which we were created and redeemed. We do not worship God in order to attain some higher end, or to accomplish some greater goal, or to experience a more satisfying joy. Every other ministry or activity of the Christian serves some higher end. There is a “so that” appended to everything we do, except for worship. We preach, so that . . . We evangelize, so that . . . We cultivate fellowship in the body of Christ, so that . . . We study the Bible, so that . . . But when it comes to glorifying God by enjoying him and all that he is for us in Jesus, we can never
Five Benefits of Corporate Worship
David Mathis: Worshipping Jesus together may be the single most important thing we do. It plays an indispensable role in rekindling our spiritual fire, and keeping it burning. Corporate worship brings together God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, and so makes for the greatest means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life. But thinking of worship as a means can be dangerous. True worship is fundamentally an experience of the heart, and not a means to anything else. So it’s important to distinguish between what benefits might motivate us to be regular in corporate worship, and what focus our minds and hearts should pursue in the moment. According to Don Whitney, “There’s an element of worship and Christianity that cannot be experienced in private worship or by watching worship. There are some graces and blessings that God gives only in the ‘meeting together’ with other believers” (Spiritual Disciplines, 92). Surely, many more could be given, but here are five
Do You Hear the People Sing?
Marshall Segal: What does Sunday morning sound like at your church? More specifically, what do you hear when your church worships God in song? What is the defining sound? For some, it will be the old, massive, beautiful organ — a full, enduring, and familiar tone. Others would say it’s the energy of an electric guitar and the deep pounding of a bass drum. Maybe you have one or two vocalists you love. They could sing the encyclopedia on Sunday morning and bring you to God. I enjoy and appreciate all of the above — I really do — but I believe the defining sound on Sunday morning should be the singing voices of God’s people. It’s been taught and lived out at our church, and I love it. And I don’t think that my love is a matter of personal preference. I wouldn’t have chosen this style of worship for myself six years ago, and the music I listen
5 Things to Remember about Worship
Bob Kauflin, author of True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God. An All-Too-Common Misunderstanding Wherever I’ve traveled—whether it be Australia, South Africa, India, the UK, Latin America, or somewhere in the United States—I’ve found that worship is almost universally understood to mean singing with a congregation or the music associated with it. Pastors make sure the worship doesn’t go too long to leave enough time for the sermon. Worship leaders try to set a worshipful mood as church members straggle in to worship. We listen to worship albums and go to worship concerts. We attend worship conferences and buy worship t-shirts. Young musicians aspire to use their talents in worship bands and maybe become worship artists someday. While undeniable benefits have come from the worship music explosion, it’s easy to misunderstand the relationship between biblical worship and music. Music can be a part of worship, but it was never meant to be the heart of it. In his conversation with the
Darryl Dash: We gather on Sundays. Someone stands at the front and welcomes us. The music team takes its place and leads us in singing. We then come to the offering before the pastor gets up and preaches. As soon as the sermon is over, the music team reappears and leads us in a closing song before we leave. Most of us don’t think we follow a liturgy, but most churches I’ve attended follow the pattern I’ve described above. It’s not a bad liturgy, but it is a liturgy nonetheless. It’s worth considering why we do things the way that we do, and if there’s a better way. “To talk about liturgy in its most basic sense is to talk about what the congregation is gathering to do,” writes Mike Cosper. “In this sense, every church has a liturgy; we all gather with work to do.” In his book Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of
What is worship?
Sam Storms: I’m often amazed at the controversy in evangelical circles concerning worship. So here’s my definition or description of worship: Worship begins with deep, biblical thoughts about God, robust and expansive truths about who he is and his greatness and glory, thoughts that in turn awaken passionate affections for God such as joy and gladness and delight and gratitude and admiration and love and fear and zeal and deep satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus. These in turn find expression in all of life, whether in singing or speaking or acting or the decisions we make or the way we live life in general. Or again, Worship happens when the mind is gripped with the revelation of great truths about God and the heart and affections are set on fire with joy and satisfaction and gratitude and gladness and admiration and the mouth explodes in songs of praise and proclamations of the incomparable greatness of