I’ve been on a mission lately to get our church to show up for our services on time. They say that a church usually reflects the personality of its pastor/s, but this is one area that Providence is completely opposite of Ben Rudolph. I am completely OCD about arriving early to someplace I have to be. If I have an appointment at 3:00 pm, I’ll get there at 2:45. I sometimes even psych myself out and arrive early to my planned early arrival. This sometimes leads to some unnecessary waiting on my part for others, but I cannot stand being late. When I was a kid, if church started at 9, I wanted to get there by 8:40, which drove my brother crazy. Thank God my wife is like me in this area. If I had a wife that was chronically late, we’d be in counseling.
My recent push to actually start our service at 10 am and try to get everyone to show up on time isn’t the most important thing to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love starting on time and if we had a full room at 9:45 am, I would literally think that I had died and gone to heaven. As much as I personally love starting on time, what really matters most is that our Sunday morning gatherings are a time when the presence of God is manifested.
Let’s be honest, we are all holding up scorecards at the end of the Sunday service. The service was great if we were “moved”. If the music was powerful and the sermon was engaging and enlightening, we’ll say how nice or how good the service was…and I’m the biggest offender on this issue. There’s a danger though in our Sunday worship services when we evaluate them according to what we got out of it. We can get drunk on powerful music and good teaching and completely miss Jesus.
What I crave for our services is the manifested presence of God to be evident. Whether it’s our singing, our praying, or our teaching, there can be activity without genuine worship. This doesn’t happen automatically. Just because a bunch of Christians sit in the same room and open the Bible doesn’t mean that God is obliged to show up. Now I know that God is always present, but many times He’s sitting in the corner of the room waiting for us to make Him the focus of our thoughts and worship.
I believe that there is one simple thing that we can all do on Sunday mornings, and every morning for that fact, to experience the presence of God. Here it is: we need to humble ourselves. Sounds simple. James said in his letter to the churches: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
We are usually looking for God to do the laughter and joy and lifting up thing for us on Sunday morning, but we leave our services sorely disappointed many Sundays. This isn’t, for the most part, a problem with the music or the preaching. Don’t let your worship experience at church be determined by others. The passage of Scripture in James 4 shows us that God draws near to us based on our response to Him.
Imagine what our gatherings would look like if we took James 4 to heart. Imagine the way we would sing. Imagine the way we would pray. There are times we get a glimpse of this, but the enemy knows how to rob us of the privilege of worship. He gets us to think about what we are going to wear, or what our kids are going to wear. We come into church thinking more about how people have disappointed us this week instead of how God has richly blessed us through Christ. It’s easy for me to get more focused on what I have to do than who I am there to worship. The battle for our minds on Sunday morning will always be more intense, and it begins way before 10 am.
I want to encourage you to keep James 4 close to your soul this Sunday. Read it on Saturday night. Pray it on Sunday morning. Let’s all determine to make Jesus the focus of our services. It doesn’t matter if the songs are led by a full band or one instrument. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 people or 200 people sitting in the room with us. Let’s desire the manifested presence of God together and see what He does.
God’s presence matters. Let’s come together this Sunday ready to worship our Savior…at 10 am sharp.