Together | The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

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This morning we’re looking at the topic of the church and prayer. This is not about the pragmatics or practicality of prayer (what, when, or how we should pray) but a call to our church for prayer.

Most of us would probably agree that we could all be praying more than we do; that at some point we’ve all struggled to have a consistent and passionate prayer life. And yet the scriptures are emphatically clear that prayer is to take a primary role in the life of the believer. There is a word used ten times in the New Testament, the Greek word Proskartereo which means devote or devotion. To be devoted to something is to be committed to something, to be dedicated and to give yourself fully to something. In five of the ten uses, Proskartereo is used in relation to prayer:

“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:14

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4

“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be devoted to prayer.” Romans 12:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2

The Bible is very clear – the Bible calls the Christian to a life of consistent, persistent, dedicated, devoted prayer. The Bible calls us to be devoted to prayer more than it calls us to be devoted to anything else. Christians are not just called to be devoted to individual prayer, but also to corporate prayer, gathered together. In Acts the church was constantly gathered together and united as they prayed together. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see this too:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Matthew 6:9

The word “Father” is always emphasized in the first line of the Lord’s Prayer and rightly so – Father gives us an incredibly vivid description of the relationship between the Christian and God because of Jesus. The child has intimacy and access to the Father. But what is the word before Father? It’s “Our” – when Jesus gave the model for prayer, He didn’t say “My Father” but “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus prayed in the plural tense, signifying that there is to be a corporate component to our prayer lives. Prayer is not just us and God; the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the normal Christian life is a life of prayer, a life devoted to both individual and corporate prayer.

Remedy’s DNA is three-fold: theological, missional and relational. Equally important is the deep conviction that God moves through prayer. We believe that prayer moves the hand of God which moves the hearts of men. Charles Spurgeon said, “If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.” We have made it our aim as a church to be devoted to prayer.

We’re grateful for the resurgence in recent years in America of biblical, gospel teaching but as a whole, the Western church has largely neglected the value of prayer. It is easy to gather a group of Christian men for a men’s conference or a group of women for a women’s conference. It is easy to get Christians to show up for a mid-week Bible study, but it can be difficult to get Christians to gather for prayer. It is difficult to gather Christians just to pray.

The church is always to be centered around God’s word and may we never depart from God’s word and the truth contained within it. But equally important to a devotion to God’s word is a devotion to prayer.

“Where are the plethora of books and blogs posted, conversations had and conferences held on prayer and fasting in our day?” (D.A. Carson)

“The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the gospel in our day may be the attempt of the people of God to do the work of God apart from the power of the Spirit of God. The greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel may not be the self-indulgent immorality of our culture but the self-sufficient mentality of the church evident in our prayerlessness.” (David Platt)

If God be near a church, it must pray. A prayerless church is a prideful, puny and pitiful church. Lives are busy, life is hard, and many in this body are going through painful times but that does not negate the fact that God has called us to gather together and pray. Do we want to reach this city? Do we want Jesus to save this city? If so, then we must pray, individually and corporately. We cannot save Lodi. We’re not clever enough; we must pray because prayer moves the hand of God which moves the hearts of men.

If we could see the spiritual darkness at work in this city, we would run to times of prayer and beg God to save this city, to push back the darkness. There are thousands of Muslims in this city that worship a false God. There are thousands of students in this city whose lives are marked by emptiness, not godliness. There are hundreds of people in this city who gather at church every week and think they know God but they do not; they are living a life of religion and morality. If we want God to work, we must pray. “God can do more in five seconds than we can do in five years on our own” (Piper).

God is calling us anew and afresh to a life of dependence marked by prayer. He wants to do it – we cannot make disciples in the nations and among the neighborhoods by more of our own might; we need God. We need to fall on our faces and plead with God to show His power among the people. We’re called to a more fervent, devoted desire for prayer. But we can’t be motivated or called into prayer by guilt. Guilt does not compel us to follow and obey Jesus, it’s not His threatening or rebuking hand that compels us but His gracious hand.

There was a time in the life of the disciples where they also grew sleepy in prayer. Jesus is hours away from brutal crucifixion on the cross and has drawn away to pray with Peter, James and John:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:36-46

This is a bad day in the life of the disciples, specifically Peter who fell asleep three times when Jesus urged them to stay awake with Him in prayer. But Peter’s day would only get worse:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. Matthew 26:47-56

Peter was sleeping while praying and then fighting when he should have been submitting. Then all of the disciples deserted Jesus and ran away; Peter’s day went from worse to completely dark:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

This was a dark moment in the life of Peter; he was completely and utterly broken, and this is the last picture we get of Peter until after the resurrection of Jesus. He went outside and wept bitterly; he has failed Jesus in every way possible on this day; he’s completely and utterly broken. This passage gives us a taste of the brokenness of Peter and can encourage us because some of us are there – we feel like spiritual failures. How does Jesus respond? We see His response when He appears to the disciples:

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. John 21:4-7

The disciples knew it was Jesus before them because it was almost identical to what He had done when He first called them to ministry (Luke 5:1-11). When Peter heard it was Jesus, he plunged into the sea. Now the disciples were about to encounter Jesus after their monumental failures:

The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. John 21:8-9

John said that the disciples saw a charcoal fire. This is significant because the only other time a charcoal fire is mentioned in the scriptures was when Peter denied Jesus three times while standing by a charcoal fire. As Peter lays eyes on the charcoal fire, his mind went back to the day he denied Jesus and his emotions are stirred up. The grace of Jesus is evident here:

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” John 21:10-12

Three days earlier, Peter had betrayed and failed Jesus in every way possible, yet Jesus invites them to breakfast. He provides food for them and the warmth of a charcoal fire. Jesus served them breakfast: “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish” (John 21:13). Jesus was always serving; even when He was as hour from death, He took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-14). Jesus gave a parable about His coming return, and said:

and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Luke 12:36-37

Jesus will serve us upon His return. Some commentators refuse to comment on that parable because it’s so lofty and weighty that our King of Glory will come again and serve His church. Why does Jesus serve? Because it’s who He is! He loves to serve His people and gets great joy in serving His bride. In Peter’s failure, Jesus provides breakfast. Now the moment of truth comes as Jesus addresses Peter:

When they had unfinished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15

Jesus doesn’t say, “Peter promise not to fail me again” or “Peter, do you promise not to fall asleep during prayer?” or “Do you promise not to deny me again?” or “Do you promise not to desert me?” Jesus knew better than to ask Peter not to fail Him again so instead He asks three times, “Peter, do you love me?” This is the word for us this morning: Jesus is more jealous for the love in our hearts than He is zealous for our works. He knows that if He has our hearts, He has everything else. The exhortation today is not fall more in love with prayer, but fall more in love with Jesus!

If Jesus is the love of your life, you’ll want to spend as much time with Him in prayer as you can. The more in love we are with Jesus, the more in love we’ll be with people which means the more time we’ll want to spend pleading for them in prayer.

The significance of Jesus asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?” was that He was completely and fully restoring Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus lovingly and gently asked him three times, “Do you love me?”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” John 21:17

Peter was grieved. He had been fully and completely restored in a loving and gentle way, yet he was still grieved. There’s a difference between grief and guilt; between grief and shame. There’s a difference between grief and condemnation and we must learn to distinguish the voice of our enemy from the voice of our Savior. The voice of our advocate from the voice of our adversary. Our adversary wants to condemn us and say, “You are a failure.” Jesus our advocate says, “I love you in your failures.” The adversary would say, “You are faithless” but our advocate says, “Even when you are faithless, I am faithful.” Our adversary wants to speak words of ruin but our advocate speaks words of restoration.

Grief is not a bad thing; sorrow over our prayerlessness is not a bad thing. Paul said, “Godly grief leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We need to feel grieved over our prayerlessness and that we’ve grown lazy in our prayer; we’re called to repentance. In our failure and apathy, we can run to Jesus. His grace beckons us.

Peter was restored by the grace of Jesus and it became the herald of his life. Peter went on to make huge claims about grace: “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10); “may grace and peace be multiplied to you” (2 Peter 1:2); “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

May the knowledge of God’s grace be multiplied in our lives and may it lead us to unwavering, never-ending, fervent, and passionate prayer and affection for Jesus. Repentance is a beautiful thing and some of us need to repent. We’ve grown lazy in prayer and Jesus is not angry or scolding us but saying, “Come to me. I long to meet with you and I long to work in this city through your prayers.” Let’s ask the Lord together as a church, as a body, to light a fire in our hearts for Him in the area of prayer.

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The 21 martyrs, a member of ISIS, and everyone in this room have at least one thing in common – we are all worshipers. We worship different things and in different ways, but we all worship. Not every act of worship is good or God-honoring, but everyone worships.

We were designed and created to worship our creator. In living out that purpose, we find our greatest fulfillment and effectiveness. Living for anything else leaves us wanting at best. When man was designed and created by God, he was made in the image of God:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

We were created to be image bearers of God, to reflect His glory, and to worship Him through our relationship with Him. In God’s original design, our eyes would be fixed on Him and our lives would reflect Him. It would be all about Him and we would perfectly enjoy the creation He made and gave us to steward.

“Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:7

the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. Isaiah 43:21

But Adam and Eve rebelled against God and they wanted their own way. In essence, they were saying “We do not want to worship you anymore, we want to be god, and we want to worship ourselves, our desires.”

Man’s relationship with God was broken, man’s relationship with one another was broken, and man himself was broken. The quest for man to find his meaning and purpose apart from God began. Man was driven to fill the void created by our broken relationship with God and turned away from the creator of all things to the created:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:22-25

Why did God give them up to the lust and impurity of their hearts? Because they worshipped the created rather than the creator. Anything but worship of the one true creator God is false worship or idol worship (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:23-24). Any time our adoration, exaltation, affection, or thankfulness stops with the created, we have created a functioning idol. The created thing becomes our god.

We can enjoy beauty in creation, a work of art, a great meal, or the company of another person and our hearts can fill with adoration and affection. We can praise the created thing but if our worship stops there, it is false worship. Created things are intended to push our thoughts and gratitude to God, who makes all good things possible. Even the heavens do not declare their own beauty:

…the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1

The heavens exist to point us to Jesus, creator of all. Worshipping the stars is like never opening the box that was just delivered. The box serves a purpose, to hold contents of value. The stars and the beauty around us are packaging to point to something of far greater value, to stir our affections for Him.

1. We were created to worship – We were created in the image of God to reflect His glory, to worship Him. We sinned against God by breaking our perfect relationship with our creator and God. Our sin put us at war with God because He is holy and cannot tolerate the offense of man. The wages of sin is separation from God, spiritual and physical death. Although sin broke our relationship with God, it did not change our intended purpose to worship our creator, just our ability to fulfill it. Man tries to fill the need to worship the true God in perverted ways.

2. Not all worship is equal – There is true and false worship. The only true worship comes in a restored relationship with God the Father through Jesus; His atoning work on the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is false worship and will lead to death and ultimate destruction.

Today we will focus on biblical worship in a corporate setting. Last week, Pastor Tim shared seven reasons why we gather and half of those were related to worship. The church gathers together to worship together; it is part of who we are, our DNA.

What is worship?
“Worship is the response of the creature to the revealed glory of the creator.”1

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.”2

Worship is the proper response of all moral and sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the fall human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God centered Christian worship is no less Christ centered. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the Gospel, which restores our relationship with our redeemer God and therefore with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshippers. Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is offered up in the context of the body of believers. (DA Carson)3

Principles of Worship

1. God-centered or Christ-centered – Worship is about Him, not us. God created us for His glory (Isaiah 43:7) and He alone is worthy (Revelation 5). We may prefer some worship styles or songs more than others, but the key principle of all worship is that it needs to be God-centered. He is the focus, not us. Worship songs fall into two basic types, proclamation and response. Songs of proclamation proclaim the character and works of God (Great is the Lord; Holy Holy Holy). Responsive songs allow us to respond to His word and focus on Jesus (I will follow, I surrender all). Jesus is the central theme of the song.

2. Orderly – “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This command was written to a church in reference to expressing the gifts. Worship must be orderly so that it does not become a distraction, especially to those not of the faith. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

3. Reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29) – Worship includes adoration and celebration, reflection and exclamation, formality and informality, but there is always reverence and awe as we remember our God.

Elements of Worship (2 Chronicles 5:11-7:7; Acts 16)

1. The Word of God

and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 2 Chronicles 5:13

And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to David my father, saying… 2 Chronicles 6:4

From these passages, we see the word of God in song and the promises of God used in prayer. Through His word, God reveals His nature and character so we can know Him more fully. Knowing God moves us to more intimacy and worship, like the angels who cry out “holy, holy, holy” because God is continuously revealing His character.

2. Prayer – In 2 Chronicles, prayer makes up a signification portion of the celebration and worship time. When Paul and Silas were in jail, they began to sing and pray (Acts 16:25).

3. Song – The worship team was assembled (2 Chronicles 5:12) and David commissioned special instruments. After the Red Sea closed in Exodus 15:21, Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Then Israel sang this song: “Spring up, O well!–Sing to it!– Numbers 21:17

And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. Ezra 3:11

Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. Psalm 106:12

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, Revelation 5:9

Circumstances of Worship

Some aspects of worship are influenced by culture, resources, personality, preference and interpretation. These include: types of instruments, length of service, lighting, dancing, frequency of baptism/communion.

There are different expressions of worship. At Remedy, we incorporate both the principles and elements of worship in our Sunday gatherings. We keep our lighting dim to minimize distraction. We place carpets up front for those that feel led for the physical manifestation of humbling oneself before God and prayer to the sides for those who desire prayer. We have two worship sets and worship is interactive – it’s ok to move around and engage others. Our worship songs are filled with scripture and not picked randomly or hastily.

What happens when we engage in right biblical worship?

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-6

When Israel worshiped, God’s glory filled the temple in their midst. Although that would be amazing, we have even more today. Jesus, our sacrifice, was consumed for our sins. He was glorified and His Spirit fills our temples, our bodies. The Holy Spirit of Jesus dwells within us. We are restored image bearers of God and can once again fulfill our intended purpose. “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God”4which we can now do in Christ and in that submission He speaks to us of His steadfast love which endures forever.

In a conversation with a Samaritan woman Jesus speaks of true worship:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24

That hour has come and the Father is seeking such people to worship Him today.

____
1 The Church; Edmund P. Clowney, p.118, IVP 1995
2 William Temple quoted in Sojourners and Strangers; Greg Allison p425 from Readings in St Johns Gospel; William Temple, reprint 1985 p61
3 Worship by the Book; DA Carson, Zondervan Grand Rapids, p26
4 William Temple quoted in Sojourners and Strangers; Greg Allison p425 from Readings in St Johns Gospel; William Temple, reprint 1985 p61

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Notes:

Do we have to go to church today? This is a question your children may have asked this morning, or even a question you’ve asked before. Today we will look at the gathering of the church. We’ve just spent several weeks talking about the church. We started by looking at the foundation of the church, with Jesus as the cornerstone. We’ve talked about how the church is not primarily a building but a body; not primarily a place but a people. Gathering together continually as God’s people is important all throughout scripture.

We don’t go to church for perfect attendance. We need to remember the Gospel – we are saved through the works of Jesus Christ and not our own. We aren’t saved by our church attendance but we hope that hearts will be stirred this morning to see that gathering together is a gloriously beautiful part of the church.

Why Gather?

1. We gather because Jesus is alive – This might seem basic, but this is really foundational. 2,000 years ago, Jesus rose on a Sunday morning. As the news spread, His friends spent the day telling what Jesus did and they named it the Lord’s Day. A week later, they gathered again. For 2,000 years, the church has gathered on Sunday as a physical proclamation that Jesus is alive and that’s He’s conquered Satan, sin, and death. When we gather on Sunday mornings, we celebrate the death of death!

2. We gather to reflect God’s nature and character. – We see throughout scripture that our God is a trinitarian God. Tim Chester puts it this way: “Our God is persons in community.” Our God is one God, three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) who exists in perfect, loving community. We were made in the image of God and so we long for the same; we were created for community.

On May 24, 2014 Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara. News reports said that his failure with women drove him to kill, but in reality his feelings came from having no community at all. In videos he posted before the incident, he said, “No one, no one has ever accepted me…a beautiful environment is the darkest hell if you have to experience it all alone.”

In the life of this man, we see a deep desire to be a part of something bigger than himself, a part of community. When he experienced rejection and loneliness, it drove him to kill. When Rodger said that a beautiful place is hell if you’re alone, he echoed the words of God in the garden: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are made in the image of God and we long to be a part of community. When we gather, our interaction and fellowship is a reflection of God’s character and nature:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1

Harmony is good and pleasant because our God exists in harmony – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why does music stir us to sing? Because our God is a singing God! When we gather to sing and worship our God, we reflect His nature and character.

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:17-18, NLT

3. We gather because God makes Himself known in our midst. It’s true that we can experience God and His presence outside of Sunday mornings, but it is clear from Scripture that God’s presence falls on His people when they gather to worship Him.

Now all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves regardless of their divisions. When the priests came out of the holy place, the Levitical singers dressed in fine linen and carrying cymbals, harps, and lyres were standing east of the altar, and with them were 120 priests blowing trumpets. The Levitical singers were descendants of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun and their sons and relatives. The trumpeters and singers joined together to praise and thank the Lord with one voice. They raised their voices, accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and musical instruments, in praise to the Lord: For He is good; His faithful love endures forever. The temple, the Lord’s temple, was filled with a cloud. And because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled God’s temple. 2 Chronicles 5:13-14

During this amazing worship service, the temple was filled with a cloud and the glory of the Lord. God’s presence showed up as the people worshiped Him; we see this all throughout scripture:

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20

When God’s people gather, He is present among them and He makes Himself known in a special way.

4. We gather to feed on God’s word. – The primary way God makes Himself known in our midst is through the teaching and hearing of His Word. Whenever the early church gathered in Acts, the Word was at the center. In Exodus 19, Moses led the people to Mount Sinai when a worship service broke out before the Ten Commandments, literally the ten words, were delivered.

Historically this is true also. Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, said “I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s word. Otherwise I did nothing. The word of God did it all.” Today the situation is no different; for 2,000 years, God’s people have gathered to feed on His word. We need God’s word because “we live in a kingdom of noise” (C.S. Lewis) that is mostly negative and sinful. God’s word is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). Paul said to Timothy that the scriptures make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). Jesus prayed that we’d be sanctified by the truth (John 17:19). We need God’s word; His word has so many powerful effects upon the believer’s life:

  • God’s word reorients our perspective of the past – We have an enemy and he is the devil. Scripture calls him the accuser of the brethren, who prowls around the earth like a lion looking for someone to destroy. He loves to bring up the past and though we have an accuser who roars, we have an advocate who bled and who says we are forgiven for our sins.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1

We sing the great hymn, “Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done. I know them all and thousands more, my Father knoweth none.”

  • God’s word reorients our perspective of the present – When we hear God’s word read and spend time praising Him, we are refreshed.
  • God’s word reorients our perspective of the future – Some of us are weighed down by the heaviness of life; the word of God doesn’t promise us an easier tomorrow but that God will be with us tomorrow; the word tells us not to worry because God holds tomorrow. There is coming a day with no more pain and sorrow; there is coming a day when God will be with us face to face (Revelation 21).

5. We gather to bless and encourage our brothers and sisters. – Sundays are an opportunity to receive from God, but Sunday mornings are also an opportunity to bless others. In a recent study by Ligonier Ministries, 30% of Evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement: Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Not only are fewer people going to church; fewer Christians are going to church.

Our perspective on church has shifted. A popular Christian author wrote a blog, “I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.” In it, he explained why he rarely goes to church: “It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through…So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest.”

The author used the word “I” five times. We compare his mindset with Hebrews 5:

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. Hebrews 10:24-25

If getting fed is the only reason we go to church, then this author has a point. But it is not the only reason we go to church. By its nature, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is giving, not getting. We gather to give, not to get. This is the heart and message of our Lord Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve, and gave His life as a ransom for many.

The right mindset for us on Sunday morning is, “How can I be a blessing today to my brothers and sisters?” All of us are broken; there are many problems and struggles in this body. Our approach is to ask God who we can bless and encourage. We are to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). John Stott said, “If the church was worth Christ’s blood, is it not worth our service?” We gather to bless and encourage each other; we have to get out of this “What’s in it for me?” mindset. That’s a worldly mindset; the world asks that question.

There are some Sundays where we’re heavy and worn down; we need to just focus on the Lord. That’s not wrong but one of the most refreshing things we can do in our brokenness is to minister to someone else with prayer and encouragement, even in our own brokenness.

6. We gather because many of our brothers and sisters can’t. – This is a call to remember many of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith across the world:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3

Millions of our brothers and sisters cannot meet publicly for fear that their church will be burned down or their lives will be taken. Two Pakistani girls received a copy of The Story of Jesus in July 2013. These books introduced them to Jesus and they trusted Christ. A couple of months later, two suicide bombers entered their church compound on a Sunday morning. When services were over and nearly 500 worshipers gathered together for a meal, the bombers detonated suicide vests and killed 78 and injured 130. This was the deadliest attack in the history of Pakistan, and these two young sisters were killed in the attack.

Sadly, this is the reality that many of our brothers and sisters live in everyday. We grieve for our sisters but not without hope; we know that they have entered into glory and are face to face with Jesus. This reality should put us on our face in gratitude. What a grace that we have God’s word in its entirety and can gather here freely. We don’t have to come to church, we get to come to church! We get to gather together and worship Jesus.

7. We gather because it’s the activity of heaven. – Other than Jesus, the most fitting word for heaven as described in Revelation is “together.”

In America, we’re obsessed with the stage. We gather to put our eyes on one person or a team. In Revelation, we get a picture of a man who has taken center stage and it’s Jesus. A glorious scene unfolds:

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scrolls and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Revelation 5:8-14

The elders have gathered to praise Jesus. Thousands and thousands of mighty angels gathered with the saints to praise Jesus. All the creatures, the animals in the sea and on the land, have gathered to worship Jesus with the saints and the angels. The scene of heaven is gathering together to praise God; we gather together because this is the activity of heaven, the forever activity of heaven. We will never cease to gather and praise our Jesus for His glory and worth. Do we see the gathering in this way? Do we come to church because we have to or because we get to? Do we long to gather with our brothers and sisters and to give Jesus the praise that is due to His name?

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