“Stirring Assemblies”Categories: Monday Morning Meditation
We often think of Hebrews 10:24-25 as the text that commands us to worship on Sundays but this focus regularly misses the point of the passage…. In fact, we can never miss a worship service and still fail to fulfill Hebrews 10:24-25. That’s because the emphasis in this passage is on the command to consider how to stir one another up to love and good works rather than it’s application in this context - the need to assemble together. Unfortunately I know for myself that it is easier to check off an attendance box than it is to creatively and thoughtfully engage in provoking my brothers and sisters in Christ to faithfulness. Perhaps you can sympathize. But we must give attention to doing this and doing it well not only because God commanded it, but also because in His wisdom God knows we need it. We ought to be committed to one another and to encouraging each other to holdfast to and live out of our confidence in Jesus, particularly as we come together for worship. To do this we must be present not only in body, but in mind and heart on behalf of one another. Here’s one idea of what that might look like:
Intimate and authentic pre-worship interactions. Sometimes as we come together we may pray something along the lines of, “Help us to get rid of all earthy thoughts and concerns.” I get what is probably meant most times when we say this; if we are thinking about where we are going to eat lunch or who won the football game our minds and hearts are probably in the wrong place. But sometimes I think our insistence on attempting to clear our minds of ALL earthly thoughts hinders us from worshipping as we ought and encouraging one another as we should. Hear me out…
First, worship is about recognizing the worth and goodness of God. But these are not abstractions, nor is God’s goodness demonstrated in a vacuum but in the very lives of His people and on the plane of this world (James 1:16-18; Psa. 85:12). Thus to praise God’s goodness without recognizing how that goodness had been displayed in my life rings hollow. Nearly all the Psalms praise God for what he has done and is doing in the world and in the lives of the worshippers.
Furthermore, to extol God’s goodness in the midst of being keenly aware of my own suffering is to powerfully declare that God is worthy of worship in spite of my circumstances. This comes from faith and is at the same time faith building and is exactly what we see the psalmists doing both in psalms of personal lament and those intended for the congregation as a whole. But there’s an added level to this sort of awareness that I would like for us to consider.
When I am aware of how God has blessed you or how you are currently suffering I am better able to weep or rejoice with you in the context of worship. When together we sing, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord” with both our struggles and temptations in mind, we are mutually encouraged to keep on fighting. Or, as our eyes meet across the auditorium after you have experienced a deep and profound loss and yet continue to painfully but boldly sing the words of “It is Well With My Soul” I draw strength from your faith. Or, after we have prayed long and hard for many months about something that has been looming large in your life and God has finally answered that prayer positively, with renewed vigor we can sing “Count Your Blessings” or “In His Time.” We could keep going ad infinitum but you get the point. When we open ourselves up to one another, are transparent about both the good and the bad in our lives, and are aware of these things as we worship our worship is elevated to a higher plane and our ability to stir one another up in our assemblies has a manifold increase. How do we foster this sort of purposefully interaction?
- First, we must give ourselves the time to do so. If I don’t arrive until just before the opening prayer (or later!) I’m missing out on valuable time that I could be learning about your past week, your present circumstances your hopes and anxieties about the future. As a chief offender in this area, I get it. Things come up from time to time. But we must endeavor to wake up earlier, get ready quicker and/or leave sooner that we might make the most of this opportunity. To this end, we must also make and take opportunites outside of our assembly times to interact with one another on an intimate level.
- Additionally, we must give ourselves space for meaningful interactions. We are oft prone to focus on the mundane. Our conversations may often be crowded by the superficial. Let’s save the sports talk and the like for the lunch table as we continue to spend time with our brothers and sisters at lunch and use the time before worship to engage in the deep conversations that build solidarity and sympathy.
- Third, we must be willing to ask about each other’s lives and ready to listen to what they say, whatever that might be. Too often we fall into the habit of asking “how’re you doing?” but really meaning, “tell me that you are doing well so that I can be on my way.” (Again, the chief perpetrator here). We must embody the patience to sit and the attention to hear what our brothers and sisters might share with us. Further, we must demonstrate a trustworthy and humble disposition so that they feel at ease confiding in us that we will not betray their confidence or judge them for what they share.
- Finally, we must be willing to share ourselve as well. This ought to be a two-way street. Unfortunately the ideal of indiviuality impresses upon us an instinct to rely upon self, to keep our problems self-contained, and to draw back from others. The virtue of independence declares reliance on others among the worst of social sins. Pride, to our shame, prevents us from openning ourselves up to one another largely because we feel like if we do we will be exposed as fakes and outsiders. However, I have found in practice that when I have been vulnerable and transparent with the right* people that it allows them to take their guard down and share themselves as well. Trransparency creates reciprocity.
Let us share our lives and ourselves in intimate and authentic interactions so that we might better stir one another up to love in good works in out public assemblies.