One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. – Psalm 27:4
In a previous post I wrote about the centrality of worship in God’s plan of redemption. A Christian who does not gather for worship is like a fish out of water. There is no possibility of thriving without the context in which it was designed to live.
I realize that we are in weird times and deciding whether to come to worship is incredibly complex. I also realize that in weird times, we tend toward extremes. So I wanted to address something that I have heard some people say. By “some people,” if you think I mean you…I might. But I have heard it from other pastors around our area and around the nation. You aren’t alone in the sentiment.
The thinking goes something like this, “I don’t want to come back until worship is normal.”
I get this. I’m not a big fan of what COVID has forced us into. But I wanted to speak a little into this discussion too. Here are some thoughts. These are not meant to be the definitive end all of the issues. They are just meant to offer some biblical truths to consider.
Why come to worship when it’s like this?
First. Because God commands you to gather for worship.
“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.” – Hebrews 10:23-25
The word that the writer of Hebrews uses for “gathering together” has “synagogue” as its root. The official gathering of God’s people on the Sabbath at the time. He is not simply saying, “Don’t stop getting together.” He is saying, “Don’t forsake the official gathering of God’s people.”
Certainly “because God commands us to be in corporate worship” is an adequate reason. But, let me give us some more.
Second. Remember the great discomfort your Lord endured so that you make little of the discomfort of the current worship situation. If we start with where we once were, the current situation will feel much worse. But if we start with the terror of the cross that Jesus endured to bring us into the presence of God…well, a mask and social distancing and a gym gets a different perspective. The little discomfort required for worship pales in comparison to the great discomfort our Savior endured to present us holy before the Father with great joy.
Third. There is a greater reality that should be defining our experience. In Hebrews 12, the writer contrasts the experience of ancient Israel with the experience of the church.
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18–24, ESV)
Do you catch the incredible reality of what he is saying? When the people of God gather in Christ for corporate worship, we are no longer worshiping on earth. Rather, in a mysterious way are transported into the throne room of God.
So, would you rather be in your living room in your pajamas without a mask? Or would you rather be in the throne room of the King of creation?
Also, that sort of unmasks the frustration of masks. Certainly it is better to wear a mask and be in God’s glorious presence than it is to be at home.
Fourth. Worship isn’t primarily about what you get, but what you give. I mentioned this in a previous blog post, but worship is giving God his worth.
Thus, the subtle shift that can happen in our hearts is that what we are experiencing in worship becomes more important than who we are experiencing. “As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (Carson, 31)
Fifth. A hungry man doesn’t complain about how the bread is sliced, and if he does, its not about the bread. Imagine giving a homeless refugee a nicely prepared meal. You have done everything in your power with all of your resources to prepare something remarkable for him. It isn’t perfect, but he is hungry and you have given him something good. And then he complains about the way that you sliced his bread, “It isn’t thick enough, and is a little uneven.”
There may be things we don’t like about worship (trust me, as a pastor there are always aspects of worship that don’t suit my preferences). But I’m starving for God’s grace. Throughout the week, I feel my weakness and sin. The temptations of the Evil One overwhelm me. I need worship. And so do you. God is present in worship in ways he is not present at other times (see point 2 above).
When hungry men complain about the way you have sliced the bread, its no longer about either his hunger or your slicing technique. It is about his heart.
Sixth. Have you considered how others may benefit from your presence. Or, what others are losing when you stay home? Perhaps we have put our desires before others needs.
In his section on unity in Colossians 3, Paul writes about one of the ways that we help the word dwell richly with each other:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16
We need to hear each other sing. Worship is formative too. When we sing, God works to the hearts of the people next to us. We need to hear you and see you.
Lastly. If you need to stay home for health reasons – don’t think twice about it. Stay home. If you can’t come because wearing a mask interferes with your health – stay home. If it is too complex to have your children in worship, perhaps staying home is better (though, the crying and fidgeting children aren’t a distraction – they are a glory!).
In fact, there are a number of really good reasons that you may have to be absent from corporate worship. I just want to make sure that you are also considering these things as you make your decisions.
These decisions are so complex, that there is a lot of latitude for each other right now.