Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Worship with Regularity

How do we approach public worship as a Christian?  What about private worship?  Have we made it a habit to worship the Lord publicly, as well as privately?  Do we discipline ourselves to do both regularly?  Now, I realize that asking such questions may result in confusion or even accusation.  After all, when we talk about making habits and establishing routines, aren't we jumping into legalism?  Isn't it only the heart that matters?  You know, being genuine.

Well, of course, being genuine is a great concern for God.  God hates vain, meaningless offerings (Is. 1:12-20).  He also despises empty, rote, religious action (Is. 29:13; Mk. 7:6-8).  Habits, actions, and routines, in and of themselves, are quite meaningless, fruitless, useless, and a monumental waste of time.  However, I think we've made a mistake when we pit the habits of the Christian life against genuine Christian life.  This makes it sound like habits can't be genuine and genuineness only expresses itself in spontaneity.  That's just not true.

Take expressions of love in marriage.  Spontaneous, romantic trips and dates are great.  Surprising your wife by finishing some home project while she's away for the day is a loving thing to do.  Picking up flowers for her when all she needed from the store was mustard is a kind, generous act. 

These can be genuine, but the vast majority of our loving expressions in marriage can be quite routine.  Always hugging and kissing before you leave the house, or once you arrive home.  Calling or texting at lunch to check on one another.  Choosing to do the grocery shopping, mow the yard, pay the bills, wash the dishes, make the bed, or clean the toilet because you know your spouse hates it. 

These are routine, meaning we make a habit of them, and we could do them in an empty, callous, or even hateful way.  However, it's it true that they can all be absolutely genuine.  Everyday, routine actions full of genuine love for the other person.  The same can be said of a nightly routine to talk, a monthly date, a yearly overnight trip.  These things need not be spontaneous to be genuine, and the same can be said of worship.

I bring this up because the God who despises empty, routine offerings and religious gatherings is also the God who commands routine offerings and religious gatherings.  This was made clear once again when I read Numbers 28 this morning.  It's a very repetitive chapter.  It's a chapter we may be tempted to speed read without thinking about it.  That way, we can check it off our plan and be one step closer to reading the Bible in a year.

However, let's not do that.  Let's consider what's happening.  God is establishing a routine.  A habit.  A regular rhythm of worship.  There are daily offerings (v. 1-8), weekly offerings (v. 9-10), monthly offerings (v. 11-15), and yearly offerings (v. 16-25).  Then, we move on to feasts that should be observed with regularity, which starts in verse 26 and doesn't finish until the end of chapter 29.

God isn't commanding regularity for the sake of regularity.  Habit for the sake of habit.  Routine for the sake of routine.  God doesn't want His people to know that He's got them under His thumb, like some cruel dictator.  No, these are gracious commands that God gives to His people.  God has already shown His commitment to them by delivering them from slavery in Egypt.  He would be their God, and they would be His people.

Then, in Numbers 13-14, the people chose against trusting the Lord to help them enter and take the promised land.  Still, God is committed to His people.  God knows that His people need a regular reminder of His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His redemption...as well as their sinfulness, their need, their dependence on Him.  So, He establishes a regular rhythm of worship.  Through the many offerings that will be offered daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, the people will be reminded of their need and God's provision.  Their weakness and God's strength.  Their sin and God's forgiveness.

The same is true for us.  We need routine reminders of God's grace, mercy, and love.  We need reminders of our sin, our neediness, our weakness.  These are what regular public and private prayer provide us.  We sing songs together, being reminded of God's greatness and our need to recognize that greatness...that He is God and we are not.  We pray corporately, reminded of His power and sovereignty, as well as our dependence on Him for all things.  We give, worshiping God as the source and owner of all things and expressing that we are stewards who act for the sake of our Master.  God's Word is preached, recognizing our regular need to hear God speak and submitting our lives to His scrutiny.

Are you getting the picture?  A regular rhythm of worship is good.  Of course, routines can dissolve into ruts, but don't assume that they will.  Fight against it.  Recognize that the ability to develop routines and habits has been given for God's glory and for our good.

With all this in mind, let me leave you with some questions to consider.  Again, the goal is not to establish a legalistic mindset, but we do need to be challenged to think about our lives.  Very often, we get into the wrong kinds of habits with our time, energy, money, etc., and need to be shaken out of it.  So, here are questions for me and for you:
  • Is it your routine to be involved in public worship?  Do you discipline your time in order to make sure it happens?
  • Do you have a regular rhythm of private worship - getting into God's word on your own, meditating on it and memorizing it, praying regularly and often, etc.?
  • Are there regular routines at your church that you're choosing to ignore?  Maybe it's a Sunday morning Bible study, a Sunday evening service, a gathering for prayer, or Wednesday evening small group.
    • Why are you ignoring them?  Do you think it's unnecessary for you to have any rhythms other than Sunday morning?
    • Have you convinced yourself that busyness in your life forbids being involved?  Has it also forbidden Facebook, television, playing/watching sports, and other recreational activities?
  • Do you have a regular rhythm of giving money away for the sake of God's kingdom and for the good of others?  My guess is that your church offers such opportunities regularly.  What would keep you from giving regularly, as God would have you do?
  • Have you established any regular rhythms in your family?  Rhythms in any family may vary from one season to another, but is there any sense of rhythm?
    • Natural rhythms are things like game nights, eating dinner together, going on walks, movie night, family vacations (either the out-of-town or stay-at-home kind), playing catch, bedtime routines, etc.  (These are called "natural" rhythms because one doesn't need to be a Christian to do them.  However, when Christians do them, we should be motivated to please the Lord and serve our families.)
    • Spiritual rhythms may include praying, singing, reading the Bible, reading through a helpful book, serving, regular conversation about spiritual issues and growth, discipline aimed at the heart and not just behavior, etc.
So, God has commanded routines.  He commands habits.  It glorifies Him for us to have a regular rhythm of worship, and it does our souls good.  Let's fall into the trap of believing that simply having spiritual habits makes them inauthentic.  Instead, let's be committed to authenticity in the midst of spiritual habits.