Decorum in the presence of the King

23 10 2008

I came across this little tract I wrote some years back to help my congregation to think through how we act when we are in God’s presence on the Lord’s Day. I hope it is helpful to you also. Let me know what ya’ll think…

 

 

PASTORAL ADVICE FOR PROPER DECORUM IN THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD

Offered as a help to the congregation as they seek to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.

 

By Pastor Douglas W. Comin

 

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. . . Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:22-25, 28-29)

 

It is to be lamented that in our age the Church of God has lost much of the fear of the Lord in worship. Solemnity, reverence, awe, and humility have largely given way to familiarity, casual-ness, disorder, and even flippancy. That these ungodly qualities have not been the predominant features of the worship assemblies of our own congregation affords us matter for thankfulness to God, who has given us a measure of due reverence in His presence. Yet we must be ever diligent to heed the wise counsel of Solomon who said, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1) In order to encourage you, therefore, in this most important matter, I offer these thoughts for your serious consideration, drawn largely from the passage appearing at the beginning of this pamphlet.

 

Remember that you are in the presence of MAJESTY. Most people would not dream of entering into the presence of a human dignitary, or even a pop culture icon, with the same carelessness in which they invade the courts of the living God. Let the consideration of God’s incomparable majesty result in the following practical behavior:

 

1. Fix your attention on Him alone, not casually conversing with those around you. There will be time enough for fellowship later, but it is insulting to God’s majesty to have His subjects chattering and whispering to one another when He has called for their attention.

 

2. Be on time for worship, which is a divine appointment with the King of kings. The whole service of worship, and not merely the sermon, is appointed by Him for your edification. Wandering in late or leaving early shows contempt for His glory.

 

3. Do not wander in and out of the service, as if you were at liberty to forsake His presence at your whim. There may be times of true necessity, but these should be rare. If you have small children, make a point of arriving early in order to see to their needs. Do all that you can to ensure that the Majestic God before whom you appear will have your undivided attention, as He deserves.

 

4. Show due respect before God with the posture of your body, as well as your heart. Just as the words of your mouth are the overflow of the heart, so “body language” communicates a great deal about the inward thoughts. Attentiveness, eagerness, respect, and reverence are not conveyed through slouching, yawning, or dozing.

 

Remember that you are before the THRONE OF GRACE. The worship of God is an unspeakably great privilege and a means of immeasurable blessing. Jesus Christ suffered and died to give you access to God’s throne of grace. He Himself presents you there before the Father and pleads for spiritual benefits on your behalf. The remembrance of this should move you to serious prayer as you enter the assembly of the saints.

 

1. Come with expectancy, praying in your heart that God will prepare you to enter into His presence. John Willison wrote: “The mariner who intends a voyage, not only provides for his tackling, but he is careful, before he sails, to put his ship off from the land, that he may catch the first fair wind. In like manner, Christian, if you would launch heavenwards upon a Lord’s Day, be concerned to get the vessel of your heart put off from the earth beforehand.”

 

2.  Seek grace through Christ to benefit from every part of the worship service. Not only the preaching, but also the prayers, psalms, Scripture readings and sacraments hold matchless bounty for your soul if only you would apply yourself to seeking them diligently.

 

3. As you hope to receive a blessing from the Lord in worship, determine to concentrate your full attention upon the matter. “Fix your eye on the minister, your ear on the word, and your heart on God.”

 

Remember that you are in the company of THE ANGELIC HOST. It is a peculiar privilege that is ours in worship, that we actually draw near to “an innumerable company of angels” and join our hearts and voices with theirs in pouring out praise to God. Respect for these heavenly beings is urged upon us in Scripture as a motive for hospitality, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2). How much more should our consciousness of their presence with us in worship incite us to take care in regard to our conduct in the heavenly tabernacle.

 

1. The angels are in awe of your salvation, for Peter speaks of the mystery of the Gospel as consisting in “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). And would you be careless, as they look on, concerning the means of so great a salvation that are held before you in the ordinances of worship?

 

2. The angels are not distracted from the praises of God day or night, and yet they have not half the reason to rejoice in Him as we do. We are told in Hebrews 2:16, “He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” Shall they which have never received the infinite gift of grace outdo us in fervency of praise and thankfulness to the God of our salvation?

 

3. The angels watch for order and proper decorum in the worship of the Church. Thus Paul, in arguing the propriety for the woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head in worship says that it is “because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). Matthew Henry, referring this to the order that exists in the ranks of God’s hosts, says, “We should learn from all to behave in the public assemblies of divine worship so as to express a reverence for God, and a content and satisfaction with that rank in which he has placed us.”

 

Remember that you are in the presence of JUST MEN MADE PERFECT. In our worship assemblies we are transported in the spirit to the heavenly tabernacle, where we join in ascribing glory to God with the whole congregation of the invisible Church. By faith we acknowledge that the elect of God who have departed from this world have not passed out of existence, but into glory, and it is our great privilege to gather with them as we worship. Let this spiritual reality direct your thoughts in the assembly.

 

1. Heed the words of David, who is present with you: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him” (Psalm 89:7).

 

2. Think of the prophets, who continually lifted up their voices to turn the people of God away from complacency and vain worship. Will you stand with them in the presence of the Lord and let your hearts wander after the worthless idols of the world?

 

3. As you begin to grow anxious for the conclusion of the service, consider the saints from Troas, who sat attentively listening to Paul until midnight. Or think of Amos, who chided the ungodly of his day for saying: “When will the New Moon be past that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” (Amos 8:5).

 

Remember that you are part of a BODY. We come to “the general assembly of the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” One of the prevailing sins of the church of Corinth was that the people came together without regard for one another. They were individualistic in their approach to worship, just like much of the modern church. But God commands us in our assembling together to be conscious of one another’s spiritual interest. This is the rule that is to direct us when we come together as a church: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:2).

 

1. Take care for the sake of your neighbor’s edification that you do not distract him in any way from his pursuit of spiritual blessing. If you or your children are disorderly in the service of worship, others will be hindered from concentrating upon the means of grace. Do not allow your little ones to wander away from you, or to fidget visibly in their seats, lest those around you be drawn away from fixing their thoughts upon the word and prayer. If they become restless, take your children quietly to the back of the meeting room, or just outside the door, and help them to compose themselves to return to the service. Make it your goal to train them to attend to the worship of God from the earliest age, for their spiritual growth cannot begin too early. Due solemnity in regular daily family worship will do much to prepare them for the corporate assembly.

 

2. See to it that you participate in all of the ordinances of worship, lest your neighbor be distracted by your awkward silence. John Willison offered a reproof to those “who sit dumb in the congregation, while their neighbors are praising God,” saying, “Think not this work below the greatest of you, for it is your honor. Excuse not yourselves by saying you cannot sing musically; for, if you had any delight in the duty, you would sing as you can.”

 

 

May this humble counsel serve to advance our experience of God’s presence, to the glory of Jesus Christ, before whom it is our exceeding joy to gather as a worshipping congregation.

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Three things that hinder prayer

12 09 2008

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66:18)

 

Love of the world and love of sin puts a barrier between man and God so that the heavens are like a ceiling of brass that bounces back prayer and keeps it from reaching God’s ears.

 

Have you ever felt like that? Have you complained that the Lord isn’t hearing and answering your prayers? Have you worried that He has forsaken or abandoned you because He doesn’t seem to listen to you? God has not forsaken you, but He wants you to forsake your sin and abandon your love of self.

 

Why is it that a man’s regarding iniquity in his heart (literally, cherishing or loving sin) hinders his prayers from being heard favorably by God? Here are three key reasons

 

1. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray by the Spirit. All prayers that are acceptable with God are the breathings of His own Spirit within us (Romans 8:26). Without the intercession of Christ we can’t have our prayers accepted, and without the intercession of the Spirit we can’t pray rightly. If your spirit is infatuated with some sinful desire or activity, God’s Spirit within you is grieved, and your prayers are tainted.

 

2. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray in faith. You can’t build a rational confidence upon any promise that God will accept you. The Bible teaches us that faith always respects the promise, and the promise of acceptance is made only to the upright in heart. As long as you cherish a love of sin in your heart, you fail to understand the promises of God, and so pray without understanding. At best, your prayers are presumptuous, because you are asking God to bless you while you are taking His grace and mercy for granted.

 

3. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray with fervency. Next to sincerity, this is the greatest qualification for effective prayer that is acceptable before God. “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much.” The cause of fervency or passion in anything that we seek is our love for it. The more we love something the harder we will pursue it. As long as the love of sin possesses our hearts, our love toward spiritual things is dull, heavy and inactive, and so is our pursuit of them.

 

This is a wretched error with which our souls deceive themselves. At the same time we love our sin and pray against it. At the same time we plead for grace, with a desire not to prevail. Such are the mysterious, intricate treacheries by which the love of sin will make a soul deceive and undo itself. Truth told, we pray sluggishly for spiritual mercies, because if we receive what we ask, we will have to put away our sin! The soul thus deceived cannot pray against sin in earnest. We fight against it, but with neither hope nor intent to conquer.  Like lovers in a game against one another, we fight with a desire to lose.

 

Do your prayers for deliverance seem to bounce off the ceiling? Then pray for God to give you a true hatred for your sin and a true and fervent love for His holiness and purifying presence. Pray that He will purge your heart of any lingering desire for the passing pleasures of sin. Only then will you be able to pray in the Spirit, in faith, and with the fervency that will reach the gracious ear of your patient and loving Father in heaven.





The Christian at work (Part 3)

27 08 2008

How do you relate prayer to work? Does this seem like an odd question? If you are a Christian it shouldn’t. If your goal is to live every facet of your life to the glory of God, you must consistently consecrate every activity and every endeavor to Him in prayer. If you wish to please Him in your daily activities, you will need to seek His blessing, direction, and provision and consciously submit your will to His. Your vocation is a major part of your life. It is a daily stage in which you are called to demonstrate God’s grace and truth in the midst of a world that operates on the principles of “me first” and “whatever it takes to get to the top.” To walk into that arena prayerlessly would be like walking onto a battlefield without armor, communications, or a battle plan.

The third principle for integrating faith in the workplace, then, we will refer to as the principle of active dependence. It is the deliberate cultivation of daily dependence upon God to enable you to represent Him well in the calling in which He has placed you. As a Christian, you are called to do your work “as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” If you are to put this principle into practice, you must be in constant communication with your True Employer through prayer. Spurgeon wrote:

Faith leads a man to look to God for help in his ordinary avocation. Here, again, it has a great influence over him. A believer may seek of God the qualifications for his particular calling. “What,” say you, “may we pray about such things?” Yes. The labourer may appeal to God for strength; the artisan may ask God for skill; the student may seek God for help to quicken his intelligence.”

Pray daily for skill, understanding, and ability

There are a plethora of resources available to professionals to help them succeed in the marketplace. Most focus on harnessing the “inner strength” of the individual, finding the “magic pill” that will give you a new perspective and enable you to unlock the secrets of success. For the follower of Jesus Christ, the secret of success is active dependence upon God, submitting every thought, action and decision to Him, and walking in His will. The man who does this will be successful, perhaps not as the world defines success, but certainly as God defines it.

Do you want to do well, and glorify God in your vocation? Do you feel inadequacy in some area of your work? Are there aspects of your job that you don’t understand, or skills that you feel you lack? Go to your heavenly Father and ask Him to help you to glorify Him by growing in your effectiveness and mastery of your field. If your genuine desire is to honor Him, rather than merely enriching yourself or building your own reputation, you will find Him more than ready to help you in your daily endeavors.

David was a great warrior, and he attributed his valour to God who taught his hands to war and his fingers to fight. We read of Bezaleel, and of the women that were wise-hearted, that God had taught them, so that they made all manner of embroidery and metal work for the house of the Lord. In those days they used to reckon skill and invention to be the gifts of God; this wretched century has grown too wise to honour any God but its own idolized self. If you pray over your work I am persuaded you will be helped in it. If for your calling you are as yet but slenderly qualified, you may every morning pray God to help you that you may be careful and observant as an apprentice or a beginner; for has he not promised that as your day your strength shall be? A mind which is trusting in the Lord is in the best condition for acquiring knowledge, and getting understanding.”

Prayer for godly conduct in the workplace

Even more important than your skillfulness in executing your vocational tasks is your behavior in the workplace. Your credibility among your co-workers, superiors and subordinates depends upon your faithfulness as an individual who professes Christ. Especially as a professing Christian, your fellow workers will be watching your conduct. If your speech and behavior are inconsistent with godliness, you will not only lose credibility as a professional, but you will give the enemies of Christ a reason to blaspheme. Daily diligence in prayer is essential to maintaining godliness in the workplace. Ask the Lord each day to grant you the grace to respond to every situation and challenge in a manner that honors Him. Pray for help to guard your tongue from harshness, gossip, backbiting, and disingenuousness. And above all, pray for humility, that when you stumble in these things, you will have the grace to confess it and make it right with your fellow workers. Without purposeful prayer, you cannot hope to maintain a godly testimony. Spurgeon puts it this way:

As to your behaviour also in your work, there is room for faith and prayer. For, O brethren, whether qualified or not for any particular offices of this life, our conduct is the most important matter. It is well to be clever, but it is essential to be pure. I would have you masters of your trades, but I am even more earnest that you should be honest, truthful, and holy. About this we may confidently go to God and ask him to lead us in a plain path, and to hold up our goings that we slip not, He can and will help us to behave ourselves wisely. “Lead us not into temptation” is one sentence of our daily prayer, and we may further ask that when we are in the temptation we may be delivered from the evil. We need prudence, and faith remembers that if any lack wisdom he may ask of God. Godliness teaches the young men prudence, the babes knowledge and discretion. See how Joseph prospered in Egypt because the Lord was with him. He was placed in very difficult positions, on one occasion in a position of the most terrible danger, but he escaped by saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” A sense of God’s presence preserved him then and at all other times. He was set over all the house of Potiphar because God was with him. And so, dear friends, engaged in service or in business, you may go to your heavenly Father and ask him to guide you with his counsel, and you may rest assured that he will order all your way, so that your daily calling shall not hinder your heavenly calling, nor your conduct belie your profession.”

Pray for success, as God defines it 

James exhorts us that we do not have because we do not ask, and when we ask and don’t receive, it is because we have asked with wrong motives, that we may spend what we receive on our own pleasures (James 4:2-3). Two important things are evident here. First, God expects us to pray for His blessing upon our labors. It is not wrong to ask God to prosper you in your vocation. He promises to bless those who seek Him and to prosper the work of their hands. Second, God will not grant success if you are not seeking it for His glory. If your goal is self-advancement, you have no right to expect divine favor in your pursuits. But if you desire to do well in order to glorify God and serve the ends of advancing His kingdom, He will grant you success. One important caveat, though: success must be defined in God’s terms, which are not necessarily linked to your material prosperity. When asking God to bless your labors, and prosper you in your vocation, you must be careful to submit your will to the divine will. It may be that God purposes to put you through a lean time, in order to strengthen your faith and increase your dependence upon Him. Remember that God does not define success as the world does, merely in terms of increasing in earthly possessions, wealth, or prestige. God defines success as that which most glorifies Him and serves the purposes of His kingdom. Spurgeon challenges us:

Faith bids you seek help from God as to the success of your daily calling. Know ye not what David says, ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.’ It is a most pleasant thing to be able by faith to consult the holy oracle about everything, whether it arises in trade, or in the family, or in the church. We may say with Abraham’s servant, ‘O Lord, I pray thee send me good speed this day.’ You may expect success if you thus seek it: and peradventure some of you would have prospered more if you had more believingly sought the Lord. I say ‘peradventure,’ because God does not always prosper even his own people in outward things, since it is sometimes better for their souls that they should be in adversity, and then the highest prosperity is a want of prosperity. Faith quiets the heart in this matter by enabling us to leave results in the hand of God.”

Pray for fellowship and support

One final area for which a believer can and should pray in relation to his daily pursuits is God’s provision of friends and associates who will help, support, encourage, inspire and challenge him. God has created us as social beings, and the encouragement of friends is a great help to the soul. Yet, as all things are under the providential care and governance of God, it is important to commit this aspect of our vocations to Him in prayer as well. Ask Him to raise up fellow-believers around you, that you may lift up and support one another. Ask Him to make you a light among your co-workers, that some may even be drawn to Christ by your humble and godly example. Ask Him to surround you with sound advisors, and those who are endowed with gifts and abilities that complement yours. Ask Him to keep you from evil company, and those who would lead you into sin. Take hold of this promise: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path” (Prov. 3:6). Here are Spurgeon’s comments:

Faith acts also in reference to our surroundings. We are all very much influenced by those about us. God can raise us up friends who will be eminently helpful to us, and we may pray him to do so: he can put us into a circle of society in which we shall find much assistance in this life’s affairs, and also in our progress towards heaven; and concerning this we know that ‘The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord.’ Faith will keep you clear of evil company, and constrain you to seek the society of the excellent of this earth, and thus it will colour your whole life. If there be no friends to help him, the believer’s dependence is so fixed upon God, that he goes forward in cheerful confidence knowing that the Lord alone is sufficient for him; yet, if he be encouraged and assisted by friends, he looks upon it as God’s doing, as much as when David was strengthened by those who came to him in the cave.”

Imitate your Savior, who was a man of prayer

Spurgeon closes the section of his discourse on the necessity of prayer in the workplace with an exhortation to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and we will give him the last word on this subject:

Do you say, We see the connection of this with faith, but how with faith upon the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us? I answer,-Our Saviour as the object of our faith is also the object of our imitation, and you know, brethren, how in all things he rested upon God. Whenever he undertook a great enterprise you find him spending a night in prayer. If anybody could have dispensed with prayer it was our Lord Jesus; if any man that ever lived could have found his own way without heavenly guidance it was Christ the Son of God. If then he was as much in prayer and exercised faith in the great Father, much more should you and I bring everything before God. We should live in the flesh expecting that the Lord Jesus will be with us even to the end, and that we shall be upheld and comforted by his sympathetic love and tenderness. Faith enables us to follow Jesus as the great Shepherd of the sheep, and to expect to be led in a right way, and daily upheld and sustained until the Redeemer shall come to receive us unto himself.”





The insidious power of self-justification

19 08 2008

[Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)

Can’t you just picture the self-righteous pharisee, standing proudly in the temple courts – where everyone passing by would see him and admire his piety? The Bible says that he wasn’t even praying to God… he was praying to himself. Smug, smug, smug! I’ll bet he was wearing his long pharisee robe and carrying a big torah scroll with his initials engraved on the the cover. What a sad and pathetic spectacle! Lord, I sure am thankful that I’m not like that guy! … oh… wait a minute…





Keeping Your Vineyard

16 08 2008

Here is a compelling observation by Hudson Taylor commenting on Song of Solomon 1:6 – “…they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.”

Our attention is here drawn to a danger which is pre-eminently one of this day: the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service. If we are watchful over the souls of others, and neglect our own – if we are seeking to remove the motes from our brother’s eye, unmindful of the beam in our own, we shall often be disappointed with our powerlessness to help our brethren, while our MASTER will not be less disappointed in us. Let us never forget that what we are is more important than what we do; and that all fruit borne when not abiding in CHRIST must be fruit of the flesh, and not of the SPIRIT. The sin of neglected communion may be forgiven, and yet the effect remain permanently; as wounds when healed often leave a scar behind.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the busyness of ministry while allowing our own walk with Christ to suffer from neglect. How often have we found ourselves on the verge of complete burn-out because we have over-extended ourselves in seeking to serve others while our own prayer life and daily communion with the Lord is all but non-existent. No wonder we become exhausted and discouraged! We are like marathon runners who pass by the water table and pass out from dehydration. If we are not drinking ourselves from the Living Water, the well that we have to offer others will quickly run dry. Not only that, but we will find ourselves far more vulnerable to sin and temptation, even in the midst of ministry.

Check your vineyard. While seeking to tend the vineyards of others, has your own vineyard become withered and overgrown with weeds? If so, you may need to take some time off to re-group and re-establish the priority of seeking close communion with Jesus daily. Remember the challenge of Hudson Taylor – “What we ARE is more important than what we DO!”