Happy – or Holy?
Janet and I had a conversation over the week-end about different churches we have attended throughout the years and how we feel during the worship experience in each of these venues. We agreed that one church we visited a number of years ago was the loneliest church experience that we had ever encountered. There was no mention of Jesus and as we looked around the sanctuary, if you can call it that, we felt sorry for the people who were attending. They looked glazed over, going through the motions, but it was sad. Neither of us could wait to get out of there after the conclusion of the service.
We also recalled other churches we have attended, either as guests or as members. Most of the time, the theology was a little thin, the congregants didn’t know too much about the faith, and they didn’t seem engaged in honoring God in the process of worship. By contrast, our home church, Grace Community, is what would be called a mega church – probably 5000 people worship their each week.
The people are engaged, the music is fabulous and we even have a number of professional musicians among the ranks of the various bands and ensembles that rotate week-ends throughout the month. The pastors, for the most part, were trained in evangelical or Baptist seminaries and really offer God-centered messages. You can tell that we are partial to our church, but it is true that by attending a church that is so large, we do sacrifice knowing many of the people who attend – there are just so many people at each service.
There is another church, the Chapel in Williamsburg, that we also both enjoy. The Senior Pastor is a well trained, evangelical, God centered man who can preach with the best of them. His demeanor and countenance come through his messages and the people of the congregation are engaged and desire to be connected to God. While I remain partial to the music at our home church, the Chapel does church right. At least in my opinion.
The point of all this is that churches develop their own type of worship experiences – based in large measure on the personality, dedication and teaching of the leadership. And if you are the sort of person who enjoys knowing everyone who walks through the door, then perhaps a large church isn’t for you. Conversely, large churches generally have tremendous music, dramas and other forms of worship that tend to engage the entire congregation in the experience. But you pay the price by not knowing the people in an intimate setting and you have to work harder to enter into community with others in the church. So each type of church has its benefits and potential drawbacks.
Janet and I have both said that a wonderful church service should have the capacity to move us to tears – indeed, it can become a very emotional experience, being drawn into community with God through music or other elements of the worship experience. Therein lies a very important point – the idea of community with God. You see, many people attend church to be entertained, or to be seen, or to check the “church” box on their “to do” list each week. The idea of actually communing with God never seems to cross their minds.
Oh, I hear remarks about great music or other elements of worship, but that’s not the point of church. Church, the gathering of believers at a particular time and place, is to worship God. And technically, worship is for God – not for us. We are to honor and worship our Creator – that is quite clear from our reading of the Bible. Now I know that we want to enjoy the worship experience, and to offer praise to God, but given a choice, God would prefer us to work toward holiness rather than happiness.
In fact, that’s why God sent His Son to the cross – so that we would have a way to get back into community with Him. God does not like sin – He likes holiness. And so our worship experiences should be designed to help us draw closer to God – the more we engage God in relationship, the better we will get to know Him, the more we will love Him, and presumably we will become more like Him – the process is called “progressive sanctification.” Ultimately, when we appear before God when our time on this earth is completed, we will have “perfect sanctification” – the end of the journey toward becoming more Christ-like in our demeanor.
But it is important to realize that when we attend church, we should go in expectation of worshipping God and not being entertained the the music. The object is not to be “happy” but to be drawn into a place of wanting to become more holy. If music, drama, the sermon or any other element of the service is the vehicle through which this occurs, the church is doing its job of shepherding the people entrusted to the care of the pastor.
The verse this evening gives us a glimpse of the the throne room of heaven. We are told in Isaiah 6:3 that the seraphim, angels with six wings, were worshipping God. The Scripture tell us, “And they were calling to one another:“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And that’s what God desires from us. Worship and holiness.
My encouragement this evening is that you will look at church in a whole new light – recognizing it as an opportunity to worship God, and to become more holy in the process. My prayer is that God will bless you and that through a deeper relationship with Him, you will also enjoy a divine peace – or happiness, as a result of your desire to please God and worship Him. Have a great day in the Lord… Grace and peace…