In this community of people who are learning to follow Jesus, we understand (or at least are learning) that God is with us at all times, in every aspect of our lives.
Because we are becoming aware of this, we are no under illusions as we enter a church building that this is the only space where God is. The church building has no special claim to God’s presence.
But we have a problem. In the busyness of our everyday lives, we cannot always remember that God is with us. The world has a way of squeezing us into its mold. Try as we might, again and again we find that we have reverted to thinking in secular terms. In other words, in spite of our best intentions we find ourselves living and acting without regard to the fact that God is present in every aspect of our lives.
As growing Christians we want to develop an increasing sensitivity to God’s presence with us. We know that we develop skills and get better at things by practicing: an old saying reminds us practice makes perfect.
So we come, week by week, to enter again, consciously and intentionally into God’s presence. In this space that has been set aside for we focus our thoughts, our attention, and our lives, on God. This space, where we come to focus on God’s presence is a symbol reminding us of God’s constant presence with us in all places. —–you are more likely to remember Gods presence on Wednesday if you intentionally mark it out on Sunday.
And as we practice God’s presence on Sundays we begin to become more aware of God working in our lives…one of the great privileges of my job is being able to show people where God is working in their lives…but we become more attuned to the workings of God in our lives as we practice God’s presence in worship.
Remembering who we are:
Worship is meant to be an opportunity for the Christian community to be strengthened and encouraged. As we come into the presence of God we are visibly reminded of who we are – God’s dearly loved children – we are strengthened in that knowledge—in a world saturated with secular values, it is easy to forget that we are part of a great company of people around the world who are seeking to be followers of Jesus. We can so easily feel alone. We doubt ourselves and our faith. We find ourselves asking. Is it for real what I believe? Am I deluding myself? Faith seems a long way from this world that I am living in.
There is a beautifully poignant story in the OT about Elijah, one of God’s prophets in ancient Israel. Elijah has had a difficult day. He was exhausted. He was frightened and discouraged. With his physical and emotional resources drained he poured out his heart to God. “I’m the only one left” he said. “Everyone else has forgotten about you. They have all gone off to worship other gods; I’m the only one left who is trying to follow you. “Elijah wondered whether even having a relationship with God in this situation was even worth the effort. He felt that he was totally alone. God’s answer was tender but to the point. “Elijah” God said, “Sit up and have something to eat. Get some rest, you are not alone, I still have 7000 people in Israel who have not bent their knees to other gods.”
Someone recently went out West on business, and was planning to go to an Oilers vs. Leafs game, wearing a Leafs jersey! She went there knowing she’d be alone, and would endure persecution, where no one else would be dressed like her. But then at the game, she looked out, and saw a few other Leafs jerseys, and a few more, and a few more. She was reminded she wasn’t alone.
This is what church community, small or large group is about. Although we may feel alone at times as Christians, when we are part of a church we remind ourselves that we are not alone, as we catch a glimpse of others wearing our colours. We are not the only ones trying to live as followers of Jesus in a hostile world. In fact, there are millions of us, all over the world, and all around our offices and neighbourhoods. But we need to come out and recognize each other. As we gather together, we remember that we are part of a community. We see this, we feel it and we are encouraged. And we are challenged, to be there for each other throughout the week as well.
We live in a busy world. To those who live outside of Christian faith it is almost incredible that busy people would take a major chunk out of their Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or some other time, just to go be with their church. There are so many more productive things that could be done. Time is at a premium and leisure is important.
This simple act of the church gathering is worthy of attention. Not many people find themselves in church simply by accident. Not many are there because they have nothing else to do, or there isn’t money to be made at work. They are there as a result of a conscious, deliberate decision that has frequently involved getting a family ready as well…no easy task….
Why do most churches meet? This is the day that Christians celebrate the Resurrection!! Jesus is alive. Sins are forgiven, death is defeated, and life has real meaning. Sunday morning is a time to celebrate. Why are these people taking time this morning to go to church? Could there be something there for me? Could these strange stirrings and longings in my heart that I have never acknowledged to anyone perhaps be met in this community?
This act of public worship is a powerful witness, because you often have to sacrifice other priorities to attend. At a conference, I heard the story of a young guy named Desmond involved in a tech startup. His CEO said that to be on the startup team, no one could have any extracurricular activity or hobby, this company had to be your life. Desmond said, I’ll make you a deal. I’m going to take Sunday morning off for worship, and Wednesday evenings for Bible study, for six months. It’s who I am, and nothing will stop that. If you find I’m doing any less work than the rest of the team, I’ll quit. At the end of the six months, his boss said, “You’re working harder than anyone, and I think your church and Bible study might have something to do with it. Can I come with you sometime?
You will be amazed at how often your words and your witness will speak to the very deepest longings of people’s hearts.
So why do Christians gather to worship week in and week out? The answer is that there are at least three very good reasons: to praise being in God’s presence, to remember that we are part of a community that is growing and learning, and to offer a visible witness to a world that has lost its way. But when we gather to worship for these reasons, what do we do ? To this question there can only be one answer. We celebrate!!
The keynote of worship is celebration. At times in its long and winding history the church has lost its sight of this. But that is what Sunday mornings are all about—celebrating who we know God is (wow—he is our Father) –celebrating what Jesus has done for us (wow—set us free from the consequences of our sin)—celebrating that can live in relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit (wow—we are not alone).
God is a God who throws parties. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Jesus told adults to keep their eyes on the children if they wanted to know what God is like. Left on their own, adults develop strange ideas of what worship should be. …in the purely adult world, God frequently comes across as a cranky old grandfather. But children seem to know instinctively that God likes celebration.
Christians are people who are called to live in community, and we are a community of learners. We need to realize how impossible it is to be a Christian on our own, not to mention half the fun.
Question: Someone once said, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it; you’ll ruin it!” If you aren’t already part of a church, what characteristics will you look for in an imperfect Christian community?