It was the last night of our vacation. I knew my desire, but I also knew my weakness, so I asked my wife a favor. “Whatever excuse I come up with in the morning, make me get up and go.” The following day would be a day of driving…and sitting. I knew I wanted, and needed exercise. I also knew that if I left the decision until the following morning, I would find all kinds of excuses not to get out of bed and run.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who needs a little help getting out of bed to exercise. I also know that the same principle of “deciding in advance” is not merely limited to early morning runs. In fact, I’ve come to see that the same principle of deciding in advance can, and should, be applied to our participation in weekly worship. Now let me be careful with this. There are enough “should’s” and “ought’s” in this life. The heart of the gospel is neither a “should” or an “ought”. The heart of the gospel is the transforming grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But what we miss in a culture centered on me and my preferences is that much of this transforming grace is experienced in the context of a community centered around our commitment to, and enjoyment of weekly worship.
THE PRIORITY OF DECIDING IN ADVANCE
If you are a Christian, I want to encourage you to make weekly worship a priority. Just like regular exercise trains our bodies, regular worship trains our hearts. And if you are a Christian with a family, I want to encourage you to make weekly worship a priority for you and your family. It is one of the ways you will train the hearts of your children. They quickly learn what is most important to you…and thus to them.
The activities, organizations, or causes we commit to are a reflection of our priorities. Alternatively, when we fail to commit to anyone or anything, we are also making a statement of priority. In that case, we are prioritizing our personal comfort and desire above all else. Maybe that is why many of us don’t like to make plans. We’re holding out for a better offer. We are our own priority.
So what priorities are you setting for you and your family by virtue of the things you decide in advance to do, or not do? Is it travel sports? Is it sleeping in? If so, you’re kids are getting the message about what is most important. Deciding in advance is a declaration of priorities…and we all live out of our priorities.
THE BLESSING OF HAVING DECIDED IN ADVANCE
With this discussion of priorities though, we need to be careful not to imagine weekly worship as merely (or even primarily) about duty and obligation. Weekly worship is primarily about receiving (and sharing) blessing. Weekly worship fuels and shapes us by directing our hearts, and therefore our priorities toward Christ, all in the context of a loving, grace-centered community of broken people who are being made beautiful by Christ.
So in worship we receive the blessing of a new focus. We also receive the blessing of connection. As men and women created in the image of God, we were created with a desire to know and be known. Some of us, out of our fear of rejection, may recoil at this thought of being known. But in the church, we gather to worship the One who knows and loves us. In the community centered on Him, we gather to receive and share this blessing of knowing and being known. And in this way, our participation nurtures the rest of the body’s ability to worship.
THE GIFT OF ONE WHO DECIDED IN ADVANCE FOR US
I know you are probably saying to yourself, “Pastor, of course you are going to prioritize weekly worship. It’s your calling.” While that’s true, I actually do understand. On another vacation, I remember our family trying to make a Sunday morning decision of whether or not to visit a local church for worship, and where to attend. In that moment, I realized how many conflicting thoughts can come my way if I have not “pre-decided” our worship plans. It made me thankful for our local church, where we not only decide in advance to worship on Sunday mornings, but also decide in advance through our membership to commit our lives to one another.
I get it. I also get that there is a danger of this whole conversation sounding like a call to “decide for God,” either as an oppressive obligation, or an attempt at manipulation to secure God’s favor. It is neither. In fact, it is merely a response to the blessing we have already received. You see, we have the opportunity to decide in advance because God decided in advance. He made a decision to love an unlovely people…us. And because of His decision, we receive grace upon grace.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.”