Ecclesiastes chapter three begins by telling us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under Heaven.” The second part of verse seven specifies that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Again in chapter five, verses 1-3 say, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of G-d. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth…”, it continues, “…nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before G-d, for G-d is in Heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”
The word, “ecclesia” means the church, the body of Christ. This book is written to us and it is written by Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. To paraphrase, the Bible says that no one before him or since has possessed such wisdom; so just maybe he knows something we don’t and we should incline our ears, hearts and minds to. And, more importantly, we should heed.
Several months ago the Lord, through Holy Spirit, began to speak to me and call my attention to an area in which all congregations need a word. They need their hearts and minds—individually and corporately—to become aware of it, they need the humility to receive it, they need the eyes to observe it and they need the desire and grace to obey it. I have been guilty of this on occasion as well, so I bear witness to its veracity.
I am sure that all worship leaders would heartily agree with the wonderful words in Psalm 100:4 which exclaim, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!” I am not a worship leader. I am not part of a praise team. And it is not one of my spiritual gifts, but I have always presumed that this verse signifies the very reason we begin our services with praise and worship; we are entering His holy presence and these are instructions—glad instructions—on how we are to meet with Him. And lest you begin to think what I am about to share is trivial, incorrect or legalistic, consider well the humbling realization proclaimed in Isaiah 66:1, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; what is the house that you would build for Me, and what is the place of My rest? All these things My hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My Word.’”
All of this foundation has been truthfully and carefully laid in order to lovingly, yet boldly, bring to light something which is overlooked and goes on Sunday after Sunday: WHERE ARE OUR HEARTS AND MINDS MOMENTS BEFORE WE LIFT UP OUR HANDS, OUR VOICES, OR BOTH? The words of our Maker declare in John 4:23, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. G-d is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth,” not in the flesh or the deceitfulness of our own hearts. This need not be what some would call or perceive as a “hard word,” but a true word from our Heavenly Father who loves us but also guides us into and through His kingdom under His sovereignty.
We are, as members of the human race, a naturally- and relationally-minded species. As such, we talk and do things together constantly. A word we use in the church a lot is “fellowship.” Sometimes, due to distance, differing work schedules, family priorities and other things, we don’t see each other as often as we would like. So when we do see each other before the church service (for some of us, even as we struggle to get there on time, we do so in the middle of praise and worship), we tend to catch up briefly. Some of us do so after Sunday school and before the service begins. This time is usually spent talking about non-spiritual matters which are centered around our worldly concerns, circumstances or pursuits, rather than having our hearts and minds focused on Christ. Colossians 3:1-3 tells us, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of G-d. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in G-d.” These verses refer to the goal we should aim to have all of the time, but especially when we come into His temple and before His throne. You can also look to Romans 8:5-6 which says, “For those who live according to the flesh…” (even momentarily) “…set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
So if we are late to church or we are not quietly, humbly and intentionally arriving and sitting (or kneeling) in the sanctuary in a mind and heart which are prayerful, contrite and prostrate, HOW CAN WE BE IN A PROPER STATE OR POSITION FOR WORSHIP? How can He see His children are seeking to worship Him “in Spirit and in Truth”? How can we reverence Him, as is His due, and how can we truly expect ourselves to go from fleshly at 10:59 a.m. and then shift into Spirit mode at precisely 11:00 a.m. (or as soon as the music starts)? We all know the answer to that. We can’t.
Thankfully, as an eternal spirit, the Father—like us—is a relational being as well. As we did seconds before our salvation took place, let us employ the wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9 which sweetly reminds us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Pastors, deacons and elders may need to heed these words as well (see Ezra 9:2b). As leaders and example-setters, you must lovingly and graciously address this issue with those you have been entrusted and called to shepherd. This is your duty in the Lord, and should be your pleasure as well. May we all be mindful of this each and every Sabbath or Lord’s Day. We are commanded to honor our earthly fathers (and mothers); how much more deserving is our Heavenly Father?
Blessings upon obedience, with glad hearts. Amen.