Given my differing church experience so far this year, I was led to ponder upon how being led into the worship of God and sensing God, can be hindered by certain happenings. I have already written here about how the introducing of hymns is important for assisting the flow of worship. Two further things I wnat to mention here are:
I experienced two instances of this. One was where a couple who were being welcomed into membership were interviewed. This worked well. The recognizing of fellowship which was being displayed in this seemed to be fully appropriate for appreciating the ways and grace of God together.
The other instance of this was where there was an impromptu interview of a lady who had just got engaged. This was somewhat tiresome. And as she was questioned about the gory details of how her beloved (now) fiance had done this and taht, you could feel the fuel of worship draining away from the service.
Movements of People
There are three aspects of this:
- People arriving late. In a service recently I felt myself subconsciously looking to discover how many people had arrived at different pasts of the service. This distraction personally disturbed the appreciation of the service. I know that sometimes circumstances dictate that we are late for church, but why are so many people late?
- Too many people leading at the front. Too many switches of personnel at the front can lead to a breakage in the service flow. Sometimes this is simply through switches of microphones; with certain ones phased in and out for different people. Otherwise it can be the need to adjust to so many different people leading which can be distracting. I would hasten to add that I think it good to involve different people in the services, but this must be done carefully.
- The Mass Exodus I have written here about the mass exodus associated with the children leaving the church service and how this breaks up the flow of the service. In one church we were asked to talk together whilst this happened. After that it seemed as though we were starting a completely new service.
Why are our services so often so mundane and routine and lacking in impact? Why is there a lack of power? The danger is that when we diagnose that there is a problem, along the lines described we go for the wrong solution; we go for men’s wisdom.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5: My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. Paul was doing everything to makes sure that men’s wisdom did not prevail in his ministry. A human wisdom approach means to look to arrangements, to look to impressiveness, to look for the charismatic, to look for lights and loudness. These have their place in the proper arrangement of things and they all need to be properly considered. However, we can get everything re-packaged in our services and still be mundane, routine and lacking impact even though all is spruced up a bit.
What we need though is the Spirit’s power; we need the power of God. We, like Paul, need to labour to make sure the power of God is known in our services. So how will we get it? We need godliness and prayerfulness. To be godly means there is a sin-rejecting, God inclining direction in our lives which moves us into and keeps us in the presence of God. Prayerfulness means we will be in touch with God as the source of all power. We will be pleading with Him to work and be known.
Oh let us then commit ourselves into godly and praying ways. Overnight tonight let that be our soul’s desire. And might it be tomorrow that we will be experiencing the power God. To have no desire for godliness and no commitment to prayerfulness are the recipe for a powerless church.
So yes we need the services arranged well and the preaching done well, but all will be to no avail without the power of God.
And how will we know that God’s power is among us? Sin will be confessed and rejected; Christ will be magnified in all His saving and keeping majesty and God will be extolled and glorified.
Here is an interesting article by Chris Green. He writes about those who have made shipwreck of their ministry. One common feature of those who have fallen in this way is that they have all previously withdrawn form active involvement in church life. Essentially they have been carrying on with church ministry, but have withdrawn from the church.
One way of preventing us moving in that direction is to be reminding ourselves that we are church members before we are anything else in the church. I have written about that here and here
Although specifically directed to those “in ministry”, by Mr Green, this principle of the need to be bolted into the life of a church for fellowship and accountability is essential for us all. How it is that Christians can remain outside a church is baffling. And it is baffling in this context because it is so dangerous. So fellow believer if you:
- are not a church member, why not? You just must be.
- are a church member, make sure you stay central to church life. To fail to do this is to put your life in peril.
One of the difficulties in handling depression is the tendency to think that, as a Christian, you should not feel this way. We so easily imbibe the thinking that when you become a Christian all of your problems are now sorted; Jesus is alive from the dead, smile and be happy. Now there are elements of truth in that presentation of Christianity, but if that is our only perspective on our faith that in Jesus, then we will be very dismayed when troubles hit us in our mental and emotional state.
Essentially then, I would have no sympathy with the simplistic, Jesus is risen; all your problems are over, perspective on the Christian faith. This is because it is evidently unbiblical. However, I still struggle with feeling the wrongness of being mentally and emotionally frail.
I have mentioned previously here about how Satan exploits the frailties of the mind to his own malicious ends to accuse and spiritually incapacitate the Christian suffering with mental afflictions. The derailed thinking goes something like this. “I’m a Christian, but if I was a strong christian I would not feel like this and other people will think I am a pathetic weakling because I can’t keep it together when I get stressed”.
One of the best antidotes to this attack is consider examples of those who have been evidently used of the Lord, but have suffered much in the mental and emotional realm. We find them:-
- in Scripture: Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is evidently cast down even depressed. David know what it was to be cast down in spirit. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? (Ps. 42:5a) is his lament.
- in history. It is good to read Christian biographies and know of the likes of Cowper and Spurgeon who suffered in this realm.
- in experience. It is such an encouragement to know of other believers who have suffered much with depression. I met a godly lady last month who would be in her eighties who had suffered much through depression for many years. This was such an encouragement to know that someone with such evident commitment to the Lord could suffer so much.
Through this I am encouraged that I am not alone.
Following from Fridays (see here) post about dependence on the Lord I want to muse on the issue of my weakness. We live in a world which is about asserting yourself and being strong. To have depression is to be made very aware that you are weak. This is naturally a very dismaying experience. And according to a worldly points of view it is the very antithesis of what we should be.
However, in the Lord’s economy it is very different. In His way it is our weakness that is the way to success. Paul expresses the matter, out of his personal experience, in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10
in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This is the way of fruitfulness in life. It is to be dependent on the Lord so that His strength can come through in my weakness. This is completely counter-cultural. It is life-transforming though, as we realise that I find life when I lose my life. Life is found in God Himself.
The big problem as I recover is that I start to depend on myself. oh Lord save me from such foolishness.
One of the lessons I have been learning through my being afflicted by depression is to depend totally on the Lord in everything. Alas, I have to confess it is my normal default position is to presume that I can handle a situation myself. I wrote here about the detail of my depression experience and how “I can’t cope” expresses the pervasive character of the experience.
Depression strips a person of a reliance on their own resources. So I have been taught I must rely upon the Lord; I cannot rely on myself or circumstances. I can think of times in the last few weeks where I have faced situations and thought that I don’t know how i am going to get through this. However, i look back and see how through the Lord’s grace I have been brought through.
In many ways this is such a precious lesson to learn because I am learning what should be at the kernel of our lives. To learn that I only truly live when God lives out His life through me is foundational to true living. It is what it is to live by faith; it means depending on the Lord.
One thing that has struck me during my recent struggles with depression, is that there are not many listeners around. The ministry of listening seems to be much undervalued and little practiced. I have written about this previously here. I want to encourage you as regards to the value of this ministry. I want to encourage you to the ministry of listening. I want you to think about the blessing that you can bring as a listener.
So many think that they cannot help other people because they will not be able to say the right thing to help someone with their problem. But that is not the best way to think about speaking with people who have issues in their lives. Rather, it is through being a listener to someone recounting their struggles and difficulties that you can be such a help. So very often it is in the speaking out of a matter that someone is helped. Your listening, not your speaking will be the key to helping someone. When someone talks something out they can very often sort something out. This is because the talking leads to sifting through the issue in their hearts and minds.
Moreover, the fact of having someone to listen to you can be such blessing because you realise that someone is out there who cares; I am not isolated and on my own.
In engaging in listening ministry the key is to be willing to be quiet; not to feel that you have got to interject and make your point. It is also important to be able to ask relevant questions. I suggest there needs to be a mixture of open-ended questions, which help people to work through their situation, and specific questions, which make people focus on the issues. Such questions as “What led to your problem?” or “How are you understanding matters now?” would be open-ended questions. Such questions as “When did that happen?” or Who said that?” would be direct questions.
Above all meditate and learn from the example of our Lord in Luke 24. I have written here previously on this. On the road to Emmaus we see our Saviour as the perfect listener.
So please please think about how you can be of much service to the church and people generally through the ministry of being a listener. And dare i say, any engagers in this ministry will be so valuable to the Lord.