More than a Sermon (The Means of Grace #2)
Have you thought any of these coming to church?
- I can’t wait to hear what the sermon is on today
- I’m really enjoying this series on …………
- I hope the minister is on form today
- I hope he’s not too long
- Great, it’s so and so preaching today
- I hope the tunes are decent, hope the singing is good
- I wonder if so and so will be out
When the Westminster Confession speaks of the Word of God being a means of grace it has in mind the public ministry of the Word—I take that to mean the whole of the worship service where the word is central, being sung and read, as well as preached.
It’s easy to see ‘worship’ as the prelude to the main event—the sermon—but it is way more important than that. And it’s easy to see the sermon as a source of information, challenge, encouragement etc. and to miss that the whole service is one of God’s appointed channels for his generous grace to flow into our lives.
We need to be convinced of the priority of public worship—that God loves to meet with his people gathered together, and to bless them there. It is a means of grace in a way that our own private devotions aren’t. That doesn’t mean there is no blessing in our devotions, but that there is a particular blessing in the gathering of the people of God.
As we noted last time, faith—active belief—is the means by which we drink from the fountain of grace, so the question is “What are we particularly to believe as we take part in pubic worship so that we drink from this fountain of grace?”
Practical and spiritual preparations are good, but in addition, we need to look with the eye of faith.
David Clarkson writes:
Look upon the public ordinances with the eye of faith. If you consult only with sense, you will be apt to say as [Naaman], What are the waters of Jordan more than the rivers of Damascus? What is there in public reading the word, more than reading at home? What is there in public preaching, more than in another good discourse?
Sense will discern no more in one than in the other; but the eye of faith looks through the prospect of a promise, and so makes greater, more glorious discoveries; passes through the mean outside, to the discovery of a special, an inward glory; sees a special blessing, a special assistance, a special presence, a special advantage, in public worship; no way so discoverable as by the eye of faith through a promise.”
a) We need to come believing God will meet with us and has something for us
Faith isn’t simply something we have, its something we do. We need to do it in every worship service. We need to come in faith—believing that we will meet with the glorious Maker of heaven and earth. “Seek my face” he says. Not “Seek my word”, or “Seek my information”. Seek me!
The gospel is that we get God—in all his sweetness, power, sovereignty, creativity, kindness, love, mercy, wisdom, grace, tenderness, loving correction, and so much more. We get him. We can’t see him, but we need to come with that anticipation that he will be there, and that he has something for us, for he is overflowingly generous.
b) We need to take part believing these things to be true
I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to switch off and do things on autopilot. I swim and have developed a weakness called ‘swimmer’s shoulder’ where part of the problem is that some muscles are overworked and others have ‘switched off’. My physiotherapist has me learning to ‘switch on’ those muscles before swimming, and to think about them while swimming so that they remain in action. Thoughtless swimming can do more harm than good.
The same is true for us as we sit in church—we need to actively engage our muscles of faith, to pull our hearts towards the truth, to pull our faces to the fresh air of God’s word and inhale deeply. We can easily condemn ritualism in some churches while being just as guilty ourselves.
When we sing God’s word—is our muscle of faith switched on? We are making statements about what we believe. Hear what you are committing yourself to—and sing it with commitment. Hear what you are singing about God—and work at believing it. This is **_my _**God— eg. Psalm 103. Connect what you are singing to Jesus—and marvel at it. For example, My Saviour sang this, eg Ps 117 or 118 on that Passover evening.
When we read God’s word—is our faith muscle pre-activated rather than us merely listening—looking for truths about God, about ourselves?
When we listen to the preaching of God’s word—we need to listen with a determination to rub the truth we are hearing into the fabric of our lives. Rub his sovereignty into our worries, rub his kindness into our resentment, rub his power into our problems. That is listening by faith—connecting what we are hearing to our specific circumstances, even if the preacher isn’t connecting it.
We can come to church and sing about sovereignty and sit and worry about the week ahead. We can sing about grace, and think that God must be so disappointed with us. We can hear about God’s kindness to us, but not let it soften our hearts. We need to take these truths and work at believing them. And then we shall drink more from the fountains of grace that our Father supplies for us.
c) We need to leave church believing these things are true
Rubbing truth into our lives isn’t just something we do in the moment. We need to take that truth and rub it in daily. We can hear the greatest truths and enjoy them in church and then walk out and leave them behind us. I think part of the reason we struggle with implementing the sermon during the week is that we haven’t really drank it in by faith on Sunday. When we appropriate it by faith, that faith works at keeping on believing, and reinforcing that belief by acting on it. That way we can keep drinking from the fountain throughout the week.
When we worship we come into the presence of an almighty God. Faith sees this, expects him to provide, takes what is provided and feeds off it. Faith believes that what we have just heard or sung was designed by our sovereign loving Father for us to hear or sing that morning.
We don’t need gimmicks, we don’t need power encounters, we need to believe and drink from what is already there in this channel of God’s grace.