In past articles we have discussed the way we come together as a church body. We have come to see that our primary purpose in doing so is to worship our King. We have looked at the way the gathering part of our service helps us to focus our minds and hearts on making an offering of worship, but we have not yet discussed the fact that worship is a two way street.
We bring gifts of worship when we come together. Because we do not worship an idol made of wood or stone, we also receive gifts from God in worship. One of the most important ways this happens is through the second part of our worship service, the Service of the Word.
Right now we have three main components of this important part of the service. The first is the Scripture reading. We are trying to take this more seriously. The Bible is God’s Word to us, and it was written to be read out loud. The idea that we should read our Bibles by ourselves in our daily devotions, while very valuable, is relatively new. Bibles were not available to most people to read until the 15th century, and yet God has always spoken to His people.
In our church people stand to show respect for God’s Word when it is being read. In some churches there are four Scripture readings every Sunday, an Old Testament reading, an epistle, a Psalm and a Gospel reading. In those churches, people usually stand for the reading from the Gospel, as this is the actual account of Jesus’ life among us. Sometimes the reader of the Gospel passage will actually come down and read from amongst the congregation to remind people that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We have recently had a workshop for people who wish to become Scripture readers. It is very important that God’s Word is read carefully and communicated well.
As a member of the congregation, do your best to concentrate on listening to the reader. Be asking God to speak to you those things He wants you to hear. It is fine to follow along in your Bible. Sometimes, especially if the reader is using a different version, it can be helpful just to close your eyes and listen. You can open your Bible and follow along during the sermon.
After the Scripture is read, we try to provide a way for you to respond to it. Sometimes we sing a song like “Thy Word.” Sometimes we sing a song which reinforces an idea from the Scripture passage. Sometimes the reader may say “this is the Word of the Lord,” which gives us an opportunity to say “Thank You, God.” In many circles people will say “Amen!” after hearing the Word. It’s not really important that we respond with specific words--what is important is that we are actively engaged and participating. If you are speaking to me and I don’t look at you or appear to be listening, and then I don’t answer you when you are finished, you probably don’t feel like our relationship grew much through that conversation! You might even be irritated with me or have hurt feelings. When the Scripture is being read, God is speaking! Our Creator is actually taking the initiative to communicate with us. How rude not to even acknowledge that we hear what He is saying!
The final component of the Service of the Word is the sermon. This is the part where God’s Word is made personal to our fellowship. Throughout the week God has been speaking to our pastor, who has been studying the Scriptures and seeking God’s Word for us this Sunday. Our pastor has an awesome responsibility to discern what God wants to say to us and to faithfully communicate it to us. Every good pastor (ours included!) tries to communicate to the very best of his ability, and that is his job. It is not his job to reach out and grab us. We have a responsibility to be active listeners. God is speaking through this person. Surely we don’t want to miss what God is saying to us! We need to do whatever it takes to help us listen. The truth is that everyone has times when it’s hard to concentrate. Sometimes we’re tired, or it’s hot, or we’re worried, or there are children making noise next to us, or....When those times occur, we need to be proactive and take steps to help us listen. For many people, taking notes is a good way to help yourself stay focused. Following along in your Bible can be helpful. If you will take steps such as these, I guarantee that you will begin to “get more” out of sermons.
Worship services are not a one way street. We bring ourselves, with all the praise, adoration, prayers, anxieties of our hearts and present them to God as our offering. He brings grace, mercy, forgiveness and a fresh new Word for us for that day. Let’s ask Him for grace to be more active listeners as we seek to become like Christ.
God has given us His Word!
Thanks be to God!