Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I came across a quote from Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929); an Indian Hindu convert to Christianity, in his writing, The Cross is Heaven.
In a certain desert, where there was no sign of water, there was a tree with green leaves bearing fruit. The reason was that the long roots of the tree found a secret spring of water deep under the ground and thus were nourished by it. Prayer is the hidden root, which goes to the hidden spring that is God. Through prayer, we receive life from God and strength to bear fruit. In Palestine, I was standing near the River Jordan and thought: “This water, this fresh, sweet water is flowing all the time into the Dead Sea, but that sea still remains dead, because it is not sending out streams.” So there are some Christian churches that are dead. The fresh water from Jesus Christ is flowing into them all the time, and still they are dead. Why? Because they are not giving out to others.
After reading this, I paused and thought about congregations who only think of themselves (their families, friends, congregants—their close-knit communities). How often have there been comments about declining membership and the lack of young people in their churches? Some cannot remember when the last new member was received into the congregation, and others have not been seen in a long time.
Well, I see the decline in church membership and attendance to be the result of a lack of understanding about worship and a lack of enthusiasm. Now, since everything we do is inherently sinful, our worship is not something that we do, but an experience into which we are drawn. In worship, the Holy Spirit joins us to Christ Jesus as He worships His Father in true spiritual worship. Thus, in worship God serves us undeserving by speaking His Word into our ears and nourishing us with the true body of the Risen Christ given for us and the blood of Christ spilled for our sins. Christian worship is always centered upon God, who lavishly covers us with the gifts that He delights in giving through Christ Jesus.
Christian worship is to be an uplifting experience as we enter into the presence of God. The worship service takes us out of the ordinary of life in this world and transports us into the extraordinary of the Divine; we speak of being in God’s house. The place or space in which we worship is different, not the common or ordinary. The atmosphere or environment of worship is reverent, not disrespectful, or disorganized.
In addition, to enter into the presence of the Divine, one needs to prepare his or her heart for worship by prayer. It may be helpful to read Psalms 95, 100, and 122 in a Bible or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW).
Our Divine Service provides three opportunities for silent prayer and reflection: prior to the invocation, during the collection of offerings, and following the reception of communion. While conversation with our neighbor is discouraged during these times, conversation with God is appropriate and salutary. Just as it is important for us to pray prior to our meals, going to bed, and before studying the Bible, we should also be encouraged to pray prior to hearing God’s Word in the service, and before and after receiving the Lord’s Supper. These are indeed fitting opportunities to bring before the Lord those things, which are of the highest concern. God is more eager to hear our prayers, than we are to pray. Let us confidently address our Father, who has reconciled us to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Also, as we gather for worship and/or other activities, let us greet one another with warmth and enthusiasm. Let us encourage young people especially families with children to join in worship with vigor. Let us encourage young people to take an active part in worship by taking leadership roles; utilizing their gifts as readers, communion assistants, acolytes, vocalists, musicians, ushers, greeters, etc.
Most importantly, may we not make worship boring and dull! Let us restore excitement and life to our worship services. May our hymns and liturgy not sound like funeral dirges! And let us exhibit the mystery and awe of being in God’s presence.
We must always keep in mind that it is Christ’s church and we will always be guests in His house. Furthermore, every person that gathers for worship is worthy of the Father’s blessing.
In Christ’s service,