Making the Grade

Even as we turn the wheels into the church parking lot we subconsciously begin to analyze the efficiency of the parking crew and the over-all “welcomingness” of the facilities. As we move toward the sanctuary we evaluate the flow of human traffic. How are the doors working? Is the paint appealing? What is the ease of finding a seat? Are there greeters who seem sincere? How “friendly” are the other attendees? How comfy are the seats?

As the service begins, we judge the acoustics. The length and interest of the announcements. The peppiness of the songs, and of course the sermon. Did it draw me in? What did it do for me? What can I take home? Did the pastor have irritating traits? How tasty were the treats offered to me at the welcome table on the way out?…’Em, All in all, it was “okay,” maybe a C+. Yelp it a “meh,” and move on– “I may, or may not come back next week.”

I wonder how many hidden shoppers invade foreign worship centers (churches) and simply measure the worship experience in light of their own benefits. “Unserved” they’re off to another venue the following week with the same stone in their chest. How many boxes will receive good checkmarks, and how many a “needs to improve”? Get the ticket punched, grab the gold star of attendance, and you’re good for another 167 hours.

It may sound goofy but it seems that’s what I hear when people communicate about their church experiences. And I wonder…rather than us sitting in our seats peering around and criticizing, what if God were grading us, and our engagement in the sanctuary. What if the divine eyes were turned in our direction, upon the quality and integrity of our worship?  What was the condition of our hearts? Had we prepared our souls the previous week? How had we done that? Had we come with hearts which were in the right place? Had we even looked at the Bible in the previous 6 days? Spent time with God? Or, was this time the sole 90 minutes of “investment” in the Sovereign? Were we there to worship God at all, or simply give it a once over with “white-glove” scrutiny?

What if God was “grading you” on your last visit to church…how would you have fared? I mean, it’s not like God hadn’t criticized poor worship before, “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.” This is spoken from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 15:8 as He echoes the more lengthy passage found in Isaiah 28:13:
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote…”

The idea is one of insincere, lackluster and insignificant worship, because of a heart which is not engaged.

So, back to you, were your lips in harmony with your heart as you sang, or recited Scripture? Were any prayers offered which evidenced a true trust in His Sovereign ability to answer? Was your heart in harmony with God, loving God, at peace? Or, was a time for a thorough critique of the human element more important? Ouch! Yeah, ouch!

How easy it is to forget that God seeks not only to fellowship with us, but to be worshipped by us, to be pursued by us. God desires our hearts to be focused singularly on glorifying Him. Would the level of your last trip to the sanctuary of God merit a “Meh”? Was there any level of passion to praise the Lover and Redeemer of your soul?

May I caution that every element of the worship experience is to worship God?

May I suggest that words such as reverence, appreciation, reflection, praise, sincerity, love, and worship should be a major part of describing what you are doing not only throughout the other 167 hours, but as you kneel your heart before the Lord in the corporate worship experience?

Harsh words? …Maybe. Maybe a bit, but likely we need the reminder. And they are as much for me as they are for the next person. It’s not a 21st century issue. It’s not a New Testament issue, or an Old Testament issue–it’s a humanity issue.

Solomon pens it well in the 5th chapter of Ecclesiastes:
“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).

Simple truths for reverent times. Draw near and listen; God is speaking. This is not a time of insincere platitudes. Don’t cross that line! This is not performance, or self-care time. This is not bill paying time, doodle time, or cell phone time. “For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” This is a statement of position rather than geography. God, and only God, is in the position of divine sovereign. God, above everything else deserves this time.

Verse 3 finishes with the futility of dreams and lost words; they do not produce what can be invested in, and gained at this moment. This is reality.
A time we ascribe to God the value He is rightly due.
A time we hear Him speak.
A time to worship.

What have we got to do that is of a higher magnitude than that?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures, here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!