The Slow Miracle of the Lord's Day
Whenever I get the opportunity to speak about worship in either a Sunday School series or an Inquirers class, I try to work in the following thought from Hart and Muether's With Reverence and Awe:
“God’s intention was to bless his people through the constant and conscientious observation of the [Sabbath], week after week and year after year. Believers are sanctified through a lifetime of Sabbath observance. In other words, the Sabbath is designed to work slowly, quietly, seemingly imperceptively in reorienting believers’ appetites heavenward. It is not a quick fix, nor is it necessarily a spiritual high. It is an ‘outward and ordinary’ ordinance, part of the steady and healthy diet of the means of grace.”
In a world of quick fixes, easy steps, emotionalism, and intellectualism, Hart and Muether remind us of the slow and quiet work of the Spirit in congregational worship.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches in Q. 88:
Q. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
This reorienting perspective becomes an antidote for spiritual thrill-seeking and an assurance that the tried and true ways are still the best. Instead of looking for spiritual highs, we can rest in the surety of God’s promises—even when we do not feel like it. In addition, we are also kept from over intellectualizing worship as we recognize that worship is a spiritually formative process that reaches beyond our head and engages our heart and affections—especially over time.
As we consider corporate, congregational worship and its elements, can we approach it from the standpoint of submission because we know it is good for us rather than from the position of what we personally like? We submit to that type of discipline in exercise, eating, and learning new skills. The same applies to the on-going discipling (discipline) of Lord’s Day worship. It takes time to see results of an exercise regimen, and there are various times of success and plateaus but by looking back from where we have come, we see the trajectory of better fitness and health. The same is true with the discipline of worship and the trajectory of spiritual fitness and health.
Lord’s Day worship imperceptively reorients our affections towards heaven and away from earthly concerns, towards the eternal rather than those things that are passing away, to the way of the cross instead of our own comfort. To paraphrase my pastor, God did not redeem us by the blood of His Son in order for us to sit comfortably in our pew every week. The on-going shaping of the Sabbath equips, prepares, challenges, and changes us.
Have patience in the work of Sabbath observance—in your own heart and in the response of the congregation. The Spirit is at work in these outward and ordinary means.