February 12, 2006
Dear Paul and GFC Friends,
It seems to me that one part of family life that is rarely talked about is worship. So, I want to spin my yarn on that very idea today.
Now, you can't read much of the Bible without figuring out that what God wants in worship is the heart of the worshipper. Texts like these come to mind:
Psalm 51:16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Matthew 15: 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 "'This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
All through the Bible the message is as consistent as a well-ploughed field - the Lord looks on the heart. In fact, he desires that we folks would long for Him more than anything else in the world!
Psalm 84: 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
In other words, it's better to live in the hayloft of a good man than to have a spot in the bunkhouse of the wicked. And it is better to be a mere door keeper in God's house, stealing glances at the Occupant thereof, than it is to sprawl out in all the comforts this world offers.
So when it comes to worship, the Lord looks on the heart first of all. And what He looks for is a heart that longs for Him. A heart that worships Him not out of duty, but delight. A heart that worships Him regardless of the circumstances of life. A heart that worships Him above everything else!
Now the same ought to be true for our family. If we are forcing worship, faking worship, or failing at worship - we ought to be more concerned than a coon in a German Shepherd's mouth. The Lord desires the heart and anything less is second best. That being said, how is it we can shepherd our little flocks to genuinely delight in their Maker? Let me offer you some suggestions.
1. Not too long ago, most folks up here understood the Sabbath to mean something. I'm not so sure about their theology, but one thing I did like - they got themselves ready for Sundays.
The movie player (whether DVD, VHS, or IYD) has done more to trick the saints regarding Sundays than most care to admit. I am always saddened when I watch certain families walk into church bleary-eyed and wrinkle-faced all because they were up to 2:00AM watching a bunch of dogs rescue a teenager or lion kill a witch. I am not talking about the wisdom of what you watch, rather the wisdom of when you watch!
I am sure it seems like a nice thing to sit down on a Saturday night with your brood gathered round, eating popcorn and cheering the good guys on your television screen. But when such a thing is done too late, you are teaching your family. And I fear what you are teaching them is a Biggie-sized combo of "movies are life" and "God's not that important."
Now, I am picking on the movie-goers and movie-watchers, but only as they represent the point I am trying to make. The diversion of choice may be different for every family... having company for one, visiting family for another... but the issue is the same.
In the old days, a man set a bed time for Saturday nights so that his family would be rested and ready for the Lord on His day. This was because that man valued that time at church with the Lord's people. Just like a business man who makes sure he gets a good night's rest before a big appointment, so these fathers would make sure that everyone was in and accounted for in good time so they were all ready in the morning to meet with the Lord.
My first piece of advice then, for family worship, is to learn to go to bed on time. I like to make some money on the farm - that's how we live! So, I value hard work at the right time. Fact is, the cattle need milking every day at 5:30AM. That's just when it's got to be done. Since I value my income, I get up every day and do the milking. Now, I think if you truly value the Lord, you will get to bed on time and to church on time... wide awake and bushy tailed!
I don't recall the verse that suggests that a gathering of the elect in this world ought to be for the purpose of a nap. We ought to be awake, at least, when we meet with our God. "Worship now - Nap later" ought to be one of the mottos branded across the back of our favourite pew.
Now, it may sound strange, but you may want to think about having a departure time in order to get to worship on time. I don't know too many bosses that will let you show up late week after week and keep your job. So a man who is always late to church ought to think a little about how to get himself there on time. If he is always late, he always misses out on the fellowship before the service, prayer for the service and important parts of the service like announcements and singing.
If you are going to pick up your friend at 2:00, then you do a little math to figure out when you have to leave your house in order to get to that pick up place on time. Seems to me that your church services are in the same place week after week, so you should be able to find a time that you need to leave. Once you have done that rocket science, you come to the most important part... you remember it and do it! In fact, you may even learn to schedule in a little more time than you actually need just to take care of things like ice on your windshield, closed highway exits and a line up at the Timmy's. If being with the Lord's people is important, and it is, then I think that the most of us could come up with some kind of workable plan.
So, you need to go to bed on time, then get up and leave on time. If you do those two things you will find your stress decreases and your joy overflows!
Now thirdly, when it comes to family worship, I think a man does well to prepare his family in advance. That means he could be reading the text of the preacher during the week; or praying for his family and their worship on Sunday; or training his littlest ones through the week how to sit still for more than 23 seconds at a time.
To be more particular... if a man is always complaining and whining about church and about everything that's wrong with church - he ought to expect that his family doesn't want to be there. But if that man is genuinely excited about worshiping the Lord, then I say watch out!
What makes Mr. Gunstra's kids so excited about old cars? There ain't no question but that it is Mr. Gunstra's excitement about old cars! Excitement breeds excitement. Interest breeds interest. I recall testing this out one time when I came to Toronto as a foolish young teenager. Me and my pals gathered round the old Dominion Insurance tower one night and stared up to the top, pointing and yelling. Soon there were about 20 or so others milling about doing the same thing. Point is, there was nothing and no one there! The crowds were only interested because we were interested. Now I know that was not a nice thing to do, but I was young and it makes my point. Families that share their excitement about church help each other along - and I think that is a good thing.
There's a fourth part of this idea. I think we all have a mental checklist of things we are willing to give up, if anything better should come along. If you invite me to a hockey game at the same time I have dentist appointment, I know where I will be. For me, watching someone get drilled into the boards is of much more importance than getting a drill in my tooth. Some families just seem to have "church" low on that priority list. An in-grown toenail would keep some from coming, while others would have to lose both feet in a recent railway accident for the thought of missing to cross their minds.
I think a family needs to put church on their non-optional to-do list. You can be sure the devil will always be offering candy-coated alternatives to the worship of God, so we might as well make his wiles lest winsome. No wonder the Bible says,
Hebrews 10: 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
If you just have it in your mind that church is what this family does on Sundays, then it is not nearly so tempting to drift the other way. You don't dangle steak in front of a hungry dog if you want him to sit still. But if that dog has it in his mind that he will not move until his master commands him, the temptation to seize and eat is much less. Have it in your mind that church is a priority - over work, family, homework, chores and even minor sickness.
Matthew 6: 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
So, a family needs to get to bed on Saturday nights, get up on time on Sunday mornings, stay positive about church throughout the week and put Christian assembly high up on their priority list. Now, of course, all of that is only as good as your heart devotion! Seems to me there are a lot of folks more disciplined and devoted than the average Christian! But discipline is only profitable if it is kept with the goal of delighting more in God. Good discipline and decisions are like a good fence. But what use is a fence if you haven't got any cattle? What use are good decisions if you aren't seeking God with all of your heart?
Now let me change to another topic for a moment. I once read the autobiography of John Paton, that great missionary to the New Hebrides. One passage that always struck me like a pitchfork to my heart I am going to include here. This is what Paton wrote of his family life as a boy and young man...
"They went to church full of beautiful expectancy of spirit - their souls were on the outlook for God; they retuned from the church, ready and even anxious to exchange ideas as to what they had heard and received of the things of life... The talks that we heard were, however, genuine; not the make-believe of religious conversation, but the sincere outcome of their own personalities." Back home in the afternoon "my father would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, rewarding us when we got the length of 'taking notes' and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story, or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the 'Pilgrim's Progress!'" (Autobiography, pp.23-25)
The old Puritans used to speak of the home and family as being the church in miniature. Now I have read some lately of folks giving up on the local church and thinking that Dad needs to be a full-time pastor on top of the rest of his work. Well, let me borrow your pastor's word for that: hoogly! The Lord never intended for families to cocoon themselves like a cold caterpillar. That's just plain weird and goes against all that the Book has to say about true fellowship.
But the family is a reflection, or a miniature of the church. By that I mean that what happens behind your 4 walls through the week ought to be gearing everyone up for what will happen between the 4 walls of your assembly on Sunday. If I never thought or spoke to Mrs. Walter except for supper time - she would have every right to offer my meals to the swine. She is my wife and I need to know her and talk to her and be with her and love her all through the week.
Do we think less of our God? Ought we not to be thinking and praying and loving and singing and looking to Him all week long so that when we get to church on Sunday it is with a "beautiful expectancy of spirit?" The family is the place where worship preparation takes place. The soil of the heart is tilled during the week. The lumber for the barn-raising is cut and hewn in advance of the big day. What takes place in your living room has much to do with how things will go in the sanctuary on Sunday. So, learn to use your family time as an investment into your worship.
I have another idea for you too!
It probably seems old-fashioned now, but I think the family is a great place to teach! You can start by reading through the Bible together. My Pappy would read our Bible every night after supper. Mostly he would read just a few verses or a story or as much as would make sense... then we would talk about it. He would ask things like, "Why do you think this is in the Bible?" or "What do you suppose Jesus meant here?" or "What does this teach us about God?" Then we would pray. That was it. But boy I learned a lot about life and Truth and God from that little investment.
Others have more elaborate designs and prepare whole studies and activities and the like and that is great!
Some use the catechism. I like that idea and think that every family ought to try and learn the catechism at least once. There are lots of ways to do it, and I dare say mom and dad may learn more than anyone else!
You may want to act stories out or have different children read different parts.
I think another good idea is to sing together. We sing all the time as Christians, and the home ought to be the training ground for that. You can buy a few hymnals and sing one hymn every day! That would be wonderful! It would also get into the minds of your littlest ones some of the deepest doctrine of the day. If you have some musicians, the family is a great training ground for the church. Get them to play along as you sing and watch their gifts improve.
Finally, let me urge you to never forget where we began this letter. The Lord looks on the heart. It would be a mistake to suggest that just doing a few of these things will solve all your problems or make you into a true worshipper. True worship is in spirit and truth and that means that it is from our inner person and according to what is true. That also means that true worship takes work and is not natural. Cows give milk and pigs grunt, but Christians don't automatically worship. They have to work at it and work at it according to what the Bible says.
But when a family seeks after God with all of their heart, and perhaps tries out a few of these ideas to help along the way, I am convinced that good things will happen.
My prayer will be that each of you look to your own lives and ask the Lord where you need to improve to His glory.
With much love for you all,
P.S. Larry Brown's cat had a litter and there are a bag of calico's for free to anyone who wants them. Thing is, most of them appear to be blind.