It has happened more than once that we have been called upon to unite a couple in marriage where evidently very little preparation had been made. It almost appears then as if the bridal pair deemed their marriage as something of minor importance. Bride and groom had made no effort to appear at their best, and the atmosphere consequently created was not conducive to impress one with the solemnity of so great an event. As far as the legal aspect was concerned, all was in proper order, but as far as the moral and the spiritual side was concerned it made a very unpleasant impression. If marriage belongs to the greater experiences of human life here below the atmosphere should be such as would lead us to feel it and to participate in the happiness thereof. The Bible speaks much of marriage, and of the bride and of the bridegroom, and especially the fact that normally the bride prepares herself carefully to be in the best possible condition in order to gain the approval of her groom. And when then so little care is shown in this event, one cannot but fear if such a marriage will be a fruitful one for time and eternity.
If this is the case with parties for whom wedding bells are ringing, how much more must there be a proper preparation when God meets with his people in the house of worship, especially on the Day of the Lord?
Life here on earth for the people of God can he likened to the days of courtship between a couple who have pledged to each other their love and their fidelity. There is a longing to be together. They look forward to meeting each other and to enjoy each other’s companionship. It is in this light that we would like to view the meeting of God with his people on the Lord’s Day.
God is Worthy!
Worship is a word which stands in connection with the word “worth.” It applies as such to God who is worthy to receive divine honors. It is an attitude of adoration and praise, such as is due to God alone. In it the intellect, heart and will are occupied, the whole being of man is engaged. This must become manifest in a special way in our attendance upon the communion of saints as we are to exercise it in meeting God in worship and in prayer. The apostle John when he on Patmos received the book of Revelation describes himself as “being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” It lifted him up above the common ordinary things of life and gave him a vision of higher things.
This I would say is the very essence of what we must experience if we are to take away from the house of God that which we need upon life’s pathway. People who do not have the Holy Spirit cannot be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. They must however seek to get into the Spirit also by attending worship on the Lord’s Day. This is a means of grace instituted by God that we might find him. We have the promise that if we seek we shall find, and that God gives his Spirit to all those who ask him.
Preparation for worship we may expect from them who have the Spirit. There has come into their life that spiritual courtship with Christ, the Groom, through the Holy Spirit. This is so beautifully voiced in the Psalms, for example, in Psalms 42 and 84. “As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul alter Thee, O God.”
Many Christian people are, thank God, still a church-going people. Many houses of worship are, as a rule still well filled. It is gladdening to see the multitudes throng the house of God on the Lord’s Day. Looking at it from that angle we would he inclined to say, “All is well in Zion.” It is well however that we probe a little deeper and ask ourselves the question of the why and the wherefore of our church attendance and the HOW of it? What are the motives that are driving us? In many cases parents have taken us to church from our very youth, and the result is that we are there when we begin to choose for ourselves.
The man who was showing an apple in a bottle stirred up great curiosity. How did he get that apple in the bottle where the apple was ever so much bigger than the neck of the bottle? The answer was, “I slipped it in when it was little and it grew there.” Thus ought our covenant children grow up in the church. Their consciences ought to be so trained that they can not feel right if they do not attend divine worship. And still we know that not all of our covenant children go to church because they love it. Some folks are “churchy” but they have no real love for the church, sad to say. It is a routine they go through, but never has it become a spiritual courtship which they love. Needless to say, that the real fruits are also lacking in such lives.
And speaking of fruit, how much of our worship on the Lord’s Day is fruitless even among the true children of God, fruitless because of the absence of the proper preparation. We are not putting the house of our soul in order so that the Lord can come in with the richness of his blessing. That spiritual courtship with our Lord is often so much a matter of routine rather than of fervent love. The things of this life crowd in too much, so that there is not the proper preparation to meet our Lord on the Sabbath.
We are living in a busy world. We do things in a hurry these days, and we should have a lot of time for the spiritual things, but this hurriedness is so detrimental to spiritual life. The Sabbath should be a time for meditation, but who meditates these days! We hardly know the meaning of the word. Who sits down today to think on the things of the Spirit? The radio razzes and jazzes all day and on top of it comes television. We know what goes on anywhere and everywhere in this old world and anyone who thinks that all this busy-ness fosters spirituality is quite mistaken. We race along with our autos at fabulous speeds compared to that of the oxcart which we still remember as a feature of our boyhood days. We have planes that carry us off a thousand or more miles just to keep a dinner date! In a topsy-turvy world mad with wars and rumors of wars we should crave for the Sabbath, but, alas! we are apt to carry the whole thing with us into the house of God. Life has become a mad rush for money by which we can get that which we long to use to satisfy our restless spirits.
Saturday used to be the time for preparation for the Sabbath, but instead of preparation we try to cram in as much as we can of this world. Complaints are heard about late Saturday evenings spent in shopping and amusements detrimental to spirituality because such people when they come to church are not in a fit condition to be there. Instead of being bright and alert to what is said and done, there is dullness and spiritual insensibility.
Mother used to prepare on Saturday whatever could be prepared for the Sunday dinner so that there might be as much rest as possible on the Lord’s Day. Reading matter of a secular nature was carefully put aside Everything was done to create an atmosphere of devotion. Today a big Sunday edition of the daily gets into many homes. Instead of getting up in plenty of time for reflection on spiritual things, it is a mad race to get to church on time. That’s the spirit of the age. And how much are we getting out of the service? It is not what we hear but what we carry away with us to become for us a part of life that counts
We are to see to what we hear and how we hear. We have but to listen to the conversation before and after the service and it will tell us how much preparation there was to receive the Word of God. Minds and hearts are full of everyday matters that the Word finds no abiding place. The parable of the sower teaches us many a lesson in this connection. Hearts like paved, hard roads from which the Devil comes and picks the Word up immediately so that we hardly know what the sermon was about are obvious today. Then there are the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches which choke out the Word so that it becomes unfruitful.”
The Fault-finding Attitude
All this brings a deadness which brings all kind of criticism. When people do hear it is in an attitude of faultfinding. There is this and that the matter with the preacher and with the sermon and with everything. It reminds me of a certain sermon taster who always had a dark brown taste in his mouth. Busy spitting out his venom after a service, he was overheard by a brother of an altogether different mind who expressed his pleasure to what he had heard. The critic replied, “You eat everything.” The answer was, ‘Choosey hogs never become fat.”
The real hunger for the fellowship with God through his Word will bring appreciation. It is reported concerning one of the Erskines that he had a woman in his audience who heard him for the first time and who had been so much pleased and edified that she made a long trip to hear him again, but then received no special blessing .She voiced her experience to the preacher, and the answer was, “Lady, the first time you came to hear the Word of God, the next time you came to hear the preacher.” This lady was not the first one to suffer from this malady – the woods are full of those kind of listeners.
To get into the proper attitude when we go to Gods house requires preparation. “Prepare to meet thy God.” If we count this meeting of so little worth that we do not take the effort to prepare for it, how can we expect a blessing? May the faithful prayer, “Speak Lord, thy servant heareth” be uttered by us. The love for our Lord and his service will then voice itself in true worship.
Rev. John De Jong [1885–1964] was the pastor of the Iron Springs, AB CRC when this article was published.