"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
In Chapter 15 of Habits of Grace, David Mathis describes the great grace the Father has shown us in giving us the act of worship, and outlines the struggles we have with participating in it. Mathis points out that when we participate in listening to Christ-centered, Bible-based sermons, we benefit in many ways -- forgetting ourselves, filling our faith, growing in grace, being equipped, and encountering Jesus (169-171).
Mathis puts it like this:
"The act of preaching itself is a picture of the Gospel. As the preacher stands behind the Book, doing his level best to reveal Jesus afresh to His people, our Lord is put on display, not for give-and-take and the mingling of our efforts together in some mutual enterprise. Rather, we sit in the seat of weakness and desperation" (166).
Why, you ask, are we in this seat of weakness? A bishop by the name of William Beveridge said about what we bring to the table,
"I cannot pray but I sin. I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin. I cannot give an alms or receive the sacrament but I sin. Nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins, but my very confessions are still aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer."
I read this and say, "yup, that about sums it up" -- both my utter inability to approach God on my own, and my desperate need for His unending grace.
There are many things I love about Pastor Mike's sermons, but the one thing I love the most is the ending... *insert drum rimshot*.
At the end of each sermon, Pastor Mike closes with a benediction. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26). In the text, Israel was desperate to encounter God. This benediction was given to them as a heartfelt plea to be in the presence of the Lord.
Like Israel, we cry out, "LORD LET ME JUST SEE YOUR FACE!!!! CAST MY SHAME AND SIN AWAY, AND ALLOW ME INTO YOUR PRESENCE!!!" Well, brothers and sisters, Jesus has given us this wonderful grace in the simple act of coming into His house and worshiping every Sunday, for we come to be renewed by the Word and through the Word. We come to celebrate His death and resurrection. We come to be washed again in His life Blood, to be fed by His Holy Scriptures. The message is delivered by mortal man, but the Word is from God Himself, Who is from everlasting to everlasting.
Why, then, is it so hard to come to worship on Sunday and truly listen? We typically have some 112+ hours of waking life each week which we spend working, raising children, living life. Yet when we come to worship, we can't manage for a mere hour to calm our minds and train our thoughts on the sermon. We worry about our marriages, we worry about our jobs. We sit nodding in agreement to a portion of the message, yet the next second we have forgotten what was said because we realized we are having family over in an hour, and the house hasn't been vacuumed yet. I am truly the chief sinner when it comes to this, and realize how much I need to quiet my mind and focus on the Word preached.
Donald Grey Barnhouse once told a story of a ice factory owner long ago, who was touring his warehouse. During the tour, he lost his gold pocket watch. He later realized his mistake and informed the workers of a substantial reward to whoever found the watch. The workers stopped what they were doing and began raking the saw dust. Hours elapsed, and no watch was found. Lunch was called, and the workers left. Soon thereafter a little boy entered the factory, and moments later came out presenting the pocket watch to the owner. When asked how the watch was found so quickly, the boy revealed that all he did was to lay down in the saw dust, and listen for the ticking.
Each one of us has so much more to find than a pocket watch -- we are seeking after the priceless treasure: the very Son of God. He revealed Himself in the Scriptures. He shed His blood for me while I was still a sinner. And He continues to unveil Himself through the faithful preaching of His Gospel. Let this be my prayer: Lord, help me to lay myself aside, quiet my mind, and listen for that still, small voice.
About the Author
Josh has been married to the love of his life Megan for the past 9 and some years and has been attending Summit for the last year. You may know him best as the cripple in the back row. At the moment, his hobbies include sitting walking and sitting again (as well as nerdy pursuits too vast number). He is currently President/CEO/Head Appraiser/One-of-two-people-who-work-at the appraisal firm Forrester Appraisals.
Reflection and Study Questions:
1. Go back to the introductory paragraphs of the chapter. Locate the phrase "the climactic grace." Explain or illustrate why preaching, of the many elements of corporate worship, is the "climactic grace."
2. Refer to the section "Experience the Joy." Identify "the great goal of preaching." What is the goal of preaching? How is this goal attained?
3. List some of the five benefits of faithful preaching that are especially persuasive to you. Perhaps you've experienced other benefits. Add those to your list.
1. Refer to the chapter's introductory paragraphs. Explain:
a.) the phrase "visible words."
b.) how baptism and the Lord's Supper are "visible words" for the church.
c.) how the "visible words" of baptism and the Lord's Supper engage your five senses.
2. Refer to the section "Improve Your Baptism." Explain, describe, or illustrate:
a.) the term "improving your baptism."
b.) a time you experienced "improvement" through watching with faith the baptism of someone else.
3. Imagine that a friend has come to faith in Christ but is delaying baptism. What reasons would you give your friend (other than raw obedience to Christ's command) for pursuing baptism.