A recap: What happened last Sunday at Grace Church?
For those who weren’t with us on Sunday, something unexpected (to us) happened when Grace Church gathered for worship. And I am deeply thankful.
A Spontaneous Prayer Service
As I was approaching the pulpit to read the sermon text and then preach upon it, I was moved to invite a few in the congregation to “offer a brief prayer for God to meet us in His power.”
Roughly an hour later, the prayers ended.
No less than a dozen times throughout the service, I intended to conclude the praying and get to the preaching. Yet, as I was asking the Lord in the moment, “Should I stop the prayers now, and move to the sermon?,” it seemed irresponsible to stifle what appeared to be a genuine work of the Spirit among us and move on to something else.
Add to that, the Spirit continued to prompt me to guide us to pray for another category of need (e.g. conversions, confession of sin). At each juncture in the praying, I expected one, or maybe two, voices to rise, after which I would get to the sermon. However, there never seemed to be a lengthy enough break in the praying for me to insert myself to “conclude.”
Several times multiple voices would begin praying aloud simultaneously, one would defer to the other only to pick up as soon as the first voice stopped, thus a seamless sustained atmosphere of prayer pervaded the service. The longest “break” between audible prayers (not to mention the silent ones!) was no more than a few seconds.
Why not stop the praying and start the preaching?
If anyone else wonders about this, I can assure you that you’re not alone. I was continually trying to discern what the Lord would have us/me do about the sermon.
If the praying drug out unnecessarily long, it wasn’t owing to a lack of wondering if I should have concluded it. Just as I would think, “Now’s the time,” I could not get a syllable out before the next voice was already rising in intercession, praise, or confession.
Add to that, there were multiple prayers that voiced precisely the things I was thinking of praying, including the same Scripture text (Psalm 63, and Colossians 1, for example).
What about the indispensible place of preaching in Christian worship gatherings?
Grace Church whole-heartedly affirms that “at the very core of a truly healthy church you will find the faithful, expository, experiential, and worshipful preaching of God’s Word.” This is not only important, it is the lynchpin mark of a healthy church.
Moreover, we concur that three non-negotiable ingredients ought to be present in the services of the gathered community of worshiping Christians: (1) public reading of Scripture, (2) exhortation, and (3) teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).
So, was Sunday a legitimate worship service if there was no sermon?
The sermon that was not, and the sermon that was
As I prepare to preach my prayer is that God would say through me what He desires to say, and that I would not be in the way of His voice. The question Sunday was not whether or not His voice was heard.
The sermon that was not
My sermon manuscript didn’t get unloaded. I’m fine with that. Maybe it will be our diet this coming Lord’s Day? Pray with me about that, please.
The sermon that was
God’s Word was spoken Sunday. Continually. Almost every prayer was laced with Scripture, and some “prayers” were simply a bold, clear, humble, reading of a passage of Scripture. In this way, God spoke.
The praying was not a one-way “conversation” where we talked at God, but as dynamic conversation where we talked with Him. His Word would be trumpeted from the lips of one in the body, and no sooner than the text ended, a prayer in keeping with that Scripture portion would rise.
God spoke. We responded. His Word is powerful, and the undiluted heralding of it happened last Sunday as multiple people read God’s Word. There was a sermon, it just wasn’t the kind of sermon we’re ordinarily used to.
Some pastoral reflections on last Sunday
I could say more, but here are four reflections:
We must humble ourselves. God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Js. 4:5). Prayer is a choice means of humility, for it manifests our dependence upon God. And humility is dependence upon God. Let us, therefore, continue to express a prayer-saturated humility in our lives, and in the church. As another pastor put it yesterday, “If souls were stirred by the prayer time in Sunday’s service, they can enjoy the same privilege every week at 9am.” Here, here.
We ought to be encouraged. Counting the 9 o’clock prayer gathering, the church was in a posture of concentrated prayer for about two hours. That such a season of prayer could be sustained without someone continually urging us to “engage,” is a mark of God’s grace and His growing us in spiritual maturity. God be thanked! Let us long to be more at home in the presence of our King than anyplace else on earth! And let us be encouraged that He is working in us a love to linger in His throne room (Hebrews 4:16).
We are needy. God isn’t finished with us. The time of confession of sin was a rich example of God’s grace to us. That we are even aware of our sin is entirely owing to the shining of His Spirit’s light upon our hearts. The several (voiced) prayers of confession that were raised, made us all more deeply examine our hearts, and forsake our “unrighteous ways…and thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-7). “We are never closer to God than in repentance” (Clyde Cranford), so therefore, “let us live in a mode of repentance.” That is, let us always be turning from ourselves, and turning toward Christ.
The gospel is of utmost importance, and we need to grow in the good news. The gospel is always of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1). That’s as true for the Christian as for the not-yet Christian. As we abhor our sinfulness, and seek the Lord’s face for forgiveness, let us always take “ten looks at Christ for every one look at self” (McCheyene). Yes, we are depraved, have deceitful hearts, and are unworthy. And Christ is more wonderful than we have yet realized! There is enough grace in Him to (a) forgive us for our every breach of allegiance to Him, and (b) to change us into His likeness. The gospel is good news for the believer. Let us therefore boast all the more in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14) as our hope of healing from sin and progress in holiness. And let us immerse ourselves more deeply in the gospel and the grace of God ready to be enjoyed in our matchless Savior (Cf. John 1:16).
Please pray for me this week. I’m not sure which direction to go with the sermon this week. Perhaps I’ll preach the sermon that didn’t happen Sunday, or maybe something else? The Lord knows. And we trust that He will lead us!
Do any of you have any reflections on Sunday’s spontaneous (no ordinary sermon) service?
Loving to learn with you the joy of lingering in God’s presence,