Summary: People come to church with certain expectations. But are those the expectations that God wants us to come with, or are they are our own expectations? See how God's promises far exceed our expectations for church.
“I don’t get anything out of it.” You’ve probably heard it as a reason for someone no longer going to church and maybe you’ve actually had the thought yourself. You walked out of church and thought, “I just don’t feel like I got anything out of it.” People come to church with certain expectations, certain standards that they expect to be met for them to consider church a valuable experience. What are those standards? In my experience, there are usually two big ones. 1) In our entertainment saturated society, I think that people apply the same expectations to church as they do to other forms of entertainment. What is that standard? Feelings or emotions. Does this make me feel a certain way? If I don’t feel something, it must not be doing anything. 2) The second expectation that people might carry with them into church is: Is church going to fix my problems and change my life for the better? If I don’t see some immediate evidence that, then church isn’t worth my time or effort. Instead of placing OUR EXPECTATIONS on church, I would ask you to look at what GOD PROMISES about church, this place where God’s Word is proclaimed and heard. And my prayer is that we see how God’s promises far exceed our expectations.
Let’s begin by looking at Isaiah 55. While we only read a small portion of Isaiah chapter 55, the entire chapter describes the blessings that God’s Word brings to those who hear it. God so desires for people to receive the blessing that come form his Word that he uses imperatives like, “Come… Listen, listen to me…Give ear…Seek the Lord…” This is a message that God himself promises is powerful and effective. That’s the point the Lord makes when he says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11). Did you notice where the power and effectiveness of God’s Word comes from? It does not depend on the person who hears it, or how they feel while or after they have heard it. The power and effectiveness of God’s Word comes from the promise of God – that God promises that his Word is powerful and effective.
Does that mean that it’s wrong to be emotional when hearing God’s Word? Absolutely not! God made us emotional beings. How can there not be emotion as you stand at the grave of a fellow Christian and hear Jesus say, “Because I live you also will live” (John 14:19)? How can you not be overwhelmed when you see an ultrasound or hold a newborn in your arms and think, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)? Or the relief and peace that comes when God, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). There is nothing wrong with emotion. But when someone says that you HAVE to feel a certain way to know if God is really working, then we have made the effectiveness and power of God’s Word dependent upon our feelings. And not only does it rob God of his glory, it also robs a person of the confidence that God intends to give to all those who hear his Word. When you start depending on feelings, life becomes pretty uncertain.
Can you imagine if relationships were solely based on feelings? Your spouse wakes up one morning and says, “I don’t feel like I love you anymore.” So…you’re not a spouse because you don’t feel a certain way? A parent sees their toddler throwing a temper tantrum and thinks, “I don’t feel like I love you right now.” So…you’re not a parent because you don’t feel a certain way??? Feelings fluctuate but promises made by someone who is committed to keeping those promises bring confidence and certainty. When someone says, “I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of church” quite bluntly, it really doesn’t matter how you feel. Thank God for that! God’s promises are more powerful than our feelings.
Now I think that we also need to be careful with that previous point, and not to use it as an excuse. That is not an excuse for churches to use archaic terminology or vocabulary that those in worship cannot understand. I recently sat through a worship service where such lofty theological terms and archaic language was used that I didn’t have a clue what it meant. Nor is the promise of God’s powerful Word an excuse for poor preparation and presentation of sermons. Nor is it an excuse for NOT trying to apply God’s Word to relevant and contemporary issues in people’s lives. Nor is it a excuse for not trying to listen. While we CANNOT make God’s Word more powerful, we can put up barriers to people hearing God’s Word. We want as many people as possible to hear God’s Word because we know what God’s Word is capable of doing in those who hear it. We were reminded of that in Romans 10.