Summary: Why in the world do we come to worship, when there are movies to watch, games to go to, and web pages to surf?
In a television program I watch, there is an episode in which the minister stood up before the congregation. It was a vast sanctuary -- but it was almost empty. The minister looked out upon all of the empty seats and surveyed the 4 lonely people in the congregation -- one young man, and three elderly women.
The minister begins to speak.
"I give thanks to God that there are at least a handful of us who have made the effort to come to worship, who have come to feed on the Word of God, and who don’t believe that God is less important than the football game on television."
Suddenly, the young man in the back pew jumps up. "Oh no, I forgot about the football game." And with that he runs out of the sanctuary.
I look around and wonder, don’t we have anything better to do right now than to come to worship service?
There are chores to be done at home, books to read, movies to see, games to watch, and web sites to surf. What motivates us to abandon the television and postpone a visit to the mall in order to worship?
I suspect that for some, the answer is "habit." And to tell the truth, not all habits are bad -- although we tend to speak in terms of good habits as discipline. Study habits, proper exercise routines, and good financial management and budgeting are all good habits -- good self discipline. And attending worship is a good spiritual habit. Some of us are here because it is our habit.
But there is something lacking in that answer, because some time earlier in our lives, we didn’t come to worship out of habit. We had to make the decision that this was a discipline we wanted to follow. Why did we make that decision?
Others of us may come to worship because we are struggling with God. We are grieving or we are hurting. We are lost, or we are lonely. And our attendance at worship is part of our search for answers.
Still others may be here against our will. You come here because your parents make you and they are bigger than you are. Or your wife made you come – maybe she’s bigger than you are. Or maybe your wife made you come here and if you want your life to go smoothly over the next day or two, giving into her about coming to worship is the thing to do.
The story is told of a man who was enjoying a pleasant sleep in bed when his wife suddenly yanked the covers off the bed and announced, “Time to get up and get ready to go to church.”
Meekly, the man told his wife, “I don’t wanna go to church today. Just let me stay here and sleep in this one day.”
Without any compassion, his wife looked at him and said, “Look Bozo, you have to go to church today. You’re the pastor.”
By the way, that is NOT an autobiographical story.
Why come to worship?
Our Scripture Lesson from Isaiah is a great place to look for answers to these questions. For the past 3 thousand years, worship has found its basis in this chapter. The order of our worship is based in part on this 6th chapter of Isaiah.
First, true worship is not an escape from reality. It is something that happens in the midst of life. Isaiah begins this passage with an interesting statement. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.”
It’s like saying, “In the year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I worshipped God. In the year that Kennedy was assassinated, I worshipped God. In the year the riots happened in Miami, I worshipped God. In the year of Hurricane Andrew, I worshipped God. In the year that I was married, in the year that my son was born, in the year my friend died, in the middle of life, in the midst of experiences good and bad, I was worshipping the Lord.
Worship in the Sanctuary can never be oblivious to what is happening out there.
Why do we worship God? It is not to escape life out there, it is to deal with life out there.
If you want your worship inside the Sanctuary to be true worship, then you bring in with you all of the baggage of what is happening out in the world.
In the Old Testament Psalms, one writer said (Ps 86:6-7), “Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.”
It is a natural part of worship to bring with you the concerns of your life. We gather here and we bring in the fears of life, the worries of our family, the concerns of the world and we lift them up in prayer, and we seek God’s comfort and guidance.