What’s Missing in Church Today?
by Aaron Binion
It happens. People attend church all of their lives never growing in sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), learning the basic elements of the Christian faith (Hebrews 5:12), or conducting themselves properly in church (1 Timothy 3:15). While there may be many reasons why this phenomenon happens, an underlying issue is a lack of reverence for God. David wrote, “Who in heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints and to be had in reverence of all” (Psalms 89:6, 7). Reverence, a feeling or attitude of deep respect, love, awe, and esteem for something sacred is practically archaic today. The view from the pew reveals church members sleeping during worship singing, reading a bulletin or church newsletter during preaching, teenagers texting, people sleeping, half of the congregation watching as people come in late and leave early, and adults more interested in playing with children than participating in the worship service. Often, people will use the excuse “God understands.” People should also understand that their actions often times do distract others. If a person is prone to having to use the bathroom or leave early, can they not have enough reverence to sit in the back of the church and exit quietly?
How a person acts during a church service is directly proportional to the value he or she ascribes to God. God clearly demands and expects reverence from His children (Hebrews 12:28). Showing the greatest reverence possible toward God should be the purpose of life and certainly the purpose of the worship service we offer Him. Intelligent attention is an integral part of worship whether it be in the form of singing, prayer, or a sermon. Only when God has our undivided and undisturbed attention can we expect Him to be pleased in how we are serving Him. Being “present in the spirit” is as necessary as being “present in the body” during the worship service. Spiritual growth hinges on the commitment to assemble with other Christians and how closely a Christian pays attention when God’s word is faithfully proclaimed. Because preaching is the main way God strengthens a believer’s life, attending and listening carefully are prerequisites to growing in the grace of our Lord. In Deuteronomy 32 Moses said, “Take to heart all the words with which I am warning you today which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you, indeed it is your life” (vs.46-47). Your very life and that of your family is at stake in receiving the word. Receiving the Word requires effort and is often times uncomfortable. John Adams wrote, “Like disobedient children, people do not want to listen. Even believers, habituated in ways of disobedience, have a great difficulty listening to God. It has been easier for sinners to blame preachers than to admit their own reluctance to listen” (A Consumer’s Guide to Preaching).
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul lists several mandates in rapid fire. Following a logical order, Paul says to rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, quench not the Spirit, and despise not prophesy. “Despise not prophesy” follows quenching the Spirit because prophesy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, prophesy had two main purposes: foretelling (a gift that went away) and forth-telling (a gift that exists today). Foretelling revealed the future while forth-telling was simply a gift of presenting already-revealed truth. “Despise” in Greek meant “to count as nothing; have contempt for.” There are several ways a believer can be guilty of despising prophesy. Not respecting or appreciating the gift either in thought or actions is despising prophesy. Paul wrote that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Therefore by letting the mind wander, nonchalantly flipping through a Bible, or not listening to the preacher, a person misses out on the strengthening of his faith. Even worse, when a believer distracts a sinner, he or she may not hear the very words that might bring life. When a preacher truly preaches, God is speaking. By not listening to the preacher, a person is not listening to God. Through taking a nap or playing with a phone, a person is despising the very messenger of God. God will not allow that to happen without bringing serious consequences to offenders. Preaching is a two way street. The preacher must carefully study, interpret, and approach the very word of God with utmost respect. Preachers standing in pulpits without investing much time, thought, and prayer into what he will say to the congregation is also a form of despising prophesy. The preacher as the messenger and the hearer as the recipient must both pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit’s enabling. Yet many lay members think their only duty is to be spoon fed while filling a pew. Carelessness then is a means of despising prophesy. James said to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). By not obeying the truth that is presented, prophesy is despised. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:8). Looking at the clock, leaving during service to be first in line at Cheddar’s, or missing church to do something secular are also means of despising prophesy. The Holy Spirit accompanies the preached Word. If the Holy Spirit is insulted by people not paying attention to Him, then is it any wonder churches are missing the power they once had? Peter said, “We have a more sure word of prophesy (scripture) whereunto ye do well that ye take heed (pay attention to it), as unto a light that shineth in a dark place until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts” (2Peter 1:19). What happens when like little children people stop up their ears from hearing the preacher? Proverbs 28:9 says, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law even his prayer shall be an abomination.” Simply put, God says you don’t listen to me, I won’t listen to you.
How can the church avoid despising prophesy? Luke 8:18 answers, “Take heed therefore how ye hear” (Luke 8:18). Start the listening process with the desire to want to hear. Pray like David: “Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your Word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Ps. 119:17,18). When you pray that with sincerity, God will answer and teach you what pleases Him through the preacher’s sermon. The unresponsive heart leaves the spirit of reverence wanting in worship. The deadness of a person’s heart will produce deadness of worship. In other words, the prerequisite for hearing from the Lord is to confess and be forgiven of sin before expecting to hear God’s Word. Too many people leave a church service saying, “I didn’t get anything out of that today.” Could it be due to the sin and hardness of their own hearts? Luke 19:48 describes people who were attentive to Christ: “They hung upon him, hearing.” Lydia showed an open heart when she attended or turned her mind to the things Paul spoke (Acts 16:14). Listening attentively requires staying focused, stopping any wandering thoughts, and removing any obstacles that may be a hindrance in the listening process. James 1:21 says, “Receive with meekness, the engrafted word.” Receiving the word with meekness requires examining oneself with the precepts of scripture with the desire to be corrected, edified, and admonished. When a doctor diagnoses a sick patient, explains the condition, and prescribes the remedy, the patient should listen attentively. The same should be true of spiritual health. Active listening is a process. As the preacher preaches take notes, follow the references, and model the Bereans by testing everything he says. This will not only help you grow spiritually but will also keep you from distractions. While most people would be offended by coffee in the sanctuary during church, an even more horrific offense is committed before God just about every Sunday. Like the disciples who fell asleep before Christ’s crucifixion, many people insist on sleeping during church. While the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:40-41). This is not a cop out for doing everything possible to remain awake and focused during a service. Luckily, Eutychus died falling asleep during Paul’s sermon when the apostolic gift of healing was still operative (Acts 20:7-12). Try doing that today and you will be on your own. Your body will function best with adequate rest, a well-balanced meal, and proper exercise. If you can’t do either during the week, can you at least do so on Saturday so you will be able to function on Sunday morning? If you won’t prepare your body, can you at least prepare your heart? The answer depends on how much reverence you have for God. Preaching is a spiritual event which God himself speaks His word into the heart. Prayer is essential in getting your heart ready to hear what God wants to say to you. So prepare for Sunday morning by praying for the preacher, teachers, music leaders, and for your understanding. Instead of blaming the preacher for your lack of attention, pray that God strengthens him in his delivery.
In summary, the preached word (prophesy) is the Word of God leading us to the God of the Word. To believe Him, know Him, follow Him, and serve Him one must be careful to hear Him. Let’s not “profane” our worship by taking something that is holy and treating it as common. JC Ryle warned, “Beware of despising preaching. In every age of the Church, it has been God’s principal instrument for the awakening of sinners and the edifying of the saints…Let us hear sermons in a prayerful and reverent frame of mind…”