In early summer 2014, I moved to Kansas City from Louisville to take up my current post at Midwestern Seminary. My wife Mallory and I had made quite a few moves, and we were a bit raw from carrying all the usual baggage that typically accompanies what I now call “home dysplasia.” Mallory actually had to stay back in Louisville for the first month to tie up some loose ends, so I frontiered our new family venture in Kansas City solo. I arrived really excited, pretty scared, and very lonely. Normal, right? Maybe.
What I realized over those first few weeks and months was just how desperate I was to hear the Word of God! I felt a keen awareness of my need for Jesus—the Savior and Lover of my soul. I was keenly aware of my fragility and proneness to question God’s goodness or wisdom in my life.
I felt a great thirst and need to hear God address me from his Word. I needed him to tell me what I am. I needed him to tell me about myself, to tell me I wasn’t alone, that he hadn’t left me nor forsaken me. You might think that the answer to my need to hear from God would be simply to put on some muck boots, grab a few cans of beans, a tent, and load up my pack with my trusty ol’ ESV, some Piper, and maybe some John Owen for good measure. And then head out to the sticks, you know, where it’s quiet. But actually, God met me at my point of need in church, a church full of people who were little more than acquaintances to me at the time. Particularly, he met me in the midst of Sunday morning corporate worship.
I visited two or three churches but quickly settled on the one where Mallory and I are now members. I lack the articulation to explain to you just what God did for me in those early, just-moved days. He comforted me. He spoke peace. Quickened my resolve. Buttressed me. Broke me. Actualized contentment in my soul. In short, he was far better and more to me than I can express.
Honestly, this shouldn’t surprise us! There is something that reanimates the saved soul in the normal singing, praying, and hearing of the preached word. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Corporate worship is one of the primary means by which God saves you to himself. He uses the corporate worship of the believers you have covenanted with to push and squeeze and mint you into the image of his Son. Jude verse 24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…” So my question to you, then, is how does he keep you from stumbling and then finally present you to God with great joy? He does this in large part, and probably deserving of far greater emphasis, via the Sunday morning saintly singing, praying, and hearing:
Listening for Our Lives
Over and over and over again in Scripture we see God emphasizing that his people are to hear and obey his words. In Romans 10:17 Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” I want to be another to ring the bell of expository preaching here. Why? Because you as a believer need to have God address you through his Word alongside other believers who love and call you to faithfulness. The preached word of God on Sunday morning is not ultimately about the preacher at all, but rather the worship moment. If the preacher does his job faithfully, that worship moment we call preaching should transcend the preacher and bring a congregation into the throne room of God to hear God’s words. In so far as the preacher is faithful to God’s Word, you are being addressed by the Lord of life. You, dear believer, are listening for your very life. One of the ways he keeps you a Christian is by the regular hearing of the Word of God. So this Sunday, listen for your very life, believer! And bring an unbeliever that he might hear the gospel and listen for his life, too.
Singing for Our Salvation
No, I’m not advocating a works-based righteousness! I am simply trying to keep in step with Jude verse 24. How is it exactly that God is going to keep you and me and bring us into his glorious presence with great joy? How does he do it, exactly?
Well, in part, it’s by singing glorious truth to God. This component of corporate worship has only grown in my own estimation of my discipleship. Singing is part of the soul. Every culture sings, and God intends to redeem it for the purpose of corporate worship. Even if you’re not exactly a great singer, you were built to sing. God commands it of you (Col 3:16). This is for your good and unto God’s ends of salvation.
As Western Christians are prone to do, we have over-individualized singing, too—even corporate singing, strangely enough! We’ve tried to turn it into a “Jesus and Me” duo, and that is foolish. There is something amazingly communal and corporate in nature that takes place on Sunday mornings when the congregation sings to God and to one another. Maybe you look over at the 73-year-old saint who is singing this song with great joy for literally the two hundred and eighty-seventh time. It’s still valid to him! It’s still potent!
Or maybe you look over at that dear, sainted sister who had a miscarriage only months ago and through tears she worships God in his goodness and Fatherhood. She is doing this together with the congregation alongside other members who are experiencing rich blessings in the midst of her great loss. Only God can bring about this kind of surpassing joy. The salvation of our God is simply stunning. “It is well with my soul” is not only a declaration; it’s a prayer and a promise. “Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds; Help us grasp the heights of your plans for us—Truths unchanged from the dawn of time” is not only a song of petition, it’s an expectation. This Sunday sing for your salvation. Bring an unbeliever that he might sing and hear the rich truth of our saving God.
Praying for Our Power
In the gospel Jesus not only broke the eternal death sentence of sin that hung over your life (Col 2:14), he also broke the power of sin in your life (Col 2:13, 15). Corporate worship sits in the economy of God as a foretaste of the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is meant to be the place on earth where the truth, Jesus is Lord, resounds most resolutely and can be experienced and heard most truly. We are told in Revelation 21-22 that there will be no more sin, no death, or anything detestable there. There will be nothing false or unclean, no idolatry or sexual immorality. We will be unfettered to truly worship our saving God as we cannot now. We get to glimpse that day in corporate eschatological hope now.
Sunday morning prayers of confession ought to say, “Look down, sir; don’t you see, there are no shackles or chains on your wrists any longer.” You are free, Christian (Romans 8:1). Our prayers of petition as a congregation go up to a strong God who delights to grant them; he doesn’t merely tolerate them. Our intercession is in light of Jesus who interceded his very blood on our behalf. So this Sunday pray boldly, Christian, you are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. Your corporate prayers are one more means by which God powers you through this dark world to bring you to himself.
When I arrived at my current post, I was emotionally raw and in need of hearing from my Father, and oh, how He met me in those days. I still get choked up at some point most Sundays. It’s a song, a particular lyric, a phrase in the corporate reading, or maybe the inflection of my brother’s voice as he leads us in corporate confession. God finds me amidst His people. I get choked up because I’m saved by grace and God is building me into a sanctified disciple, and he’s using the corporate praise of my local church to do it. He comes and gets me all over again, just like he did the first time in those dark ditches I once wallowed in, those same dark ditches I’m prone to gravitate towards still. It’s as if he comes and rescues me again and again each Sunday morning. This is how he is keeping me.