Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. We do a lot of everyday things without thinking, but going to Church isn’t an everyday thing. We might well drive the car on autopilot because we’re so familiar with the route, but our minds should be on the vital encounter ahead of us. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship.
Alexander Nisbet draws on Ecclesiastes 5:1 to make this point (the following is an updated extract). It speaks about carefulness in going to public worship, which at that time was in the temple. He says that we need to keep our hearts free from sinful disorder, which mars communion with God in His ordinances. We also need to receive the declaration of God’s mind sincerely and with affection. We should be “ready to hear” or literally “draw near to hear” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). We hear not only the voice of ministers but the Lord Himself speaking to us. We must depend on Him for His blessing on the truth.
If we want to have communion with the Lord in His ordinances and so peace and quietness of spirit, we must keep a strict watch over our affections. Nothing in public worship can be acceptable to God or of comfort to us unless we give careful attention to receiving the Word readily. This involves:
- humbly expecting practical truths for our lives and a blessing with them (Acts 10:33)
- eager desire after the Word as the soul’s necessary food (1 Peter 2:2).
- applying it to ourselves sincerely by faith (Hebrews 4:2).
- applying it to ourselves in order to practice and obey it (Psalm 119:11).
If we are only interested in outward actions rather than inward exercise, our worship is “the sacrifice of fools” according to Ecclesiastes 5:1. Such do not concern themselves with the state of their hearts and therefore as the verse goes on to say “they consider not that they do evil”. It is foolish thing to offer external worship to God while our hearts are estranged from Him and His Word is not received in faith and love. Men are fools if they think they can please God who is a Spirit with merely external service.
12 Ways Not to Walk into Church
James Durham also warns of the ways we may fall into sinful negligence in going into Church. Obviously, they teach us how we should enter Church as well as how we should not. We only have to turn around the negative into positives. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached.
- Not praying for the speaker.
- Not praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word.
- Not preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such a work.
- Not being watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. Not ordering things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.
- Not seeking to have the right estimation of the Word.
- Not blessing God for His Word or for any good received beforehand by it.
- Not coming with hunger and thirst as new born babes. Not having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).
- Not renouncing our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.
- Not bearing in mind that when we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances.
- Going to hear with prejudice.
- Going to hear without any expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him.
- Not going to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Not going to hear out of conscience but through custom and for appearance’s sake.