FEBRUARY 2022 by Jordan Stone; TABLETALK MAGAZINE
Robert Murray M’Cheyne lay on his sickbed in January 1839. Illness had punctuated much of his life and would eventually claim him at the tender age of twenty-nine. Eternity was ever before him in such seasons. Thus, on January 12, 1839, he wrote to a ministerial friend: “May your mind be solemnized, my dear friend, by the thought that we are ministers but for a time, that the Master may summon us to retire into silence. . . . Make all your services tell for eternity.”
Worship is the main theme in the symphony that is the Christian life. Lord’s Day meetings are the center of our experience, for it’s in gathered worship that we encounter the triune God through His Word, sacraments, and prayer.
When the saints gather on Sunday, eternity kisses the earth.
WORSHIP THAT UNDERSTANDS THE REALITY OF ETERNITY
What might happen to our services if they told for eternity? At least four things would be true.
I. We would enjoy God’s presence. One great mystery of the Christian’s experience is that we live already as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). The Lord has raised us with Christ and has seated us next to Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Thus, the author to the Hebrews explains, we have “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all” (Heb. 12:22–23). To gather in worship is to gather before God.
Francis Schaeffer once asked, “What difference would it make if God’s presence left the evangelical church today?” He wrote, “The simple tragic fact is that in much of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ—the evangelical church—there would be no difference whatsoever.” The indictment surely rings true decades later. May it not be said of us, however. Let us join Moses, the man of God who knew that if God left His people, their existence would be pointless (Ex. 33:15). When God’s people gather to worship, God is there. And nothing is sweeter or more satisfying than His presence (Ps. 17:15).
II. We would encounter God’s power. Worshiping in God’s presence means experiencing God’s power through His ordinary means of grace. In the reading and preaching of God’s Word, Christ confronts our conscience and soothes our soul (Eph. 2:17). The sacraments tangibly hold forth Christ’s blessings and benefits (1 Cor 11:26). Baptism is a life-changing, name-altering rite of initiation (Matt. 28:19). The Lord’s Supper is the summons to God’s banqueting table to receive an appetizer of the wedding banquet to come (Song 2:4; Rev. 19:9). Through prayer, we ask for heaven’s bounty to fall on earth (Matt. 6:10–13; Heb. 4:16).
Services that tell for eternity are, by necessity, word-saturated gatherings. The Word is God’s breath (2 Tim. 3:15), and so is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). Its truth is “more fully confirmed” than an experience of Christ’s transfigured glory on a mountainside (2 Peter 1:19). It is perfect, pure, and powerful (Ps. 19:7–9). It is our daily bread, for we feast on every letter from God’s lips (Deut. 8:3). According to the psalmist, God’s word brings us life (Pss. 119:25, 37, 50, 93, 107, 154, 156). God’s power in creation, regeneration, and sanctification comes through His Word.
Worshiping in God’s presence means experiencing God’s power through His ordinary means of grace.
Faithful worship means God is there. He is on the move in the reading and preaching of His Word. How should we respond to His presence and power? How might our hearts reflect heaven’s praise?
III. We would respond with weight. Our great God is heavy. The Hebrew word for “glory” is kabod. And kabod simply means “weight.” It’s why Jonathan Edwards taught that God’s glory is the weight of all He is, the fullness of His understanding, virtue, and happiness.
To come into God’s presence, then, means to arrive with a soul that understands the weight of who God is. Light and casual approaches miss that our Lord is a consuming fire, and so we enter with reverence (Heb. 12:28). We want eternity’s solemnity to fill our worship with earnestness and awe, knowing that we aren’t promised another Lord’s Day. Knowing heaven and hell hang in the balance fuels urgency and vitality in our adoration, confession, and supplication.
If we want services bulging with weight, our churches need ministers grounded in God. We need ministers who aren’t like leaves floating breezily on the winds of the world. We want men who ascend to the sacred desk to pray and preach as if they’ve not been assured of another Lord’s Day service—because they haven’t. “I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones once confessed. Preachers enthralled with God are necessary if the Lord’s service is to have its proper weight.
Full piety must mark our worship, which means weight alone doesn’t fully capture the Christian’s response in worship. We also need wonder.
IV. We would rejoice with wonder. When the heavenly host broke the night sky to sing before shepherds in the fields abiding, those men of old responded with fear—they felt the weight of encountering God’s truth. Yet if their response to heaven’s announcement was to be complete, they also needed joy. “Fear not,” the angelic captain declared, “for behold, I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10).
Because the gospel that drives and demands our worship is good news, we enter God’s presence thanksgiving and joy (Ps. 100:1). Worship in light of eternity calls for celebratory reverence. Childlike wonder seasons our praise, prayers, and preaching: “What a mighty God we serve!” “What wondrous love is this, oh my soul!” “O death, where is your sting? It’s swallowed in Christ’s victory!”
What is worship in light of eternity but a soul overflowing with smiling solemnity in meeting with God, on His day, through His ordinary means of grace?
WORSHIP WITH HEAVEN IN VIEW
God willing, you shall soon gather in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. You will meet with a portion of God’s people under heaven. You will assemble before God’s throne where His presence and power dwell. Let the weight of glory fill your heart and the wonder of heaven saturate your soul.
Let your worship tell for eternity.
Rev. Jordan Stone is senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in McKinney, Tex.