October 20, 2017

Thoughts on Worship and Service

By Norman E. Fultz

When just three months out of high school, as a student in a college operated by brethren and where probably 98 percent of the students were Christians, and where the atmosphere was, for the most part, a far more spiritual climate than I’d ever seen, I “fell in love with it.” The students’ camaraderie, the devotional periods, the daily chapel services, and a daily “in depth” Bible class, made for a pleasant experience. The singing was more spirited, the prayers heartily offered, and every Bible lesson (be it in sermon or in the classroom) was joyfully received. The spirit soared! And to this day I’ll tell you gladly that I wouldn’t take anything for the two years I spent in such surroundings. It’s all real, but it’s not the real world in which most of us worship and serve regularly.

For years, though not with regularity, I’ve tried to attend, when I felt I could afford it, college Bible lectureships. Many hundreds of brethren from all over the country converge to hear the talented and well prepared speakers both in lectures and in classes dealing with challenging and stimulating subject areas. Several hours a day are devoted to such exercises. Renewing acquaintances, making new ones with those of like precious convictions, blending many hundreds of voices together in gospel songs under the leadership of a most capable song leader, being led in prayers that touch the heart, one’s spirit can soar. It’s all real, but it’s not the real world in which most of us worship and serve regularly.

Having been privileged to tour Bible lands a couple of times has been a dream come true. Day after day visiting sites of real biblical significance can “make the Bible come alive.” One finds himself wishing that every Christian could have the experience. On the first tour, after our Lord’s day worship in which the 150 or so of us had worshiped in the “traditional site of the upper room,” a fellow gospel preacher remarked as we were departing the service, “I wish I could bottle that service and take it back to my home congregation.” The worship period had been somewhat less structured than are our services normally — singing from memory instead of with hymn books (except for the song leader), standing through the entire service in a quaint old building of great historical moment (Even if not really “the upper room,” we knew the events in the real “upper room” and the events which followed) in which the singing under the direction of an able leader seemed to resonate. In the observance of the Lord’s supper, the communion was not passed to the congregation (no trays available). Instead the elements had been prepared and set out on a stage-like area, and in an orderly fashion we went forward and took a piece of the bread and a cup of the fruit of the vine and returned to our place. Then, when someone had offered thanks for the bread, we each partook of it at the same time. Likewise with the partaking of the cup. It was truly a most uplifting occasion sandwiched in between other emotionally exhilarating experiences such as visiting the Garden Tomb or standing on the Mt. of Olives. It was real, but it was not the real world in which most of us worship and serve regularly.

A few years ago while on a little outing at the Lake of the Ozarks, since the Bible camp attended by many young folk from this area was nearby, we paid the camp a visit. The area in which the camp was situated was peaceful, heavily forested, and remote. Excited youth, in spite of the summer heat and humidity, whose parents, many of them sacrificially, had provided the opportunity, enthused counselors, teachers and other helpers were enthusiastically going about their daily structured activities — Bible classes, chaperoned recreational pursuits, group meal times, evening devotional with speakers, singing and prayers conducted in rustic setting. It all lent an air of elation that one could get “caught up in.” Emotions can run high. It’s real, but it’s not the real world in which we worship and serve regularly.

From the college campus, Bible lectureships, tours of the Bible lands, or Bible camp, we must return to the normal world in which we live our lives, worship, and serve in the normal course of things. In our congregational worship, the singing is perhaps not as spirited nor led by as talented a leader, the Bible classes are not two or three times a day under closely regulated conditions where emotion along with knowledge can build, but twice a week, usually dealing with entirely different subject areas and separated by an awful lot of unspiritually oriented activity in the work-a-day world. The “daily grind” may take its toll and the spirit may suffer some bruises in the interim separating worship periods. The emotional highs are not there, and sometimes it appears that everyone is in the “doldrums.” The prayers may sound like so many parroted cliches mouthed with little fervor, albeit pouring forth from a devoted and sincere heart. The sermons may not be as uplifting at times; because they have the overall congregational needs with which to be concerned, not just some challenging topic which has roused our curiosity.

Instead of thinking that our emotions must be stirred to feverish levels, let us rather understand that he is to be praised.

Does all this mean that our regular periods of worship are any less spiritual or pleasing to God? Absolutely not, if we are worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Does it mean that our regular periods of worship and study must degenerate into a monotonous form? By no means! But if we must “feed on high emotional experiences” to be benefited in our service and worship, then we had best examine our level of spiritual maturity. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1). Prophesying might not give as much of an emotional high as some of the other gifts such as speaking in tongues, but prophesying would profit the church (v. 4). Even so, let us desire and delight in those special occasions and let our spirits soar under those circumstances. But realize that they are special times, and we must be prepared to go forward in the normal course of things — persistently worshiping and serving our God. Instead of thinking that our emotions must be stirred to feverish levels, let us rather understand that he is to be praised.

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