Every day they met together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with joyful and humble hearts, praising God and having the favor of all the people (Acts 2:46-47a).
What are your expectations for worship services? If we were to survey our congregation, I suspect we would find a bewildering number of different responses. Some of us key on the music. We expect to know the songs, and we expect them to be performed with excellence. We wonder about the sound and size of the choir—is it improving and growing? Will there be special music that adds variety to the service? Others key on the sermon. Will it be interesting and relevant to my life—or dull and boring? Will the preacher be funny and entertaining? Will it be finished in time for my lunch plans? Still others key on the social dimension. Who is here? Who isn’t here? Why is that person in my pew!
To some extent these are human thoughts that will inevitably cross our minds at some point. We can’t help it. Yet if these remain our only expectations for worship services then we have gravely missed the point of worship. We may enter a worship service having our expectations shaped “according to the flesh” (i.e. by what we want, how we want it, and when we want it), but we must guard against continuing to think along those lines.
How different were our spiritual ancestors in the book of Acts? They understood in a profound way that worship is all about God—not us. We tend to think of ourselves as the audience and whatever happens on stage as the show. In reality, however, God is the primary audience. Everything we say and do in a worship service represents an offering to God. When we sing, we’re singing to God. When we pray, we’re praying to God. When we give our tithes and offerings, we’re giving to support God’s work in the world. When I preach, I’m hoping to preach in a way that honors the God who called me to preach. While my words are addressed to the individuals sitting before me, I try to remain keenly aware of how the Holy Spirit is present and working.
Above every other expectation we may have for worship services, this one should be paramount: we yearn to encounter the living God. The same God who brought the world into existence has purchased our redemption through Christ Jesus and promises to meet us when we come before him in worship. “Where two or more gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matt. 18:20). This is a mind-blowing truth that filled the earliest disciples with unwavering joy and praise. May the Spirit reshape our expectations so that we see worship in the same way—as an awesome opportunity to experience the glorious greatness of our God.