“Woe to the pastor who chastises his people for ‘coming to get’ and not to ‘give.’”
This statement from a recent John Piper article[i] stopped me in my tracks. I guess you might say it challenged my philosophy about gathering to worship in Sunday.
Did I ever say something like that as a pastor? Did I chastise people for coming to church empty, wanting only to receive?
On the other hand, I have made comments to the effect that we shouldn’t come to church to obtain something, but rather to give praise to God. In fact (I have said), coming to church just to receive borders on narcissism. It’s like saying, “It’s all about me.”
Piper has prompted me reconsider. Let’s be honest, life isn’t always a bowl of sweet Oregon cherries. I don’t always feel like singing “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” I may be so depleted on Sunday by the tough experiences in my life that I am desperate for something or somebody to lean on.
“Lean on Me.” I remember that classic song from the 70s. I can still see Frank Patka, our youth pastor back then, having our youth group sing “Lean on Me” one Sunday evening. (Remember those Sunday evening services where we let our hair down and became family?) Bill Withers wrote and recorded “Lean on Me” in 1971.
The gist of the lyrics was that when you’re not feeling strong and need a friend, you can count on me to be there to lean on. And by the same token, one day I will surely need you to help me in the same way. If you would like to hear the song again, check this Website:
It was a secular hit in its time, but the concept behind it is biblical. As Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us: “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…” (emphasis mine).
I share a quote from Piper’s blog: “God is glorified in worship not only by those who come full, but also by those who come desperately needy.” As I said, I had to chew on those words for a few minutes to let Piper’s words sink in.
Think about it: God is glorified when I come to church, not just to give Him praise, but as a “desperately needy” person begging to receive His blessing.
God has never been put off by needy people who seek Him. (Not even old King Ahab, facing a death sentence from God, but repenting with fasting and wrapping himself in sackcloth or little Zacchaeus, up in the branches of a sycamore tree.) He just loves needy seekers.
Piper goes on to say: “Corporate worship is not a gathering only for overflow. The full may overflow. That is worship. The languishing come to drink at the fountain of God’s life-giving word. That too is worship. It magnifies the necessity and desirableness of God. The soul-hungry come to eat at the banquet that is spread from the rich stores of Scripture. This also is worship” (emphasis mine).
I really can’t add anything to Piper’s description of corporate worship. I feel empathy with that person so emotionally and spiritually dehydrated who is languishing for a drink from God’s life-giving fountain. I visualize a man or a woman crawling through the hot sands of Death Valley almost at death’s door, when they are met by another hiker with a full canteen of cool water.
Doesn’t David reflect this lament in Psalm 42?
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? (niv)
It is not a spiritual defect to be so depleted that we need somebody to lean on. To “need” is to be human. We do need each other. Remember how Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to illustrate a local church in 1 Corinthians12? Each member of the body has a part to play. No member, whether an eye or a hand or a lung can survive by itself. We gather on Sunday to give God praise. We sing to Him and to one-another (see Colossians 3:16).
On any given Sunday who knows whether the person sitting in front or beside you may be so empty that they have “crawled” into the church building hoping to be fed or to receive a drink or just a hug? Perhaps your giving praise through singing to God may help fill the void and lift them up.
I love the song, “The Wind beneath My Wings.” I have always associated it with Jesus, the One who raised me up when I was lost in sin and who daily lifts me up in life’s trials. He is the wind beneath my wings when the storm has depleted me. But just this morning, I heard the lyrics a little differently. Imagine the word “you” as plural rather than singular. What if “you” was a local congregation? Then, perhaps, you or I could be the wind beneath the broken wings of my wounded sister. I could offer my hand to lift up a weary brother. Perhaps we could be the shoulder to lean on till they are able to stand again.
I remember, as a child, the picture of a boy carrying another boy on his back through a blizzard. Beneath the picture was the motto of Boys Town, a Catholic home for boys: “He ain’t heavy, Father…he’s my brother.”
If you are feeling depleted, I share one last quote from John Piper: “Come to church desperate for more of God, and expect that he will meet you through his people.”
Here is a Website with Josh Groban singing “You Raise Me Up.” This morning it brought tears to my eyes:
[i] From John Piper’s blog posting, “Come to Church Desperate,” on June 23, 2018, desiringGod.org