Just For The Joy Of It

pexels-photo-66100.jpegDo you appreciate encouragement? Isn’t it nice to hear words of thanks and know you have made a difference in someone’s life? Does positive feedback give you an added boost of energy to continue in the task at hand? Are those silly questions? Of course they are, because appreciation and encouragement are universally positive. Gratefulness and encouragement are both common themes in the Bible, and should be significant qualities in the life of a Christian.

In his New Testament letters, the apostle Paul frequently urges his readers to encourage one another, and in Hebrews 3 he even adds “daily” to his instruction to encourage other believers. The church would benefit greatly from more gratefulness and encouragement. I know I can do more to encourage others, such as writing letters to thank those who have helped shape my faith and my walk with Christ.

Recently, I was blessed to receive such encouragement. It came in the form of a message from a younger woman who had been a faithful member of a Bible study group I help lead. Now on the women’s Bible study leadership team in a church plant, she is unable to attend our weekly Bible study. She thanked me and wanted me to know that, “Your investment in my heart is now being poured into a new group of young mothers.” Wow! I was (and still am) so excited to see discipleship in action, exactly as the church is supposed to function! How thrilling to see God at work through this godly younger woman. How delightful to be part of that work. It makes me want to roll up my sleeves, study my heart out, and go explore God’s Word with these faithful women. What a recharge! Who knows what may come of it?

Then another thought followed. What if NOTHING came of it? What if there were no grateful updates, no new leaders launched, no visible results? Would I be so excited to study God’s Word, prepare lessons, be at the church every Wednesday morning? Could I see myself doing the same thing year after year without encouragement until God redirected me? Could I approach each study session with equal enthusiasm? Or would I eventually suffer discouragement and burnout? And maybe even drop out? Such a thought is sobering, because I know how easy it is for me to become discouraged over slow growth or no growth in people I am pouring into.

So what’s the answer? Focus. The object of my eyes determines the state of my heart, regardless of circumstances. If I am focused on results, I have set myself up to be discouraged. Serving the god of results is a sure path to burnout. But if I am not focused on results, what is to be my motivation? Who is crazy enough to work hard for no visible results? I’ll tell you who. It is those who know the living God as Father. It is those who serve Him simply for the joy of obedience to Him. There can be no higher motivation than to return the love of our gracious, merciful, loving, heavenly Father by obeying His commands.

Obedience is an overarching Biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation. In the New International Version, “obey” is used 143 times, and “obedience” 34 times. That doesn’t include all the biblical synonyms for obedience such as do, walk, follow, heed, keep, fulfill, or observe! That’s a lot of obedience! Scripture shows us obedience comes with blessing (James 1:25; Luke 11:28; John 14:23) and disobedience comes with cursing (Deut. 11:26, and the entire Jewish history found in Kings and Chronicles). But the threat of dire consequences does not bring about heartfelt obedience. No, it is love that moves a heart to obey. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15 ). Even Jesus said His obedience showed the world that He loved the Father (John 14:31). A heart moved by gratitude and love finds joy in obeying the object of its affection.

In 2 Chronicles 29 and 30, under the leadership of King Hezekiah, the Jewish kingdom of Judah finds great joy in heartfelt obedience to God. Immediately upon taking the throne, twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah led the nation to return to faithful obedience to the Lord their God after years of apostasy. He opened the long-shut temple doors, and repaired them. He gathered the priests and the Levites and instructed them to first consecrate themselves, and then to set to work purifying the temple. In just sixteen days, the work was completed. Early the next morning, Hezekiah gathered the city officials and went up to the temple to offer sacrifices to God according to the Law of Moses. As offerings were being made, cymbals, harps, lyres, trumpets, and voices filled the air with praise to the Lord God. The king and his officials, the priests, the Levites, and everyone present knelt before the Lord in worship. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people, because it was done so quickly (2 Chron. 29:36). Then Hezekiah issued an invitation to all of Judah and Israel to come to the temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover as the Lord had commanded. Scripture tells us a very large number of people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. All the preparation, sacrifices, and travel to Jerusalem had been a lot of work and expense. But after the prescribed seven days of offerings, celebration, and praise to God, the people weren’t ready to stop. So they decided to celebrate for seven more days! Obedience had brought long-lost joy to Judah and to those who had come from Israel. “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place” (2 Chronicles 30: 26-27). God’s people found great joy in simple obedience. Not in promises of what the results might be, but in faithful execution of the Lord’s commands. Their obedience was its own encouragement.

I want to obey and serve my Lord just for the joy that comes from obedience. Christ has set me free to obey. He set me free from the bondage of sin to be able to say, “Yes, Lord” to whatever He asks. Just to live in obedience is it’s own joyful reward, to be pleasing to God, simply available for Him to use me, whether to bring results in the lives of others, or only in my own life. It would be an added bonus to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In our feedback-centric culture, I need to remember that “well-done” does not imply “highly productive” or “well-received.” It just means I did exactly what my Father asked with a happy heart and left the results up to Him.

Yes, I do appreciate the gratefulness and update from my Bible study friend. It IS a recharge to be able to see the results of service to the Lord. But I pray, in the presence of gratitude and encouragement, no matter how much or how little, that my motivation, my hope, my joy, will never be transferred from obedience to results.


What Shall We Sing?

This post was prompted by an article by Joshua Dunn, titled Shake It Off? Secular Songs on Sunday Morning, and posted on http://desiringgod.org/. I reposted the article on Facebook and a sweet Christian friend offered some thoughts on why she feels secular music in the Church is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is important to consider the position of those with whom we don’t agree, whether in the Church or the non-Christian community, so I have been chewing on the issue and seeking the Lord. Ultimately, the goal on both sides of the issue should be to arrive at a biblically supportable conclusion that glorifies God. Please do not hear me say this post is God’s response to my questions, and that this is an oracle from God. These are only my thoughts after considering the issue and spending some time in prayer. I won’t copy my friend’s post here, but will mention a couple of the common arguments given in support of secular music in worship services before responding to the issue at hand.

One argument in support of the use of secular music in worship services is that these songs deal with real life, the pain and heartache of life on earth, and therefore make a good jumping off point from which to point people to the answer found in Scripture, Jesus Christ. Along the same lines, art, in this case music, used to express the thoughts and emotions of humanity, shouldn’t be categorized as secular or Christian, but rather, received as valid expressions of the human condition, whether beautiful or dark. Since secular music can also be followed with messages about the truth of Christ’s ability to heal those hurts expressed in the music, why should we exclude it from worship services?

Proponents of secular music in worship services also argue that familiar secular music may also help unbelievers, “seekers” if you will, connect to the message and the people around them, enabling them to feel more comfortable in an environment that seems foreign. After all, we’re just reaching out and trying to make them feel welcome so we can set the stage for a conversation about Jesus Christ. There’s no harm in that, right? If we consider the issue carefully we will see that there is harm being done. The “seeker friendly” approach to worship services is weakening the Church, making her ineffective at the very task we are trying to accomplish with this approach. Let’s consider just a few of the problems.

The catch in this dilemma lies in the purpose of a worship service. Our worship is to be so God-focused that He is glorified and blessed by our worship and we are changed by His presence and His Word as we worship. No secular music will ever accomplish either of those goals. Gatherings of the Church are to purify and equip the Church to do the work of the ministry (which includes reaching unbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ). Unbelievers are always welcome to join us, but their presence should not cause us to alter the way we approach God. It is imperative that the Church stay true to the purpose of a worship service or we are wasting everyone’s time while we deceive ourselves about what we are accomplishing. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is not to present art in order to help us connect with our feelings. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is not to attract unbelievers. The purpose of the gathering of the Church is to build, purify, and keep the Body of Christ oriented toward God. It is a regular re-calibration of our minds and hearts, and an offering of ourselves to God. Worship services are for believers in Jesus Christ. If we stray from our purpose, we lose our direction, and end up creating our own new purpose for our gatherings as the Church. As Voddie Baucham says, “If you don’t know the purpose of a thing, you will probably misuse it.”

The Body of Christ should certainly make an effort to connect with the needs and feelings of those outside the Church who come through our doors, but that does not necessitate that secular music be brought into the worship services. There are volumes upon volumes of hymns, choruses, and contemporary Christian songs that address the pain of life on earth and also direct our hearts to the only God who can heal us. Would it not be better to send unbelieving visitors out the doors of the church building with theologically sound songs of the faith ringing in their ears than to send them out humming the secular (and may I add, hopeless) songs we have promoted in our worship services? What a gift to give people songs that address not only the hardships of life, but also the glorious hope we have in Christ! Please, Church, don’t pass up this opportunity!

Unbelievers should always be welcome when the Church gathers. But it is our difference from the culture, not our sameness that will give them pause. It is our difference as a result of God’s saving and sanctifying work that is attractive. Seeker-focused churches are so bent on being acceptable to the culture, they no longer look different from the culture. Why would unbelievers be drawn to something that looks no different from the world with which they are disenchanted? God is perfectly capable of drawing in unbelievers to gatherings of the Church and keeping them there as long as He desires. We don’t need to divert from our purpose or pollute our worship to get them there. “Seeker friendly” worship services have become a cheap substitute for Church members knowing God’s Word well enough and loving others well enough to spend time and effort to connect with them and share the gospel with them. Evangelism is primarily to be carried out by the Body of Christ in our daily lives – outside the church building. But in our busy, distracted, and biblically illiterate church culture, it is so much easier to just bring them to a “seeker friendly” service. However, a “seeker friendly” style service hijacks the purpose and the focus of a worship service, making it ineffective for its God-given purpose and intended outcome.  My friend Mike Curry addresses the confusion when he says, “The great commission is go and tell, not come and see!”

And finally, there is a strong trend in churches, and among church staff in particular, to look cool and to present cool, flashy “worship” services. As this trend has ramped up, song lyrics have drifted further and further from biblical truth and sermon content has become shallow. Biblical teaching has become elementary, and appallingly brief. Congregations are fed milk week after week, year after year. The vast majority of the people in the pews have never graduated from Christianity 101. While we water down the content of worship music and teaching for seekers, we are starving the Church. Equally egregious is the fact that those churches are not doing justice to unbelievers who walk through their doors needing to see and experience the holiness of God, not the “relevance” of the church to the culture.

Reading Acts 5, we see that life within the Body of Christ was not seeker-focused in the first century of the Church. How might seekers have responded to the public accountability required of Ananias and Sapphira that ultimately cost them their lives? Even the Church sat up and took notice at this severe and very public church discipline carried out by God Himself. John MacArthur, in his commentary on Acts, calls it a “solemn purging.” Verse 11 says “great fear came over the whole Church and over all who heard of these things.”  Verse 13 tells us that “the rest,” (a reference to unbelievers) were afraid to associate with the Apostles (and I think we can safely add, with the Church). The NIV says, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” And yet, in verse 14 we see that God constantly added more and more new believers to the Church. Luke’s use of the term “multitudes” implies there were too many new converts to keep count! How is it possible that multitudes were added to the Church when unbelievers didn’t even dare to associate with the Church? Because it is God who does the drawing and the adding, not man. God doesn’t need us to be “seeker-friendly”, He wants us to be set apart, pure, and holy, a reflection of Himself. That is what attracts seekers. And God will still do the adding.