Happy Laws

If man were infinitely wise, and could draw up a code for himself, which would involve no hardship, and entail all that was happy, he could devise no regulations more healthful, more profitable, or more pleasant than those of the Savior. Charles Spurgeon

For many people, the existence of the Ten Commandments is proof that God opposes human happiness. “If God really wanted me to be happy, He wouldn’t put all these laws in my way.” Thus, every day, billions of people try to throw off God’s law, cast it behind their backs, and run away from it as fast as possible. What they don’t realize is that instead of escaping hardship, they are escaping happiness.

Here are four reasons why we should trust and obey God’s laws as designed for our happiness.

1. God knows us. As our creator, He knows what is best for us in our bodies, minds, relationships, lifestyle, communities, and so on. He has observed billions of human lives over the years and knows what works well and what doesn’t.

2. God knows our world. He knows the dangers of this world better than we do and has designed His laws as boundaries, as fences, to keep us in safe places and away from the danger zones. He knows what damages and what destroys us.

3. God knows the future. When men change God’s law, they cannot foresee the consequences. If politicians could look down the road and see all the implications of their legislation, they often would change their plans. God sees down the road, views all the possible consequences, and therefore has never had to change one of His moral laws.

4. God knows the Gospel. God also designed the law to show us our sin and our need of a Savior. The law not only shows us the best way to live, but also that we cannot live that life, that we need Someone who did, and that we need the Holy Spirit to fuel our future obedience.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

6 Steps To An Awe-Full Church

In The Holiness of God, R C Sproul addressed the problem of large numbers of people leaving church because they are bored.  As we saw yesterday, Sproul’s solution is more awe in our worship services, which puts significant responsibility on the pastor or worship-leader. But it also places important obligations upon worshippers too if we are to be awed by the evident presence of God.

1. Preparation. Just as the worship leader has to prepare, so do worshippers. If we’re busy all Saturday, get to bed after midnight on Saturday evening, sleep long on Sunday morning, rush to church in mild panic, and arrive with little or no time to get ready for worship, we’re not going to experience awe or much of anything beneficial. If we haven’t met God privately, we’re unlikely to meet Him publicly.

2. Enthusiasm. If we go to church reluctantly, dragging our heels and hearts, with little anticipation or excitement, our expectations are likely to be met. But if we go with eager optimism, prayerfully seeking God and pleading with Him to come down and bless, then God will often exceed our expectation.

3. Participation. Worship is not a spectator sport but one in which all must take part. Joyful singing not only stirs up our hearts, but others’ hearts too. Engaged postures and lively expressions are contagious – as are mumbled songs, slouching shoulders, and sleepy eyes. When the pastor is praying, let’s engage our hearts and minds fully with him. When Scripture is read, let’s listen to it as the very voice of God.

4. Unity. God delights to dwell where His people are united in love of the truth and love for one another. He will not honor churches with His presence where there is disunity and division. But when there is union around the truth and communion with each other, God comes down with His unmistakeable presence.

5. Reverence. When we realize who we are, what worship is, and who it is we are trying to worship, there will be a careful gravity and sobriety about what we do. It won’t be depressingly dull and dour, but it will affect what we wear, how we sit or stand, how we listen. It might even make us skip the Starbucks and candy in the sanctuary. Need help with this? Read The Holiness of God, and you’ll never worship the same way again.

6. Concentration. Some of the greatest impediments to awe in worship are distraction, noises, and actions that divert the congregation’s focus and concentration. I’ve been in services where I’ve almost started waving in the pulpit and saying “Hello! Have you never seen a kid walk to the bathroom before?” Or, “Do you all really need to know exactly which kid is crying over there?” Having said that, parents of young children also have responsibilities to ensure that their children are not disrupting services too much or too often. This is a delicate balance requiring much wisdom.

I end where I began yesterday – with the sovereignty of God. Yes, there are things we can do that hinder and obstruct awe in worship services. And, yes, there are steps we can take that God is often pleased to respond to with His presence. However, we cannot create or produce awe; God alone can do that. And when He does, it is unforgettable and utterly compelling.

Many church growth experts tell us that we’ve got to make church more casual, less threatening, more like “normal life.” That will certainly get people in the door. But it won’t keep them there for long. Why should anyone go to church for ordinary normality? They can get that in the mall or at the football; and many bored churchgoers go back to that.

Instead, what we want are churches that are places of the extraordinary, supernatural, different, abnormal, unusual presence and power of a holy God. We don’t want people coming and just saying, “That was nice.” Rather we look for what the Apostle Paul described in the early church:

“An unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

When was the last time that happened in our churches?

Why Is Church So Boring? R C Sproul’s Answer

A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was that they found it boring. It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience. R C Sproul

“How awesome is this place!” This was Jacob’s response to being in the house of God. People do not normally feel that way in church. There is no sense of awe, no sense of being in the presence of One who makes us tremble. People in awe never complain that church is boring. R C Sproul

Two quotes from The Holiness of God by R C Sproul, the first identifying boredom as the main reason people stop going to church, and the second identifying awe as the antidote to boredom.

Summary: More awe in church services = less boredom in church = less people leave church.

If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we create more awe in our church services. Is this something only God can give, so we have to just wait for it to happen? Or is it something for which we are also responsible? 

Obviously, it’s God’s presence alone that can create awe, and therefore, ultimately, we are entirely dependent upon Him to choose to honor our worship services with His presence. However, there are important elements of human responsibility here too. God usually works through human means, and that puts obligations on the worship leader and the worshipping people.

The Worship Leader

In my own tradition, the preaching pastor is also the worship leader, and it’s that worship model I have primarily in mind here. However, most of this can also apply where the role is divided between two or more people.

1. Preparation. The worship leader should be prayerfully preparing for worship just as he prayerfully prepares his sermons. Far too often the pastor gives 15 hours to his sermon, 15 minutes to choosing songs, and 15 seconds to thinking about public prayer. He may pray for hours about his sermon and not at all for the singing, praying, and scripture reading. I’ve often found it helpful preparation to sing or listen to some Psalms in my office in the last few minutes before going to church.

2. Integration. The worship leader must ensure that the songs he chooses, the scripture reading, the prayer, and the spirit in which he conducts all this, fit the sermon theme. For example, there’s no point in having all praise songs if the sermon is about confession of sin. The prayer should also reflect at least some of the sermon content.

3. Organization. There should be a regular and recognized order to the worship so that the worshippers know what’s happening rather than just a haphazard free-for all, jumping from one thing to another without any rhyme nor reason. The Apostle Paul said that one of the ways to ensure that visiting worshippers are awed and stunned by the church’s worship is by orderliness and regularity (1 Cor. 14:23-32), not by novelty and unpredictability.

4. Conviction. No one is awed without conviction of sin. Look from Genesis to Revelation – from Jacob to Job to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Daniel to Peter to Thomas to Paul to John in Patmos – and you won’t find one example of any awed worshipper apart from them being first convicted of their sin. We’d love to go straight to doxology but there’s no shortcut past the valley of humiliation. Through song, prayer, and Scripture readings, worship leaders must remind people of their sin and sinfulness and lead them in confession.

5. Passion. Although some worship leaders sometimes take this way too far and the whole worship experience ends up in artificial emotionalism, which is more fleshly than spiritual, many in my more Reformed world take this to the other extreme and lead worship like a robot. If we look and sound bored, little surprise if those we are leading look and sound the same. If we’re not enthused, excited, and expectant, no one else is going to be.

6. Education. Perhaps the greatest need today is re-educating people about worship. We assume far too much. Do most people really know what worship is? Who’s it to? Who’s it for? Who is the God we are worshipping? A great start would be to give every worshipper Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the responsibility of worshippers for creating awesome worship services. Meanwhile, what else do you think we can do to make our services more awe-full?

Check Out

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Top 10 Books For Common Problems

In the next couple of weeks I hope to post a list of my top 10 biblical counseling books. However, today I want to post links to some books that I’ve found useful supplements when counseling people with common problems. Most of these are not Christian books, although a couple of them do have some Christian underpinnings (marked with an *). Read them all through the prism of God’s Word to get the best common grace wisdom out of them.  For more of my Top 10 Book lists go here.

Problem 1: “I can’t seem to concentrate.”

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winnifred Gallagher

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman

Problem 2: “I’m too shy….too much of an introvert”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Problem 3: “I’m overwhelmed…There’s too much going on in my life.”

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels*

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Problem 4: “I’m paralyzed by all the choices…I find it difficult to choose”

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Problem 5: “I can’t stop doing this and I don’t understand why.”

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Problem 6: “My Finances Are Out of Control.”

The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey*

Problem 7: “I can’t end this relationship.”

Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward by Henry Cloud*

Problem 8: “I’m Exhausted…I’m not sleeping enough.”

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson

Thrive by Arianna Huffington (for the sleep chapters not the ones on mindfulness).

Problem 9: “I don’t have any friends.”

Friendship Factor by Alan McGinnis*

Problem 10: “I can’t say ‘No’”

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No by Henry Cloud*

The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness by James Altucher

In addition to the Top 10, here are a few more books for common problems.

Problem 11: “I’m totally disorganized.”

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey

Problem 12: “I can’t get motivated”

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Problem 13: “I procrastinate all the time.”

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore

Again, I emphasize, these are not replacements for good biblical counsel, but they can be useful supplements. They can help us see our need for biblical counsel, or fill out the details of general biblical principles; and they can also give us practical strategies and steps to implement that are consistent with biblical teaching.