How do I grow? Celebrate Weekly!
How do I grow? It’s a question we are exploring these next 8 weeks. How do I grow in my faith? We were reminded in the message this last week that growth is essential – in all aspects of life: physical, emotional, mental, relational. And that growing in our faith is a holistic means of growing in all of these areas (grab it here if you missed it!). To that end, each week we are looking at a “Faith Catalyst” – something we can be intentional about to give God as much room and access in our lives to help us grow. This week’s daily reading will examine different aspects of this Faith Catalyst:
This is the practice of gathering together on a weekly basis as a whole community, to Celebrate God, with each other. Each of the day’s readings this week will look at a different component of what we call “liturgy” – which literally means “the work of the people”. What is the work we do together on a weekly basis to help us Celebrate together and in so doing, grow our Faith.
Day 1 – Singing
Colossians 3:16–17 (NIV)
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Ephesians 5:18–19 (NIV)
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
Some of us love to sing. At the top of our lungs. In public. Or at least in our car.
The rest of us are wondering what is wrong with “those people”. You were happy to lip-sync your way through choir in school or church. And now you’re an adult so you don’t sing. Some of us came to a weekly church gathering for the first time and wondered what the deal was with the Christian karaoke.
But these two passages give us a clue to why singing together on a weekly basis matters so much. And how it helps us grow our faith.
“make music from your heart to the Lord”
“singing to God with gratitude in your hearts”
The song in our hearts and from our hearts has much less to do with holding a tune, knowing a particular song or liking (or not) the style of music we play on Sundays. Let me give you an example of how singing from the heart works; what it can do in our lives.
Several years ago Jenn and I were on a snowboarding trip with a few friends, at a good-sized mountain BC. We were newly married (i.e. I was still in the infancy stage of learning how to be a good husband). On the last run of the day, Jenn, our friend Steve and I were on a chairlift going up to the top of the mountain. Halfway up the chair stopped. We were pretty high up. On a mountain. Evening fog and snow were starting to set in. Jenn started to anxiously ask me a series of questions regarding getting stuck, getting forgotten, having to climb down in some emergency fashion, helicopter air-lift, that sort of thing. I went into rational/coaching mode: “why are you worried”, “this happens a lot I’m sure”, “don’t be ridiculous they won’t just leave us up here”…none of which was working. My friend Steve pipes up – “hey Jenn, I remember when we were kids and we were scared, my dad would start singing Old Hiram’s Goat, until we felt better”. In my mind I’m thinking, “Steve, that’ll never work”, but before I could finish the thought, he starts singing. Then she starts stuttering out the words, still feeling a bit scared; sang a few more lines and before you know it, all three of us were clapping along and singing about this goat (ironically, the goat dies on the train tracks in the song…just another morbid children’s song…honestly). Singing worked. Just the simple act of singing along with someone who was sure and hopeful, lifted Jenn out of her doubt and me out of my futile husbanding.
Friends, this is just one of the many reasons we are invited to sing from our hearts. We sing the truth of Scripture, the characteristics of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, to our hearts and from our hearts, until we believe again; until hope returns; until forgiveness really sets in.
We have so many reasons to sing. Use this song as a guide for making music in your heart today, for expressing your gratitude to God. The artist lists many different reasons he has to sing; maybe one of these will resonate with you strongly, but maybe you have your own list.
Day 2 – Teaching
Matthew 7:24–29 (NIV)
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Matthew 28:19–20 (NIV)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The most common name that Jesus’ first followers used for him was Rabbi. It means “Teacher”. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that for some reason as present-day Christians, at least in my own experience, we don’t use “Teacher” very often to describe Jesus. We use words like “Saviour”, “Lord”, “King of Kings”, “Good Shepherd”. All of these names describe the myriad of ways that Jesus is good news for us and to us. But Jesus – in these two passages above – says something very interesting about what it means for us to follow Him and invite others to follow Him. He says that we need to put his words “into practice” and teach others to “obey everything” He commanded. Our great tasks as followers of Jesus is not just to like his teaching, be amazed at his wisdom, receive his forgiveness or trust his goodness, but to – because of all of this – trust him enough to obey what He says; to put into practice what He has taught us.
The reason we go back to the teachings of Jesus over and over, every Sunday, is not because we don’t know some of them, or haven’t heard them before; it’s because we need to be reminded to LIVE them. As one pastor at my church growing up used to say “We are all educated well beyond the level of our obedience”.
That’s true for me. Especially as a pastor.
You need to know, the things I teach are things I’m trying to live; and it’s scary to think that I could be piling up words each week in a sermon that might actually increase the gap between what I “Believe” or “say” and how I actually live. So trust me, I’m in this with you.
The promise Jesus gives us, however, if we will make every effort to obey what He says; if we will listen to His way of life and follow, is that we will be like a solid house which can withstand the inevitable battering from the storms of life. I like the sound of that. Or to use the analogy from our message on Sunday, to be trees with deep roots who can hold up in the winds and rain.
So let’s think about something that Jesus has taught you from this past week’s teaching.
(If you didn’t get a chance to listen to it, I would encourage you to do that now (here), or on your way into work, or on a walk later today).
And as you listen (or if you already did), think about this question:
- What step of obedience is Jesus asking you to take through this message?
- The passage we looked at on Sunday invited us to “Teach each other” – so who else needs to hear what Jesus has been saying to you, as something that might also be for them?
- If you feel like you’ve really been trying to obey him, who in our church community needs you to teach them to obey it too?
In case this sounds scary – to challenge a brother or sister – remember: in private, faith dies; together faith multiplies
Day 3 – Prayer
Read: Ephesians 6:18 & Philippians 4:6-7
Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Philippians 4:6–7 (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Pray. About everything. On all occasions. For all the Lord’s people.
It is natural to think of prayer as a very personal expression of faith, or encounter with God. And yes, it certainly is and can be. But as we said on Sunday, our faith may be personal, but it is not private. It is something we share with each other, and as we do, we grow. Prayer is one of the most powerful things we can share together, which multiplies faith.
Prayer happens throughout our “Celebrate Weekly” gatherings. We have groups of people who meet before the service to pray, both on-line and in-person. Many (maybe all?) of the songs we sing are prayers (that’s what Psalms are – sung prayers). During the service we have times to pray for healing, forgiveness, and help for those in need. And after the service we can formally (via our prayer teams) and informally (with whoever you are talking with post-service) pray.
One of the greatest gifts we can give others, and receive from others, is prayer. And one of the easiest and natural times to do this is at the weekly worship gathering. Yes, as a Pastor I can pray for you, and I Love to do that. But as these passages above, and the passage we looked at on Sunday make very clear, it’s a thing we can each do for each other.
So let me ask you:
- Do you come to the weekly gathering ready to ask someone for prayer? Don’t sit in the service (or worst sit at home) struggling with something on your own, trying to forgive yourself, encourage yourself, pray for yourself. Come the weekly gathering and get some prayer! You can ask the person sitting near you, your Home Group leader, a friend who brought you or one of the pastors.
- Do you come to the weekly gathering ready to pray for someone? Don’t sit in the service assuming that someone else will pray for someone in need, or that the “pastor” will do it. Ask someone sitting near you whether they need prayer for anything.
- After the service are you ready to pray? Don’t just ask someone how their week was. After they tell you how it was, ask them if you can pray for them, right there? If you meet someone new, and you find out they are new to the church, ask them if there’s anything they need prayer for.
- Have you ever considered serving on one of our Sunday prayer teams? Ask your Site pastor how you might be a part of that.
Take a moment now and ask for the courage you need to do any of the above. Pray that prayer will become more of a “for each other” thing in our weekly gatherings.
Day 4 – Sacrament
Read: Luke 22:14-20 (here)
This passage is one of a few that is often read during what is called “Communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” or “The Host” or “The Eucharist” in various weekly worship services, around the world and across virtually all Christian denominations.
While it looks different in each Christian church, what is constant is that it has been a part of the corporate gathering of Christians for 2000 years.
And it is called a “Sacrament”.
Some of us grew up in traditions with multiple sacraments, others with a few, while still others didn’t hear the word used much at all, and others of us would have simply associated that word with a religious context which was unfamiliar to us.
The word Sacrament has a few different meanings, in the context of worship, but the one that I think is most profound and meaningful – and needed in these days – is “mystery”.
Sadly, this is a word that often finds little expression in our modern worship services.
Charles Taylor, professor at McGill, in his landmark work “A Secular Age” notes that one of the key reasons for this is that Christians have allowed rationalism and the scientific revolution to so influence our worship that we think everything about God can be understood, explained and reasoned.
(NOTE: this is my very over-simplified version of his book. I actually read the Taylor-for-dummies version of the book by James K. Smith. And even then it was hard to understand.)
But his point was so true.
Even our obsession with Christian apologetics – that somehow we can “prove” the existence and relevance of God if we just know enough about science, philosophy, logic and the arts – shows just how rational our faith has become.
This is not all bad – it is good to think, reason and grapple with our faith across these other disciplines, but Taylor’s point is that one of the unfortunate bi-products is that there is no more room for mystery.
If we can’t understand it, we doubt it.
If we can’t see it, touch it, taste it, it probably isn’t real.
Which is a problem when we worship a God we cannot see with our eyes, hear with our ears or touch with our hands.
But that is why our worship gatherings need to have elements we CAN touch with our hands, see with our eyes and taste with our mouths. These are sacramental experiences which put us in touch, through the seen world, with the unseen One.
Communion and Baptism are two such sacraments. They involve real bread, real drink, real water. But actually the worship gathering itself is a visible, physical, tangible expression of the mysteries of faith which we want to grasp and experience:
That God somehow “lives” with His people, particularly when we worship together
That God who has no mouth, speaks constantly. And we need ears to hear.
That the goodness and presence of God can be “tasted” just like bread can be tasted.
That the cleansing and renewing work of God in our lives is as real as water that immerses us and washes over us.
That the audible sounds of singing and encouragement and blessing are somehow putting us in touch with the inaudible benediction of God over our lives.
Take some time to pray for our weekly worship gathering. Ask God to make himself visible, audible, tangible, through the various aspects of our worship service. Pray for yourself and people close to you to be able to encounter him through the gathering. Pray for those who do not know Him to have a mysterious but tangible experience of the living God when they come to our Celebrate Weekly faith practice.
Take 2 minutes of silence, slowly breathing in His presence, taking Him into your life like breath into your lungs.
Day 5 – Party
Read: Psalm 96 (here)
One of the greatest tragedies of many people’s experience with weekly worship gatherings (across many religious backgrounds and faiths) is just how boring and non-relational the experience was for them.
This should not be!
The weekly gathering is meant to be a weekly celebration.
Because God is good.
Full of beauty.
His grace abounds.
He is so loving and kind.
What’s more, through Christ, we share in God’s life, we are made new people, forgiven, adopted into God’s family, given a new purpose and have a living hope.
If that’s all true, and we truly get that, then our weekly gatherings give us a chance to celebrate, rejoice in, delight in, high-five about all of it.
We do this through singing, as this Psalm says, but we also do it through our interactions with each other.
At the Well, our 30-minute party at the end of each service is not something separate from the worship event, it is part of it. This is where we get to celebrate God’s work in each other’s lives, encourage each other with words of joy and hope, pray for joy and hope to return to someone’s life, marriage, work or studies. This is when we get to be “God with skin on”, as someone once said, to each other. It’s our expression of “let the earth be glad”!
As we return to in-person worship gatherings, I think it’s a great opportunity to learn to Party together in a newer, fresher, deeper way. What if we began to look at the times before service starts, and the 30-min party itself, as ways to celebrate God together? More specifically, what if we entered into those times/spaces thinking:
- Who has experienced God’s grace, provision or presence today (or this week ) that I can rejoice/celebrate with today?
- Who needs encouragement, joy or hope to return to their life in some way?
- Who can I show God’s love and value to by asking them questions about their life and truly listening to their responses?
- Who can I mediate the presence of God to by praying with them today?
Sure, conversation about sports, cars, the latest binge-worthy series or the annoying teacher at school is certainly normal and fun to talk about.
But we can give each other so much more in our conversations.
We NEED so much more from our conversations.
Take some time to pray for the party aspect of our weekly gathering. Here are some things you could pray for:
- Your own posture of joy, hope, and service as you enter these spaces each week
- New people to get noticed and connected during the party
- Kids and youth to grow in their relationships with each other during this time
- For the teams who serve on the 30-min party to grow and to be blessed in their act of service