Ukraine Relief Fund

The Habit of Gathered Worship

When I was eight years old my family moved to a new town. We were Christians, and so we began that strange process of looking for a new local church that would become our spiritual home and be our spiritual family.

We visited one church, and during the service – it was a very traditional, highly liturgical service – the pastor prayed a short 3-4 sentence prayer as part of the liturgy. My little 9-year old brain said, ‘I like this church! The pastor prays short prayers!’

Then, he preached a 20-minute sermon. My little 8-year old brain said, ‘I like this pastor – he preaches short sermons’.

Now, the reason I was evaluating that church around the value of brevity is for two reasons: first, honestly, I would have preferred to be somewhere else doing something else. I knew we should worship God, but my highly distractable mind struggled to stay focused through a one-hour worship gathering.

But the deeper issue is that I was evaluating the worship service around my preferences rather than God’s vision of what was at stake in corporate worship. I want to briefly reflect on the importance of gathering weekly for worship and the core text I want to unpack is Hebrews 10.23-25.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And 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, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

1. The Nature of Habits

The author warns that some people have picked up negative habits. That is, they have made a habit out of not doing something they are supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus. They were supposed to be gathering regularly for worship, but some of them were neglecting that.

To state the obvious, we have all done what these Hebrew Christians did – we have made a habit out of neglecting to meet together. Now, this was in many ways forced up us, and I’m not going to get into the social, political, and governmental dimensions of trying to understand where public health intersects with freedom of conscience and freedom to worship.
Whether it was right or wrong or good or bad – we have not been gathering weekly for worship. In a sense, we were all forced away from a good habit and into a bad habit.

Now, this is where I want to expose a common misconception: most of us think that if we understand the value of an action, we’ll do it! But that is simply not true. If I held before you list of foods and asked you to indicate which ones were healthy and which ones were unhealthy, you’d be able to do it. But if I asked you to indicate which foods you eat – if you were honest, you would admit that you intentionally eat some foods that are not healthy.  Knowing that a food is bad for you is insufficient to motivate you to avoid it; knowing that a food is good for you is insufficient to motivate you to eat it.

The same thing is true regarding exercise. There is not a person in this room who doesn’t know that exercise is good for you. Most people I know, if I ask them, ‘Do you exercise too much, the right amount, or too little – for optimal health’ – most people will say ‘too little’.

Knowing that you should exercise more is insufficient to produce the result of exercising more. Cognitive awareness does not produce results: consistent healthy eating and consistent exercise require more than knowledge of what to do and more than knowledge of benefits.
And the same thing is true of important spiritual disciplines like praying, reading the Bible, sharing the gospel, gathering for worship. You know you should do all that stuff, and do them well, and do them consistently … but do you?

Now, I have to be honest – pastors are implicated in these results. That’s because pastors believe that if they can do a better job explaining the benefits of these activities, you’ll do them!
But that’s the problem - KNOWING is an insufficient basis for behavioural modification. And let me by crystal clear: we need behavioural modification: to become the people God has called us to be, we must torpedo, assassinate, obliterate, and otherwise destroy the bad habit of not gathering for worship. But me telling you the benefits of why we need to gather weekly for worship or what you’re going to get out if it – that’s not enough.

Sometimes Christians start believing, ‘My will power is my problem’. I just don’t want it enough or I’m just not disciplined enough or I just don’t see the benefit enough. Here’s the deal: relying on your will is a terrible way to ensure that you are doing those things that are most beneficial to you.

Let me give you a much better way to consistently do the things you need to do: learn the art of building habits. Your life represents the totality of your habits. You are what you do regularly.
Let me give you an example.  I eat exactly the same thing for breakfast … I’m not going to tell you what it is because you’d just think I’m weird. But here’s the deal: I don’t trust my will on any given day to ‘choose’ what might be good for me; what if I’m hit with a craving for chocolate frosted donuts right at the moment I’m choosing breakfast? What if someone opens a big jar of Nutella with fresh baked bread right as I’m choosing what to eat for breakfast?
No! I’ve developed a breakfast routine that takes what I’m feeling at the moment out of the equation. I don’t care what I think or feel at the moment … I eat healthy because my breakfast is a habit.

To be consistently successful at something, it needs to become a habit, not a decision.  Anything of value that you want to do consistently, the best pathway for success is to make it a habit, not a decision.

Today our topic is the habit of gathering weekly for worship. Yes, you should be here every week. But to get there, you have to move this from decision to discipline – or habit.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO. And we will flourish with God when our life consists of life-giving habits. Another way of thinking about this is that God loves us enough that he has communicated to us and given us the habits that will accrue to our spiritual refreshment.  

2. Why we gather for worship

This is a big question, and a full exposition would take us deep into reflection on the nature of the church. I’ll come back to this, but let me make a few key observations.

God commands it.
Now, some Christians are satisfied by the simple fact that God commands us to gather regularly for worship; that was true in the Old Testament and that is true in the New Testament. God says it, I obey it, that’s it.

Doing something because God says so is an appropriate expression of Christ’s Lordship in our lives. But for some Christians, they need more convincing. They need a big WHY behind the WHAT.  And the good news is that God accommodates our weaknesses and gives us a why for the what of weekly worship.

In short, there are three key reasons we need to gather weekly for worship:

First, you need corporate worship because there is a kind of encouragement that comes to us in this context that we don’t get anywhere else.

Second, you need connection with the corporate body, not just Christians. The gathered local church is church in a way no other gathering of Christians is.

Third, you need corporate worship because WE ARE DEFINED BY WHAT WE WORSHIP, and corporate worship helps keep God at his rightful place in our lives.
What the Bible says

Notice what the author of Hebrews says: in discussing the habit of gathering, he identifies three key benefits: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, but encouraging one another. In short, there are three key benefits to weekly worship: our faith is strengthened, we stimulate each other to obedience, and we receive encouragement.

Our faith is strengthened by the preached Word of God.
According to Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). This is not only regarding the word of Christ called the gospel, for unbelievers, but this is also for believers. We live in a world in which not the just the content of scripture, but the presuppositions of the Bible, the sacred canopy of beliefs about who God is and what he is like and what he is done – all of that is questioned. The personal practice of daily Bible reading is an important antidote to that – but we need more than that. At church, God’s word isn’t just read, or considered on, or reflected on – it is preached authoritatively AS THE WORD OF GOD, and this builds our faith.

Further, there is a completely different dynamic when we hear the word of God in our local church context from our shepherd. It’s not like going to a conference, where you might hear an inspiring and encouraging talk, but you have the freedom to hold the word at arms distance. It’s not like going to a small group Bible study where lots of folk are throwing their opinions around … there is something transformative that happens when God’s word is declared clearly and authoritatively in church by a pastor for our benefit and instruction.

In addition to building faith, regular participation in weekly worship encourages us. First, let’s be honest and say that we need encouragement. I know that some of you show up full of God, full of God’s word, ready to give, ready to bless, ready to encourage others. But many of us show up at a weekly worship gathering beat down by life and beat down by the week and beat down by sins or doubts or pain. So we need encouragement, and it is the weekly worship gathering that brings that encouragement.

How worship encourages us  
We get encouraged in at least three ways. First, we get encouraged through the preaching of God’s word. God’s word well preached generates faith and confidence and boldness in our hearts. Second, we get encouraged by each other. We are able to speak words of life and blessing to each other. As the author of Hebrews says, ‘Encourage one another as long as it is still called today’. Third, we are also encouraged directly by God as we gaze upon God and give him glory through worship.  

 At the heart of the worship gathering is not just what we get, but what we give. Yes, we give each other words of encouragement, but more than that, we give God glory. At its heart, worship is ascribing to God his ‘worth-ness’ - declaring and displaying the worth of God, celebrating his greatness and goodness especially through his revelation in Christ.
This is what worship looks like in heaven:

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4.8-11

When we gather for worship we are experiencing a preview of our eternal destiny with God. When we gather for worship God draws us into the real reality of his perspective in which He is God and Lord and king.

When we focus on God’s glory, when we devote our energy to giving him glory, his Lordship in our lives is refreshed, our priorities are restored, and our idols are slayed. When we focus on God’s worth-ness, our priorities are re-ordered and our idols are toppled.

We flourish best when we see God most, and that happens best in corporate worship.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line: You will win, others will be encouraged, and God will be glorified, when we [re]build the habit of gathering weekly for worship.




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