Last week, I posted about one of those rich, powerful Sundays that happened at Coral Ridge. It was one of those days when many gathered were caught up in the gospel-story and deeply impacted as we entered, confessed, remembered our pardon, gave, listened, received, tasted, and saw. My charismatic brothers and sisters call it “God showing up.” It’s one of those sweet moments where a little bit more of heaven is cracked open for the viewing and God manifests Himself more palpably in comfort and grace, especially at His Table.
If you’re like me, you immediately start getting nervous on Monday. “Well, how do I top that?” you think as you begin to plan or finalize next week’s service. The performance pressure creeps in, and you begin to try to pull out all the stops to manufacture what happened so organically and unexpectedly. And then, when that Sunday rolls around, you’re almost doomed for failure. The Sunday after a really great Sunday is never a great Sunday. Or at least that’s what you think.
I’m reminded of the apostle Peter in Matthew 17, who knew that He was experiencing something super-special as He witnessed Christ’s transfiguration. “It’s good for us to be here.” Can’t we just stay here a bit longer? I want every Sunday to be that Sunday.
The reality is, though, that God doesn’t seem to work that way. Over my decade-plus career now as a planner and leader of worship services, I’ve learned a few things about how to navigate the Sunday after a really great Sunday:
First, we can’t read into such powerful Sundays that God is blessing us with more because we’ve been good.
That’s a slippery slope graded on really bad theology. Because what’s the flip side? Is God removing His blessing the following week because we’ve been sinful and rebellious? That line of thinking totally bypasses the finished work of Christ and discounts that God’s pleasure in us isn’t based on our performance. God isn’t some kind of Presence Genie, dolling out portions of His glory consummate with how much we rub His lamp with our good works. He’s the Father of Grace, pouring out all of His Son, by His Spirit, as a once-for-all sacrifice so that we might enter into His presence and experience Him with confidence.
Second, we need to recognize that we’re dancing along the edge of God’s mysterious will.
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV). Jesus said this in the context of His famous, secret conversation with Nicodemus about what true salvation looks like. We can easily extrapolate outward when we see that as God’s will blows through by His Spirit, it would be foolish of us to try to fully deconstruct the “why” of the given moment. Now, for us and last Sunday, I do think there was a corellation between the prayers of the people and God’s glory among us, simply because I believe in the efficacy of prayer and Scripture tells me that when we ask, He gives (Matthew 7). But that’s about as far as I want to press it. I’ll use it as a partial, limited stab at a “hindsight analysis,” but I’ll also be careful not to press it forward into a formula for next week. Formulas like these (if we just pray hard enough, God will show up) slip into what I talked about in the previous point and discount the mystery of the way God’s Spirit works.
Third, we need to remember the better criteria on how to judge a “successful” worship service.
There’s an unhealthy view out there that believes that the only “successful” worship service is one where we feel something ecstatic. That view leads us down the dangerous road of the first point of hyper-analyzing ourselves, our church, our works, our prayer life, and our performance to root out what we did that caused God’s removal of His pleasure and presence. Again, that kind of thinking is downright wrong, and it is also plainly Satanic–we begin to manufacture accusations, where Christ has said, “It is finished.”
It is far better to judge “success” of a worship service based on whether we as worshipers and worship planners have been faithful to do what God has asked us to do in a worship service. Have we been faithful in engaging elements of worship that Scripture encourages us to? Have we been faithful in connecting to how that Scriptural call has been realized over the ages in the (in the words of Jim Belcher) “great tradition” of the Church? Those two questions, in short, can be summarized in, Have we been faithful to display, enact, enter into, and respond to the Gospel story in worship this week? This moves away from measuring success based on internal feelings and moves toward measuring it based on external revelation.
But, again, please don’t read into this, “If we’re faithful to do these things, God will bless us with His presence.” I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that a good Sunday is good because of Who was displayed, not what was felt.
You just can’t hit a home run every time at bat
I’m reminded of something our homiletics (preaching) professor drilled into us in seminary. “You can’t hit a home run with every sermon,” he would say. He urged that the important thing was to get on base. Make contact with the ball, and run. And every once in a while, the connection will be just right, it will soar into the stands, and the stadium will go electric. This is a healthy, down-to-earth metaphor for worship. The Spirit determines whether or not the contact is just right. That’s His job. Our job is to remember the rules of the game and be as faithful to swing that bat when the ball flies by. And then, if something magic happens, we rejoice and glory in the moment as best as we can. But, next week, when we approach that plate, we’re back to square-one fundamentals, and when we hit that single, as we’re jamming to first, we rejoice nonetheless that God is faithful, that Christ is our salvation, and that the Spirit is our Comforter, Guide, and Friend.