Have you ever heard someone say, “I want to write a book”? Or, “I want to learn to play piano.” Or, “I want to learn Spanish.” Or, “I want to get in shape”? When I hear statements like that, my usual response is, “You mean, you want to have written a book, or have learned to play piano, or be in shape…because no one wants to run scales until you hear them in your sleep. No one wants to do pushups.” We want the reward without the investment. We want to reap, but we don’t want to sow.
A general life principle is that we reap in public what we sow in private. That is, the practices we spend time cultivating in private often have public implications. For example, someone who spends hours watching movies in private will probably be the guy at the party quoting the movie to his friends (who mostly won’t get his jokes).
As it goes with movie watching, so it goes with Scripture memory, private prayer, Bible reading, singing, and all of the biblically prescribed postures of worship. If you never cultivate a heart for God in private by spending time in his Word then you will probably have difficulty valuing a sermon preached on the weekend. If you never cultivate a heart that responds to God in worship on Wednesday morning then what we do on Sundays will mostly seem foreign to you. Think about it like this: at most, we spend 2 hours per week in gathered worship. That’s about 1% of our week. It’s hard to believe that 1% of our week will be sufficient to shape the other 99%.
J.C. Ryle once wrote how most people in public worship looked to be “taking up a fresh thing.” What an indictment! The people of God gather to hear his Word preached, sing his praise, encourage the other believers, and give a brilliant testimony to the watching world, and yet, we look to be attempting it for the first time. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that my flame for God is small is that I don’t spend the time during the week stoking the coals.
The Bible is full of examples of this pattern of private action affecting public action. Take Psalm 40:1-3:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
A few things worth noting in this Psalm that fuel private worship:
The God of the universe hears and listens to us in Christ Jesus
The Lord responds by rescuing us “from the pit of destruction.” Our deliverance has come through the person of Jesus.
The Lord puts a new song in of praise to God in our mouths. The Christian has been given a song that serves the mission. The song is the means by which many see the glory of God and respond in faith.
For these things to fuel our relationship with God, and our worship of him, we must spend time reflecting on them. We must call to mind his deliverance. We must remember that we were all in the pit of destruction before he came to our help. We must remember that the new song serves the mission. Then, in private, we must respond in worship. We must sow.
Private worship affects public worship. But, the reverse is also true: Public worship also affects and informs private worship. That’s part 2...