Lutheran Witness — Worship for the Weary

Here is yet another excellent article found on Lutheran Witness The View from Here written by Rev Tim Pauls. You can subscribe to the Lutheran Witness here. You can also follow LW on facebook here.


Worship for the Weary

by Tim Pauls

I’m all for hearty praise, good feelings and new insight in worship, but if these are lacking, it doesn’t mean the service is a bust.

I offer the hypothetical of a parishioner who is fighting cancer. Given his illness and the withering effects of chemotherapy, he’s low on energy of all kinds. He feels no joy and dozes during the sermon. But then he receives the Lord’s Supper, and so he goes home confident that he remains a forgiven child of God. For one near death, there’s no better assurance.

Replace that hypothetical with the grieving new widow or parents trying to teach small children to sit still in the pew. For all sorts of reasons, Christians are weary bunch. They’re tempted or prevented from focusing in worship as they should, but because of the Lord’s work in His Word and Sacraments, they can still be certain that He forgives them.

recent article entitled “Survey: Half of churchgoer’s lives not affected by time in pews” summarized a study in which 46 percent of churchgoing Americans reported that their lives have not changed due to their church attendance. Additionally, only 44 percent feel God’s presence in church every week, and a full 60 percent could not remember a significant new insight from their last visit to church. The article describes this as “a finding sure to disappoint pastors.”

Personally, I’m more concerned about the survey. Its methodology and specific questions aren’t available, nor are its results particularly useful. Consider those who complain of little insight: It’s quite possible they are hearing poor preaching. But it’s equally possible that many don’t consider good preaching to be insightful because they’re looking for another message.

Or consider those who apparently don’t feel God’s presence every week. In many churches, a sense of God’s presence is reduced to emotional feeling, as in, “I feel Jesus in my heart.” But God isn’t present because we feel Him. He’s present because He says He’s in His means of grace, whether we feel Him or not.

Remember the hypothetical cancer patient, widow and young parents I mentioned before. Because of their circumstances, all would likely say their lives hadn’t changed because of worship; they didn’t feel God’s presence, and they derived little new insight. But all of them could also say that they were certain that God was present and that they were forgiven there. It is certain because God says so, not because they feel it. What comfort!

I remember a mother remarking, “With little kids, I don’t hear much between the Invocation and the Benediction, but thanks to the Supper, I know I’ve received forgiveness.” God grant to preachers sermons that are packed with insightful Law and Gospel, and God grant to churchgoers freedom from distractions and thirst for the pure Word. But where matters are less than ideal because of sin or circumstance, God grant faith that acknowledges His presence and grace anyway, according to His promises. There’s no better comfort for the weary.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Lutheran Witness — Worship for the Weary — 9 Comments

  1. “A recent article entitled “Survey: Half of churchgoer’s lives not affected by time in pews” summarized a study in which 46 percent of churchgoing Americans reported that their lives have not changed due to their church attendance. Additionally, only 44 percent feel God’s presence in church every week, and a full 60 percent could not remember a significant new insight from their last visit to church.”

    You know, it suddenly struck me that *one* of the problems here is that folks view attendance at the Divine Service like I have to fight viewing my efforts to get back into shape by running. “Half of joggers’ lives not affected by time pounding the pavement.” “46 percent of running Americans report disappointment that they didn’t lose 5 pounds after jogging 2 miles.” “Only 44 percent feel the runner’s high each time they hit the streets, and a full 60 percent report that their waistband is no looser now than when they started running 1 week ago.”

    Now how was it that I learned the value, yea, even the *necessity* of weekly attendance? Hmm. 1. By my parents doing it themselves (and yes, I had an “unfair” advantage in that my dad was a pastor–I thank our dear Father I had that “unfair advantage!), and 2. By my dear mother simply making us; and then 3. both of them teaching me (and my sisters) that this is simply the life the Christian leads.

    We don’t measure the Truth of the Truth based on visible results. *However,* I know with all human reasonable assuredness that my life would be *tremendously* different had I not grown up being gathered with the Body in the Presence of our Lord every single week, the only exceptions being those times I was sick.

  2. And thanks be to God for a memorizable Liturgy, so that even when there are distractions galore, or when your eyes grow too dim to see the hymnal’s pages, the Words are still there.

  3. Tim P. made some very fine comments. However, I am sure the survey somewhat reflects what happens in the pew in many churches on Sunday morning. The sermon is the same message. But we have to remember, the gospel does not change, and neither does the law. Many people only half hear anything that is said, and many don’t listen at all. I’m sure there are churches that are full of nonsense and actually nothing meaningfull is said at all. Considering the wide variety of experiences in churches on Sunday morning in America, its my humble opinion, we can learn nothing from this survey.

  4. The survey clearly asked something along the lines of whether one’s life was changed / one felt Gods presence / one gained significant insight. The survey seems to have been formulated by Joel Osteen. Some of my weariness is of having Christian life defined in this way.

    Then there is the weariness of seeing interpretations from unqualified sources regarding misapplied metrics getting headlines as if they had any significance.

  5. @Rev. David Mueller #1
    To summarize my (in retrospect) somewhat rambling thoughts in #1: As others have said, *who cares* what the poll said! We are being formed by the Divine Service–by the Forgiveness of Sin. We are being effected as Christians, not affected. 🙂 So when our churches “evangelize” we must not do the market-driven thing that is ruled by “You only get one shot at a potential customer; make it count!”, but invite folks to come and be formed by Christ, precisely by forgiveness/justification, week in and week out.

  6. This post summarizes well a major contributing factor to why I converted to Lutheranism last year. I was sick of the power in worship depending on our technique, and wanted to just be able to encounter God regardless of the level of personal zeal I was able to summon. As an evangelical worship leader, I just felt so empty getting up in front of Southern Baptist congregations, encouraging them to be joyful and participate when I personally felt anything but. Now that I’m in a Lutheran church, I can be confident that I will encounter God even when all I have to bring to the experience is my brokenness and sin. I no longer dread Sunday mornings as a time where I grovel in hopes of my offering being accepted, but joyfully come prepared to be refreshed by God’s self giving. I can have confidence now that, no matter how bad my music, how weak the sermon, are how many other things I can criticize about the service, Jesus still comes and blesses me. I leave church now, after serving in two services, feeling energized, refreshed, rejuvenated, and excited about being freely accepted and forgiven by God. I no longer fear the consequence of my sin on my ability to connect with God because the pastor gives me absolution at the beginning. I no longer expect music to emotionally manipulate people into feeling like they are in the presence of transcendence; rather, I am content to let God’s own words, by His Spirit, do the heavy lifting. And the only thing that perplexes me to no end is that the people in the pews next to me often have no idea of how good they’ve got it. Maybe Billy Graham was right to call the LCMS a sleeping giant…

  7. @Miguel #6
    TO BE SURE, what you say so eloquently there, Miguel, is no excuse for sloppy preaching on the part of us pastors!
    Also, what you said exemplifies the proper order (which applies to pretty much all of the Faith). *1st* comes our dear Lord’s objective Gift in the Divine Service, which we can count on no matter how we “feel”, but then, it’s not wrong or unnatural that you “feel energized, refreshed, rejuvenated….” You just don’t count on those feelings as the *proof* that God has forgiven you in His objective Means. That’s how it is with all of sanctification–it’s all God’s gracious work which He accomplishes by Justification.

  8. Thank-you for this posting.

    fwiw: it reminded me of one my favorite sermon illustrations. Quite a number of years ago, in a British Christian magazine, a man wrote to the editor that he heard in his many years of going to church thousands of sermons and he could not remember a one: so he wrote, why bother with preaching? Before the internet, this produced an avalanche of letters to the editor. Then one gentlemen wrote this: “My wife and I have been married for 36 years. I probably have eaten some 12, 000 plus of her dinners. And for the life of me, I can not remember one menu of one dinner right now, but I am sure that without her cooking, I would have starved along time ago.” That settled the matter. Sure, he probably on some evenings said, That was great, my dear, because it was. Other times, he judiciously kept the comments to himself. And his wife probably did her best as that was her calling…and she also never tried to poison him!

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