What do you expect when you go to church on Sabbath? Consciously or not, we all anticipate something.
I crave coming to church to connect with God. This is what I want—fresh wind in my sails. God intended for us to be in fellowship, to gather and interact and worship together; but first we come to have fellowship with God Himself.
We sometimes talk about what we get from church. In a self-centered way, it could mean thinking as a consumer of church. If I came here to get something and I didn’t get it, I’m not a happy consumer.
When it comes to worship and fellowship, however, consumer thinking is a path to dissatisfaction. Why? Because if we’re always looking for what we can get, sooner or later we’ll be disappointed.
A few years ago a friend of mine went to work for an Adventist Church organization overseas. Eventually he returned to the U.S. and got another job within the church organization. Soon after his return, we were talking on the phone about a local church where he might attend. I was taken aback when he said he had visited a couple churches and didn’t get anything from them. He added that if he didn’t get what he wanted at a church, he wouldn’t go back.
I gently questioned this idea to see if he really meant that for him church was about getting what you want. It turned out that that was indeed what he meant. We talked about it some more, and I suggested that maybe it wasn’t biblical or spiritually advisable to judge the experience as if he was a consumer of church. I wasn’t able to convince him. He was sure that you go to church to get something, and if the church doesn’t “do it” for you, you move on. I was disappointed by this conversation, to say the least.
I don’t hear people talk this way very often, and I’m glad for that. I think it serves us well to stay away from self-focused thinking, because it is a dead end. So what better expectations are we to have? What are good “habits of thinking” about what we get from the church experience? I call them habits of thinking because over time we have expectations that become a kind of groove in our minds. So what are some good thinking habits, some healthy grooves, for our thinking? Let’s look at six of them.
Sure, we listen to the sermon—those of us who can stay awake. But here’s another way to think of it. We can come into church with our listening already started, and we can listen for God all morning, all day! What might we gain, what blessing might we not miss, if we are in a state of listening the whole time?
Instead of being a consumer, we can operate from a state of faith. In faith, we expect that we will receive from God. This is not our primary reason for being at church, but God always gives rejuvenation and power and blessing and wisdom and encouragement anyway—if we are open to receive these from Him.
I recall times I’ve visited small churches in various places. I used to travel more than I do now, and when I did, I would find an Adventist church. I usually didn’t know anyone there, although, praise the Lord, I have gone to some faraway places and found people I did know.
So I’m the stranger in that church, if we can call it that. But here’s the thing: Every place I happen to be on a Sabbath—whether it’s rural Oregon or a small town in England or wherever—I’m going into God’s house, I go with the joyful expectation that God will be there, that we will fellowship together, and that He will bless me and everyone in that church. This is my expectation.
I have never been disappointed. It has happened every time. I don’t know if all those churches would rank well on the friendliness or welcoming scale, and they may not have expert musicians or eloquent preachers. But everywhere I have attended church, I received an abundant blessing from God just by being in His presence. I can think like a receiver.
Do you ever ask yourself as you go to church,“What can I give today?” I don’t mean returning tithe and giving offering, although that’s always right to do. The question “What can I give today?” is open-ended. If we are ready and willing, God will direct us in how to bless someone on any given Sabbath. Receiving from God is always a blessing. Giving is even better (Acts 20:35).
This is not an obligation. It is rather an intentional opening of our minds to think that if God wants us to give in some way that day—in whatever way—He will show us, and we’ll be ready and glad to do it. He loves cheerful givers (see 2 Cor. 9:7).
At my church we have teams of people who greet worshippers as they come in. Each of these greeters gives us a warm smile and a welcome. This is intentional giving, but you don’t have to be on a team to give at church.
Being a praiser is a conscious state of mind, a way we choose to think. The Sabbath day, and worship service in particular, can be a time we choose to praise God. Do we think about singing the hymn to God while we’re singing? Do we hear the messages of the day and respond with praise to God in our minds? Sometimes we can even let our guard down and say “Amen” out loud.
Joy in Jesus is strength (see Neh. 8:10). I come to church knowing that God will be with us, and I come with faith and intention that we will be blessed. That makes me happy. That’s what I rejoice in every week.
As we step into church on Sabbath, we can let go of the roles and obligations we have carried during the week. On the Sabbath day, think of going on a retreat, and let it all go.
To sum up all these grooves, these expectations of our fellowship with God in worship, we could say that they amount to turning our attention to God Himself. If we turn our conscious thinking toward God when we are in church, as well as to each other and to the events in the service, we will have a soul-refreshing experience—fresh wind in our sails.
Tim Lale is a freelance editor and writer living in Maryland.