I respect Rick Warren, so I have no desire to be critical of his suggestion that “You only get out of Worship what you put into it.” He encourages people to spend Saturday in prayer about Sunday morning. He asks them to lay all criticism of the preacher and the choir and the other church members at the door when they arrive. He advises that all worshipers bring pen and paper to take notes during the sermon. And, he continues, they should then have Sunday lunch with other people from church and discuss what they got out of the service. Great advice! Love it! Thank you, Rick! However....
Again, not to critique (as he does many outstanding things), but what if there is a bit of flawed logic in his thesis? Or, at least, what if his thesis leaves out the most important part of the equation? What if it’s not true that you only get out of Worship what you put into it? What if the most important thing in Worship is what God puts into it?
Sometimes it is when we are least prepared and most needy (least reverent and most empty, least ready and most raw) that God surprises us in a Worship service which we didn’t even want to attend. Sometimes God catches our attention when we’re not paying attention. Sometimes God deals with us when we don’t even know how to deal with ourselves, let alone with God.
You wouldn’t believe how many times across the years I have heard someone say, “I didn’t want to be at church this morning because I’m just so tired. But, my wife insisted, and then you started talking about when Jesus said, `Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ I was meant to be here today.”.... Or, “I didn’t feel like coming this morning because I’m struggling with grief. But then you preached about Jesus’ words, `I am the resurrection and the life,’ and I knew I was meant to be here.” I could trot out countless illustrations of that, as could any preacher. And it’s never about anything I had to say, but instead is always about what God had in store for someone who came to church unprepared and even unwillingly. As we’ve heard all our lives, often the Lord does move in mysterious ways. Sometimes something happens that catches us off guard, something we weren’t ready for or planning on, and our lives shift. A window of the soul opens unexpectedly and light floods in. An alternative path appears that wasn’t on our spiritual GPS, and we find a road to wholeness that we didn’t know existed. And none of it had to do with our being prepared or seeking God out. All of it had to do with God being compassionate and seeking us out.
I think Rick Warren’s suggestions have merit. People who prepare for church display a faith and earnestness that positions them for a meaningful experience. But, I also think that even when we’re not prepared, we still need to make the effort to attend. Let it be a “Ready or not, here I come” thing. Because sometimes, even when we’re not ready, if we merely place ourselves in the company of God’s people, God surprises us with blessings we hadn’t anticipated. Often we get out of Worship what God puts into it.