Peace Through Worship
[Editor: the following was originally published over two weeks as worship notes for the RCUS congregation at Christ Reformed Church in Casper, WY]
Peace Through Worship, Part One
The continuing reality of sin in the believer’s life is a difficult part of our present existence. As believers, we have acknowledged the abhorrence of sin, realized its terrible consequences, and affirmed that it deserves death. All of the comfortable illusions that the unbeliever can enjoy about not being as bad as the other guy have been stripped away; yet our sin remains, and the awareness of it is painful. Some Christians will act as if a certain amount of moral improvement is required of them or else their justification will be revoked. Others have difficulty ever really believing they are truly forgiven. Others will try to make the forgiveness of sins the whole of the gospel and ignore all the Scripture’s calls to repentance and change, which is only a recipe for an even fiercer attack of guilt and despair in the future.
When we come before the Lord in worship, we are immediately reminded, at the very beginning of the worship, of the grace and peace of God. We are greeted by the salutation, “Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are at peace with God because of Christ, and that peace can never be taken away from us. We can forget about it for a time. We can lose the experience of its comfort during periods of our lives. But “He that has begun a good work in you will complete it to the day of salvation.” A Biblical worship service will be filled with reminders of God’s grace to us, His forgiveness of our sins, and His love for His children.
But peace is not found through a mere promise of absolution. Receiving the forgiveness of sins means surrendering to the grace of God and committing ourselves to following Christ. The presence of the Spirit of God working the grace of God within us is what gives us confidence that we really are in Christ, and really are forgiven, and really have a claim to the peace of the gospel. Thus, the claims of the law to our obedience and repentance are indispensable to the peace that the gospel promises. It is grace and peace with which we are greeted in the worship of God. One of the reasons the Heidelberg Catechism tells us to do good works is that we may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof (#86).
So in worship we hear the promise of God for forgiveness of sins and the call of God to walk with Him in faith. We receive instruction in the truth of God, to guide us to understanding what we were created to be, and as we see the fruits of that change in our lives, we are assured that God’s promise to us is actually true.
The rest of the week we will be constantly assaulted with fears that we’re missing out, that we’re not doing good enough, that some imminent disaster will befall us, that we’re not as pretty or as rich or as successful or as important as someone else with better publicists than us, that the key to success is some perfect combination of diet and exercise and self-help techniques. We will be attacked with guilt and despair over our own repeated failures, bitterness and anger over the failures of others, fear and worry over the uncertainty of life.
But it is the awareness of the wrath of God against sin in the background of our consciousness that fuels all of these assaults, and through the gospel we know that the curse of the law is gone, the wrath of God is satisfied, and the love of God is ours. He has called us sweetly to Himself in forgiveness, to learn and to walk in His ways, to fellowship with Him and His people, and we need to be continually reminded and instructed in these precious truths. Gather together in worship, people of God, and receive the peace that only walking with God can give us. Grace to you and peace.
Peace Through Worship, Part 2
Ebola, ISIS, gay marriage, war in the Middle East, War in Eastern Europe, cultural decay, economic troubles and government mismanagement at home. It seems like everything is falling apart.
The headlines can be very scary. In addition to the things we see in the news, we all have our own personal problems- financial problems, conflict in our families, health struggles, career challenges. With all these disturbing and frightening problems being shoved in our face every day, it’s easy to lose sight of God’s promises, to become agitated and anxious in our hearts and minds.
It is very valuable to be reminded each week that God is our refuge and strength. If we’re out in the wilderness, the threat of bandits or wild animals might set our hearts racing, but when we retreat behind the walls of the castle such threats no longer worry us. Worship reminds us that we’re always in the castle! It’s only the lies of the devil that make us feel vulnerable. It’s like having a terrible nightmare of being chased by some unseen horror, only to wake up safe in your own bed. We are always in the will of God; His providence governs everything that happens, and everything that happens is working our blessing and salvation. So we can be confident and safe.
Not that there will never be pains and sorrows in this life, of course. We will at times walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and that suffering is real. But we can be confident of God’s purpose, and confident of the outcome. Thus we can be faithful, and live in terms of the present reality of the kingdom of God. We can love our neighbors, raise our families, work our trades, be honest citizens. We can do all of that and know that God will work His will through us. Our success is guaranteed-not because of our own strength or good character, but because of His providence. We must define success rightly, though. Success is not the achievement of our earthly goals and plans, but the accomplishment of His purposes in our lives and through our lives, of advancing His gospel, of showing forth His glory, of demonstrating His truth to the world, and bringing all His people home to Himself.
In the world, we won’t hear a lot of that. Most of our co-workers probably don’t know or believe those things. Our families may or may not. Politicians will not encourage you to think along those lines, but will fill you with fear that every election is the most important one ever, and the victory of the other side will be the end of the world as we know it, so open your wallets today! Our mass media and culture wants you agitated, riled up, worried, living in fear of all the wrong things, even while they sing you to sleep regarding the One you should actually fear. Our own sins plague and discourage us, and provide opportunities for Satan to further attack and terrify us.
We need reminding. Coming into the presence of the Lord, resting in His promises, receiving His forgiveness, and singing His praises reminds us that He is a rock and a fortress, and in Him we cannot be moved. Feeding at His table reminds us of where our life really comes from. The church has survived every attempt to destroy it, has overcome every plot to corrupt and divide it, has defeated every desperate attempt to deny its advance—for its power and life comes from Christ.
I remember sitting in high school basketball games with our team down by thirty points and minutes left on the clock, and watching the cheerleaders vainly try to boost the crowd’s morale- “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!” We all knew better. The powers of the world vainly puff themselves up and ridicule and demean the church of Jesus Christ. “Let us break His bands asunder!” But the gates of hell will not prevail. Every year there are more Christians. Today the gospel has deeply penetrated lands where Christ was utterly unknown a hundred years ago. Every day more of His sheep are brought home to Him where no harm can ever come to them. No weapon formed against Christ will prosper. Come into the presence of the Lord, in the fellowship of His saints, and be reminded that He is the King, and He is a mighty shield against all the terrors of life.
Rev. Matt Powell