My Dear Shepherds,
I was taught that Sunday is the day of rest, which meant we weren’t supposed to work. A church lady once chewed me out when I mentioned that I was going home after the evening service to do my homework. It seems that now believers have looser convictions. And pastors have often found the day-of-rest thing a bit tricky.
An old minister in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead, set in a tiny Iowa town in the 1950s, says,
Sometimes I loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it. (p. 20)
Personally, I never found Sundays to be peaceful, but they do offer a unique kind of rest. We occasionally sing Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship,” with the line “It’s all about you, Jesus. It’s all about you.” I certainly resonate with that, but I think Jesus would push back gently, “Actually, when you gather together it’s also about you.” After all, we’re together because Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We meet on Sundays at Jesus’ invitation.
The rest Jesus gives doesn’t require a silent sanctuary. Our souls rest when we pray or hear Scripture, when we take Communion together and enjoy one another’s company. Our singing can especially be God’s pick-me-up for weary souls. Psalm 92 is the only psalm specifically identified as “For the Sabbath Day.” This Day-of-Rest song begins,
It is good to praise the Lord
and make music to your name, O Most High, …
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
Our God-satisfied souls make beautiful music together. That’s why Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The worship of God’s spiritually-rested people calms and quiets our brothers and sisters who come agitated and weary.
The danger in our worship services is that they can be so busy, juiced up on energy, motivation, and action plans. Some services I’ve been in waste time with unimportant stuff while others are planned down to every word and minute. A worship service isn’t a production. There needs to be space enough for grace and love to get up and walk around, quiet enough to hear our own hearts and the voice of God, and roomy enough to drop wearisome burdens and shoulder the gentle yoke of Jesus. People can’t do those things in a hurry, squeezed in somewhere between song sets and the sermon.
Give God’s people some quiet space on Sunday mornings but that quiet needs to be filled by the Spirit of God or it’s just empty, fidgety silence—dead air. Ask people to put down their phones, close their eyes, be still (relax, sink down) and know that our LORD Almighty is God.
Imagine putting up large signs in your church foyer pointing toward your worship service that read:
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” -Jesus
Plan services under the Spirit’s direction that make that invitation come to life. People will go home thinking, “God was really among us!” and pastors saying to themselves, “It was like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain.”
Be ye glad!