Today we are excited to share a guest post by Matthew Craig. He is a pastor at First Christian Church in Scottsburg, IN. You can learn more about his family and ministry at restoreddiscipleship.com
As pastor, I often challenge myself to apply first the words that I’m preaching in my own life and then to those around me… I figure if God is working on my heart – He’s most likely going to work on another heart as well.
He said come to the table, Come join the sinners who have been redeemed, Take your place beside the Savior now, Sit down and be set free — Come to the table
These words are from a song by “Sidewalk Prophets” and it’s called “Come to the Table.” The first time I listened to this song it didn’t really move me, but as I listened to what God was speaking to me through the song – it not only moved me – it challenged me. I didn’t really want to be challenged this week, but God had other plans. I didn’t really have time to just “sit down with Jesus” – I was just too busy! But here is where God began his work on me… Here is where God opened my heart and it’s here that I this week gave way to prepare my heart and make room for some authentic worship and reflection. I’m going to share with you those 4 reflections…
1. Be available for God’s challenge.
Being available for God to challenge us is not an option. As leaders, our hearts and minds must be open to God’s challenge. We must spend the time needed to listen and pray for God to challenge us, transform us, and sharpen us. If we are neither challenged nor transformed – how can we truly lead people in worship or preach the word? If the music or the word does not impact our minds and hearts – what power do we have to speak life into the lives of those in the audience?
I love this quote: “Be the kind of person who dares to face life’s challenges and overcome them rather than dodging them.” As a leader, I must take the time to prepare my heart and take the time to listen to the music, the song, the lyrics and allow them to challenge me and move me closer to Jesus… I need to listen to the words from my Bible and spend the time and be available for them to move me closer to Jesus. If the lyrics or the written word move me not – then maybe I need to refocus and become “available myself” before I attempt to lead others into the presence of God.
2. Be open for God’s provision.
The song says: “This is where grace begins – We were hungry, we were thirsty – With nothing left to give… The song goes on to say that God opened the door and gave us a seat at the table…the question for me… why was I given a seat at the table?
Jesus has given me the opportunity to be filled with His provision through the working of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I sit down at the table – it is that place that I can be refilled and restored. It is the place that I find comfort, peace and strength. At God’s table – I am filled with what I need to love others and live out the gospel. You ask why was I given a seat at the table – I believe it was to experience a closeness that is only found around a table. Most people share about their life (while they are eating of course)… at the table, most people are more relaxed than in other places… at the table, we are given a chance to sit and get away from whatever is pulling at us. What’s my point?
My point is that you need to make time and be open for God’s provision. When you stop running through life like a fast food restaurant you might begin to see the importance of making time to just sit and be filled with some quality food. The 5 minutes we take to pray in the morning, or at night, or right before we lead worship or preach may very well be the equivalent to a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It will get us through the next hour, but it won’t do much for our overall health. Instead, we should as leaders and worshippers carve out some time to just sit at the feet of Jesus and be filled with God’s provision instead of trying to live on fast food. In order to lead people into authentic worship, we must first be willing to take the time and be open to God’s provision. Take some time this week – you might just find that this is truly where “grace begins.”
3. Be willing to sit with “sinners” and not just “saints.”
Mark 2:15-17 (NLT)
15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
“…there is, oddly, a sense of grace given to those who sit in the church pews, that is not extended to those who repose on bar stools.”
As a prepare my heart to preach, I should look around at my own table. Who is sitting at my table? Who am I eating with and sharing life with? Is it those that look like me, talk like me, dress like me, worship like me, believe like me? Who is sitting at my table? If Jesus opens up his table for me – then who am I opening my table up to?
If I’m going to be authentic in my worship and be authentic in my preaching, in my leading – I should understand the importance of God’s Kingdom here now. The Pharisees were concerned with the outer man…with the appearance of goodness and holiness. The Pharisees were consumed by the ordinary things of this world so much that they failed to see the importance of Kingdom principles. Jesus goes to the edges of humanity and finds those that need a doctor. He moves to the extreme edges to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame and even hookers and tax-collectors to take a seat at his table. He eats him them!
As a person who desires to make disciples – I must be willing to sit and eat with sinners. I can’t always surround myself with “saints” – I should do as Jesus did and have an audience of sinners… shouldn’t our pews (or at least our tables) be filled with people who don’t know Jesus… shouldn’t our worship and singing show “sinners” what it means to love Jesus. I’m afraid that we have lost the power of the table… because many who sit around it are not truly comfortable around “this motley crew of misfits”. Who is sitting at your table? Who are you comfortable with?
***editorial note*** – Jesus never condoned the sin of those sitting at the table – nor did he forcefully condemn them… he ate with them and showed them there was a different way… a new way… a freedom like no other… our tables don’t have to be filled with sin… but they might want to include a few sinners.
4. Be willing to “leave it at the door.”
As a preacher, worship leader, disciple – I must learn to leave my “sin and shame that I brought with me” at the door. I can not truly worship; nor can I lead or preach if I’m carrying around the burden of sin and shame. How can I love people who I have a grudge against? How can I challenge people to find peace when I’m on edge and stressed out with life? How can I fill people up with song or word when I’m empty and all I have is guilt. If I choose to hold on to “sin and shame” – It will show up on stage, in the pulpit, and on the platform if I can’t leave it at the door…at the feet of Jesus.
I’m not saying that we need to be perfect (although we should live more like Jesus daily)… I’m not saying to be perfect, but I am suggesting that you need to learn how to lay your burdens down and leave them at the door.
In our world of leading people in worship and word – we must first know that God’s mercy is big enough to cover us. We must be willing to confess our sin – confess our shame – confess our guilt – confess our ego – confess our pride – confess our inability to lean in close to Jesus – confess our self-determined-I-can-do-it-all-myself attitude. I must learn to leave it at the door. As you prepare to lead and worship – don’t let the world of man influence the heart of worship. Don’t let the flesh overtake the power of the Spirit. Prepare your hearts – prepare your minds – and prepare your life. Leave “sin and shame” at the door (Romans 8:1)… just saying!
“As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.” — C. S. Lewis
May our worship and preaching come from a place of unbridled love and compassion for sharing the gospel. May our worship and preaching come from a place of surrender and restoration. May our worship and preaching come from a place that we are “dancing” with Jesus and not from a place of forced ministry and mechanical grace. Today is a new day!