Nehemiah chapters 8 and 9 have often left me amazed. The people of Israel gathered in the square to listen to the reading of God’s Word all morning, and it wasn’t even the more comforting parts of the Bible they heard, but the Law—those chapters that we’re probably tempted to skip when we read through the Bible. They didn’t respond with boredom but with sorrow because of their sin. The next day they held a training conference for the leaders to study the words of the Law, and for the rest of the week they continued listening to the readings. Just a couple weeks later they gathered again and “read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of a day [3 hours]; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God” (9:3 ESV).
I wonder how it would go over in most churches to hold week-long services for the sole purpose of reading chapter after chapter of Leviticus? Or a six-hour worship service? I was a little surprised that The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference last week centered around teaching from Deuteronomy and had good attendance. We tend to have short attention spans when it comes to Scripture reading and teaching. If the sermon goes more than 30 minutes, many church members start checking their watches. Cultural influences certainly play a part. Churches of other cultures often have no such time constraints on their services. We can blame technology and consumerism if we like, but the real problem is hearts that are not attuned to seeking first the Kingdom of God. We don’t hear His Word for us because we don’t really care to listen.
I came across this quote from Jason Meyer in David Mathis’s book Habits of Grace: “The ministry of the word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s word in such a way that people encounter God through his word.” How often do we attend church services with the expectation of encountering God? How often do we show up expecting little more than to sing a few songs and hear to someone talk for a while? How often do we prepare for worship prayerfully and not just run in at the last second?
I would challenge all of us to consider our degree of receptivity to the things of God and our level of engagement in corporate worship. Mathis wrote for Desiring God:
“It’s tragically sad to be apathetic and lazy. Corporate worship is too important not to care. This is the single most important hour in the Christian’s typical week — because here we experience, as in no other weekly habit, the coming together of hearing God’s voice (in his word read and preached), having his ear (in prayer and Godward song), and belonging to his body (in the many corporate aspects before, during, and following our gathering).
“It simply matters too much to our own souls, and to the souls of others, to be content with disengaging, whether our lethargy is emotional and stubborn, or simply the product of consistently not getting enough sleep on Saturday night.”
May we gather expectantly this weekend!
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6).