Friday, May 21, 2010

You Don't Inspire People by Aiming at Inspiring Them

I've heard (and read) many individuals talk (and write) about the goals of the Sunday morning gathering of believers as a church. One of the things I've heard thrown around a lot is that people want their worship services to be "inspiring." By the end of the service, they want their congregations walking out of their pews inspired.

I came across that thought again recently at about the same time I was finishing up a biographical project on Jonathan Edwards. During that time, I read the following passage from biographer George Marsden's A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Marsden is discussing Edwards's thought on the nature of the new birth and its effect on the Christian life. This presentation of a God-centered worldview seemed in my mind to grate against the notion of aiming at having "inspiring" worship services. From page 138:

“The Holy Spirit works in sinners so that, rather than being blinded to higher things by their love of self and fleeting pleasures, they see the beauty of the light of God’s love. They are given ‘eyes to see’ and are transformed or regenerated – ‘born again.’ This transformation is not merely a change in understanding, but also a change in one’s affections, or in what one values and loves. One has a sort of ‘new sense’ of God’s glory, beauty, and love, and that exhilarating sensibility reshapes the priorities of what else one loves. Spiritually transformed people respond to God’s love by loving first of all what God loves, or all that is good. In other words, the transformation of one’s most essential personal relationship revolutionizes how one relates to the rest of reality.”
So this means that Christians, whom leaders are trying to "inspire," are only truly inspired and affected by the beauty of the glory of Jesus Christ. At conversion, the Christian's loves change. "Spiritually transformed people respond to God's love by loving first of all what God loves." And, dear friends, if there's any point that I've tried to hammer home on this blog it is that God loves Himself, chiefly, and first of all. And all of His love for us is merely an outpouring, or even a side effect, of His love for Himself.

Therefore, if we pastors and church leaders want to make our worship services more inspiring,
we will fail if we aim at the needs and preferences and tastes of fallen man. If we're asking the question, "What can we do in our worship services to inspire our people?" we're asking the wrong question. We should be asking, "What can we do differently or more effectively in our worship services to magnify and exalt the name of God above all things, such that His glory is immediately perceivable to all in our midst?" And that is because the way to inspire Christians is not to aim at them, per se, but to aim at the glory of God above all things --- because that is what regenerated people most love and are most affected by.

And this kind of thing -- that is, loving people by not aiming at them, but at God -- is Biblical. This is precisely how God loves us: He demonstrates how amazing He is by being entirely won by the beauty of His own perfections. Therefore,
we love people by demonstrating that very same thing. We, by our actions -- that is, our radical, unilateral commitment to the glory of God above all things -- demonstrate to the household of faith and to a watching world that God is supremely worthy.

It is
that vision of a supremely worthy God that inspires the regenerated person. Aim at anything lower, and you'll fail.

John Owen says it better than anyone can:
Let us live in the constant contemplation of the glory of Christ, and virtue will proceed from Him to repair all our decays, to renew a right spirit within us, and to cause us to abound in all duties of obedience… It will fix the soul unto that object which is suited to give it delight, complacency, and satisfaction… when the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and his glory, when the soul thereon cleaves unto him with intense affections, they will cast out, or not give admittance unto, those causes of spiritual weakness and indisposition… And nothing will so much excite and encourage our souls hereunto as a constant view of Christ and His glory; everything in Him hath a constraining power hereunto, as is known to all who have any acquaintance with these things.
So, you who seek to make your worship services more inspiring for your people, stop fooling around with everything except that thing which is deliberately designed by God to delight and satisfy the souls of your people: the glory of Christ. Nothing will so much excite and encourage their souls as a constant view of Christ and His glory.

Proclaim Him.

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