Are Our Hearts Far from Him?
One of our aims in using a consistent order of service is that we would learn to worship with and through the liturgy rather than think about the liturgy. This, of course, will take time. What’s more it will take teaching. That’s one of the things we hope to accomplish in these exhortations. We want to periodically take time to think about the mechanics of worship, so that we regularly don’t think about the mechanics at all. We want to think about mechanics for the same reason that a major league baseball batter works on his swing: so that when they get in the game, they don’t think about their swing at all; instead they just try to hit the ball.
The first step in our worship is the call to worship or the invitation. While Jonathan was the mouthpiece, the true host here is God himself. God is the one who takes the initiative to invite us into worship. This call to worship includes those initial prayers and songs and Scripture that we just did.
The second step in our worship is the confession of sins. We are sinners all, and we want to remember and address our sins as we come before God. That’s why we include this brief exhortation in our service. The goal of these exhortations is twofold. On the one hand, we want to admonish and exhort each other. We want to speak to various concrete issues in the church during these brief moments, and we speak to them so that we all might be truly spurred on to love and good deeds. At the same time, these exhortations, these concrete commands are a direct reminder of how far we fall short. They are a reminder of our sin and our need to confess.
And so, in a moment, we’ll have a time of corporate confession, followed by a moment of silence for private confession, and followed by a song expressing our grief and lament over our sins and failures. But we can’t leave it at confession and grief. We are, after all, gospel people, the People of the Good News. And so at the end of our confession, we want to remind ourselves of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness to forgive us our transgressions. And so the second step is capped by the Assurance of Pardon. That Assurance will culminate each week in the following statement:
Leader: By the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!
I’ll speak to the rest of our liturgy in the sermon in the moment. For now, even thinking about the mechanics of worship is a good reminder that it is possible to honor God with our lips and our liturgy, and yet for our hearts to remain far from him. And this reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let us go before him together now.
Our Father and God, we are a men and women of unclean lips and we dwell among a people of unclean lips. You have called the nations to worship you in spirit and in truth, to worship you with reverence and awe, to come before you with hearts aflame for your great renown. And yet the peoples of the earth have gone their own way, exchanging your glory for that which does not profit. You call all men to walk in your ways, and we are prone to wander. You seek worshipers in this city, and its people refuse your advances. You pour out your mercies on this earth daily, and its inhabitants ignore you. We confess these are great evils.
What’s more, as your covenant people, we are complicit in this ignorance. Your greatness and love and mercy are unchanging and unending, but our response to you is often weak, meager, and numb. And so we seek your forgiveness for our slowness of heart, our hardness of heart, our dullness of heart. What’s more, we know that from our slow, hard, and dull hearts flow all manner of sin and wickedness. Our thoughts, our attitudes, our words, our actions—all of these are tainted by wrong worship. And so we pray that you would pour out your Spirit upon us that that we might hallow your name, that great praise would flow from sincere hearts.
We know, Father, that if we in the Church regard sin in our own midst, or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. And so we confess our individual sins to you now.
Christ was pierced for your transgressions. Christ was crushed for your iniquities. Here is your foundation. Here is your refuge. Here is your only hope. You have confessed your sins. You have acknowledged your iniquity. This itself is a work of grace, and the only way to top it is with more grace.
Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!