PREPARING ONES HEART TO WORSHIP GOD
May 1, 1997
by Billy Orten
"Five months and seven days have passed since last I walked through these heavy oak doors at Conway. Everything has changed so much," I remember thinking as Christy helped me up the steps for Lords Day worship exactly three months after my transplant. Indeed, the year had changed from 96 to 97. The August heat had turned into February chill. Most of all, though, I had changed from that sick man who then faced the months ahead with fear and dread to a man who could now anticipate each day with renewed faith and a strong hope.
With pounding heart I stepped across the threshold to the strains of "Amazing Grace," the opening song. We had deliberately arrived late and thus missed the first prayer. We sat down on folding chairs in the vestibule behind everyone else, and I wore a surgical mask. (Dr. Hakim had given me permission to attend worship only if I took precautions to avoid contacting any infections. Being at risk because my immune system was functioning at less than 25 percent, I had agreed to follow Dr. Hakims orders.)
I was trembling as heads turned and happy eyes welcomed me. Tears rolled down my cheeks as Joey smiled encouragingly and his two baby girls stared curiously at their Pappy whom they had not been allowed to visit. "Can you believe were really here" Peggy leaned over and whispered to me.
The Lords Day worship has always been very important to me as it is to all Christians. From the time of my obedience to the gospel in 1944 until the day I entered Willis Knighton in September of 1996, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had missed worship.
When I had checked myself into the hospital September 4th, knowing I was "banished" from home, family, and friends to live on Fifth Floor East until my transplant or my death, I felt the most intense loneliness I had ever experienced. I thought of John, who had also been banished to the rocky, barren island of Patmos in 95 A.D. for preaching about Christ. Located about twenty miles off the coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea, Patmos had been used by the Roman government as a holding ground for criminals, and it was on this lonely, desolate island that John received the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelations and wrote in chapter one, verse ten, "I was in the Spirit on the Lords Day." My empathy for John grew as this verse took on a new and more profound meaning for me. During my hospital stay, there were times when I was too sick to realize what day of the week it was. However, when I was conscious and alert, my spirit was in communion with all my brothers and sisters as you worshipped. As I watched the clock from my hospital bed at 10:30 a.m., I thought of you as you began to sing. At 11:00 a.m., I was with you during the preaching. At 11:30 A.M., I communed with you in spirit.
In his commentary (Vol. VIII, p. 536), Mr. Ellicott says being in the Spirit on the Lords Day is "a condition in which the mind is so caught up in the contemplation of things spiritual that it is abstracted from the immediate consciousness of earthly forms of life." Johns body was there on Patmos, but his mind was else where. It is likely that Johns mind and spirit were with his brothers and sisters on the mainland as they came together for worship.
Brothers and Sisters, no sacrifice is too great for you to be present at the Lords Supper. Maybe you can not know this until the opportunity has been taken away from you Think about it! What a privilege we have to be present with the Lord! After instituting this memorial at the conclusion of the last Passover meal, Jesus said to his disciples, "I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (Luke 22:29-30).
What a privilege! Yet it is also a command. Look at John 6:56-57, "Then Jesus said unto them, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in Him." Jesus is very plain. If we do not worship each Lords Day, we are spiritually dead and doomed!
Read in Matthew 26, "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples saying, Take, eat; this is my body. And He took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, All of you drink of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Jesus clearly identifies the bread and fruit of the vine of communion as His body and blood. Brothers and Sisters, we need this supper to keep contact with the flesh and blood of our Lord. I emphasize this as I read again in
I Corinthians 10:16, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ."
There is a second way we partake of the flesh and blood of our Lord. (The context of John 6:63 shows that studying the Word of God is also partaking of His flesh and Benoit Holloway talked about "Jesus, Our CEO," he focused on the leadership qualities of our Savior and urged us to react to every situation as Jesus would. Enthralled, I marvelled at the wisdom and self-control of Jesus in His confrontations with Satan and the religious "righteous" and the compassion of Jesus in His encounters with the lost, the tax collectors and prostitutes. I needed to be reminded of Jesuss life, for He came to earth not only to die for us but also to show us how we are to live here if we want to live eternally in Heaven.
"This is what I've looked forward to; this is where I've prayed to be!" I thanked my God as I sat there in the worship service, present in body as well as spirit February 9, 1997, as so very many of you had prayed so many times for me. Never before had being with my brothers and sisters meant so much to me! My joy overflowed when I was given the privilege of serving at the Lords Table.
Brethren, I believe the entire service, especially the communion, was so special to me because of the preparation I had made for that occasion. Banished to Willis Knighton and deprived for so long, I had anticipated being with my Christian family for weeks. I craved this reunion with all my heart! Brothers and sisters, every Lords Day worship should be just that special for us if we prepare our hearts for worship. Is this not what Paul writes to us in I Corinthians 11:28-29, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lords body." We must get our minds right before we come to worship.
Sitting with each other and our Lord around His Table as we eat His body and drink His blood, remembering the pain and humiliation he suffered for us, should be the high point of our week. How can we prepare for such a great, holy occasion? We can get our minds on spiritual things before we come! Plan your work so that Sunday is a day of refreshment for your body, soul, and spirit. God made the Israelites rest on the Sabbath Day (Saturday). Brothers and Sisters, let us at least give Sunday morning to the Lord and our spiritual man. Sisters, leave part of the Sunday dinner preparation until you get back from church. Take the hours before worship to meditate on the Word. Be calm and rested and at peace in your mind when you come paper until later and spend the hours before worship in reading and prayer. Let us give ourselves some time away from the violence, greed, and immorality of Satans Kingdom to do as the apostle tells us in Philippians 4:8, "Think on things that are true, lovely, noble, pure, just, and of good report."
A perfect ending to a perfect day was mine when I joined my brothers and sisters whom I had not seen in months at Fairviews evening worship. The eager, loving welcome of my spiritual family there was evident in the capacity crowd assembled. Again I sat apart. Again I was masked, but nothing distracted from my joy as Brother Glen Post solicitously assisted me into the pulpit for my 20 minute "victory" homecoming address. We cried together, not with the sadness of the months of "walking through the valley and shadow of death" but with the joy of reaching the other side, the joy akin to the joy of being reunited in Heaven. I saw proof of our discipleship in loving preparations made for my well-being, even to Brad Posts bringing my warmed car to the front door for my departure. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death" (I John 3:14).
Why not make every Lords Day as spiritually uplifting and joyous as February 9th was for me? We can do that by making special effort to prepare our minds. Try spending the hours before worship in quiet meditation and reading and prayer for just one month. See if the services can, indeed, become a greater blessing to you As the recipient of your prayers and Gods blessing of life, I urge that the Lords Day worship service become the pinnacle of your week! I believe your whole week will be better.
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