“Fulfil your vows” (Nahum 1:15).
We’re going to think together about our Church membership vows. These vows can be summarized in five words: Faith, Worship, Devotions, Giving, Witness.
The first vow is the foundation upon which the others are built.
The other four vows are the practical implications of the first vow: our confession of faith.
The first vow emphasizes that there is a faith to be believed, a faith to be confessed: “I believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and I confess Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord.”
We are called to have faith. The Bible calls us to have a personal faith. It is not only the faith of the Church. It is to be my faith. It is to be your faith. Each one of us is to say, “I believe.”
What does it mean to have faith? It means believing something. there is something to be believed. Faith also means trust. When you and I say, “I believe in one God,” we are saying, “I am trusting God, putting my trust in Him.”
The question is asked, “Do you believe in God?” The real issue is not so much the existence of God. The real issue is the importance of God. Many people claim to believe in God’s existence, but it’s very clear that this belief makes no real difference to the way they live their lives.
Do you believe in God? How important is He to you? What difference does He make to your life? These are the practical questions of faith.
“I believe in God.” There are many different ideas of God. What are we to believe concerning Him? Who is the God in whom we are called to put our trust? We are to believe what the Bible teaches us about Him. In the Bible, we have God’s self-description. God tells us what he is like. He reveals Himself to us.
How does God reveal Himself to us? What does the Bible teach us concerning Him? God reveals Himself as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The Bible speaks of this way – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). We cannot fully understand this, but we can believe it. The important question is not so much, “Do we understand it?” It’s “Do we believe it?”
Many people believe in a God who cannot be described – an “unknown god.” The Bible speaks to us of a God who has introduced Himself to us, a God who can be known. At the heart of our faith, there is a Man – “the Man, Christ Jesus.” He is “the one Mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5).
How do we know what God is like? We know Him through Jesus Christ – “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). How do we get to know God? We get to know Him through faith in Jesus Christ.
Who is Jesus Christ? He is our Saviour and Lord.
* He is my Saviour because He is my Lord. Jesus is “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). That’s why He can be my Saviour.
* He is my Lord because He is my Saviour. Those who have trusted Him as Saviour consider it their privilege to submit to Him as their Lord.
At the heart of the Trinity – God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, there is the Man, Christ Jesus. The Father points to Him (Matthew 3:17). The Holy Spirit leads us to Him (John 16:14).
Do you promise to worship regularly, with your fellow Christians, on the Lord’s Day?
Let us worship God. we are called to worship Him. We are to worship Him in “wonder, love and praise.” In our worship, we are to exalt the Lord our God. we are to glorify Him. We are to proclaim His greatness in “humble adoration.” In simple and sincere faith, we are to say to him, “Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever.”
Our worship is concerned with God. The “who” of worship is far more important than the “how” of worship. Who we worship is far more important than how we worship. Before we ask, “What is worship?”, before we ask, “How do we worship?”, we must ask the first question, “Who do we worship?”
To understand what worship is, we need to be clear about worship is not.
* Worship is not superficial emotionalism. We need sound teaching from the Word of God. We need Christ-centred preaching, which strengthens our faith and inspires our worship.
* Worship is not barren intellectualism. We need the moving of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives. We need the power of God, moving among us. If our worship is to be whole-hearted, if we are to grow strong in our praying and strong in our caring, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit.
What is worship?
The question, “What is worship?”, is directly related to the question, “Who is God?”
We learn, from the Bible, what God is like. As we learn what God is like, we learn also how we are to worship Him.
The Bible teaches us that God is holy. The Bible teaches us that God is love. Our worship should focus our attention on the holiness and love of God. There should be reverence, as we enter the presence of the holy God. There should be joy, as we come to the God of love.
(a) We come to the Lord to express our gratitude to Him.
(b) We come to the Lord in fellowship with His people.
(c) We come to the Lord so that we might be changed by Him.
* Expressing our gratitude to the Lord
In Psalm 107, the importance of thanksgiving is emphasized five times.
– “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).
– “Let them thank the Lord, for He is steadfast love, for His wonderful works to the sons of men” (Psalm 107:8,15,21,31).
We worship the Lord with joyful thanksgiving. We worship Him in the fellowship of His people.
Following the last of these calls to give thanks to the Lord, there is, in Psalm 107:32, a call to worship the Lord in the company of His people – “Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly of the elders.”
* What does it mean to worship in the fellowship of His people?
– God speaks of His people as His “remnant”, as the “survivors” (Isaiah 37:32). We live in an age of darkness, a generation in which the vast majority of people have little or no time for God. Even in such an unbelieving age as ours, God still has His faithful people. It is the Lord Himself who gathers His people for worship. It is the presence of God Himself which draws His people to worship. This is more than meeting with one another. We come to meet with the Lord.
– God calls His people to be His witnesses. Before we can be His witnesses, we must be His worshippers. We are to “exalt Him in the assembly of His people” (Psalm 107:32). We are to worship the Lord as those who have been saved by Him. We sing praise to Him who has given His salvation to us (Isaiah 38:20). Our commitment to worship is to be a life-long commitment. We are to worship “all the days of our life at the house of the Lord” (Isaiah 38:20).
* We worship the Lord so that we might be changed by Him. An excellent description of what it means to worship is found in Revelation 1:10 – “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.”
When John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” he became a changed man. How was he changed? He was changed in the presence of the Spirit. He was changed through the hearing of God’s Word. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” In the presence of the Spirit, John heard the Word of the Lord, and he was changed. We, too, can be changed by the Spirit and the Word. Through the Spirit, the “parched ground” of our lives can become the “flowing springs” of His blessing (Psalm 107:35). As God’s Word is sown into the hearts of men and women, it yields a fruitful harvest (Psalm 107:37) – “By His blessing they multiply greatly” (Psalm 107:38). This is God’s purpose for us. It’s His purpose of blessing.
Together, with His purpose of blessing, there is a warning. It is a warning addressed to those who do not take seriously the call to worship God. It is addressed to those who are content with formal religion, those who have no real desire to be “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Where the Lord is not honoured, “rivers” will be turned into “a desert,” “springs of water” will be turned into “thirsty ground,” “a fruitful land” will be turned into “a salty waste” (Psalm 107:33-34). Why does this happen? It is a judgment of God upon the wickedness of men (Psalm 107:34). How does it happen? – “They are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow” (Psalm 107:39).
* Whatever your response to the Word of the Lord, you will be changed. Either you will draw closer to Him, or you will draw back from Him. Which will it be? Drawing closer to Him or drawing back from Him?
Psalm 107 ends with some words of challenge: “Whoever is wise, let him give heed to these things, let men consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” In view of the Lord’s great love, will you not confess your need of Him? – Lord, my life is “a desert,” “a parched land” (Psalm 107:35). Will you not invite Him to meet your need? – Lord, turn the “desert into springs of water, the parched land into springs of water” (Psalm 107:35).
“Do you promise to be faithful in reading the Bible and in prayer?”
Religion can make you immune to reality. You can get so used to a form of religion, which is comfortable, that you fail to hear the voice of the Lord. His voice is the only voice which can awaken you and bring you out of the slumber of shallow superficiality.
Are you prepared to take Jesus Christ seriously? Are you prepared to break out from the comfortable atmosphere of shallow, superficial religion? Are you ready to be gripped by the Spirit of God? Will you read the Word of God with a real desire to be changed by the Lord? Will you seek God in prayer with an earnest desire to become more like Jesus day-by-day?
These are searching questions. They take us beyond the superficial questions – “Do you go to church?”, “Do you like the minister’s preaching?” These questions are inviting you to think about your relationship with God. Are you content to remain a spiritual ‘baby’, to be spoon fed by the minister?
God wants us to go on with Him. He wants us to grow in faith. He wants us to grow in our love for Him. This is why Bible reading and prayer are so important. This is not just about religious habits. It’s about getting to know God. It’s about being changed by God.
We talk about the church changing the world. If this is to happen, the Church needs to be changed. We need to be changed. You need to be changed. I need to be changed.
This is where the personal discipline of Bible reading and prayer becomes very important. You and I cannot really be changed if we do not take time to listen to God and speak to Him.
“God often visits us – but most of the time we are not at home” (French proverb). We hear the prompting of the Spirit – take some time to read God’s Word, take some time to pray. “Do not quench the Spirit.” “Do not grieve the Spirit.”
We are to grow into maturity. This involves the opening of our eyes to see Jesus, the opening of our ears to hear Him, and the opening of our lives to serve Him. This growth begins with conversion – the new birth, but it must not end there. We must go on to maturity. If there are no signs of spiritual growth, then your profession of faith must be called in question. This deep questioning does not come from the minister or the church. It comes from the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
The Word of God calls us to grow in Christ. The Spirit of God longs to re-create in us the character of our Lord.
Are you at home when God visits? Do you take time to read His Word? Do you take time to pray?
There will be no spiritual growth if you fail to find time for God, for His Word, for prayer.
Let’s think about our spiritual journey. Have you and I pulled back from following the Lord? or Have we gone on with Him? We must not think only of the public hearing of God’s Word and public prayer. We must also think about personal Bible reading and prayer.
The personal and the public – we need both. Let’s think about prayer – public prayer and private prayer.
When we speak about prayer, we must emphasize public prayer as well as private prayer. What is prayer? Is it always and only a private matter between myself and my God? No! There is also the call to God’s people to gather together for united prayer.
In most churches, few people pay much attention to the call to gather together for prayer . Often, the attendances are shameful. We look around, and wonder, “Where is he? Where is she?”
What are we to say about public prayer? It’s a duty. It’s a privilege. It’s a blessing.
Small groups lend themselves to greater sharing in prayer. We are not, however, to be content with small numbers. We must pray earnestly that more people will commit themselves to gathering together for prayer.
There are differences between personal prayer and public prayer.
In personal prayer, there can be a real outpouring of the soul. In public prayer, it is more than the individual pouring out his or her soul before the Lord. We are leading others in prayer. This doesn’t mean that there is just one person praying, and the others are just listening. The others are silently praying along with the leader. They are giving their silent “Amen” to the prayer that is being prayed aloud.
In public prayer, we cannot just ‘let go’ and say everything that comes into our minds. Wisdom requires us to leave some things unsaid when we are praying in a meeting. Other people are listening to what we say.
In public prayer, we must not fall into the trap of using our prayers as a way of getting at other people, ‘preaching’ a message that we want them to hear. When prayers start to sound more like sermons, we should pray for a rediscovery of the real purpose of prayer – speaking to God.
Alongside public prayer, there is to be personal prayer, spending time alone with God. He is our Father. We are His children. A good father will want to spend time with his children – sometimes, with all of them together; sometimes, with each one on their own. God is like that. There are times when He wants us to gather together in prayer. There are times when He wants each one of us to be alone with Him.
Whenever we think about prayer – public and private, we should also think about hearing God’s Word and reading God’s Word. Our prayer life will grow strong when we give careful attention to hearing and reading what the Lord has to say to us from His Word.
When we pay close attention to both the Word of God and prayer, we are emphasizing that our conversation with God is a two-way conversation. God speaks to us. We speak to Him.
Let’s think about this two-way conversation – reading the Bible and praying.
* Where do I start in reading the Bible?
Some start at the beginning, and get bogged down in the second half of Exodus, or in Leviticus. It would make better sense to begin with the gospels. they tell us about Jesus. You could, then, go on to Acts. It tells us the story of the Gospel being preached by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.
* Which Bible should I read? Some people stop reading the Bible because they find the king James Version difficult. They have never taken the trouble to look for an appropriate modern version. If you want to be able to say, with the Psalmist, “Oh, how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), find a version of the Bible you are likely to understand and enjoy reading.
* How much should I read?
Some people read too much too quickly, and they end up with spiritual indigestion. There are various Bible reading plans which will help you to start reading the Bible and keep on reading it. Following a plan will help you to be faithful in reading God’s Word.
* How can I understand what I read?
Are you serious about reading God’s Word? You should be. I hope that you are. If you are serious about learning from God’s Word, day-by-day, you may find Bible reading notes helpful. Look for notes that will help you to walk more closely with the Lord.
* As well as reading the Bible, we should pray.
If, like the Psalmist, you are to grow in wisdom as you are to grow in wisdom (Psalm 119:98), if you are to grow in true, spiritual understanding (Psalm 119:99-100,1o4), if you are to take delight in God’s Word (Psalm 119:102), to live in obedience to His Word (Psalm 119:101), you need to pray. You need to ask the Lord Himself to be Your Teacher (Psalm 119:102).
* When you pray, remember that you are speaking to God. Remember that He is your loving, heavenly Father. Remember that He loves you. Remember that He wants the best for you. Remember that He wants to help you to grow in faith. Remember that He wants to help you to grow more like Jesus.
* When I pray to God, what am I to say to Him?
– You can praise Him for who He is.
Let the lessons you have learned from God’s Word feed into your prayer. God’s Word will lead you into praising the Lord. In your prayer, lift up your heart to the Lord. Praise Him.
– You can thank Him for what He has done for you, what He is doing for you, and what He will do for you.
– You can confess your sins and receive God’s forgiveness.
– You can pray for others – for your family, for your friends and neighbours, for the church, for ministers, for missionaries.
– You can pray for yourself. Don’t be so preoccupied with your own problems that you forget to pray for others.
“Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.”
Take time for God. Take time to be with Him.
There are so many other things we can do with our time. Don’t let time slip away. “Take time to be holy.”
“Do you promise to give a fitting proportion of your time, talents and money for the Church’s work in the world?”
The Gospel calls for a change in our way of living. Before we speak about giving, we must speak about living. What are your priorities in life? How are you responding to the Good News of Jesus Christ?
How do you use your time? What takes up most of your time? Do you find time for God? or Does everything revolve around yourself? Do we think so much about ourselves that we never really pay much attention to our Lord Jesus Christ?
What about the gifts God has given you? Everyone of us has gifts. They have been given to us by God. Are we using these gifts for God? How much we use our time and talents for God shows how much or how little we care about Him.
When we think about giving, we’re also thinking about caring. Do we care enough to give well? Do we care enough to give quality time to God? Do we care enough to give quality time to the service of Jesus Christ? Do we lay our talents before the Lord and invite Him to use us in His service? Do we care enough to give ourselves to the Lord? or Do we say, “I can’t do that”, and really mean, “I won’t do that”? The level of our giving of time, talents and money shows how much or how little we care about God.
God has a mission. It’s an “all the time” mission. Do we want to get involved in His mission? or Does His work suffer because of our indifference?
A self-giving response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls for a change in our way of living. We get so used to things we don’t really need, and the work of the Lord suffers. We get so used to the way things are that we lose sight of the way things could be if we allowed the Lord to take control of our lives. When you and I think about our lives, there are two questions we need to ask ourselves: “How do I live?” and “How should I live?” These are two very different questions. The first asks, “How am I living right now?” The second invites us to make a response. It calls for change. It calls us to be changed by the Lord. It calls us, to say from the heart, “I want to walk with Jesus Christ, all the days I live of this life on earth, to give to Him complete control of body and of soul.”
Christian living – This comes before Christian giving. Some people say, “Money doesn’t matter to God. He’s interested in the heart.” Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
In our giving, we give thanks to God, and we provide for His work to be done. When we do not honour God in this way, our worship lacks depth and reality, and the work of God suffers. The giving of money for the Lord’s work emerges out of the giving of ourselves to the Lord.
– We are to give quietly – not as spiritual show-offs.
– We are to give consistently – as part of the giving of ourselves to the Lord in His service.
– We are to give whole-heartedly – as an act of worship.
– We are to give sacrificially. We need to exercise greater discipline in our use of money. We need to manage our money wisely and well. Where there has been a misuse of money, we need to seek and receive God’s forgiveness, and we need to receive His wisdom and strength to redirect our lives towards the greatest priority of all: the priority of God’s Kingdom.
What is your attitude towards this highest priority, the priority of God’s Kingdom?
There are some who have become very materialistic in their way of thinking. When they hear the call to increase the level of their giving to the Lord, they dismiss this out-of-hand. They don’t want to be bothered. Their reaction shows the things they really care about – the things of this world.
Our giving is to be an act of worship, offered to God. We come to the Lord with joyful praise – and we bring our offerings to Him. In our giving, we express our attitude towards the Lord, our desire to honour Him in every part of our life.
We seek to give glory to Him. We’re not to be like the Pharisees – honouring Him with our lips while remaining far from Him in our hearts.
God wants to bless us, but His blessing will be hindered if, in our hearts, we have no real desire to honour Him.
Do you want to know more of His blessing on your life? – Honour Him as the Lord of your life.
Give yourself more fully to the Lord, and you will have the joy of discovering that the Lord has more satisfying and more significant work for you to do for Him.
If you draw back from committing yourself, more truly and more fully, to the Lord, He will withdraw His blessing from your life. If, in your heart, there is a resistance to the Word of the Lord, God has something to say to you. It is something very serious. he says this: “Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).
If,in your heart, you find a greater openness to receive the Word of the Lord, then I ask you to pray with me, “Lord, help me to open my heart more widely. Help me to receive Your blessing more fully.”
“Do you promise, depending on the grace of God, to confess Christ before men and women, to serve Him in your daily work, and to walk in His ways all the days of your life?”
* First, we note the words, “depending on the grace of God.” Without the grace of God, we cannot even begin to confess Christ before men and women, to serve Him in our daily work, and to walk in His ways.”
This is a rebuke to the attitude which says, “I do my best”, while never recognizing the fact that our best is never good enough. When we say, “I do my best,” God calls us to bow before Him, and receive His Best – Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
It’s also a word of encouragement. When we become painfully aware That our best can never be good enough, God comes to us with His Word of encouragement – “I am with you. I am your Helper. I will not fail you. I will give you the strength that you need to live for Me.”
* The Christian life can be described in different ways.
(a) Confession – confessing Christ before men and women;
(b) service – serving Christ in our daily work;
(c) Walking – walking in His ways.
When we speak about Christian living, we must emphasize this – “depending on the grace of God.”
* How can we sustain this kind of life? We can’t. Only Christ can.
This is why we must place great emphasis on Paul’s description of the Christian life: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
– This is what it means to be a Christian – Christ lives in us.
– This is what we mean when we use the phrase, “depending on the grace of God.”
Jesus says to us, “The Holy Spirit is the Helper who dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-16).
* (a) The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Christ before men and women.
– “The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
– “The Spirit of truth … will bear witness to Me; and you also are witnesses” (John 15:26-27).
We are Christ’s witnesses, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
“The Gospel must first be preached to all nations … Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
You may say, “I am not a preacher. I am not a teacher.” There is something else that needs to be said, “If you are faithful in your personal witness for Christ, confessing Him to others, your witnesses part of the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s Word.” This witnessing for Christ is grounded in a relationship with God, in a life of discipleship.
* (b) The nature of our relationship with God becomes clear as we consider what Jesus teaches us concerning serving Him.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all hat I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 14:15).
We are more than servants in our Master’s house. We are sons and daughters of our loving, heavenly Father.
Before you can serve the Lord, you must become His child. The service that we offer to the Lord is not the service of hired hands. It is the service of His children.
The life of service does not begin with the words, “I will give my service to the Lord.”
It begins with the words, “I will receive salvation from the Lord. I will receive Jesus as my Saviour.”
Before you can give to the Lord, you must receive from Him.
The life of service is a response to God’s love. It begins when we receive God’s love, when we realize that He loves us. Our love for Him arises out of His love for us. Through faith in Christ, we are born into the family of God’s love. Our obedience is an expression of love (John 14:21). It is Gospel obedience. We must not try to obey God in the hope that we might receive forgiveness because of our great obedience. That’s legalistic obedience. It has nothing at all to do with the Gospel. Gospel obedience is very different. The Gospel is not about our great obedience, and what it can do for us. The Gospel is about God’s great love. It’s about what He has done for us – not what we can do for Him. We experience the love of God. We receive the forgiveness of God. Out of gratitude to God, with love for God, we give ourselves in service to Him.
* (c) We are to walk with the Lord, all the days of our life.
Everything that we may do for Christ, as His witnesses, arises out of our following Him, as His disciples. “Follow Me” – This was the first thing Jesus said to His disciples. We are to walk with the Lord. Before we can run, we must learn to walk. If a child never moves beyond walking to running, there’s something wrong.
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Is this a word for enthusiastic young people? Are we ‘too long in the tooth’ for this kind of enthusiasm? No! This is a word for all who will “wait upon the Lord” and “renew their strength. We are told, in Isaiah 40:30, that “even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.” This is followed, in Isaiah 40:31, with these great words, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”
How can we keep on walking with the Lord all the days of our life? How can we “run and not be weary”? How can we “walk and not faint”? The answer is the Lord (Isaiah 40:28-29).
If we are to confess Christ, serve Him and walk with Him, we must come to Him, at His Cross, and receive His forgiveness for our many failures. We must come and receive His power, the power of His resurrection, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that changes us, the power that renews our life.