There’s something I noticed about the story of the Wise Men this year that I had overlooked. It’s so simple and obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t see it before now. But before I tell you what it is, let me share an observation about our current culture and how people worship.
Many people are wondering if we really need to show up for corporate worship. After all, aren’t there lots of ways to connect online? Can’t we just watch a worship service live-streamed, or catch a sermon from another pastor?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-technology. It’s amazing how much information we now have at our fingertips, and communication that once was only imagined in science fiction is now reality.
But there is also a dark side. We can be distracted so easily. For Christians who are trying to walk in purity and holiness, we face the challenge of images and clicks to websites that seem OK, but become a trap.
There’s also the temptation to get all of our spiritual content through online sermons and studies, and avoid relationships that can be, well, messy.
And let’s be honest. Sometimes we just feel lazy. We don’t want to get up, get ready, and show up to experience something with others. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay in bed, take a long bike ride, or whatever else seems easier.
Do we really have to show up collectively for worship? Or is it just as good to be at home and have a personal experience? That’s the cultural dilemma.
So here’s what I noticed about the Wise Men this year.
They showed up.
They took the journey, bowed down, brought their gifts and followed the Spirit. They could have worshipped and prayed from a distance, and that’s ok, too. But that’s not what the Wise Men did.
They teach us that worshipping in the flesh, together, matters.
Why does it matter?
I want to give you three reasons why I believe it’s important to show up, as much as you are able, and worship with all of your body, mind, soul and strength.
The first reason is that it was the pattern of Jesus and the early disciples.
Luke 4:16 (NIV) tells us: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.”
So Jesus received worship, but as the Son of God, He also modeled the life of worshiping God. It’s what we are made for.
When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost creating the church, Acts tells us that, ”Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47, NIV)
We are designed to worship. When the Wise Men discerned that a divine king had been born, their first instinct was “Let’s go find him.”
If we want to be like Jesus — if we believe that His life is the best life and the life that leads to the most joy and peace — then we would do well to mimic His pattern. He got up early in the morning and spent time in personal worship, but His faith was never only a private matter.
The mystery of the incarnation is that God became human and dwelt among us in the flesh. He showed us the power of showing up. He could have demonstrated his love in so many different ways; after all, he’s the inventor of every form of communication that we have yet to discover. But the way that He demonstrated His love for us is that He took on flesh.
You can worship alone, but there’s something substantially different about worshipping with the Body of Christ.
The second reason that worshipping in-the-flesh together matters is that worshiping forms faith in ways that can’t happen alone.
God is an ocean. On my own, I have one tiny perspective on God — just a drop in the ocean. But if I truly desire to know more of God, I must be together with other Christians in worship.
The Christians that I admire the most and those who are growing closer to Christ have all concluded that regular worship with other believers is important.
But I’ve never seen people who practice a kind of private, a-la-carte religious experience really grow over time in the way of Jesus. And I have never seen those persons engage deeply with the mission of Jesus in the world.
Lastly, worshipping in-the-flesh matters because there are gifts God wants to give to you that you can’t get apart from corporate worship. You miss the experience of God’s gathered people when you don’t show up.
You miss the encouragement. You miss the strength. And others miss what you bring to the fellowship, because we are all one body, with one Lord and one faith.
So in 2019, set the pattern for worship. Make corporate worship a priority.
Gordon Dahl once observed, “Our problem is that we worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”
As you set goals for 2019, make it a goal to worship as much as possible with the Body of Christ. Put your family on notice: worshipping with the family of faith will be our priority in the New Year, even if it requires us to sacrifice.
Don’t just play at worship this year.