Where do I go to worship the Lord? What is His will for me?
The Israelites wondered the same after wandering for forty years in the desert, hauling their tabernacle of worship along with them. Moses gave them some instruction on the question just prior to them entering the Promised Land.
5 “But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. Deuteronomy 12:5 (NKJV)
The people who lived in Canaan prior to the Israelites worshiped their gods on mountains, hill tops, or below shady trees. These worship services involved images, idols, and immoral practices that were repulsive to the Lord God. He did not want His people copying any of their practices for His worship. In fact, He wanted every one of the worship elements they used to be destroyed.
So, where were the Israelites to go to worship the Lord? We can ask the same question of ourselves today.
Moses answer states that there is some amount of seeking involved. We need to want to worship God enough to go looking for it. And, in my experience, it involves a certain amount of trial and error. God has a plan for us, but He wants us to actively seek Him out. The journey brings us both joy and fellowship as we work together to find our proper place of worship for this season. Our first step is to ask Him in prayer. As Jesus stated:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV)
So, after praying for God’s guidance, we seek out the place or places He chooses for us to worship Him. Worship includes both Sunday or Sabbath church participation and works of service for Him throughout the week.
Church worship location choices start with groups that have a strong foundation based upon the word of God. Built upon this are a mix of 1) our own preferred worship styles and 2) opportunities for spiritual growth and encouragement through fellowship and service. We are guided in our choice by the leading of the Holy Spirit. As we invest ourselves in a spiritual community, if the Holy Spirit is building up both ourselves and those around us, this is a good indication that we are in the right place. Once we determine where He wants us to be, there we shall go.
Worship communities are made up of imperfect people. Churches are somewhat like spiritual hospitals where people go to get better. As we worship, we will often experience the presence of God to fill our hearts with joy. But every encounter with others in the church will not go perfectly, and there will be challenging moments. God knows this and wants us to persevere with brotherly love, overcoming our own pride and shortcomings in the process.
One pastor told of a typical pattern for new church goers. This growth process may also apply to other close gatherings of people. It is only one potential outcome and may look entirely different in your experience.
First, there is a honeymoon period. In the first year there, everything is going well, and virtually every weekend is a positive experience.
Then, according to this pastor, comes year number two. Cracks begin to develop, flaws and imperfections in people are found, and disagreements arise. This is a critical time when many people choose to leave a church to go look for greener pastures. If they do, this only starts the same cycle over somewhere else.
If, with God’s grace, we can persevere and stick around through any troubles until year three, the miracle often happens. Things begin to fall into place, differences are resolved, and, through the grace and mercy of the Holy Spirit, the true loving and supportive nature of the church family really begins to shine. We begin to accept some imperfection in ourselves and others, and to really enjoy the presence of God, kindling love within each one of us and helping each other through the challenges that life brings.
What about works of service? There are many needs around us, many more than any one person can possibly volunteer for. But God does want us to live out our faith with some expression of service to others, as He leads. As the apostle Paul writes in the Letter to the Ephesians:
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
Just like our search for the right church, seeking the place where God wants us to serve involves prayer and may include some trial and error. There is joy in the journey together.
A pastor’s wife named Rosemary Gallatin once summarized how we can identify the works that God wants us to continue doing:
“When God opens a door for you, it will be wide and clear. He does not play guessing games, there will be no doubt. 1) It will follow the word of God, 2) you will be energized by it and 3) you will love doing it.”
I believe Rosemary’s summary has worked well in my life. I have stepped out and tried multiple things following the word of God, the types of things we know from scripture that God wants us to pursue. Some of these activities have lasted for decades, others for only a year or so. When the Holy Spirit led, I continued in them. When He didn’t, I let them go and saved my energy for ones that He clearly supported and encouraged me to be in. Those ministries were tremendous blessings.
There seem to be times and seasons for many ministries. Sometimes we can go for, say, five or ten years in one place, then doors start closing and it becomes clear that God wants us to seek to serve somewhere else. The journey of life is one of continuous prayer and pursuit of the will of God. And when we find it, “there we shall go”.
How do you determine the will of God?
Have you found a place of worship to grow spiritually and to serve others in?
Lord, show us the specific service You want us to do for You and others. May it energize me and others through the power of Your Holy Spirit, and lift me out of any negativity, darkness, or depression that can settle over me from time to time. Bring us into a joyful fellowship of worship, or reinvigorate the one I am currently in, to recharge my spiritual batteries and fill me with Your presence and strength. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.