Our exploration of the worship service continues today as we reflect on singing our praises to the Lord. We sing a lot in our church. In fact, most of the elements in our worship service are led or accompanied by song. After being Greeted by our God in the sanctuary, and perhaps also greeting each other (the Mutual Greeting), we usually go on to sing two or three songs of praise. Why? Why do we sing at all in the worship service? Having entered the presence of the Great King, and having heard his words of blessing (Greeting), we respond with songs of praise. Singing is a response fit for a king! And it is commanded in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. For example: “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.” (Psalm 149:1 NIV) The Lord seems to love to hear his people sing! Singing songs of praise is also commanded in the New Testament. As Paul writes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16 NIV) Apparently singing is also a way to teach the people and get God’s word in their hearts. So there’s a long history of singing praises to God in the sanctuary. And for good reason too. First of all, God commands it. But it’s also good for us, as it gets God’s word in our hearts. As James K. A. Smith explains, singing is “tethered to identity.” “What we sing says something about who we are—and whose we are.” (Desiring the Kingdom [Baker Academic], 173) Singing songs of praise to God is a formative experience that changes us. We come to believe what we sing. So, as you can see, there are many good reasons why we sing praises to God in the sanctuary. The main thing is that we do it. “How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1 NIV)
We recently spent a week at a spiritual retreat center called Kerith Creek, near Priddis, AB. Actually, this was the second time we have attended this retreat, which is for ministry leaders. And we’re so glad we went again, as it is a great way to rest, refresh and renew. Not surprisingly, Sabbath-keeping is more or less the theme of the retreat. We talked about taking Sabbath as pastors and missionaries, and then we practiced it together. The burnout rate for pastors is high. In fact, our retreat leaders said that 90% of pastors don’t make the ten-year mark in full-time pastoral ministry. Disturbing! So, we were encouraged to take Sabbath while on retreat, and then to come home and do the same. So, what does that mean for me as a pastor of a small, strong congregation? The basic pastoral guideline for Sabbath-keeping is: one hour a day, one day of the week, one day of the month, one week of the year. So, what does a pastor do during these Sabbath moments? Rest, renew, refresh. Spend considerable time with the Lord through his Word and prayer. Read and reflect. Do some things you enjoy doing. Spend time with family and friends, playing and forming meaningful relationships. Setting the pastoral work aside for a few moments to just be. As we were taught at our retreat, which, by the way, is sponsored by Focus on the Family: “Self-care is not selfish.” Pastors need to care for themselves if they are to care for others. And this principle isn’t just for pastors. It’s for all people. So, how are you doing at self-care? I encourage you to think about that question for a moment, and then if needed, make a small change in your life and schedule that will help you take Sabbath well. Thanks be to God for his gracious invitation to take a regular Sabbath rest.