“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand…” (Psalm 84:10).
Young people, do you live for the weekend? You might think that a strange question, or one you aren’t quite comfortable answering. We don’t have to answer that for ourselves, though. The Word of our God answers for us that we must live for the weekend. Not to party, not even primarily to relax and enjoy some time away from our earthly cares and duties. No, the joy which we confess to be our greatest joy with the psalmist in Psalm 137 is Jerusalem, or the New Testament church of God. David stated in Psalm 84 that his soul longed and even fainted for the courts of the Lord. This love for the Lord’s house and the worship which we do there ought to be our chief, or principle joy. Can you and I make this same confession with the Psalmist?
What drives this love for the house of the Lord? What makes the brief time we spend there our greatest and most comprehensive joy? The answer is found in the activity in which we engage there. There is nothing special about the buildings to which we go. It’s also not about the man on the pulpit. We don’t even attend primarily to fellowship with others of like faith, though there is some importance in that as well. No, the center, the focus of our time at the house of the Lord is and must always be the preaching of the gospel.
What makes this preaching so powerful? The Heidelberg Catechism rightly states that faith is worked in our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the gospel, and also confirmed by the sacraments (Lord’s Day 25). The preaching has power that is very real, dear reader. Haven’t you experienced that? How many times haven’t you heard a word from the pulpit that exposed a sin that you feel within your own heart? Or a word that brought you the comfort of the redeemer when you needed it the most? Remember, the word you hear is very really the word of Jesus Christ, though it is brought faithfully by his appointed servants. Christ, the Word of God, speaks to us in the preaching. What almighty power then this preaching has!
The fact that it is Christ speaking in the preaching has great significance; this is the center of our life within the covenant which God has established with us. It is Christ talking. And to whom? To us, people of God. Consider that for a minute in light of who we are.
We confess and know the depth of our sins. As our Baptism Form says, we are “conceived and born in sin.” It doesn’t get much more desperate than that, don’t you think? Elsewhere in Scripture we read that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, so much so that we cannot even know it (Jeremiah 17:9). And then, in spite of all of this, we are the ones to whom Christ speaks? How humbling!
To make this figure even more rich, however, remember that the communion that we have in the house of God is not just Christ speaking the Word of Life to us, but also us responding to him. We pour out our hearts to Christ. We make supplication to him, bringing to him our needs, our cares and our concerns. We cast our burden upon God in his house. We praise his holy name. And all of this praise, adoration, and supplication offered in true faith is heard by none other than the almighty God? That, dear reader, is true covenant life and joy. To be heard and received of our Father, and to speak to him and hear his voice assuring us of his love for us. What more could we desire?
We ought to love the house of our God, for there we find strength for the battle of faith. Our earthly life is very really a battle. This figure is likely familiar to you; it is used many times in Scripture: reference Ephesians 6:10-18, I Timothy 6:12, II Timothy 4:7, and I Corinthians 9:26 just to name a few of the more commonly read passages. The battle we wage is at bottom with sin and the forces of Satan, as stated so plainly in Ephesians 6:12 and Lord’s Day 52 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
What a formidable foe! We tire in our battle often, and we do grow weary. The battle is hard, especially because it is constant. Satan doesn’t play fair; he doesn’t let up once you tire. Instead, as the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord’s Day 52, the devil, our “mortal enemy,” does not cease in his assaults against us. Not only is this battle unending, but this enemy desires to take our very life! The Catechism doesn’t call him a mortal enemy for no reason; the devil truly desires the spiritual life that is within you and I. He desires to do to us what Jesus warned Peter of in Luke 22:31: Satan desires to sift us as wheat, or to turn our pure hearts of flesh to hard hearts of stone that serve him in wickedness.
Knowing this, then, how ought we to long for the house of our God! Here we find a refuge from the storms of life. Here we hear the word of our Saviour to us. In his house we hear him say, “I love you with an eternal love!” Here he takes us in his arms and gives us the comfort of everlasting life with him in glory; here our faith is strengthened, and we are made alive again; here we are made ready to fight the battle of faith.
And we need this strengthening. Think of our longing for the house of God in this way: imagine the warrior from the biblical times, fighting the enemies of God as Canaan is conquered. Day in and day out, away from home, away from family. Fighting battle after battle, one enemy after another. Violence, terror, death are all around on every side at every moment. Now imagine the joy of this same warrior after the battles are finished and the enemies of God are defeated. What unspeakable pleasure will he have when he is at last able to return to Jerusalem, the city of the church and of his God. Finally, there is a time of rest, a time to recuperate, and a time to regain strength. This, dear reader, is what the house of our God is for us in our very real battle against the powers of sin and the devil.
And yet, in light of all of this, we can still be weak. We can grow lax in our longing for the house of God. Each of us knows our own heart, and knows the weakness of our flesh. We can easily be distracted even when in the house of God. Sometimes, we even go to church with what we think are the best of intentions. We truly want to hear the Word of God, but when it comes right down to it we are distracted and can walk out of God’s house empty. We don’t meditate on the Psalms as we sing them; we don’t focus on the law as it is read. Remember that the devil doesn’t play fair, young people. He doesn’t take time-outs when we step into the sanctuary. No, sometimes it seems like he tightens the bonds of temptation so much tighter. Though we have been redeemed in Christ and have received the new life of Christ within us, we still feel this struggle within us.
Consider the figure of the warrior which we just discussed: remember that he is tired, discouraged, worn out and hungry. What would we think if this warrior did not want to return to Jerusalem, his home and refuge? What if instead he decided that he would remain in the barren desert, where no food, water, or nourishment could be found? How strange would that be!
Or, imagine that this warrior returned home and was greeted with joyous celebrations of the triumph of the battle. However, what if in the midst of all of this happiness the warrior only could think about returning to the barren wasteland? What if he counted the days to when he could leave the shelter of Jerusalem and again set foot on the treacherous battlefield? Wouldn’t you agree that there would be something wrong with such a warrior?
As simple as that may seem, the reality is that we can often be just as irrational as that warrior. In God’s house we have joy and peace, and we find our true Life! But our mind wanders far from the house of God, to earthly cares and concerns, to all sorts of things. We consider the week gone by; we think of what we have to do in the coming week. We replay our schedule and maybe what homework we have yet to do. In the weakness of our flesh, could it be that we even drift off and doze at different times in the worship service? What a shameful confession, young people! Sleeping in the house of our holy God? How dare we do such a terrible thing! So often we can feel like the disciples, whom Jesus commanded to watch in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus warned them, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
How can we find comfort in the midst of our sinfulness? Only in the cross of Jesus Christ. We do not come to God’s house to testify that we are perfect and righteous in ourselves. No, on the contrary, we come only because of the glorious work of the Spirit within us. That is the gospel, young people! We have been redeemed, not by our own works or our own worthiness. The Almighty strength of our Redeemer lives within us! We can come to our God in his house without fear, for we are assured by faith that he loves us and has loved us from before the foundation of the world itself.
What beauty, then, do we find in the house of our God. What unspeakable joy and life is present there. Our act of worship, as profound as it may be, young people, is and must be the highlight of your week. What do you live for? Our answer: the house of my God. May this truly be our confession.