Indulge me one final word or two today as I continue to reflect on the first “4 Amarillo” Thanksgiving service last Sunday night at First Baptist. It’s been eight days now since that historic evening and I’m still receiving at least two or three texts, emails, cards, and calls about it per day. It seems that even through the short work week, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, hectic trips to the mall, and Auburn’s 109-yard return, you are still processing it, too. Allow me to address the mood of the worshipers in the building that night and how I believe it profoundly impacted not only what happened during that hour but how it has significantly framed the conversations since.
I’ve heard from more than a few of you who believe the sermon I preached during that service was the best sermon I’ve ever preached in my life. Some of you have only heard me preach a couple of dozen times, but others of you have listened to me about a hundred times. My best sermon ever? And you don’t stop there. You’ve been telling me for a week now that the singing that night was the most beautiful singing you’ve ever heard. Really? The responsive readings, the Scripture readings, the prayers, the fellowship — it was all so moving, so awesome, so inspirational, so perfect. I’ve been reading this and listening to this for seven straight days. Best ever? Really?
Yes, I’ll give you the fact that, maybe especially for us Church of Christ-ers, the evening was highly significant. A watershed event. As some of you have written, it truly was “a defining moment,” “a sea-change for us,” “the beginning of something very different and very good.” I acknowledge all of that. Yeah, it was big.
But I’m convinced that the mood of the worshipers had a whole lot to do with it.
The truth is that every single person in that room — Howie reports 1,150 in attendance; that’s a preacher’s count, a Baptist preacher’s count! — wanted to be there. Everybody there had to put forth a greater than average effort to get there. The roads were slicked over with snow and ice. It was cold. It was dark. None of us have regular Sunday evening assemblies anymore. And the Cowboys-Giants game was still going on. Nobody was there because they felt some kind of a grudging obligation. Everybody in the room really wanted to be there.
In addition, every single person there was anticipating something really special happening. We all entered the worship center expecting to be moved, expecting to feel the presence of God, expecting to be inspired. After all, we had been praying about this night for months. We all knew that we were taking some risks in bringing four different denominations together for a worship assembly, but we were all convinced that it was God’s holy will. We anticipated that he would bless us richly as we worshiped him together.
We had gathered with a purpose. We were — each of us and all together — on a mission, even. We were coming together for the sake of an unbelieving world, expecting to be profoundly blessed, expecting God to reveal himself to us in significant ways. I’m of the belief that preparation and attitude have a whole lot to do with corporate worship.
I’m afraid that when most of us gather in our church buildings on Sunday morning, there hasn’t been a whole lot of prep time. Our hearts and our minds haven’t been focused on the coming encounter with God and communion with his people. We probably haven’t prayed much about it. And most Sunday mornings, I’m not sure we’re expecting much to happen. Some of that may be the fault of an unimaginative preacher or a lazy worship committee. Maybe. But a lot of it has to do with every man, woman, and child in the pews. If we don’t expect it, we might miss it even if it happens right in front of our faces. If we’re intently looking for it, searching for it, anticipating it, expecting it, then the smallest little glimpse of glory will slam us to our knees in joyful praise. Preparation and attitude matter.
I think it would be impossible to try to plan 52 straight Sundays of special events. We couldn’t come up with 52 different ways to pray, observe the meal, illustrate the sermon, or arrange the music to provoke the kind of energy and anticipation we all experienced that night at First Baptist. I’m not sure we’d even want to try; that kind of thing can quickly turn into an idol or a spectator-only affair. But I do believe we can do much better at entering the worship center on Sundays expecting to hear a powerful word from God. Anticipating God revealing himself to us in a new and exciting way. Expecting something really great to happen. Having spent time in prayer, preparing our hearts and our minds to encounter our Father and his people in significant and eternal ways.
It mattered for the “4 Amarillo” Thanksgiving service. The mood in the room had a lot to do with the success of the evening. It matters this coming Sunday morning at your church, too. It matters a lot.