Years ago, at FBC Weslaco, we started a new, fellowship-oriented Sunday morning service to free up space in our church’s contemporary service that was operating at capacity. A handful of families committed to participate, giving up their seats in the contemporary service so that there would be space for new families to visit our church. Seated at round tables worshipers could share donuts and coffee served by different participants in this service, voice praises and prayer concerns, present offerings, sing worship songs, and study the Bible together. This English language worship service would take place in the church’s gym simultaneously with a Spanish language worship service that takes place in the sanctuary. We weren’t sure what to call this new service. Our Director of Maintenance suggested we call it the GYM Service. At first we thought that was perhaps the least creative idea we’d heard, but he explained: “This service combines worship and fellowship; it’s about God, You (Y’all), and Me.” That name stuck and this service has strengthened the faith of some and been instrumental in helping new families connect with our church.
The more we’ve reflected on the name of that service over the years, the more the GYM Service has given us a way to think through the nature of true worship, fellowship, and life in general. Our priorities should be about God, you (the larger community), and me, in that order. Many of the problems we face in church, in our homes, and in our communities come because we’ve been trained, as faithful consumers, to keep those priorities arranged in the inverse order. Worship, fellowship, and really all of life in this age tend to be about me, and then—if I’m a benevolent person—a little bit about you, and then—if I’m a spiritual person—about God somewhere on down the line.
Psalm 124 looks at the world from the opposite perspective. The Psalmist calls worshipers to recognize God’s primary role in the experience of deliverance from trials and victory over enemies. “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side” is stated twice for emphasis (Ps. 124:1;2). The song’s use of plural pronouns and corporate language also affirm the role of the community in worship. What God has done for His people in the past gives us confidence in what He will do for us in the future. This song’s concluding declaration is a corporate form of the personal confession of trust found elsewhere in the Psalter. Each individual worshiper can think of personal experiences of the LORD’s help, but only in the context of God’s larger story of blessing as our Creator and Redeemer: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8). This song of praise is about God, you, and me, in that order.
Proverbs 8:4-21 personifies wisdom. “Wisdom calls. She stands at the gate, where all who enter may see and hear.” In today’s information age we might mistake data accumulation for wisdom and, in so doing, misunderstand and misapply these verses. Most of us carry devices in our pockets that give us access to data that would boggle the minds of prior generations, but the wisdom described in these lines still proves illusive to many. Biblical wisdom is beyond compare, “better than jewels,” and to be desired above gold and silver (Pr. 8:10-11). True wisdom begins with “the fear of the LORD” that is shown by the “hatred of evil” (Pr. 8:13). “Wisdom is an indispensable part of the way the world works. If we want to enjoy this world as our maker intends, we must live by the same wisdom with which he made it.” The reward of that type of God-fearing, evil-hating wisdom is found in the pursuit of more than personal intellectual knowledge or even private morality; such blessing is found through a way of life that is marked by faithfulness to uphold righteousness and justice (Pr. 8:20-21). This section of Proverbs reminds us that true wisdom is about God, you, and me, in that order. Acquiring personal knowledge is not without merit, but apart from a God-honoring spirit that delights in justice for others and righteous governance it is of limited value.
Paul’s pivotal message to the Ephesian church echoes this challenge of wisdom to make judicious use of time and steer clear of foolish, evil pursuits (Eph. 5:15-17). The apostle calls on believers to display God-focused wisdom by seeking to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17). Such God-focused wisdom will produce a worshiping lifestyle that denies the selfish desires of the flesh in favor of the influence of the Spirit and edification of the family of faith: “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:18-20). This type of singing was not just a means of entertainment, but Paul’s suggested antidote to living in the darkness of immorality that pervades the surrounding world. How sad it is that singing has so often been a source of contention in the church over the years! So many of the worship wars could be overcome without “firing a shot,” if worshipers would rethink the order of things and shift the focus from “what I like” to what will honor God and build up the body. It’s not that what I value or appreciate is not important, it’s just that I tend to give that consideration far more weight than it deserves in the proper order of things. The God, you, and me order has a way of flying in the face of the ways of the world, reshaping the church’s values, and setting our priorities straight.
A wayward church attender quips: “I stopped going to church because I wasn’t getting anything out of it anyway.” A visiting family tells the church usher, “We started looking for a new church because we weren’t getting fed at the old one.” A new community member calls the church office and says, “We’re looking for a church with a choir and a great program for our kids.” Phrases like these are heard quite often around churches today and all of them reflect an approach to worship, fellowship, and life in general that is about me, you, and God, in that order. The service in our church’s gym got started because some of our people were willing to give up their seats in the sanctuary to make room for their neighbors, meet for worship in the earthy, echoing gym so that Spanish language worshipers could experience the beauty and acoustical value of the church sanctuary, and roll up their sleeves to prepare and serve donuts and coffee to others in fellowship. Those are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things, but they show a pretty significant rethinking of what’s important in a very consumer driven age. How much would life in the church be altered by an approach that sounds more like what the Psalmist declared in worship? How much would the church’s mission and ministry be enhanced by the kind of God-fearing, justice-seeking wisdom that this writing in Proverbs reveals? How much different would the atmosphere in church worship be if more worshipers displayed the God-honoring, fellowship affirming attitude that Paul advocates in Ephesians? How much stronger would our communities be if more of us gave up our comfortable seats, adjusted our schedules, and rolled up our sleeves in service in an effort to show love for God by making room for someone else? These passages converge with an invitation to rethink the proper order of things. A God, you, and me approach to life just might help us get back on a God-pleasing track.
For complete citations, contact Dr. Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org