How Easy Is Your Livestream Worship?
How Easy Is Your Livestream Worship?
God is really good. We know that the present pandemic and its effects on the world are according to His will. While we cannot gather together in churches as we are accustomed, we are thankful that He has made it possible for His people to continue to worship Him via livestream broadcasts on such platforms as the Youtube channel. And, praise God, the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ continues to be preached with the power of the Holy Spirit from the pulpit of the Reformed Evangelical Church. Like the imprisoned Apostle Paul, we rejoice that though we are restricted, the word of God is not bound (ESV, 2 Timothy 2:9). Worship from home appears to be so easy and convenient, we may even be tempted to think that there is no urgent need for us to assemble again physically in the Lord’s Sanctuary. Well, not really. I have found that there are some pitfalls that await us. I have identified three of them from my experience with livestream worship in my own study at home. It would be interesting to hear of your peculiar challenges.
Before the pandemic restrictions came into effect for places of worship, it was necessary for me to leave home approximately one hour before the worship time in order to complete the rounds of picking up fellow worshipers, negotiate road traffic and arrive comfortably in time for the start of the Sunday School and Worship sessions. I had developed a fairly good routine, which required leaving home promptly at or about 8:00 AM on Sunday mornings. Now, that’s not necessary. All I need to do is step into my study room at home and startup my computer to tune into the worship. A whole hour was redeemed because of livestream worship! So, you might think, it should be easy to be seated and ready for worship well before the start time. Not so fast! It appears that there is always something popping up that requires urgent attention at home just before the worship starts. The resulting haste disturbs my preparation to worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Little gods are relentless in their quest for my attention. What’s at stake here is my obedience to the first and greatest commandment.
My study is the place where I can be most reflective and creative. My laptop computer is there on an untidy desk and my books are all within reach on the shelves. It’s fairly quiet and I can regulate the temperature on a hot day. I may even have a cup of coffee close by while I work. Great conditions for worship, you might think. Think again! My eyes easily drift to the “to do” list that is right there in front of me on the desk. I am tempted to think of that urgent item on the list that is way past the target completion date. Of course, there is also the ubiquitous cell phone lighting up even when it’s switched to silent mode. The temptations come very subtly - maybe I can quickly update my list while the opening Scripture is being read or the first hymn is being sung. In the Sanctuary, we have the benefit of being alerted at the beginning of worship time to avoid distractions such as talking to each other and using cell phones. It’s much easier to overcome these distractions whilst located within a congregation, as we are all silently our brother’s/sister’s keepers. Much more personal discipline is required at home.
Writing in his column in the September 2020 issue of Tabletalk magazine, Steve Lawson described “a certain posture of heart” in a God-fearing person. Dr. Lawson wrote, “When we are rooted in ‘the fear of the Lord,’ this fear will produce a sobering devotion to God within us.” The posture of heart and devotion to God are revealed in our worship. In the early days of the pandemic restrictions on church assembly, I had a question about how such posture of heart is reflected on the outside; specifically, in the way I dress to present myself for worship, not only in the Sanctuary, but now even for the livestream worship at home. Initially, the question appeared to be a trivial one that should be dismissed forthwith. Surely, I thought, God looks at my heart only and not on my outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7). But then I noted that Apostle Paul was concerned to write to Pastor Timothy regarding how people should conduct themselves in the Church (1 Timothy 3:15). It’s interesting that Paul’s concerns included the matter of dressing, specifically with respect to women’s dress (1 Timothy 2:9), but we should not assume that men are exempt from this requirement.
This simple question triggered a serious struggle between Mr. Self and me. Self began the fight with a low blow: “You think you holy or what?” I remained calm because I had heard that one before. It’s a familiar taunt that the crowd throws at you to make you feel guilty when you refuse to follow it. “No”, I protested, “I simply want to worship my God with all of my being.” I tried to reason with Self: “Why did you take the time to shave and trim your hair when you used to prepare every week for worship at church before the pandemic struck? Was it to honor God’s special presence in the Sanctuary or to impress your fellow men?” Self’s angry reaction to my questions surprised me: “You are just trying to gain God’s favor by doing things to please Him,” he said, with emphasis on the doing. That one stung. Self was actually accusing me now of being a legalist! This might be one of the worst things you could say about a Reformed Christian whose most fundamental belief is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There’s no room for works in salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The bickering between Self and I went back and forth for about a week and then it came to an end as suddenly as it started. In God’s providence, Pastor Semurath preached on the holiness of God in a sermon from his series on Ephesians 4:1 - walking worthy of our calling in Christ. Since then I have noticed that Mr. Self and I have been at peace on this matter of our posture in worship. That’s because we are now assured that the special presence of the holy God among His saints in worship on the Lord’s Day remains the same, whether it occurs in the Sanctuary or, by necessity, in our homes. Like Prophet Isaiah, who felt filthy when he saw God in His awesome holiness (Isaiah 6:3), we are conscious of His majesty in the worship. So, I have made some simple adjustments to how I present myself in the livestream worship. I don’t dress extravagantly. I never did. But I don’t come shabbily or casually into my study for worship anymore. I still shave and trim my hair as if I was going into the Sanctuary.
We can’t be sure how this pandemic will pan out and how it will affect our usual physical assembly as a Church. It may be that we need to assemble virtually for worship for a lot longer than we presently anticipate. We need to be conscious of the challenges we will meet in livestream worship at home. Everyone in the Church is affected in some way. A recent report from the USA indicates that some pastors there are finding it difficult to adjust to preaching to empty pews where they can’t get the usual feedback of amens and nods from a live audience. However, some actually see this as a positive development, since the pastors now have to rely on God primarily for their affirmation instead of getting it from the congregation. God is graciously dealing with His Church to accomplish His eternal purpose. It’s not easy. It has never been easy. “Therefore be careful how you walk…” (Ephesians 5:15).