There was a holy hush throughout the auditorium as the liquid notes of the soloist, inspired by the Holy Spirit's power, sored into the hearts of the congregation. She sang with praise in her heart and in her voice to Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. Eyes were wet and hearts tender, her song brought us into the very presence of God.
She sat down, and in the silence which followed we continued to worship. Then the leader of the meeting took his place at the pulpit. With one icy blast of praise to man, he blighted the warmth, the fervor, the blessedness of that moment as he praised the singer in glowing terms, comparing her at length with a well-known soloist of worldly fame and assuring us that we had been greatly honored by her presence.
I shall never forget the look of shocked amazement on that singer's face before her head dropped and she covered her eyes with her hands to hide the tears in her eyes, I am sure, for I found tears in mine.
She had been singing about Jesus, she had been thinking of Him. She had been worshiping God in song. Somehow this wrenching of hearts and minds from Him to her was sacrilege.
Others were also affected. Quite suddenly, under the touch of that leader, the congregation which had gathered to worship God became merely an audience of spectators.
udience of spectators. The tragedy is that the instance just described is no rare occurrence. More and more often the meetings of the saints of God, even some of the great mass meetings involving great outlay of time, energy and money, culminate in the gathering of an audience rather than a congregation. How often in such meetings I have sat with heavy heart while leaders talked with forced gaiety, forced enthusiasm, with almost a theatrical manner, as if Jesus Himself were not able to bless or to reach hearts without the salesmanship of their jovial remarks. How often I have wondered, as they introduced singers, musicians and speakers with lengthy laudations, what would happen if all the people of God gathered there would suddenly lift their eyes from man to the Creator and worship Him, praising Jesus Christ and giving place to the leading of the blessed Holy Spirit. With God receiving the glory, with Jesus the object of every worshiper's love, with the Holy Spirit leading, surely blessings, conviction and power to the salvation of souls would flow in the hearts and lips of every person present.
It is not altogether the fault of the leaders that Jesus has but little place in many of our meetings. As Hosea tells us, "And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their doings. For they shall eat, and not have enough" (Hosea 4:9, 10).
Perhaps we come thinking in terms of the persons who are to speak or appear on the program, rather than in terms of meeting with God.
Frequently we must admit that we are slow to respond to the wondrous truths of the Word with glowing faces and nodding heads. But how quick we often are to react to levity! Such response on the part of a congregation cannot help but affect the speaker, because response is an important part of his ministry.
If we, the saints, come to be entertained, that is all we can expect. But let us remember: "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing."
If this very thing has been the burden of your heart, and it is the burden of many hearts today, for as a layman I hear of it everywhere I go, then pray. Even two or three, by earnest, effectual, fervent prayer, can change a merry-go-round meeting spotlighting people to a Holy Spirit-directed meeting with God.
In 1 Chronicles 15:22, 23 we read, "Chenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it. Berechiah and Elkanah were to be doorkeepers for the ark."
Chenaniah was talented, he was skillful in song, and we thank God for that. What would our meetings be without song? But Berechiah, which means "Jehovah hath blessed," and Elkanah, which means "God has possessed," were doorkeepers for the ark. Who shall say which is greater in God's sight, to be blessed by God and possessed by God as doorkeepers, or to be the instructor in song because of skill? Not too long ago I heard this plea, "Come to this conference and mingle with God's elite the greatest singers, musicians and speakers in the nation."
That same afternoon I visited a saint of God who was ill, and there I met others who had gathered to pray and to help in whatever way they could. None of those present was financially able to spend a week at a conference, but as they prayed, and as they prayed for that very conference to be blessed of God, I thought, "Surely, here too, are, God's elite." For not only the talented, but the faithful are God's elite, His select group, His chosen ones. And I was glad to mingle with the Berechiahs and the Elkanahs who were joyfully doing the will of God.
Oh, saints of God, leaders, singers, musicians, speakers, pastors, teachers, doorkeepers, congregation-let us give honor where honor is due. Let us love one another with pure hearts, fervently. Let us esteem very highly for their work's sake the leaders of God's people; but let us say with David, "I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together" (Ps. 34:1-3).
Paulo Sarli writes from Brazil where he is the speaker and director of the radio program "Light in the Way".