My in-laws used to have a home by Lake Michigan. From their house they had circular stepping-stones that led to the top of the dune overlooking the lake. On summer visits there, we loved walking barefoot on this path of carefully placed stones in order to stand and gaze at the beauty of the water.
I often remind my congregation during Sunday morning worship that we have collectively taken one step closer to heaven since the last time we met. Like stepping-stones, our weekly Lord’s Day gatherings point toward the great day of the Lord that awaits us. Worship is a time to gaze ahead in wonder and awe that the Lord Jesus Christ will return, for “he comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 96:13). As such, God’s people should not only prepare to go to church, but they should see the worship assembly itself as preparation for that great day.
Yet how do we prepare for the day of judgment as we worship on a Sunday morning? Of particular concern is that congregations often do not view their worship as God does.
We know what the day of the Lord will be like. Jesus has told us so clearly in Matthew 25. When He comes in His glory, He will gather all the nations and separate people one from another like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The sheep, or true believers, will be blessed and inherit His kingdom. Why? Because the reality of their faith in the Lord was clearly evident in lives that showed compassion to others. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (vv. 35–36). In contrast, unbelievers will be damned and cast into hell by their lack of such works (vv. 41–46).
Therefore, even now, when the church gathers for worship, the Lord examines us like a vineyard owner to see if we are bearing the fruit that He desires (Isa. 5:1–7; John 15:1–8). Psalm 82 tells us that as we worship, “God takes His stand in His own congregation” (v. 1, NASB). Why? To judge whether His people are rescuing the weak and the needy as He desires (vv. 2–4). God knows if we are practicing true religion in visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27) and living out the understanding that “faith apart from works is dead” (2:26).
As you pause, then, in worship on each Lord’s Day stepping-stone, you should examine whether your faith in Christ is leading you to be more like Him in the way you treat others. Have you brought forth fruits of your faith this past week by visiting a lonely widow? Given to a person in need? Showed hospitality to someone new? Supported persecuted saints? Helped someone who was ill? And are you making plans to do so this coming week as you humbly prepare to glorify your Savior on judgment day?
Typically, questions like these can leave us feeling ashamed or overwhelmed. Our hearts protest that we have more pressing obligations. Let me offer, then, a reflection on the Lord’s gospel, a reminder about the Lord’s ministry, and a refresher on the Lord’s Day.