Do you enjoy movies? Are you into action and history? Or perhaps love stories and drama? Do you like suspense? Horror? Each of these types of movies engages our emotions. Some people revel in the tension of a mystery while others find pleasure in being scared. Some like to escape reality and watch two people fall in love and some like to witness the drama of major wars that shaped our world today. [Almost] all movies have one thing in common, however: the subjects are acting. People go to great lengths to create a story – either factual or fictional – and to present it as though it were real. My husband and I just watched “The Martian” over the weekend. We were drawn in for over two hours to be emotionally engaged in Mark Watney’s tragic story having been mistakenly abandoned on Mars. While the story line is fully fantastical, we were sad for him when he realized he was left, we were concerned for him when he did not have enough food, and we were tense watching the rescue attempt, wishing for his well being. People cry in movies. They laugh, they clap, they become involved emotionally. The same is true about sporting events, and a variety of hobbies and activities to which we devote our energy and time.
But when was the last time you were emotionally engaged at Church? When was the last time you heard Truth spoken and you were convicted of your sins, or excited over your salvation and eternity? When was the last time you cried, or were moved in your Spirit to love and compassion?
George Whitefield was perhaps the most talented and driven preacher in the history of the Church. It is estimated that he preached more than 40 hours every week for the last thirty-one years of his life. Living in the 18th century, there was no system of amplification, yet he could project his voice such that crowds of over 8,000 people could here him. He once preached three times in one day in Philadelphia, standing at Society Hill. With a crowd of 8,000, his preaching was distinctly heard and observed at Gloucester Point, which is two miles down the Delaware River. Originally from England, he preached often in the United States and it is estimated that 80% of all Americans had heard him preach. In person.
Not only did he have skill and ability, he was driven by a passion for evangelism and love for the Lord. He recognized the reality that people loved to watch plays and be lost in a fictional world, and yet were rarely fully engaged while listening to a preacher. He told this story to explain why:
“I’ll tell you a story. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1675 was acquainted with Mr. Butterton the [actor]. One day the Archbishop…said to Butterton… ‘pray inform me Mr. Butterton, what is the reason you actors on stage can affect your congregations with speaking of things imaginary, as if they were real, while we in church speak of things real, which our congregations only receive as if they were imaginary?’ ‘Why my Lord,’ says Butterton, ‘the reason is very plain. We actors on stage speak of things imaginary, as if they were real and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’”
“Therefore,” added Whitefield, ‘I will bawl [shout loudly], I will not be a velvet-mouthed preacher.
– George Whitefield
Our worship exercise is often ritual or habit. Musicians, preachers, testimony-givers, pray-ers, and listeners can all fall into a routine, can all develop habits and get comfortable. We would all state that God is real, our salvation is our life, and that Jesus is Lord, but yet something is not real to us. We have a separate compartment for faith and religion, and the moment the sermon is over we are discussing our lunch plans, our weekly events, our jobs or our pets. We have to rush home for that football game, we cannot miss that TV show…But how quickly do we skip church? Or only show up out of obligation – wishing we could sleep in?
Jesus says that what fills our hearts is what will come out of our mouths. He also says that where our treasure is, there will be our hearts. Is Jesus real to you? Or is He imaginary, a puppet on the Sunday morning stage (and a weak one at that)? Are you deeply connected to His body, and committed to serving it as He commanded? Or is church a club you can attend to feel good about yourself or get a Spiritual boost that will help you throughout the week?
Let’s check ourselves. Since the beginning of entertainment, there have been many who claimed that the newest release was the demise of society “as we know it”. Plays were temptations to forget reality. Books were the first “brain rotters”, which isolated people and made minds mush. Then the telephone, the radio, movies, television, the internet and now the smart phone. The problem is not that we are busy or distracted. The problem is our hearts. What do we truly love? What do we believe is real? And to what do we want to give our time?