Since coming to faith a couple of decades ago, I have seen many begin their faith journey with a vibrancy and zeal, only to burn out and walk away disillusioned. For some, it seems their faith has wilted; for others, their character (or lack thereof) was exposed by the light. My heart grieves over these stories of love lost and friends who have walked away, and I am left with the question, “How do we become the sort of people who love faithfully love and serve Jesus and His Church more 20 years from now?”
As we explore this question, I’m going to be using the language of “liturgy.” This will be familiar to some but not to others. By liturgy, I mean rhythms and habits of our lives that orient our affections toward the perceived “good life” – whether consciously or subconsciously. Our liturgies (both our Sunday Liturgy and life liturgies) reveal, reinforce, and reorient our worship. They reveal our true treasure both as individuals and as churches. Show me your liturgies, and I’ll show you your gods. Allow me to slightly re-word my initial question utilizing this language of liturgy: “How do we become a people who create healthy liturgies & rhythms both as individuals and as churches so that we love Jesus more and look more like Him 20 years from now?”
To help us think through this question, let’s look at Hebrews 12:1-3. I pray this passage is both a mirror to us today, as well as a springboard into health:
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (ESV).
Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine you are in the race this passage describes. If our spiritual journey is like a race, where are you in this story? What sorts of weights are you carrying? What sin in your life clings so closely that it impairs you running well? Are you running with joy and excitement, or gasping for breath? Are you running in the opposite direction? Are you out completely on the sidelines because you’re hurt or despondent? Do those around you know about those things? For me personally, as I considered this passage, I realized I was often running without looking to Jesus, trying to muster up my own strength.
I’m going to be talking about cultivating five different liturgies based on Hebrews 12:1-3 that I think are essential for faithful long-standing ministry.
Cultivate liturgies of looking
How do we lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely? How do we run with endurance the race set before us? Verse 2 teaches us that the way to do everything in verse 1 is through looking to Jesus, beholding Him and setting our constant gaze on Christ. One of the main reasons we gather Sundays is to look to Jesus together and delight in Him! When we gather, we do far more than simply contemplate an intriguing theological truth; we meet with a real Person. Our songs, readings, sermons, prayers, and sacraments are all intended to call people to lift their gaze from themselves and false gods and set them on Jesus.
We must learn to see our Sundays as a relational liturgy. A relational liturgy is a habit or rhythm in which two or more people are involved. One example of a relational liturgy would be a date night with my wife. My aim for a date night is not to merely have the date night, but to engage with my wife. Do you know that when we gather on a Sunday, God is present with us? We live in the Age of the Spirit—a post-Pentecost world where the Spirit moves as His people gather. In too many of our gospel-centered churches, we still sadly stop short of experiencing the benefits of the gospel: intimacy with God, enjoying His love and presence, and seeing His gifts poured out in our gathering through one another. We underestimate what God might do on a Sunday because we forget about His real presence.
Looking to Jesus was never meant to be isolated to a single event on a single day of our week, but rather an all-consuming steady gaze throughout our days, weeks, and months. If you aren’t looking to Jesus in your own life during the week, it will be very challenging to lead others to do so on Sundays because we lead out of the overflow. Our liturgies of the closet must align with our liturgy of the stage.
Cultivate liturgies of remembrance
We don’t simply gather to look to Him with others, but we also gather to remember His Story. We rhythmically rehearse the Story because we are so forgetful. Week in and week out, we tend to put ourselves in the center of the Story and forget who the protagonist is. In Hebrews 12:3, the writer of Hebrews calls us to “consider him…” not just once, but repeatedly. Why do we gather? We gather to remember or reattach, God’s Story to our own. Does our Sunday liturgy help people remember Jesus, His beauty, and dive deeper into His Story? Sometimes this remembrance is intense and powerful, while other Sundays are less glamorous and eventful. Even the Sundays we might not remember a year from now are doing something to us, whether we recognize it or not.
Cultivate liturgies of confession
In Hebrews 12:1, there is an assumption that Christians will still struggle with sin (“…the sin which clings so closely…”). As we remember the story of Jesus and Him laying down His life for us, we can be honest about our sin with others. Tim Keller reminds us, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” We fight Satan’s evil schemes by confession and repentance!
When it comes to those you’re serving with, do you know each other’s weaknesses, sin, and the things that are currently weighing each other down? Is your church a safe place for people to know and be known, to confess and fight sin together? Too often, we are afraid to confess, leading hidden lonely lives of secret sin. For us to be in this for the long run, we must learn to confess and give each other grace.
Cultivate liturgies of community
Hebrews 12:1-3 was not written to an individual but to a group of people (“Let us run the race…”). This isn’t about you on a solo sprint! God is calling a people to Himself. Our Sunday gatherings are a beautiful reminder we are not running on our own. Interestingly enough, 1 John 1:7 reminds us that if we live in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. If that’s true, the opposite must be true as well: if we are not a confessing community, we will not have fellowship with one another.
Hebrews 12 also references a great cloud of witnesses. By looking at Hebrews 11, we see that this great cloud of witnesses is the community of faith that’s gone before us who’s been faithful unto death. May we hear the voices of the suffering saints, “The way is hard but so worth it! Press on and don’t give up. Keep looking to Jesus and running with others!”
Cultivate liturgies of rest
This race we are on is a lifelong journey and pilgrimage, one we are told to “run with endurance” in Hebrews 12:1. To be an enduring people, we must learn to be a resting people, which is easier for some than others. The human need for rest stands as a reminder that we are finite beings. God built not only daily rhythms of rest (sleep) into our lives, but also weekly rhythms of rest. He called His people to work for six days and rest on the seventh. The Sabbath is, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “a day to pray and play.” As we sabbath, we intentionally set aside a day a week to both meditate on God and recreate in this beautiful world we’ve been given.
Do you have daily rhythms of rest where you slow down and delight in God? Weekly? Monthly? Annually? As you seek to establish these restful rhythms, note there is a massive difference between liturgies of rest in God and liturgies of distraction. Beware of escapism disguised as true rest! May your liturgies of rest help you rest in God your Creator and Redeemer and enjoy this good earth.
Brothers and sisters, may we not grow weary or fainthearted on this journey. May the gaze and rhythms of our hearts be set on Jesus and pressing toward Him. May we go the distance till we finally see Him face to face! What a joy that will be.
Joel presented this material at Engage 2017, Acts 29 US West’s annual conference. You can read posts from other speakers at Engage on our blog, and check out our 2018 conference details at acts29uswest.com/conference!