The problem we experience, whenever we think about the church, concerns the tension between the ideal and the reality. The ideal is beautiful. The church is the chosen and beloved people of God, his own special treasure, the covenant community to whom he has committed himself for ever, engaged in continuous worship of God and in compassionate outreach to the world, a haven of love and peace, and a pilgrim people headed to the eternal city. But in reality we who claim to be the church are often a motley rabble of rather scruffy individuals, half-educated and half-saved, uninspired in our worship, constantly bickering with each other, concerned more for our maintenance than our mission, struggling and stumbling along the road, needing constant rebuke and exhortation….
—The Contemporary Christian: Applying God’s Word to Today’s World, pp. 219-220.
This quest for transcendence is a challenge for us and to the quality of our public worship. Does it offer what people are craving—the element of mystery, the “sense of the numinous”; in biblical language, “the fear of God,” in modern language “transcendence”? My answer to my own question is “Not often.” The church is not always conspicuous for the profound reality of its worship. In particular, we who call ourselves “evangelical” do not know much how to worship. Evangelism is our specialty, not worship. We seem to have little sense of the greatness and glory of Almighty God. We do not bow down before him in awe and wonder. Our tendency is to be cocky, flippant and proud. We take little trouble to prepare our worship services. In consequence, they are sometimes slovenly, mechanical, perfunctory and dull. At other times they are frivolous, to the point of irrelevance. No wonder those seeking reality often pass us by!
—The Living Church, pp. 33-34
When I attend some church services, I almost think I have come to a funeral by mistake. Everybody is dressed in black. Nobody talks or smiles. The hymns are played at the pace of a snail or tortoise, and the whole atmosphere is lugubrious. If I could overcome my Anglo-Saxon reserve, I would want to shout, “Cheer up!” Christianity is a joyful religion, and every service should be a celebration. I am told that Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher said before he died: “The longer I live, the more convinced I am that Christianity is one long shout of joy!”
—The Living Church, p. 30
Many people take issue with Christians meddling in their affairs, whether in one’s private individual life or the public sphere. And while Christians (like others) can certainly be busybodies, John Stott makes a more disturbing point: Jesus is the ultimate meddler, and we really don’t like it.
[Jesus] is still, as C.S. Lewis called him, ‘a transcendental interferer.’ We resent his intrusions into our privacy, his demand for our homage, his expectation for our obedience. Why can’t he mind his own business, we ask petulantly, and leave us alone? To which he instantly replies that we are his business and that he will never leave us alone.
So we too perceive him as a threatening rival, who disturbs our peace, upsets our status quo, undermines our authority, and diminishes our self-respect.
We too want to get rid of him.
—The Cross of Christ, p. 54 (Emphases and line breaks mine.)
It is on our knees before the Lord that we can make the [sermon] message our own, possess or re-possess it until it possesses us. Then, when we preach it, it will come neither from our notes, nor from our memory, but out of the depths of our personal conviction, as an authentic utterance of our heart. So, wrote [Richard] Baxter, ‘a minister should take some special pains with his heart before he is to go to the congregation.’ ‘Get you sermon by heart’ pleaded Cotton Mather, meaning not ‘learn it by heart’ but ‘get your heart suitably touched with what you have prepared.’
Every preacher knows the difference between a heavy sermon which trundled along the runway like an overloaded jumbo jet and never gets airborne, and a sermon which has ‘what a bird has, a sense of direction and wings.’ Which kind any sermon will be is usually settled as we pray over it beforehand.
We need to pray till our fresh comes freshly alive to us, the glory shines forth from it, the fire burns in our heart, and we begin to experience the explosive power of God’s Word within us.
—-Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today, p. 257 (line breaks and emphases mine).