One of the Wise Man's counsels is, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools!" Ecclesiastes 5:1
Nothing tests character better than one's behavior and bearing in a Christian meeting. We should never forget when we come together for a Church service, of whatever character, that we are in the presence of God. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Unless we are playing a farce, whenever we assemble in the house of God, it is to meet Christ.
How would we behave ourselves at any time if we saw Christ standing before us? If he entered a room where we were, in visible form, and we knew him, would we not instantly fall upon our faces before him? He is as really present in every religious service as if we could see him.
This fact should not make us afraid — it should fill our heart with joy and gladness. At the same time, it should make us reverent. Realizing this, everything we do would be sincere and real. When we pray, it would be prayer indeed, a talking to God. When we sing hymns of praise, our heart would be in the song, our aspirations and desires filling out the words we sing, and making them the actual expression of our feelings. When God's Word is read, we would listen as reverently as if Christ himself were speaking to us in the voice of him who reads. When we listen to the exposition of scriptural truth, it would be with ear and heart open to hear what God will say to us.
Our desire would be, first, to worship God, to bring to him our needs, our weaknesses, our heart hungers, to speak to him of our dangers, of our infirmities, of our perplexities, of our burdens and duties; then, secondly, it would be to get into our own life from God more and more of the divine life, to receive strength, encouragement, wisdom, inspiration and cheer, to prepare us for the toil, the struggle and the service, of the days before us.
But besides this attitude of worship and expectancy, we should always behave ourselves reverently when we stand before God. Some people seem to have no consciousness of the sanctities of the worship in which they are professedly engaged. In too many Christian congregations, one will observe not only inattention — but flippancy of behavior, during the most sacred part of the service! Too often one sees people laughing or whispering during a service.
Not long ago, in a prominent church, a Christian man saw a group of young people, all of them members of the Church, sitting in a remote corner, who, during the entire hour, were writing and passing notes, and handing around a box of candy from one to the other. Even during the time of prayer, this frivolity did not cease. Then, during the thirty minutes that the pastor was preaching, although he preached on a solemn theme, and with intense earnestness, not one of these young people seemed to be impressed, or even to give the slightest attention to what was being said!
It is well known that such behavior is frequent, especially at evening services, in churches. There may be some excuse or apology for it in those who are not Christians, and who have not been brought up to habits of reverence; but when one sees such irreverent conduct among those who on the same Sunday morning sat down at the Lord's table — then what excuse can be given?
Some years ago, a minister related his experience: He was preaching in the church of another clergyman, and was greatly annoyed during the service by a group of young people who sat near the pulpit. They seemed to pay no attention whatever to any part of the service — but acted frivolously through it all. Even during prayers, he heard their whispers. The preacher was so annoyed by this conduct, that he paused in his sermon and spoke sharply to those who were behaving so irreverently. He was surprised that they continued to act, even while he was speaking, and afterwards, unto the close of the service, in the same disorderly manner. After the congregation had been dismissed, the pastor of the church explained to his friend that these people were from a neighboring school for feeble-minded young people. The visiting minister was grieved to know that he had been so impatient, and had spoken so sharply to those who had not the blessing of sanity and were not responsible for their conduct.
But it would seem that any people trained in Christian homes, especially when they are members of the Church, who would act in such an irreverent way during the time of divine worship, must be feeble-minded. There would seem to be no other reasonable way to account for such heedlessness. They may be bright enough, intellectually — but they certainly are feeble-minded so far as the moral sense is concerned.
These words are written to call the attention of young people everywhere to the duty of reverence in the house of God. "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools!" The following axioms are submitted for the attention of everyone who reads these words:
Irreverence during a church service is the worst of bad manners. It shows a lack of refinement. Irreverence shows a lack of thoughtfulness. It disturbs those near by who sincerely desire to worship God.
Irreverence is a grievous sin against God. We profess to be worshiping him, and, instead, we are only mocking him!