A Lesson About Worship from Arnold the Pig and Tom Lester

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This is from a conversation with a friend back in the year 2007.

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old Green Acres television series. At the time of our conversation, Tom was semi-retired and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. He and I were sharing the program for First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana’s annual senior adult fling.  Over lunch he told me this story about another star of Green Acres, Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” Tom said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.”

At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there” or “God led me there.”

And how many times have we heard people remark after church that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Like Arnold the pig, they have to be fed to get anything out of them.  (Smile please.)

A pastor friend was trying to figure out why his little congregation had not been reaching anyone for the Lord. In the parking lot, he found a clue. A sign read: “Parking for church members only. Violators will be towed.” He said to some of us, “How’s that for community relations!”

He tore the sign down.

I sometimes suggest to pastors that they not do a foolish thing I’ve observed at the beginning of a lot of worship services. The minister walks to the pulpit and calls out, “Good morning!” The congregation murmurs, “Good morning.” He says, “I said GOOD MORNING!” And they reply a little louder. Then he says, “Come on, folks. You can do better than that.”

Ever heard that?

That minister has just begun the worship service by rebuking the congregation. No doubt they feel just fine now. He has really drawn them out and they’re now ready to enter into worship. Not!

Now, I imagine most of us pastors have done that at one time or other. But it is a truly foolish thing to do, and so counter-productive.

You wonder how many other self-defeating things we say from the pulpit that undercuts our effectiveness and puts hindrances before those who came to church to worship.

I suggest that those who lead worship services step out confidently and call out a great affirmation of Scripture, such as “This is the day the Lord hath made! I will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or this one: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His righteousness is everlasting and His mercy endureth to the end of the age!”

Start on a high note of praise.  And don’t ask the congregation how they are feeling or whether they are enjoying the weather or if they loved last night’s ball game.  You are there to worship the living God, to give Him praise, to bring ourselves to Him.  We are not there to “get fed” like a bunch of pigs at the trough.

The interesting paradox is this: If we do worship right, we will get fed. But if we come to get fed, we will leave frustrated.  The great Warren Wiersbe used to say, Worship pays. But if you worship because it pays, it won’t pay.

Bring an offering and worship the Lord. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.  Serve Him with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.  (How many times do we read this in God’s Word? Hundreds?)

Try it.  Forget about “getting fed.”  Just focus on worshiping Him.

See what He does.