Thursday, 9 October 2014

When going to church is a chore

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Hebrews 10:25

Have you missed church a few Sundays recently? Been a bit tired? Had rather a lot to do? Not really in the mood?

It easily happens, doesn’t it? I must confess that since I retired from full-time ministry a couple of years ago I have been slightly shocked by my own change in attitude. For over forty years it would never have occurred to me to miss a service. (Well, I was the minister, wasn’t I!) But since then the thought has crossed my mind occasionally, “Shall I give it a miss today?” Don’t worry, I have resisted the temptation; but the fact that it came into my mind at all showed me something about myself I would rather not have known.

We get the silly, unrealistic idea into our heads that if you are a truly “spiritually-minded” person you will be always champing at the bit to get to every service or prayer/praise meeting that ever happens. But that idea is just plain wrong - for most of us anyway. Jesus told us that the spirit may be willing, fine, but the flesh - that is the very human, earthy side of us - is weak. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Which is why I find this little verse in Hebrews 10 encouraging. It reminds us that this isn’t a new problem.  Not at all: even in those early, heady days “some people”, it seems, had got into the habit of “giving up meeting together”. 

Another wrong idea we get into our heads it that the New Testament church was as near perfect as makes no difference: Spirit-filled! bursting with life and vitality! spiritual gifts in abundance! conversions every five minutes! overflowing with love!

Actually, er, no. Ever read the hair-raising Corinthian letters (sexual immorality, cliquishness, chaotic meetings, law-suits among fellow-Christians; apart from that, just fine)? Or Revelation 1-3? Or Galatians 1:6-9? I could go on.

So it’s hardly surprising that the early Christians, just like us, could sometimes get a little flat in their enthusiasm for corporate worship.
In the context of Hebrews, this may well have been to do with the threat of persecution (a far better excuse, I suspect, than most of us could muster). 

But why does it happen to us? Leaving aside the obvious possibility that we have slipped into some kind of sin, I would suggest these reasons...

First, all of us are subject to moods. Difficult circumstances in our lives are bound to affect us. Health difficulties certainly can. Family worries. Work problems. Money worries. Even the weather! (Have you ever pondered the fact that we actually have an expression about being “under the weather”?) The Christian life is often compared to a marriage - it starts with a great whoosh of excitement, but then settles down to a more humdrum existence. Learning to recognise and then cope with our moods is a great skill in the art of daily living. 

Second, there may be doubts. Every thoughtful Christian is certain to have moments when the thought flashes into our minds “Is it really true?”... “Could that atheistic scientist on television last night be right?”... “Was my conversion, wonderful though it was at the time, really anything more than an emotional somersault?”... “How could God allow those children to be so horribly killed?”... “I’m really not sure I agree with what the preacher said last Sunday”... 

When thoughts like that are jostling around in your mind it’s hardly surprising if you feel the temptation to give worship a miss. 

Third, there may be hurts. Here’s another fact that we hesitate to face up to: bad things can happen in churches. People sometimes say hurtful, wounding things. Quarrels break out and misunderstandings arise. It’s possible to go to church one morning feeling bright and sunny, only to come home an hour or so later feeling as black as thunder because of something that happened. Humanly speaking, why indeed would you want to go back?

All these things, and many more I haven’t mentioned, need to be looked fairly and squarely in the face and dealt with as calmly and carefully as possible.

But one thing is sure. Regular worship and fellowship are essential parts of the Christian life, and if our enthusiasm for them has waned we shouldn’t just try to brush it under the carpet. Jesus went to worship “as was his custom” on the sabbath-day (Luke 4:16). And I don’t think he founded the church with the intention that we should stand outside it, do you? Do we know better than him?

People who say that they only need to go into their garden/ out into the country/ into their bedroom to worship God are (sorry) talking nonsense. And the trend towards “believing without belonging” is (sorry again) wrong. 

The church is a community of sinners. All right, saved sinners, of course; but sinners nonetheless. Like you. Like me. Cherish it! Delight in it! Value it! See it through the difficult times. You won’t regret it.

Dear Father, I confess that it is sometimes an effort to get to worship week by week. Please renew my enthusiasm and strengthen my faith. Help me to see your church as you see it - with deep love in spite of all its faults. Amen.

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