Friday, 24 May 2019

A bad habit we need to break

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

One of the pleasures of church life is welcoming new people. This isn’t so that we can pounce on them in the hope that they might be able to serve in some particular way. No, it’s simply good to see fresh faces - perhaps Christians who will strengthen the fellowship and even become lifelong friends, perhaps not-yet-Christians who we are going to have the privilege of leading to faith in Christ.

I do hope this happens fairly regularly in your church.
The down-side, of course, is when the opposite happens - when those who used to be regularly with us are not any more. We find ourselves saying to one another “We don’t seem to have seen so-and-so much recently?” or “Do you know what’s become of so-and-so?”

People go missing from church life for all sorts of reasons.
There might be a problem - a disagreement, a personality clash, a misunderstanding, practical difficulties like transport or changes in a work routine, perhaps just a feeling of not being entirely happy with the way the church is going. Sometimes - don’t forget this - there may be a spiritual crisis going on in somebody’s heart.

But in my experience it’s very likely to be simply a matter of what I call spiritual drift. We just get out of the habit. Other pressures come crowding in and threaten to squeeze God out. Somebody I once hadn’t seen for a bit responded to my enquiry with an embarrassed laugh: “Oh, I’ve been finding it hard to get out of bed recently!”

The fact is that initial enthusiasm can fade. As the New Testament puts it, we can lose our “spiritual fervour” (Romans 12:11).

If it’s any consolation, Hebrews 10:25 tells us that the same problem existed in the early days of the church. We are tempted to imagine that in those far-off days everyone was bursting with red-hot zeal for God. But not so: there were apparently those who were “giving up meeting together” (possibly for fear of persecution - which at least would be an understandable excuse). And this is a danger we can fall into.

You’ve probably heard the standard sermon illustration... The church can be compared to an old-fashioned wood fire. If you take a stick off a roaring fire it will carry on burning for a time, but very soon it will die out and become just a bit of cold, charred wood.

And we are like that. If we get separated from the church we won’t suddenly stop being Christians: no - but little by little the glow will fade until there is nothing left. Sad!

Do you ever find yourself thinking “Perhaps I’ll give church a miss today”? Or that some television programme is more attractive than a mid-week prayer-meeting or house-group? 

Of course you do! We all do. We’re only human, and our faith is far - very far in many cases! - from perfection.

But it’s at times like that that we need to be careful. And this is where Hebrews 10:25 is the jolt we need. (Bear in mind also that often, having made the effort in spite of our lukewarm feelings, we end up saying, “Well, I certainly didn’t feel like going to the meeting today - but I’m so glad now that I did!”)

We’re heading for the summer holiday season. Here’s a direct question. If you are planning to go away for a week or two, will you make a point of being in worship on the Sundays? Or do you think of holiday time as a holiday from church?

That can’t be right! It can in fact be refreshing to go along to a church other than the one where you feel familiar and comfortable - perhaps a church with a completely different style of worship and spirituality. Not to mention the encouragement you can bring to that church by making yourself known and even bringing greetings from your own church.

See it not as a duty to be carried out, but as a positive area of service and an opportunity to grow and learn. You won’t regret it.

One last thought. It may be that you are in fact one of those who has gone missing - who has “given up meeting together”.

What can I say? Just this: It would be great to see you back. The church needs you. And, believe it or not, you need the church!

Lord, it is my chief complaint/ That my love is weak and faint./ Yet I love Thee and adore;/ O for grace to love Thee more. Amen. (William Cowper (1731-1800)

Father, I remember how Jesus went regularly to the synagogue in his time on earth. Help me to be like him, in this as in all things. Amen.

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