[This article was originally posted on Pastor Josh’s personal blog, but we felt it should be shared here as well]
It might happen often…
It’s Sunday morning and you’re walking alongside your family into church. This is only the second week you’ve been able to be here in the past few months because of several conflicting events, but you’re here now and that’s all that matters. The person at the door greets you warmly, hands you a bulletin and tells you how nice it is to see you. You can’t remember whether it was the same person who opened the door for you the last time you were here, but you’ve definitely seen them before. It’s been a long week, but you smile, say thank you, and continue walking.
Your children are as antsy as ever to get to their classes, but you want to get a warm cup of coffee before waiting in line to check them in. The coffee here is great; it’s always hot, and there’s plenty of various sweeteners and flavoring to make it even better. They even have those cardboard sleeves that make it more bearable to hold the hot cup and lids to prevent accidental spilling.
The lid snaps firmly to the cup, so your next focus is getting the children checked-in; getting those stickers securely on their shirt and backpack. The lady at the check-in desk was so pleasant and chipper, and again asked about signing you up to volunteer now and then in one of the kids rooms, but that sounds pretty difficult. That’s a LOT of kids to wrangle, and that would take a lot of energy and time.
You pass a few folks you know and catch up with them briefly before heading into the sanctuary or worship center. The countdown timer is at 4 minutes and 32 seconds so you quietly make your way to the area you normally sit and wait for the musicians to make their way to the stage. As soon as they finish tuning their instruments, the service will start. Until then, hopefully you’ll blend in with the other 400-500 people in the room.
You stand when someone on stage asks everyone to stand, and might even sing reluctantly when prodded by the person leading music. But you won’t dare sing loud enough for the nice couple in front to hear you, as you don’t want to scare them away with the screeching. When asked to be seated, you’re thankful for the moment to rest as the music was a little longer than normal this week.
When the offering plate is passed around you try not to make eye contact with the usher, as this is the fourth service in a row that you forgot to bring anything to put into the plate. Or maybe it’s the fifth; you might have lost count. It doesn’t matter though, because other people will be gladly giving and the church will surely keep doing what it does.
When the pastor asks you to turn to a specific passage, you pull out your smartphone to open the Bible app you downloaded a while back. Technology is a wonderful thing, and it sure beats carrying around a bulky book that you could accidently leave behind. You quickly unlock your smartphone and notice a few indicators: two new text messages and three new emails. “I’ll get to them later” you say to yourself and quickly make your way to the scripture the pastor was talking about.
After the pastor reads the sermon scripture he pauses for a few moments to shuffle his notes, so you quickly survey the room. You don’t see any of your good friends nearby, but you do happen to spy a few folks you’ve spoken to on occasion. One of these acquaintances are sitting alone without their spouse, and you begin to wonder what happened to their other half. They could be sick, or separated. Another couple you know is wrangling their little boy; trying to keep him occupied during the preaching. He’s always pretty wiggly and sometimes crawls under the seats.
You get pulled back to reality when the pastor raises his voice a little, and realize that you’ve missed a little of what he was saying. He’s talking passionately though so you tell yourself that you better listen. Then your phone vibrates: another text message. You tell yourself that you might as well check them now since you have no idea what the man preaching is talking about.
When the music begins playing again, you realize that you spent a little too much time on your phone and quickly put it away. Though the chairs are thickly padded and genuinely comfortable, you’re a little relieved that it’s almost over. You have a ton of stuff to finish up before you go back to work tomorrow, and your belly has been begging you for food for the last 20 minutes.
The pastor finally dismisses so you stand up and collect your things. You walk to the children’s area and wait in line to collect your children. After they’re safely in your possession, you make your way to the parking lot in hopes of getting through the parking lot traffic in a timely manor. You have places to be.
Next week, hopefully things will go as smoothly as it did today, because that wasn’t too stressful.
Admitting it is Half The Battle…
This might be you… and I know it might be you, because at one time it was me. And this is a scenario I have heard from countless others as well. The mission every Sunday morning was to “get through” church as smoothly as possible with as little hiccups as possible, because time is precious. Right?
If this is you, then please keep reading. Put aside anything else that might distract you and focus on what I’m about to say…it very well may just save your life.
The Call to Christian Living
Professing believer, please hear this:
THIS IS NOT WHAT GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO!
Living the Christian life IS NOT simply attending a once-a-week event wherein you barely participate and know only a handful of people in the building. It’s NOT a life of “blending in” with a large crowd… and it’s NOT a life of being SERVED by a hand full of volunteers and staff members…
No, God calls you to something much DIFFERENT than that.
When God reaches in and transforms your heart, you are a new person (2nd Corinthians 5:17)…and that new person has new desires and walks in a new way (Romans 6:4). That’s why they call it being “born again” (1st Peter 1:22-23). When He convicts you of your sin and then shows you of the immeasurable grace and mercy he’s given you through Christ, it no doubt produces a JOY inside of you for Him…for the love and mercy He has shown you.
- You’ll want to KNOW and SERVE Him…
- You’ll want to pursue “following Christ” as scripture says (Matthew 16:24)…
- You’ll also garner a new love for Christ’s Bride (the church) and JOYFULLY serve her.
(…the believers who make up the church is the bride of Christ – see Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelations 19:7-9 – and the premise is pretty simple: If you love Christ, you’ll also love His Bride.)
When God takes the heart of stone out and puts in a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19), life is NOT joyless or boring. Text messages are NOT more captivating than the preaching of God’s Word. Singing praise to God and biblical truths to those sitting around us is NOT a reluctant activity… by no means! Furthermore, serving the church is NOT something that other (more “holy”) people do…because for the regenerate believer, these are things that happen from the overflow of a heart FILLED with Joy for the unmeasurable Love, Grace, Mercy and Goodness that God has shown you.
And let me tell you also, it’s NOT EASY.
It’s not Comfortable.
In fact, Christians often do difficult, selfless and sacrificial things!….
But the beautiful fact of the matter is that God equips them to do such difficult things, both in their hearts and physically.
Yes, the truly regenerate believer will be eager to hear God’s Word preached; will be excited to sing the truths of scripture to those around them, and will see the act of Serving the Church (the bride of Christ), even when it’s difficult and time consuming, as a gracious privilege and not a burden.
Wow…so now what?
That’s Simple: Now you Pray!
You should pray ONE of TWO entirely different prayers, depending upon where you stand:
FIRST: If you’ve found yourself in living the joy-less, mundane life as described in the first part of this article, and if you’re NOT convicted that such a life isn’t wrong, then you should pray that God would reach into your heart and stir it. That he would truly regenerate it, because I personally fear any person who thinks this aforementioned lifestyle is “ok” is simply a “religious person” and not a true believer. And if you look through scripture, you’ll find that Jesus wasn’t a big fan of religious people…
Listen to what Jesus said about people who just “did the church-y thing”…who didn’t have a truly regenerate heart:
Matthew 7:21–23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
In today’s western culture, we’d most likely hear: “Lord, Lord, did I not go to church on Sunday mornings, and sing when the music leader prodded, and did I not say a blessing over my food before I ate? Did I not send my kids to vacation bible school?” – I could give countless other examples, but will spare you.
Yes, if you feel no conviction for being a seat-warming, coffee-drinking, Sunday-morning-only professing believer, then you need to pray for God to move in your life. Beg Him to transform your heart and to convict you.
SECOND:If you DO happen to feel convicted that you’ve not been walking as you should….stop and say a prayer of Thanksgiving to Him first and foremost, for He is working in your heart! Praise Him for the grace He has given you through Christ, and rejoice that there is therefore now no condemnation for you (Romans 8:1). Let the joy of knowing that Christ has defeated your sin propel you to treasure Him more.
Then…after you give thanks, prayerfully consider various ways to disciplineyourselves in accordance with scripture. If needed, don’t be afraid to seek counsel from your pastors as to how to do this in accordance to God’s Word. I’ll give you a few examples below just to get you started:
- Resolve to not let conflicts keep you from gathering with the church. Christ DIED for the church, and He commanded us to “not forsake the gathering” (Hebrews 10:24-25) – so make it a PRIORITY to be there as often as physically possible.
- Leave your phone in the car and bring your bible. There’s just something about turning the pages of scripture that feel different than scrolling on a screen, and there are less ways to get distracted this way too. I’ve also found that bringing a notebook to take notes in helps me focus and learn what is being preached. Maybe that’ll help you as well.
- Spend more time with fellow believers in the church. I know some folks are introverted (I am at times too), but there is great Joy in getting to know others who have experienced the same grace and mercy that you have…and since God calls us to “stir up one another to good works” (again Hebrews 10:24), you should commit to making this a more common practice. Come early to church AND stay after – and don’t be afraid to walk up to folks and introduce yourself if you don’t know them. Invite them to lunch, or become part of a small group or a community group.
- Don’t simply “blend in”. In fact, if your church is so large that you can blend into the crowd and not be missed on a given week, you may want to consider finding a church where your presence (and your lack of presence) is noticed.
There’s nothing wrong with large churches, but there IS something wrong with a church that doesn’t feel it when a person is missing. Paul wrote in Romans 12:4–5 “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And in 1st Corinthians, after repeating roughly the same thing, he says: “If one member suffers all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
- Find a place to Serve: Serving each other is a joyful experience, and it’s something God calls us to do. Furthermore, God has “equipped” us in various way SPECIFICALLY to serve the Bride of Christ (read Romans 12:3-8). So don’t be afraid to commit to serving the church in the ways God has gifted you.
Finally, if your church is stocked full of faithful volunteers and you’re not needed…again, it may be time to look for a church where your gifts are truly “needed” and could be greatly used for the building up of the body of believers.
If the description at the beginning of this article was truly YOU, I hope your Sundays start looking a whole lot different from now on. And your Mondays. And Tuesdays… well, you get the idea.
Gospel Community Church