I started to write a devotional from this verse I read in Psalms (122:1). Got half of it written as a matter of fact, before I had to stop yesterday. When I came back to it this morning, I realized that maybe I was being directed to write another blog post, as it didn’t seem that I was going to be able to get all I had to say condensed down into the brief devotional page.
I grew up going to church with my family. We were the Sunday morning-Sunday night-Wednesday night group. We were there every time the doors were opened. To add to that, the church I spent the majority of my growing up years in was as dedicated to meeting together as any I’ve ever been a part of, in that rarely was there a Sunday or a Wednesday where services were not held, no matter what else was going on. I found that frustrating as a kid, because sometimes I just wanted to stay home from church.
As an adult, I stepped away from the church, from God, from anything to do with worship, for quite a few years. I carried within my heart a scorn and scoff when it came to “organized religion.” I painted everyone with the hypocrite brush, using the sins of a few to judge and condemn the whole. I’m not alone in that attitude. I’ve heard many people say that they would go to church except it’s full of hypocrites. And they’re right, because the church is filled with people, and we’re all hypocrites to a degree.
The attitude of complaint when Sunday rolls around was one I commiserated with. So many churchgoers have no joy when it comes time to go to the house of the Lord. Some who work 6 days a week are known to say that it’s their only day off, they want to rest. Others just find it boring and the idea of sitting through the congregational songs, the message, the chitchat and pretense and false faces of the attendees is just not worth their time. Still others use the truth that you don’t have to go to church to worship or to be a believer as their reason for not going.
All true. All valid reasons. Sometimes you do need a day off if you’re working the rest of them. Sometimes church services are boring, both the “praise and worship” time and the message, and the sanctuary is filled with people in their Sunday best outfits, complete with the “got it all together” masks that cover the gaping holes, ragged tears, stained and soiled surfaces in their hearts. And no, you don’t have to attend church to worship or to be a believer.
I have come to a place in my life where none of those reasons are enough to keep me from going to the house of the Lord. And I praise and thank the Father of all for that reality. (I also praise and thank Him that He has placed me in a body of believers who are dynamic and truth-based, fun-loving and community-oriented and who just flat love to worship!)
In my early adult years, before leaving God and the church to wander in the wilderness, I struggled with the hypocrite aspect. I had seen many people come to the church for help and be judged. I had seen many earnest members reaching for what God had put in their hearts who were shot down, contained, restrained. I had seen many people embrace the self-righteousness so prevalent in the church today while covering their own unrighteousness with a pretty façade. Those who live like hell through the week and yet attend church on Sunday. Those who were shady and mercenary, greedy and penny-pinching, self-centered and self-serving, out for Number One during the work week, and yet would sit in church on Sunday and “amen” the pastor when he preached on giving and generosity of spirit. And these same “live like hell” people would turn their noses up at a junky walking in the door of the church building.
It seemed that the truths being preached were falling on deaf ears. My ears were certainly not tuned to the truths being delivered, but I found it very frustrating that it seemed no one else’s were either. What’s the point? If no one is listening, no one is hearing the truth, no one is applying it to their lives, why go? Why bother?
All these years later, after my journey down, down, down into the pit of sin, all these things are still true. People are still hypocrites. It still seems that no one listens, and no one applies the truth to their lives. Why do I still go to church? Why did I even start back? Because the Holy Spirit wouldn’t leave me alone about it, that’s why! In His word, He commands us to not forsake the gathering together of ourselves as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching. He nudged and pushed and called me to come back to the body of believers, so I finally went. I’m thankful I did.
I won’t be able to overcome all your objections if you’re not in church at the moment. I won’t even try. But I can say that none of the objections, however true and valid, matter. I go to church for one reason: to worship my Savior. In that worship, I am filled to the brim with praise for Him. I am strengthened and encouraged by being around like-minded individuals. I am challenged and convicted by the message laid on the heart of the pastor. Whatever is going on around me, whoever is there or not there, whoever is raising their hands or has them clamped to their sides, whoever is saying “amen” or is actually asleep, whoever speaks to me or doesn’t, whatever I’m asked to do or if my talents and skills are overlooked time and time again, I am there to worship my Savior. When more and more sinners saved by grace come together for the sole purpose of worshipping the One who saved them, the rest of it goes out the window.
I’ve also learned that the building to which I go every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening is not the church. We are the church. We followers of Christ. We bumbling, stumbling, sinful people who are just doing our best to love Him. We are the church when we’re in that building, or when we’re in our cars during rush-hour traffic, or in Wal-Mart, or at the bank, or at work. We are the church whether we’re at a church fellowship or at a bar on Saturday night. We are the church because we carry the body of Christ within us.
When followers of Christ are more than just followers in name, more than just church-attenders, but take the time to develop a relationship with Him outside of church services, to read His word, to talk to Him, to learn more and more about Him, to fall in love with Him, this is when we become His hands and feet, when we go out into the world and display the difference made by following Him. It hurts my heart to know that so many of us believers have missed the point or forgotten what it means to be in the body of Christ. No, I’m not going to get it right all the time. I’ll mess it up daily as a matter of fact. But me getting it right isn’t what makes me part of the church. Christ in me, the hope of glory, is what makes me part of the church. I am part of the church because I have placed my faith in Jesus, and the church is His bride. He is the point.
Psalm 122:1 says “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'” I am thankful that this gladness lives in my heart. I pray that it does in yours as well.