For many, if not most people, the idea of being in a church on Sunday is about as foreign as the idea of donating a kidney. Sure you might end up doing it some day, and it would actually be a good thing, most likely. But it’s not something you think about doing, nor do you expect to do it. However, there are many others, like me, who view the whole idea of missing church on another plane. Advertizing once said that “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.” For me, a Sunday without church is a day without a purpose, or a day in limbo, a day that never really existed.
Each week, as I slog through the ups and downs of life, I always have an anchor in the water. This anchor is the chance to meet up with my church family on Sunday. There are some weeks where I need that anchor more than others. Sometimes, it depends upon just how stormy the sea of life is in that particular week. More storms usually indicate a greater reliance on the anchor. Sometimes, I may have had a week full of other anchors, so that the Sunday church anchor is not quite as necessary. Some weeks are so outside the realm of my church family that I fail to see how church is even relevant. Sometimes, I look at my church family and I wonder how many of them really care?
Yes, many thoughts run through my mind before Sunday, but none of them ever keeps me from being in church on Sunday, because I know from experience that Sunday church is more than just an anchor. It is a way marker, it resets my internal clock for the entire week ahead. It re-affirms what I’m doing and where I’m going. And, if I’m not there, I end up with a week of aimless drifting until I get the next chance to be there. So it is that I set off adrift this week. This morning, I could not read a clock. I missed church.
There are other questions one could ask, such as, “Does it have to be a specific congregation? Couldn’t you just go to a different church? Couldn’t you go on a different day, or at night?” Well, yes, I could. I will still hear about Jesus and his wonderful love for me. But I can do that by opening up my Bible and reading as well. I can still sing hymns and praise God at another church and at another time. But I can also sing hymns of praise in the shower. Being in my congregation at my chosen time has more to do with my needs as a human than with my desire to hear God’s Word and worship. Humans are, by nature, social animals. We feed off the emotions of each other. We form spiritual and emotional bonds that help bring about an emotional centering and stability. When we miss our regular feeding off our fellowship, we “go hungry” in a certain way. We feel empty. Something is missing. Even though we fill the gap with other things that are great and feed us well, there is still a tiny part that doesn’t quite feel as satisfied.
Well, I’m going to have to go through a week with no anchor. I’ll find other anchors. I’ll be OK, because it’s only for one week. But I have to wonder about other people who never go to church. I’ve heard all the rationalizing. Yes, you can worship God in nature. But, do you really do it? Yes, you can read the Bible at home or at the cabin. But, when the fish are biting, do you really do it? As you line up the putt on the third hole, are you really thinking about God? I know you pray to God to damn the put if you miss, but is that really prayer? If you make the shot, does God get the glory?
A few years ago, when I was leading an outreach team, when I was playing the keyboard for church twice a week, when I was directing choir and helping plan worship services, I found myself in church five or six days a week. Funny thing was, the more I was in church, the more I wanted to be in church. Now that I have other directions for my time, I find myself thinking about church a lot less–sometimes not at all. It makes me wonder what it must be like to be a Christian in some places where there are no steeples, where it might be several hundred miles to the nearest church, and where you may be the only Christian of which you are aware. What kind of appreciation would you have then for a place to call your spiritual home? What is it like for missionaries to be by themselves in a hostile place, trying to build a congregation. How strong must the anchor be in your own spirit do be able to soldier on without the anchor of fellowship?
I think it’s very easy, in an affluent society, to take for granted the place of refuge and strength that a church is. I think it’s very easy, in a time of technology that puts the Bible on your phone app, to forget about the nourishing message and the nourishing fellowship that a church offers. When everything is rolling along, and you feel like your in control, stopping for assessment seems like a waste of time. But, church going is like conditioning for athletics. The reason athletes drill things over and over and over again is so that, in an adversarial moment, the right response is automatic. We’ve all seen the hapless rookie on the football team unable to make a play because he is too busy thinking about what he should do. The moment passes before he can react, because he’s not yet conditioned to react correctly without thinking. Same thing goes for people in the military. When your life is on the line, you need to react correctly, without time to think about it, or you will be dead. That is why they drill, drill, drill.
Your spiritual life is on the line. And you need to know where to turn automatically, or you may be lost. When the tough times of life come, where are you going to go for help? When you suddenly realize that you can’t fix it, will you despair? Or will you find an anchor that will help keep you from being washed away? Going to church is spiritual conditioning. You need it to help you prepare for the game of life. When you think about it, we spend one day a week (sometimes just one hour of that day) in church. So, we condition ourselves with one day of practice to play seven days of the game of life. Compare that to football players who spend five days a week or more for one game of football. Consider that all teams practice almost a month, sometimes twice a day, before they even begin the first contest. Nobody questions why they do this. They would be crazy not to! Everyone would doubt their willingness to win the game. Which leaves just one question. Why aren’t you in church?
- Mark 8:27-38 “Who Do You Say that I Am” JUMC 20120916 (mysundaysermons.com)
- “That Church is Too Far Away” (5ptsalt.com)