They mess up my intimacy with God. They arrive late, leave early, don’t turn off their cell phones, sing off key, can’t seem to keep their babies quiet, talk during the instrumental music, and pretty much ruin the entire worship experience for me.
I’m pretty sure I could have a better encounter with God if I stayed home and met one on one with the Almighty. I’ve heard that many people – good, solid, Bible-believing, evangelical Christians – are quitting church. And I sympathize with them increasingly Sunday by Sunday.
There are other reasons I don’t like going to church. They do a lot of things there that just don’t pertain to me. They make announcements about senior citizens’ activities. (I’m too young for that). They recruit for people to work in the nursery. (Thank God I’m past that stage of life). They give reports about the youth ministry. (I’ve already put in years of those activities). And they give updates about missionaries in parts of the world I just don’t care that much about. (Can’t they do that some time other than Sunday morning?)
In other words, church doesn’t meet my needs and it doesn’t center around me.
And that’s exactly why I go.
More than just about anything else in the world, I need regular (weekly is far from adequate) reminders that the world does NOT revolve around me. The more painful and bothersome the reminder, the more likely it is to unglue me from my self-absorbed worship of me. All week long I can get away with self-concern. I make my own schedule, plan my own priorities, say yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want, and, aside from some rare moments when good friends point all this narcissism out to me, I enjoy having me in the center of my universe.
But then comes Sunday morning. Church counters all that. And more clearly than anything else, I want to say, “Thanks be to God.” When I go to church, we start out with a time of praise, which reminds me that God is so much bigger than I am. We then move to a time of confession, which shakes me into remembering that I’m not as good as I think I am. And all those other people and announcements about activities that don’t pertain to me show me that I am not an island. Rather, I am part of a body with a wide range of gifts, strengths, weaknesses, callings, and needs.
So of course, there are announcements that don’t pertain to me. I use those times to pray for the people who do need to listen carefully. When they ask for volunteers to work in the nursery or with the youth ministry, I ask God to show me if he’s calling me to step out of my comfort zone. (What a great term! “Comfort Zone.” It’s really a euphemism for “idol altar”). And when people sing off key, I sing with greater thanksgiving that God sees us in Christ, rather than in a sound booth.
Most challenging of all, when they report on parts of the world that I have heard little about (and care even less about), I ask the Lord of the harvest to break my heart with the things he deems as worthy of prayer and sacrificial giving. I thank him for advancing his kingdom despite apathetic people like me and I ask him to use me in whatever way he wants so that everyone hears the good news of the Messiah.
So…last Saturday night I set my alarm clock and asked God to prepare my heart for the next morning’s time of worship. I prayed, “May You be glorified and may I be humbled before You.” God answered my prayers.