The end of the year is often a time when people donate time and money to various charities and other non-profits. Some include giving as part of their Christmas celebration. Every year we receive several catalogs allowing us to donate livestock, school and medical supplies, and Bible study materials to poor families, giving them a leg up in becoming self-sustaining.
All this giving is a good thing. God tells us to give throughout the Bible, and we should do so. The Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and we should give with love and generosity. In return, we find joy in the mere act of making someone else’s life better. If you’ve ever watched your kids open their presents on Christmas morning, you realize the truth of Jesus’ statement, “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
We were at our church’s Good Friday service, just a few weeks ago. Pete and I arrived “less early” than we usually do and found our usual spots already taken, so we ended up sitting further back than normal. No big deal, I thought. But as the service opened with the worship our church is noted for, I discovered that sitting in the back was a much bigger deal than I had anticipated.
The people around us weren’t participating.
I didn’t run away from God. It was more of a drift, a gradual replacement of time normally dedicated to Him. Three weeks on the road—two weeks with the grandkids—will do that. Getting up early to go birding, eating breakfast on the run instead of at home with my Bible by my plate. Being woken at the first glimmer of dawn by two giggly little girls wanting to snuggle with Grandma and Papa Pete. Days full of familiar friends, new places, flowers, birds, and family. I didn’t run away from God. I got distracted.
We finally arrived home this week after driving 4,000 miles through nine states. After unpacking my suitcase, sorting the mail, and starting the first load of laundry, I sat down to write. Nothing came; my mind was a blank. But what about all those inspiring ideas I’d had while praying as I drove across Wyoming, Utah, Nevada? I’d never had a chance to write them down. They were forgotten. Worse, God wasn’t giving me any new insights. I felt disconnected. Distant. Chagrined that I’d let my most important relationship languish.
It’s hard to admit it, but I’m tired of going to church.
We attend nearly every Sunday, sitting in the same spot, singing the same songs (or at least the same style of songs—after a while they all begin to sound the same to me), listening to yet another (admittedly excellent) sermon, taking communion, and saying hi to our friends.
The worship band segues into another song. We sing through the introduction, then launch into the chorus. Then a line or two… and the chorus again. And again. And again. And again. Sixteen repetitions later, we sing the introduction again and the whole process repeats.
The first few minutes are great. I’m focused on God, meaning every word I sing. But by the end of the song, all I can think about is how much I dislike singing the same thing over and over and over. If it makes me this crazy, how could God appreciate this interminable repetition? Is this really how we’re supposed to worship?
In my last post I talked about God’s Christmas wish list, and how our love for him is top priority. Here are some more ways to love God.
Trust and Obey
Another gift God appreciates is our faith. Do we trust Him? My friend Cynthia, who writes an excellent blog about prayer, recently wrote about something God told her:
When I meet you the way you ask Me to, you are blessed. You receive My grace-gifts, and you feel blessed. But when I don’t meet you the way you hoped yet you continue to trust Me anyhow—then you bless Me. You give Me your trust-gift, and I feel blessed.
Giving God our trust totally makes his day. So does our obedience. Obeying God tells him that we love him. Consider John 14:23: “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'”
Why do you go to church?
I hadn’t really thought about it before… that’s what Christians do, right? But then several people challenged my assumptions, and this question has been nagging me ever since.
I didn’t always go to church. My family wasn’t “religious” and church wasn’t part of my childhood. When I became a believer, at the end of my freshman year in college, all my Christian friends assumed I’d be going to church with them—so I did. I’ve been attending church regularly ever since.
Recently, during my search for a meaningful church experience, I re-examined my purpose in attending a weekend service. What was the point? I searched through scripture, talked to friends, and read books and articles. Along the way, I learned a few things.
Last week a friend asked me how our church was doing. She used to worship there too, but a life crisis sent her searching for something different, and she’s been a member at her new church for three years now.
I answered the way I usually do—the church is still doing a good job on the things they’ve always done well. The sermons are biblical and engaging, the music has a world-wide reputation for excellence, and the staff is dedicated. Short-term mission teams are being sent out and a new project will focus on the needs here in our city. People are getting to know God for the first time and disciples are being made. In fact, it sounds just about perfect.
Then she asked a harder question: how am I doing with the church? And I had to truthfully state that I’m frustrated.
It was a recent Sunday morning, and I was struggling to stay engaged as we sang the same words over and over. In case you haven’t notice, many popular praise and worship songs have pretty repetitive lyrics. Praise Him… Praise Him… Praise Him… Praise… What should I make for dinner tonight? Him… That lady in front of me looks really fat in that tight sweater. Praise… How can that baby sleep through such loud music? Him… I don’t like that guy’s T-shirt… praise… huh?
Something (Someone?) jolted me back to alertness and I suddenly realized that I’d put my mouth on automatic while my brain ran in a zillion different directions. I was paying tribute with my lips, but my heart was far from God.
Frustrated and convicted that I needed to do better, I confessed my distractedness to God. I asked Him to teach me to worship Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. As so frequently happens, God surprised me.
I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven. —A.W. Tozer
Our band was wailing on the guitars, beating the drums. The trained vocalists’ voices were belting out the words of the latest “praise and worship” song loudly enough to drown out the rest of us. It was a typical Sunday morning at our friendly neighborhood mega-church.
Our church has an international reputation. Songs written by our worship team are sung in churches all over the world. Our School of Worship trains musically talented leaders to focus on God, not just sing songs. Hundreds of people attend our services specifically for the worship experience (although our speakers are equally gifted). In many ways, we set a standard for the American evangelical church.