My husband and I are both natural introverts, which means our ideal form of “rest and relaxation” involves a good book, a hot cup of coffee, and, well . . . nobody else. Okay, that might be an exaggeration—we love our friends and family and have had many times of refreshing fellowship with them! But the truth is that social activities can often be more tiring than relaxing for us and sometimes even hard to look forward to.
Needless to say, it was quite a stretching experience when we moved to another state four years ago and began attending a church with two services and an afternoon potluck (sometimes all three back-to-back!). Add in an hour of Sunday school, a half hour coffee and fellowship break before the main service, and—phew—our weekly “day of rest” felt nothing like rest.
In the midst of a lack of desire to attend all the gatherings and my feelings of social weakness, I noticed something: The families at this church really enjoyed being there. They showed up week after week, toddlers (lots of them!) in tow. They made an effort to be at Sunday school, even if it meant walking in a few minutes late. They hung around after the service to fellowship, even though it was already 1 p.m. and stomachs were beginning to rumble.
The Lord used these observations, along with our dear pastor’s humble and persistent exhortations to make attendance a priority, to begin changing my heart toward Sunday mornings. He began opening my eyes to the fact that corporate worship was just as important, if not more important, than private worship, and that gathering with His people on Sunday morning was a unique experience that could not be had while sitting in a big comfy chair and watching a sermon on YouTube by myself.
A Weekly Choice
Every week we are presented with a choice: to go to church or not to go? And every week a myriad of seemingly legitimate excuses come to mind, tempting us to stay at home (or at least skip Sunday school).
But laying those excuses aside and faithfully choosing to go to church is not just another good habit to cultivate with gritted teeth and obligated resolve. Rather, it is a choice we can make while joyfully anticipating how the Lord will use it as an opportunity to make us more like Christ.
An Opportunity to Obey
Going to church is an opportunity to obey God’s command to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), prioritizing public worship and “not neglecting to meet together” (Heb. 10:25).
As we hear God’s Word explained and applied through preaching, we are helped in obeying the command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Finally, as we submit to the leadership of our church elders, we can obey God’s command to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17).
An Opportunity to Learn
Paul’s letters to the elders Timothy and Titus are filled with exhortation to be careful to teach sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6, 16; 2 Tim. 2:15; Titus 2:1), that their flocks may not be led astray by the many errors surrounding them. Attending a solid, biblical church is an opportunity for us to grow in our understanding of God’s Word, that we might be discerning and able to detect error.
At times it can be easy to simply zone out and start thinking about lunch, but we must not lose sight of what a gift it is to sit under sound preaching of the Word. We would do well to cultivate an anticipation for growing in spiritual knowledge and understanding each week rather than seeing church as an obligation.
An Opportunity to Love
No matter how hard you try, you will not find a church where everyone talks, dresses, and thinks the same as you. But over and over and over again we are commanded in the New Testament to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Faithfully attending the same church every week gives us the opportunity to put those commands into practice while learning to love those who are different than us.
Simply taking up a seat each week is one thing; it’s another thing to make an effort to meet new people, ask someone how their week was, and add specific needs to your prayer list. There is a beautiful diversity in the Body of Christ, and by God’s grace we can develop a love and appreciation for that diversity as we observe how He unites His people’s hearts and uses them as a collective body to grow, serve, and worship together.
A Word to the Mamas
I know—I’ve been there. Actually, I’m still there. My boys are four and one. For mothers of young children, Sundays are not a walk in the park, and between nursing babies, potty breaks, and squirmy toddlers (not to mention our own tiredness), sometimes it feels like we’re doing anything but learning. It’s even easy for our times of fellowship to be filled with “mommy venting,” and by the time all the kids are packed up in the car, all we want is to get lunch on the table and a quiet nap.
The best encouragement I can give is this: Remember, this is a season. Believe it or not, one day your kids will be old enough to leave the sanctuary and use the restroom by themselves! Dear mamas, do not grow weary in giving your children the precious gift of going to church every week, for we have the opportunity to instill in them a lifelong desire to be in God’s house with God’s people.
If Sundays are the day you dread the most, ask God to change your heart and for the grace to display a joyful attitude, even when you’re getting out the door ten minutes late. I remember reading about a father who would wake his young children up on Sunday morning and exclaim, “It’s Sunday, kids. The best day of the week!” May God enable us to display more of this sincere, God-glorifying enthusiasm each week—missing shoes, diaper blowouts, and all!
When Desire Lacks
I will be the first to admit that sometimes I have gone to church simply because I knew it was honoring to the Lord and good for my soul. There will be Sundays when, for whatever reason be it tiredness, a busy week, or simply our own sin, our hearts will not feel that desire to go and sit under the preaching of God’s Word and fellowship with His people. And these are the times when we lay feelings aside, pray for God to work in our lukewarm hearts, and go to church.
More often than not, when I choose to honor the Lord in this way, He graciously meets me there in some way, ministering to me through a specific point in the message or refreshing my heart through the fellowship I had wanted to avoid.
The next time we are presented with the choice of whether or not to go to church, may we lay aside fleshly excuses and expectantly “enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (Ps. 100:4).