This weekend I faced the kind of decision that millions make every week — whether to go to church or not, and which church to go to.
One of the things that is true is that the real competition is not whether someone will go to your church or somewhere else, but whether they will go at all. Things like sleep, family time, football, work, etc — these are the things that really compete for whether people will attend church.
Sunday morning was one of the few times lately that I have not had to work until the afternoon, so I could go to church. But… I was recovering from being sick (allergies and some food-bourne illness I think), had been travelling for the Jewish holidays, and worked a closing shift Saturday night… all good reasons to perhaps sleep in Sunday.
But I decided to go. And when I go, I almost always go to what I now consider my church (even though I rarely make it because of work). But another friend invited me to check out a new contemporary service at another church. It was tempting… but I decided to go to “my church” because I wanted to see people I knew, be in a place I was valued/known, etc. I wanted to connect with community.
So lesson #1: church is about connecting with God AND people. Community matters.
The church I go to meets in downtown Hartford. I purposely got there early and went for coffee and some prayer time/bible reading at a local coffee shop. I have to admit I was pretty discouraged that morning.
I had gotten a discouraging email regarding my former church the night before and it was still bothering me. I was also just generally frustrated with where I am at right now in life… what the future holds… etc etc… nothing particularly new, kind of par-for-the-course these days to be honest.
The service started with a time of corporate worship. The band was great (as always) and i quickly entered into a time of worship. As I did so, the fog and malaise that had been hanging over me began to lift and I started having some real clarity and perspective. Just the simple act of worshiping was enough to raise my spirits and change my perspective.
So lesson #2: whatever it is, worship through it.
The rest of the service included a message/reflection from the scriptures, a time provided for us to each respond by taking time to journal right there (journals were provided) and then sharing communion together. Communion is very important to me and my worship life. The simple act of taking and receiving the elements — as well as extending them to others — is a very powerful thing. No matter how unworthy we may feel, it is a grace to receive the bread and wine and it is grace to extend that grace to others. That is why it is so powerful that one of the central gathering places for Christians is at the Lord’s Table — a table of grace.
So lesson #3: wherever you’ve been — and whoever you are — you’re always welcomed at the table.
After the service, I made plans to grab lunch with a friend from church. He had some stuff to do first, but we planned to meet up for a late lunch before I had to head to work. Lunch was real fellowship — fun, interesting theological discussion, processing the message from church, just talking about life. It was a blessing — and very much part of my worship experience for the day.
So lesson #4: a lot like the first lesson… relationships and community are the context for our spiritual growth.
Finally, after lunch, I left to go to work. As I headed in to work, I prayed as I always pray: “Lord, may I see you present during this shift. Help me work well… with speed and efficiency. Help me be a servant to those around me. Help me be present to you. And may what little I have to offer you during this shift be both my WITNESS and my WORSHIP — for your glory alone. Amen.”
As we used to say in my former church at the end of each service… “Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord. And know this, while our service here has now ended, our worship has not ended, because our worship never ends!”
So lesson #5: Our worship never ends!
That’s what God was teaching me on Sunday… what was he teaching you?