Isn’t there more to church life than what I’m experiencing now?
Many who love Jesus have asked this question at one time or another. Once we’ve been around the church for a while, the services sometimes have a tendency to get a little stale. How do we keep experiencing that love and excitement that we once had?
After leading worship for a while, I’ve noticed that many who are gathered look just a little bored. Sure, you can’t tell what’s really going on inside each person, but my guess is that many would rather be doing something “useful”.
When the music’s upbeat and the people are enthusiastic, it feels good to be a part of it, but I suspect that on a number of occasions, some of us would probably look forward more to going to concerts with our favorite musicians, than to the next meeting for worship. Having watched some rock concert videos, I notice the crowds getting totally involved and exhibiting more enthusiasm than many who profess to be meeting with the King of kings! But don’t we have more to shout about? It appears that there’s something missing.
What is it that keeps us fresh week after week, year after year? Is it new songs, better arrangements, more skilled musicians, louder sound systems? Or is it new worship styles which include all the senses, sights, sounds and smells, maybe recapturing some of the historical practices like incense or ancient music? Maybe a change of church would help. There’s always some church across town that seems to be attracting more of “my kind of people”. We’re often told that worship is a choice. This often works, but what happens when even choosing doesn’t do it for us? I’ve discovered that working on the outward forms of worship, although helpful, can never take the place of making sure our hearts are continually rekindled with a fresh, blossoming love for God. If we want to keep our worship fresh, then our hearts must be kept alive with fresh love. Our love for God like a fire:
“for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” (Song of Songs 8:6 NIV)
When the heart’s grown a little cold, no amount of choosing to get into the worship will light the fire. It just seems to become more fake as time goes on and nothing is changing. I was camping with my family a while back and one of the joys of being away from the home comforts is building that campfire. Our hearts are like that campfire. If we don’t throw on logs occasionally, the fire slowly dies down. When it settles, we put on a couple of logs, but nothing ￼much happens for a little while. If we blow on the existing embers under the logs, suddenly it bursts into flame and burns brightly for a time. If we leave a fire by itself, it burns, then glows, then fades and eventually dies right out. We’re left with black ashes, sometimes a little unburnt wood that escaped the heat. No flames, just the memory of what it used to be like, the warmth long gone.
As committed followers of Jesus, possibly the biggest danger is not falling back into a life of sin, but like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, our greatest temptation is to continue attending church while our love for God slowly fades. We just grow cold ever so slowly. We can be faithful and persevere through all kinds of hardships, even staying true to our loyalty to Him, but if we don’t throw logs onto the fire of our love, it fades. Not quickly, we notice that, but it’s a slow fading that’s almost unnoticeable. That’s why it’s so dangerous. It’s the enemy’s ploy to draw us away from God. He knows he can’t just tempt us away quickly with things of the world. We’ve mostly learnt how those things don’t satisfy. The lie is that as long as we stay loyal in a church body, we will be OK. But faithfulness is not enough! When we face the Lord at judgment day, I don’t think he’ll ask us whether we’ve been loyal to a church or homegroup. he’ll ask us, “do you love me!”.
A while back I felt God challenge me with this question:
“Kevin, what are you doing to get to know me better?”
Wow, what a question! So I searched for an answer. Well, I thought, I read and study the bible, but then I realized that I spend almost all my bible time studying to teach others. Well then, I pray, sometimes. Oh dear, I guess I pray for things I need, for success in ministry and for others. It looks like, Lord, that I’m not actually doing anything right now to get to know you better. I had trouble believing it was true, but it was. I could feel the heart of God saying,
“won’t you just spend some time with me, without thinking about ministry to others”.
I was reading in the book of Revelation where the angel speaks to the seven churches. I got to the second chapter, to the church at Ephesus. Even though it was spoken to a church a long time ago, I felt the words were speaking directly to me. I read “I know your works”. I thought, cool, God sees my hard work for him. I continued to read. God sees my patience, my perseverence – it felt good to know that God sees that I’ve served him in missions for so long. But then I read “you’ve left your first love”. It hit me that my love for God had grown cold. Sure I’d been faithful, but I had to conclude that if I wasn’t doing anything to get to know him better, then my love was indeed growing cold.
Around that time, I met some people who loved Jesus more than I did – don’t you just hate that!! It’s so convicting, but then, in a funny kind of way, it gives us hope. We realize that there’s more we can learn, a deeper relationship is possible. If they’ve found it, so can we. What would we think if we were married and all the other marrieds were stuck in the same level of love for one another? If you’re married or hope to be in the future, then you’re probably like me in that we would want to grow in our love for our partner. Most marrieds will tell you that it doesn’t just happen, it takes work to keep that love firing. If we don’t put effort into getting closer, then we will begin to slowly drift apart, there’s no middle ground. I heard of couples married for over 25 years, then getting divorced. How could this happen?, I thought. Didn’t they love one another more as time went on? Unfortuneately not! If we don’t stoke the fire, it will cool down gradually, sometimes without us noticing, and then eventually go out. How sad! But it often happens with couples and now I realized it happens with our relationship with God.
We either push further in our relationship, or we end up trying to live on the past memories of His love. We can easily fall into dry religious patterns of worship that fail to satify the deep longings of the heart. We sing the songs but the fun has gone out of it and it gets boring. We keep it up because deep down we know it’s the right thing to do. We occasionally have fun with cool music and a hyped up crowd, but it doesn’t last very long. When we lie down to sleep at night, we find we’re just as empty. It just wasn’t like it used to be. It’s a sure sign, we’re getting religious!! Our hearts are growing cold.
But any person or group that puts real effort into getting to know Jesus and his love, will begin to discover life, creativity and joy in their expressions of praise and worship. More skilled musicians will give you better music, but that’s all it is, better music.