Our family attends church every week unless we are out of town or ill. This is not to achieve some perfect attendance award, but if a solid commitment to go is not regularly upheld, it is way to easy to find excuses not to go.
Excuses not to go? But, we love our church! We absolutely love going to church. It’s a warm, loving, Bible-teaching church filled with many of our favorite people in the entire world. So what’s the problem?
The problem is this annoying thing called sinful nature. Speaking for myself, after living this many years on earth, I have realized that it only takes me missing two consecutive Sundays before the temptation begins to creep in to use that allocated time for myself.
When we take the day off of work, or forego a class in college, it opens up free time that wasn’t there before. Do you get as excited as I do about how to spend it? Work, play, sleep – I can fill bonus hours in countless ways. When going to church feels optional, I begin to think about all of the other things I could be doing.
That’s the enemy’s whispers because of two reasons: One, he knows the Bible instructs us to go, and it does because of the second reason…there is blessing in going. We worship, learn, fellowship, and are inspired and encouraged by others as well as have opportunities to serve fellow believers to list a few.
Hebrews 10:25, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
So, our family attends church every week without question. However, recently, the train in our family derailed. Actually, it derailed Saturday night. That was the first problem. My husband and I have been married for 22 years. We’ve seen each other at our worst and at our best. We’ve been through tragedy, victory, and just about everything in between. But, this Saturday night, we sinned.
We let the sun go down on our anger.
Every marriage has hot spots. If not, I’d love to meet the couple that never, ever has any problems whatsoever. When two sinful people take an oath to live the rest of their lives together, differences are sure to appear. It’s just going to happen.
We had an issue that is an actual problem. None of this leaving the toilet seat up or down or where to squeeze the toothpaste tube stuff. That’s newlywed growing pains. This had to do with different parenting styles in a certain area. The details aren’t important here, but with a valid issue as real as this one, that Saturday night we went to bed unwilling to budge in our positions.
In the wee hours of the night, when my head finally hit the pillow, I thought about church which was only a sunrise away. Ug. Realizing it wasn’t going to happen because of Bruce’s and my standoff, I turned off my preset alarm and fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up with a heaviness in my heart. Going to bed angry with each other was our first mistake. We know better, so how is it we can justify and rationalize sin? I knew a couple once who went to bed in a heated argument so much so, one of them left the bedroom and slept somewhere else in the house. Overnight, the wife had a massive heart attack in her sleep and died. The husband is left living the rest of his life knowing a fight was his last interaction with her. A heavy weight to bear indeed.
Scripture is clear – In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent… – Psalm 4:4
‘In your anger do not sin’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. – Ephesians 4:26-27
We should have gotten out of bed and dealt with it, but let’s face it – too much stubbornness and pride was at stake.
The next morning, while the kids slept in, Bruce and I had to figure out where we were going from here. In the early years of our marriage, there were times we went to church blazing mad at each other. We didn’t speak to each other the whole time, but were nice and sweet as honey to everyone else. Hypocrisy.
How dare I hug a neck or share a laugh with a friend or casual acquaintance while I shoot laser eyes at the man who voluntarily entered a covenant with me to spend the rest of his life with me – and me with him.
But, sometimes problems just can’t be solved by the time the music starts. Like problems that pop up on the way to church, for example. What do we do then? We have different roles of service we are committed to serve. Things are expected of us. Do we let everyone down?
Wow. Writing this lets me see how much going to church can become more about people and less about God. While we are tangled up in our drama, it’s like God is standing there saying, Helloooo! What about Me? I thought you were coming to meet with Me?
Church is God’s house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). So what does God say about conflict and attendance? Jesus spoke directly to it in Matthew 5:23 –
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come offer your gift.
But, He’s right. Believe me, I’ve tried to skirt around this. I’ve gone to church before knowing this Scripture, so I thought that if I just didn’t worship while the music played I could still reap all of the other benefits of church and serve my duties.
Everything we do is an act of worship.
Romans 12: 1-2, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
But, Bruce and I not going to church meant our kids would have to miss, too.
There is a cost to sin. Our first sin was going to bed angry and not resolving it. The cost? All of us miss church.
So we did.
They slept, blissfully unaware of Bruce and I working through this sticky issue we had between us. For two hours, we talked, debated, talked…round and round we went.
We eventually resolved our conflict. New strides were made in this area more than in many attempts in the past. It was great! Progress! Apologies were offered. Tempers cooled down. And everything culminated in praying together and starting the day over – ironically just as the last hour of church ended.
I remember thinking to myself, It’s strange, but I feel like I’ve been to church today. We missed the music, the teaching, our friends and our service, but God was able to finally break through our stubborn hearts and help us resolve a long-standing issue. We grew as people and as a couple. We grew in our faith. Hey, aren’t those things some of what church is about?
We’ll stream the sermon we missed online, but I’ll tell you that I feel like I got a great one at home. We felt God’s hand of discipline in that our kids missed church as a result of our sin of going to bed with unresolved anger. Children learn future habits from their parents. Do I want my children’s marriages to be ones laced with fake smiles hiding hard hearts on Sunday morning, or be willing to miss a rare Sunday to resolve conflict and return to church with genuine love and living in peace and harmony with their spouse? I would beg them to forfeit the proverbial perfect attendance gold star in lieu of being righteous in God’s eyes and in the eyes of their spouse.
Here’s the two ways the rest afternoon could have gone: We could have gone to church spitting mad and held it in for a few hours. However, the minute we got home that can of worms would pop open and everything would start up all over again – probably for the rest of the day.
Or, as it happened, after praying with each other, we prayed with the kids for God to be with us in our day. This resulted in a picnic! We went to a favorite little shopping place that has green space and each of us got lunch from where we wanted – all within walking distance from each other. We had a family picnic – even brought the dog and our newest pet, a hedgehog. Bruce, leaning on crutches and me with my surgical shoe firmly planted in the ground, threw the football with our kids. We played frisbee and took silly pictures of our pets. We thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous fall air and warm sunshine. We stayed for hours. It was some of the most enjoyable family time we’ve had in a while (thanks to the medical issues we’ve battled lately).
One very surprising thing happened that afternoon I must share because it wasn’t a coincidence. Like I mentioned, we each got a to-go box from the different restaurants we wanted. Donning my casual athletic shorts, a t-shirt and one running shoe :)I walked into the place where my food was waiting.
Stepping up to the counter, I waited while two guys looked pretty busy filling orders. One of them looked up at me and said, completely out of the blue, You look like you’re expecting to have a great day today!
Not convinced I heard him correctly, I kindly asked him to repeat. He said the same thing.
I almost went the self-deprecating route, telling him how much a shower helps, but I decided not to. Instead, I smiled and muttered a quizzical Thank you.
He paused from his duties, looked at me, and said, It’s like you are shining. You have this glow about you.
I must say I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that before. A little embarrassed, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I think I let out a nervous giggle (I do that sometimes). I paid for my food and joined my crew at the picnic.
While eating, I told my family what happened. Bruce said, He saw Jesus in you. (Matthew 5:16)
Hmm. That guy’s remarks was such an odd moment to experience. But, I believe God allowed it for a reason. It proved to me, in a most unique way, that God’s ways really do work. They really are best.
I know my marriage and I know me. I can be stubborn! If we had gone to church under false pretenses, the afternoon would have been miserable. A dark cloud would have hung over our house and who knows how long we would have drug out our argument.
Instead, we dealt with the matter at hand, however inconvenient to our family’s schedule, and enjoyed a blissful afternoon of rest and relaxation, laughing and sharing life together. The light of Christ shone through our humanness because God knows what He’s doing. A light so bright that evidentially it can radiate to the naked eye. Humbling!
He’s given us instructions for living because they glorify Him and are in our best interest.
More than that nice guy in the restaurant, I want Christ’s light in me to shine on my family – my husband and children. I want to be the same person in the privacy of our home that I am in public view at church. Their opinion of me matters most. But, more than what they think, I want the God I serve to be pleased with me. Even above my husband, God is the One I must ultimately answer to.
My family ended the awesome day yesterday watching the 1966 classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (an annual tradition for us). Linus thinks he’s found the most sincere pumpkin patch for the imaginary Great Pumpkin to visit. He tells Lucy, Look around, not a sign of hypocrisy in sight. May we be found the same.
I realize some problems are bigger than a weekend. I get that. But, what God is getting at is that what is in our control, what is our responsibility, we should own. We have the freedom to be angry, but are instructed not to sin in our anger. As a friend and I were just saying earlier this week, we reach our victories quickest when we don’t stumble along the path. Had Bruce and I dealt with the conflict head-on, tired and all, instead of going to bed, we would have reached resolution hours earlier, gotten a better night’s sleep, and had been able to go to church with clear consciences and whole hearts.
Below are some go-to Scriptures I frequently reference and hope they are a blessing to you as well…
Hebrews 4:14-16, Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jeremiah 6:16, This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…”
Romans 12:9 – 10, Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Hebrews 12:1-3, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
1 Corinthians 9:24, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.