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Why Church Was Not For Me

I used to rate church on Sundays based on several things.

1) Did I feel drawn closer to God through a particular song in the worship service?
2) Did something the pastor say stir me to action or conviction or repentance or enlightenment?
3) Did anyone take particular notice of me by asking me questions or complimenting me or showing interest in what I had to say?
4) Did I shed light on any group discussions by pointing out something that everyone else had failed to see?
5) Did I supply someone with some help?
6) Did I steer all small talk towards deeper, more soul-altering conversations?

If I was able to answer two or more of these questions in the affirmative, I usually thought the Sunday was relatively successful. But if no one took any interest in me, and I made a fool of myself in a group discussion, if my mind wandered in the sermon and I found all the songs more annoying than worshipful, then I went home brooding and full of angst.

The pastor should have used more examples to keep his audience engaged. All that chit-chat with super-smiley, super-made-up ladies after the service just goes to show you that no one was affected by the sermon because if they had been convicted, they wouldn't have been discussing the weather or where they bought their outfit. They would've turned to one another and began discussing how they were now going to go and do likewise. And I can't believe I listened to that long-winded lady talk about her garden for fifteen minutes. She never once asked me a single question about my life. She's so self-centered.

I now recognize several things.

1) By waiting for the music to match my mood, I was allowing my lazy and gluttonous spirit to prevent me from worshipping someone greater than myself.
2) By expecting a passionate, intellectual, and applicable sermon, I was missing the small and simple reminders in the message. To remember where I have come from and to where I am going.
3) By expecting others to take particular notice of me, I was relying on my fellow-church goers to make me feel loved or important.
4) By hoping to bring wisdom to group discussions, I was believing that my understanding was far superior to others and that their simple contributions weren't valuable.
5) By thinking it was my job to give someone advice, I thought that I had the power to change them.
6) And by trivializing small talk, I was merely hiding my disinterestedness in others behind a facade of spiritual snobbery.

There was no trying to "fix" my attitude towards church. When I tried to be selfless—that is listening to others talk about things of which I didn't care—I always came away feeling depleted and resentful and wondering why others didn't notice my sacrifices. And when I kept my mouth shut in group discussions, I felt like a plugged volcano listening to the seemingly foolish and off-topic things that others said. And while I was able to keep myself from criticizing the service by working on my to-do list or reading the bible quietly to myself, that didn't really seem like the right thing to do.

Like I said, there was no "fixing" my attitude. But then again, no one gets fixed through effort. We can only be fixed when we've completely depleted our own moral efforts, after all our tricks have failed and disguises worn out. It is only when we come to the very end of our own attempts that we say, "I cannot do it. You must." Only then does the Lord do the heavy lifting.

Selflessness. Love for others. That is the trick to benefiting and enjoying church. A selfless person sees church as a place to listen. They see it as a privilege, a powerful force, a place to remember, a chance to know and learn from other's faith. But a self-centered person hates church because church seems to spotlight their selfishness in a most uncomfortable manner.

Now this spotlight could be a very good thing, if it brings a person to cast themselves at Jesus' feet and say, "I'm terrible. I can't do this. Help!" But if the uncomfortable feelings drive a person away from the cure, it is a tragedy. They were so close to asking for help. They were so close to Jesus and a life of real love.

It is this love for others that can't be contrived or manufactured or faked. When we fake it, we keep track of things and grow bitter and resentful and exhausted. But when it's produced from within us, that is, we ask and believe that Jesus can do it within us, it's genuine and easy and natural. Alone, we are incapable of this kind of love. It only comes when we invite the Lord to do it within us.

The steps go like this:
1) Try as hard as you can to follow Jesus' commands to love one another.
2) When you find you can't, give up.
3) Believe that Christ can do it in you.
4) Ask him to do it.
5) Watch as he generates this new love in you from a new heart.
6) Begin to understand why church is for you.

"If you are a good worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don't call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it's something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift." (Romans 4:4-5 MSG)


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