Picture this: the Bible belt, early Sunday morning. You’ve been up since the crack of dawn because your toddler wanted grits and milk well before 6am. Soon after the grits ended up smeared all over the kitchen, you realize time has warped to 8am, and you have forgotten to iron everyone’s “church clothes” the night before. Your spouse has successfully managed to sleep through the grits plea and the grits graffiti, and is just now shuffling out of bed. You, on the other hand, are already tired and extremely agitated. Spouse-Dear proceeds to get themselves ready for church while you do everything else for everyone else. Finally, kids are dressed with no major wardrobe disasters, everyone makes it to the car with no major wardrobe disasters, but you’re still going to be late. After literally battling for a parking space and taking an additional thirty minutes to get the kids signed into children’s church, you are seated in the sanctuary. The Praise and Worship leader takes their place on the podium, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord!” They continue through the applause that erupts. “No one should have to make you praise the Lord in this place! Amen?!” More applause. “This is the day the Lord has made and I WILL rejoice AND be glad in it! Now, get on your feet and give God a hand clap of praise!” You stand. You clap. You’re annoyed. No, no one should have to make you praise but at this instant in your life you are simply over it.
Truth be told, you are only on your feet because the person with the microphone is relentlessly yelling at you. You’re tired of seeing your pastor pour his (her) all into their calling while people sitting around you are playing Solitaire or scanning Facebook on their tablets. You are done hearing parishioners fuss out ushers because their favorite seat is occupied. It urkes you to see that weird old guy give you that creepy wave and wink. The thought of all the evil faces you will soon see in the church parking lot when service is over irritates your ulcers. It feels like everyone is “playing” and all you want is to “feel” again. You’re all churched out and something has got to give, quick, fast, and in a hurry. This is not at all an uncommon crossroads. Lord knows I have certainly been there myself. But there is always a reason for every season, and as corny as that sounds, it’s true. It was at this very crossroad that I learned the importance of self-evaluation. At this point I had to question, was I so caught up in practicing religion that I had neglected my relationship with Christ?
Famed author George Bernard Shaw once stated, “Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” Perhaps he too was all churched out. During his lifetime legalism and religion reigned. Questioning God was unheard of and missing a church service of any type was your one way ticket to hell. Truth be told, many of us were raised with similar ideals. Now, the routine is unfulfilling and exhausting. Thankfully, God always has a truth for our trial. There is a revelation in the Book of Revelation, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forgotten the love you had at first,” Revelation 2:4 NIV. There is nothing new under the sun and the issues we have with only practicing religion and not growing the relationship, the church of Ephesus had also. Ephesus was at one time “on fire for the Lord”, as we would say in our modern church lingo. But they had gotten away from what was most important to the Father, love. Love is the essence of God. Love is the main thing religion always manages to eliminate, and that void leaves us longing, begging, searching for what we know is better. To get back to the love we had at first, we may just have to step back and reignite our personal relationship with the Master.
One can never lose their salvation, but we all get worn. Life will bring out the weariness in you. While it is critical to be connected to a church home, we must learn how to earnestly seek God for ourselves. Bible study with your church family is vital, but private Bible study is incomparable. Once you accept Christ into your life, the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is the same Holy Spirit that resides in you! You can read the Bible and the Holy Spirit will allow you to understand it, to apply it, to feel it. Certainly, we need pastors and ministry leaders and Sunday school teachers to accurately communicate the Word of God. Yes, that is essential. But just as we should grow and mature in our physical lives, we should be constantly maturing in our spiritual lives as well. Pastors and ministry leaders are imperfect human beings, as we are all imperfect. People in places of authority are there because God allowed and they should most certainly be respected; but they cannot be your sole connection to the Lord. You have to put forth special effort in your relationship with Christ so you can hear (via the Holy Bible) the Holy Spirit clearly and accurately. You won’t always be able to make it to church, Pastor won’t always be crunk, and the choir won’t always sing the right song. Your beautiful children will not always be angels. Your loving, adoring spouse won’t always be attentive. You won’t always be able to get someone else to pray for you. Your favorite radio station won’t always have the best playlist, and your MP3 player will eventually need to be recharged, “but the Word of the Lord stands forever” (1Peter 1:25a NLT). Store the Word of God in your heart because you will not always be able to get what you need from another source. Learn to worship outside of the walls of the sanctuary. Every once in a while, trade in the 11am service for a family picnic where you and yours have family devotion and experience God through His magnificent creation. Instead of going to mid-Bible study because that’s just what you do on Wednesdays, why not reconnect with an old friend by having a Bible study across the miles one of those Wednesdays? Instead of hours at choir rehearsal, spend that time singing at a senior citizen’s home. Please do not go telling folks that some blogger lady said you don’t need to attend church. That is totally NOT the message here. Hebrews 10:25 is clear, “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.” My point is this: all relationships require some level of intimacy. The same is true with any Christian’s relationship with Christ. When you are all churched out, it’s time to focus on the intimacy you are lacking with the Lord. Maybe you have been limiting God’s move in your life because you are too focused on getting the classes completed and the assignments done. Of course those things are important to growing in your faith, but everything has a time and a place. If you are just going through the motions, not applying what’s taught in the classes, not retaining any of the information, what’s the point? Other people realize when your heart isn’t into something. Consider this: the moon is the brightest light in the night sky, yet it doesn’t give off any of its own light, but reflects the sunlight. Similarly, we will never shine on our own. There is nothing about our humanity that can fill the void of cold dark religion. We need the Son’s light to reflect on us. That won’t happen unless we get up close and personal with God.
No matter how hard your work to keep on the mask of the happy church-goer, someone is being impacted negatively by what they perceive as a front. That is damaging to your witness as it turns people away from the faith. There is no condemnation in Christ, but He is going to hold us accountable for all of our actions. I personally do not what Him to tell me I was responsible to turning people away rather than helping people to Him. The thought of that burdens my heart in a major way. So to borrow a phrase from my Pastor, sometimes we have to unplug from the wall of life. Our society is a multi-tasking, over achieving, you-snooze-you-lose type of culture, yet God tells us to take it one day at a time. It is wise to plan, but sometimes plans fail. Processes fail. The norm fails. Every day we will not feel the Holy Spirit, because again that’s just life. However, the older Saints put it this way, “I wouldn’t serve a God I couldn’t feel sometimes.” They were able to feel Him because they knew to worship with their whole life, outside of the building. They didn’t get all churched out because they knew how to stay all churched up on their own. Maybe things were less complicated then. Maybe they had fewer distractions and more reasons to rely on One bigger than them. Perhaps. I can’t tell you why our predecessors were able to do it. I just know the how. Go home, Friends. Go back to your one on one time with the King. The Andre Crouch put it like this, “Take me back, take me back dear Lord to the place where I first received you. Take me back; take me back dear Lord where I First believed. I feel that I’m so far from you Lord but still I hear you calling me. Those simple things that I once knew, their memories keep drawing me. I must confess, Lord I’ve been blessed. But yet my soul’s not satisfied. Renew my faith, restore my joy, and dry my weeping eyes. Take me back, take me back dear Lord. Take me back!”