Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why I Worship at Church

The sounds of my oldest son cradling the porcelain toilet in our hotel room woke me from a deep sleep. The clock read a few minutes past 2:00 am, and I sent upwards a prayer for this to be just a one-time incident, perhaps our late on-the-road supper just not quite agreeing with his always-tender stomach.

A quick, warm bath and no PJs, I sent Wyatt back to his makeshift bed and snuggled myself down beneath the plush duvet for some much needed rest after a long day's travel. Seconds later, I heard his feet padding back across the room, bathroom light blinding as it pierced the darkness. My next action was not very motherly--I sighed...loudly.

And so it went till morning when the grown ups sat around wondering what to do. Should the grandparents leave me and the children for my husband to pick up and continue their journey northward? Should we all just turn around and go home?

Stomach flu is as contagious as wildfire in my house, three preschoolers not yet wise enough to keep anything and everything out of their mouths. This was disaster waiting to strike.

I finally decided we would just continue north; I'd live in the hotel room with sick ones if it came to that. And I prayed. I called my husband and begged both him and my inlaws to drop and pray. But I just felt more was needed. So, I texted the one person in my church whose number I had in my phone; I begged her to tell everyone to pray.

My son who couldn't keep air down for over seven hours suddenly stopped gagging and started keeping down ice chips, then a biscuit.

Even before I received her reply, I knew what had happened. God's people had prayed. My church family had gathered together before worship this morning to include my child in their prayers...and God had heard and answered.

Having a church family to worship with? It's more important than most people think.

In the book of Hosea, one of God's primary charges against Israel is adultery, playing the harlot by worshiping other gods. In the midst of describing God's anger over the idolatry, the prophet offers this criticism: "They offer sacrifices on the tops of the mountains And burn incense on the hills, Under oak, poplar and terebinth, Because their shade is pleasant" (Hos. 4:13, my italics).

I was surprised by this critique--that the people of Israel chose to worship in places where worship was easy, was pleasant.

My first thought was that I like air conditioned buildings with plush seats that don't make my bottom fall asleep. I find that environment pleasant. So, did that mean my worship wasn't measuring up?

But no. To find the answer required going back in time toward the beginning of Israel's history after Solomon died.

When Solomon's son, Rehoboam, inherited Israel, he ruled the entire united kingdom, but that soon was pared down to just two of the twelve tribes. The remaining ten tribes revolted and crowned Jeroboam King of Israel because they weren't so happy with Solomon's heavy yoke or his son who planned to continue acting just like dad.

God promised Jeroboam rule of these ten tribes down through the generations if he would only obey Him. But Jeroboam was scared of losing it all "just" by trusting God's word and, instead, sought to make his own destiny.

As Scripture says, "Jeroboam said in his heart, 'Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah'" (1 Kin. 12:26-27).

Mainly, Jeroboam was fearful of God's requirements for worship, which included sacrifices only at the temple in Jerusalem. His fear was that when the people went up to worship several times a year for the required feasts, they would dethrone him and reunite with Rehoboam.

In his unbelief, he made it easy for the people by setting up two golden calves at two alternate places for sacrifice to God at Bethel and Dan.

Looking at the map, Jerusalem was quite a long distance to travel for those located in the northern tribes, especially in the days of dusty dirt roads, exhausting foot travel, and dangerous marauding thieves and wild animals lurking about.

Jeroboam even said as much: "and he said to them, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt'" (1 Kin. 12:28).

And that was the beginning of the end for Jeroboam and for his people who quickly realized those alternative sites for sacrifice were more "pleasant" than a hard journey to Jerusalem.

They turned worship into a man-centered event rather than a God-centered event, one where they were more concerned about themselves than about what God commanded.

Somehow, the Israelites failed to understand that the actual trip to Jerusalem was part of the worship. They failed to understand that worship wasn't about merely sacrificing an animal or two, but was about personal sacrifice.

I may not be able to sacrifice as much as that weary pilgrim did long ago, the woman who put one foot after another as she walked in obedience up to the God-ordained temple to offer her sacrifices. But worship still must be a sacrifice for me.

Yes, I can worship in my car, in my back yard, in front of a TV where I can watch and participate in a streaming worship service.

But there's no sacrifice in that, no personal cost to me.

Attending church each Sunday? Anyone who has tried to awaken early; dress herself and three children in frills, clip-on ties, and freshly shined shoes; and feed a household of malcontents who really need more sleep...anyone who has accomplished this and made it to worship service on time knows corporate worship is a sacrifice. I give up sleep, one of only two days a week I have with my husband, a day I could catch up on house and school work--all because this is part of my worship, the sacrifice of my time, my energies to God.

But what I gain from my sacrifice? It's so much more than I could ever imagine. I gain a family of believers who is there for me when I need prayer. I gain the blessings of corporate worship, when the family comes together as one to lift up voices in praise to our Maker and Lord.

This day. This Thanksgiving. I am thankful for that local body of believers whom I can call upon at any moment and know they will not just say they will but pray, but who will pray.

1 comment:

  1. Joining you in thanks for our local church families. He takes the solitary and sets them in families.

    Thanking Him with you for healing of stomach viruses. Sophie threw up yesterday a.m. in Children's Church just before the end of service and continued almost nonstop until late yesterday evening. My heart breaks for you as I cannot imagine having endured what we did yesterday while travelling with other small children. So very grateful for His grace, for the local Bodies we belong to and for healing.

    I pray He continues to cover you all with health, travelling mercies and a trip blessed beyond all that you could imagine.