When I was in high school I had a plant. I kept it in my room and was really excited about it. For a while I took care to water it and make sure it got enough sun, but not too much. But, after a while I got busy. I would forget to water it. Then, to make up for it I’d water it too much. Before long it wouldn’t flower; it wouldn’t bear fruit. I wasn’t getting much out of it. This really wasn’t a big surprise given the way I’d neglected it! My plant was dead!
Coming back to the US we’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of churches and friends we don’t get to see very often. Often I have conversations with people who are frustrated with church. Most of the time, they are disappointed because they “don’t get anything out of it.” Sometimes they’ve given up on one and tried another. Sometimes they’ve stopped going at all. Sometimes they just don’t know what to do.
I get that. It is frustrating to invest most of a morning and go home feeling like the time was wasted. But often when I probe a little deeper something more fundamental seems to emerge. In almost every instance the people who don’t get much out of church are not spending time regularly in God’s presence. They aren’t reading the Word of God and meditating. They aren’t spending time in silence and solitude.
They aren’t spending time worshiping God each day. They aren’t spending time in conversation with God through prayer.
And then on Sunday, from a relationship with God that is virtually non-existent, they go to church and are surprised they get nothing out of it. But it just doesn’t work that way. Like with my long-neglected plant, I shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t stay green or grow if I’m not caring for it. It’s the old adage, you get what you pay for or what you get out of something depends on what you put in.
The real question isn’t, “What do I get out of church?” Rather, it’s “What do I put into church?” If we answer the second question with things like teaching Sunday school, ushering, tithing, leading youth group etc. then we don’t really understand the nature of church or worship. We’ve missed the fundamental point.
Church and worship require a sacrifice on our part. It is an investment. It takes time. It takes dying to self. Without sacrifice, the most we can hope for in church or a worship service is to be entertained. But when we take time to be with Jesus throughout the week then we can meet with him whether we like the sermon or not; whether the music is good or not; whether the service is “good” or not. In my experience, there have been
times I did not know a song or like the style and I wasn’t sure the preacher had really understood the text, but I was still able to worship.
When we spend time with Jesus, our perspective changes. We take our eyes off ourselves and look to him. Worship isn’t about songs but the glory of the One worshiped. Our hearts are softened and we see ourselves as we truly are. Rather than sit in judgment of others’ offerings, we rejoice in what is offered and unite our hearts with theirs in worship.
Matt Redman sings “You brought a blessing, and the blessing was You.” When we spend time with Jesus, coming to church and worship no longer is about what I get out of it; we discover the blessing is Jesus. It’s being in his presence and declaring his praise.
If you’re someone who is struggling with not getting much out of church, take time to think about how your personal walk with Jesus is going. Where can you take steps to draw closer to him and enjoy his presence? The seeds planted in your heart through the week will blossom when you gather with the Lord’s people to worship!