Doing Right and Getting It Wrong
My oldest nephew graduated as the Valedictorian of his high school class this year and for one (thankfully brief) moment I thought there was the possibility I might not be there to see it. I was crushed at the thought. This boy made me an aunt - one of my favorite roles to date. He has worked hard, been a model student, a gritty and determined athlete, a trusted leader, and a bold and eager follower of Christ. I wanted to be there. I wanted to celebrate him. Sure, he would graduate whether or not I was there. He would give an articulate speech, regardless if I heard it. He would be delighted by the whole experience no matter the state of my presence. Sure, others would be there to support and cheer him. Others would take his picture and video his every move. Others would enjoy the celebration of all he had done. In fact, so many people would be there that if I did make it, I would be lost in the crowd. My voice and applause would make little dent in the decibel level in that gym. I didn’t care. I wanted to be there.
I wanted to experience the celebration for myself and offer my congratulations and cheers whether or not they were much to offer. Could I have loved him and been proud of him even if I wasn’t there? Of course, but why would I want to settle for that if I could, at all possible, witness the joy for myself? Could I have gotten the report from someone else or filled in the blanks of what I missed based on Facebook pictures and my own previous experience? Sure. But why would I settle for that when I could see it and hear it for myself? Honestly, though I know Winston Alan loves me, his experience would not have been diminished by my absence. The night was not about me. I didn’t care. I wanted to be there.
And it got me thinking, what if we went to church like graduation?
People attend church for many reasons: tradition, family obligation, political gain, financial/business interests, habit, guilt, the list goes on and on. Certainly, some attend church because they are genuinely seeking - seeking to worship God, seeking to know His Word, seeking peace, seeking help. There are as many reasons as there are people - maybe even more. However, I think that more often than many of us realize, we are there with the mindless motivation of it being “right,” of “doing the right thing.” Please don’t misunderstand me. Doing what is right isn’t wrong, but is it whole?
Without question, obedience and duty are required by God. He honors and is pleased by our obedience. Samuel tells us, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.” (I Samuel 15:22)
God deserves and delights in our obedience.
However church is not just a checkmark. Church is not just the right thing to do. When we go, we should be less concerned about filling in our obligation boxes, and instead eagerly desire to express our love and joy with one another to the One for whom we gather. If not, we are missing out on the joy of experiencing Him ourselves and we are missing the chance to lift our voice with “the many” in such great celebration and praise. Not because He needs us to, not because our voice and applause will make a dent in the decibel level, but because He is worthy.
He will be there. He will speak. He will be lifted up and honored, and all of that will happen even without the contribution of my small offering, but I don’t care. I want to be there. I love the Lord Jesus and the Heavenly Father loves me. I am His and He is mine, and that is why we go to church. I know there are weeks, months, seasons of life where the joy of the Lord seems far and we don’t eagerly desire to worship, but if our life is spent in constant pursuit of His glory those days become fewer. Further, when we worship and follow in the support and accountability of the community God designed we find the encouragement to continue faithfully.
I have spent 19 years loving that high school graduate. I didn’t only take notice of Him when I received his graduation invitation. I watched him take his first steps, I cheered at ballgames of all varieties - in rain, snow, blazing heat, and anything else that came. I watched church plays and his baptism. I have loved him and done my best to make sure he knows it every chance I can by showing up and saying it out loud, and I will continue to do that as long as the Lord lets me. Showing up for him AND at tennis games for Clayton, baseball for Logan, basketball for Aubrey, gymnastics for Maddie, soccer for Hagen, school programs for Darby Mae, and even to stand and cheer as Elanie and Mia learn to pump their legs on the playground swings - and any and all awards days, recitals, plays or whatever else they do because they are mine and I am their’s. I love them and I am privileged to get to be there. Because I have all of those days poured out and in, I more readily desire to be at the next one.
But the truth is, the devil doesn’t care if I go to any of these events or to graduation, but he is fully invested in distracting and discouraging all believers from worshipping God. Period. The greater truth, however, is that God is infinitely more worthy of our intentional praise, attention, and affection than any earthly loved one could ever be. The more we are with God and come to know Him, the more we desire to praise Him and to be with Him and to be with others who want to praise Him and be with Him.
Sunday is coming. Let us long to gather and worship in the same spirit as the psalmist compels,
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Psalm 95:1-6