Some years ago, I was traveling out of state with some colleagues at a conference. As mealtime approached, the typical discussion started about where to eat. I had suggested that we go to a steakhouse. However, after getting there and looking at the menu, I ended up ordering chicken – a decision that my colleagues found amusing. It’s kind of like ordering tea at a coffeeshop (although I’ve done that, too).
For many Christians, it is customary to go to a house of worship regularly. (I know that many aren’t able to do so even when they want to, whether due to health risks or not being able to leave the house, but the topic in this article should apply to meeting virtually, as well.)
There is good precedent for this in the Bible; for instance: David wrote about his joy in being invited to God’s house:
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Psalms 122:1 NIV
So, when we are invited to get together with other Christians, in a place that has been set aside for worshiping and praising God, what should we do? Well, for one thing, we should probably accept the invitation. In the Psalm cited above, I don’t see David saying, “It’s great to be invited, but I’d rather sleep in or do something else, even though I could definitely go to God’s house.” Regular time spent with others who genuinely love Jesus is important, both for our own well-being and for theirs.
However, in a worship service (meant to worship God), a meeting of believers (in Jesus’ name), or a prayer meeting (through the Holy Spirit), it seems that we should definitely be focusing on what those gatherings are known for: learning about God the Father, praising Jesus, and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
After all, why attend a worship service that isn’t focused on worship? Why get together in Jesus’ name and then not mention the name of Jesus? Why go to a prayer meeting and not pray?
As a result, here’s my suggestion (and a reminder to myself): The next time we get together with other believers, let us set aside the trappings and traditions and seek out something better. It’s not that some of these “other” things that we enjoy when gathering with other Christians are evil, mind you, they just aren’t the most important or most valuable thing that we could be participating in. Consider instead the unique “menu items” in God’s Kingdom, like admiring God’s holiness, seeking Jesus’ presence, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading. These are the things that will make our time with other Christians better, and – if we let them – will carry over to the rest of our week.
The great news is that this focused celebration of God is not limited to formal church gatherings. I know of a Bible study (whose members currently need to meet online) where participants sing hymns together from their respective homes and have the chance to truly focus on God when they are together.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:19-20 NIV
Of course, it’s OK to enjoy ourselves, spend time with friends and family, and experience the other blessings that God provides when the family of God gets together. Still, the next time we’re with other followers of Jesus, let’s enjoy the “house specials”.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.