“I rejoiced with those who said to me,’Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD…(Psalm 122:1-4).”
I collect baseball caps. I don’t add just any cap to my collection.
The caps I gather have to have some special meaning for me. For example they must represent a place I have worked or lived, or a sports team I support.
One hat I have in my collection bears the coat of arms of the province of Karelia. This area strides the Finnish-Russian border.
I studied this area in graduate school because it is the heart and soul of Finnish culture. This decade I had the privelege of living there for a few years.
Here is the coat of arms:
The area has been fought over for centuries. The sword bearing arm on the left represents the West. The one on the right symbolizes the East.
These day, especially the last month or so, I feel as if my family and I have been put square between those two swords. Life has been slashing and cutting at us.
My response has been typical of someone who feels they are on the receiving end of a swipe from Zorro. I have been jumping, moving, dodging, and hopping.
I’ve gone to God, too. Yet, I feel like the Psalmist who wrote the following:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent (Psalm 22:1,2).”
I have been so busy and overwhelmed by my trials, that when it came time to get going to church activities, I have demurred. I have slept in.
I got a friendly nudge from my pastor with whom I had cancelled an appointment the other day. He encouraged me to attend a men’s meeting I had committed to that meets at 6 am every week.
I went this week, but even so, the overwhelming pressure of my life still haunts me in daily life. Last night, a conversation I had pushed me over the edge and I did something I rarely do: I wept.
This morning I had another trial. I lost my car keys. This too caused panic, frustration and a close-to weeping episode. Sometimes life just stinks. Sometimes it stinks for a long time.
Jesus told a parable where a king instructed some attendants at a wedding to throw a man out of his celebration. The reason: the fellow had come dressed with no wedding clothes. He wasn’t prepared to celebrate.
The place where the man was tossed was “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13).”
The king was already agitated. He had invited some guests to celebrate the wedding of his son. There was a great, satisfying party ahead. His son was to be honored and feted, and everyone else would benefit in the process.
However, the invited guests refused to come. In fact, when the king sent some servants to plead with them to be present at the banquet, they ignored them, too. They went about the business of life instead, thinking it more of a priority. Obviously, they didn’t much value what they would be getting from the banquet, otherwise they would have showed up.
These invited guests not only brushed off these servants that gave them the invitation, they even abused and killed some of them (Matthew 22:1-6)! What a bunch of party poopers.
When I reflect on this story, I see myself as one of these invited guests who has rejected my King’s invitation. Like the people in this story, my attitude has been “What’s in it for me?” When I do show up to church, I have arrived with the wrong spiritual attire. I am only there out of duty, not to really worship and celebrate my Lord.
The truth is, my question should be “What’s in it for God?”. What is “in it” for Him is that He receives my praise, that my “tribe” gives it to Him also, and that I seek the prosperity of His people and His church (Psalm 122:1-8).
But I know I will also get a lot out of going to church, too. For example, I will get wisdom about how to deal with all my anguishing problems that cause me to weep and gnash my teeth. The wise man of Proverbs wrote:
” Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach,
for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
and have all of them ready on your lips.
So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I teach you today, even you (Proverbs 22:17-19).”
Indeed, this was brought home to me when I kept an appointment I had with my pastor today and was blessed with his insight. He confirmed to me what I had been thinking about praise and going to church.
We were talking about the means of resting in Christ. We discussed the ways of experiencing His grace.
In addition to the usual things, like Bible reading and prayer, he mentioned one more: worship.
To fight off those swords I am living in between, I need the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17). So do my wife and kids. However, even combat soldiers get to take of the combat gear and get off the front line once in a while.
This is where this Christian soldier and his family need to be in order to get some rest, i.e, out of the combat zone for a while. Church provides that place to rest and worship the Lord, even if it is only for a couple hours.
It’s in church where my family and I can experience the light of Christ in the midst of our day-to-day darkness, as we commune with and worship Him. The apostle Paul expresses this thought from the Scriptures. He wrote, ” For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’]made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.the light (II Corinthians 4:6).
Worshipping with other believers who also have Christ in their hearts will give us some R and R. We don’t always have to be doing a sword dance.