I would be lying if I said that every time I go to church or a Christian event I actually want to be there and engage. Don’t get me wrong, I love both my churches here in Nottingham and back home, but I just don’t always feel up to it. I’ll be distracted, sometimes for relatively good reasons, sometimes for nothing at all, or I’ll just be in the wrong mood for engaging. The thing is, I’m pretty certain that I’m not the only one like that. So what can we do about it?
Well, should we do anything about it? Why don’t we just accept that we’re not always ‘on it’? The problem is, as Christians we are called to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). We are also called to die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20) and to take up our crosses to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). It’s not an easy call, and one of the reasons that God sent the Holy Spirit to fill us was to give us the strength to live that life. The point is that we’re not called to settle for second best, we’re called to give ourselves completely to God.
That’s a big ask, and it’s so easy to miss the problem. It’s easy to blame our apathy on something else. “The band wasn’t great today”, “we didn’t do that song I like”, “the sermon went on too long”, “the sermon was too short” etc. It’s easy to think that we’re not engaging with God because the conditions aren’t right. But I don’t see God saying anywhere in the Bible that we’re only called to worship him when the conditions are right. I see calls to pray without ceasing, to be a living sacrifice, to honour God with my life…but nothing about only engaging with him when I feel like it.
I wonder if our attitude to worship is skewed. I’m not sure why, but I know that sometimes I just expect it to happen, like I’ll walk in to church and feel worshipful, or I’ll wake up in the morning feeling extra holy and just go round on my heavenly cloud singing hymns all day. Life’s not like that (which is probably a good think given the insubstantial nature of clouds and the difficulties associated with sitting on one). The reality is that whether or not we worship God is a choice that we all have to make day after day, moment after moment.
I’ll use musical worship in church as an example. Sometimes, I find that I’m just not engaged. I’m singing along, but I’m bored, or I’m thinking about something else, and I get to the end of it and wonder what just happened. Sometimes, I get straight into it, and I’m tunelessly belting out the songs without a thought for anything but God. Honestly, the first one happens more. But there are times when I’ve recognised that attitude in myself and made the conscious decision that I’m going to push those thoughts out of my head and focus on God. In those times, I might not reach a super-spiritual-overwhelmed-by-God stage, but when the music finishes I know that I’ve genuinely reached out to God in that time, and I’m yet to do that and feel like he hasn’t honoured it somehow. I can’t really pinpoint what it is that feels different, but something does.
This applies to daily life as well. I often don’t feel all that close to God, but I can still choose to pray, and when I do, my day looks a lot better. Not because God’s making everything great all the time, but because I’m going into the day knowing that God is with me, almost because I’ve reminded myself of that fact through praying.
Now I want to stress again that this is not easy, and although I know that choosing to worship and pray is the best way to live, I don’t always do it. But if it was easy, God wouldn’t have gone through so much to help us get to Him and He wanted have given us the Holy Spirit to support us on the way as well. I would not be able to live anything remotely like a life pleasing to God if it wasn’t for His mercy and strength in the first place, and time and again I’m reminded that when things are going well in my spiritual life, it’s because of what God is making me able to do, not because of what I can do on my own.
This is what we have to remember if we’re going to choose to worship day in, day out, and I think the starting place is fixing our eyes on Jesus. If we choose to do that, we’ll be starting strongly, and then God will see us through.