Last night I talked about serving two masters. Tonight, I want to follow up on that a bit and talk about the odd turn that my life took a few years back. I was on my way out of a marriage that basically disintegrated, and I had turned to the church for guidance. For a time, it was what I needed. I needed to be there, hearing the music and the sermons. I needed to be in the Bible studies and surrounded by others who had faith. I was looking for new direction and I was able to latch on to the message and even chose to pursue another master’s degree; this time in Religion. I wanted to know more about this God I had been worshipping. I had always believed in Him, but I needed to understand Him. I had been very active in church in my teen years and had fallen out of step after some ridiculous church politics had separated my family from the rest of the congregation. At age sixteen, I hadn’t learned enough about who God was. I had only been shown what He hated and who I wasn’t supposed to be and what I wasn’t supposed to do. Sadly, the focus of that particular congregation was largely hypocritical and full of judgment. All I had wanted to do at that point in my life was to sing in front of the church and look cute in my outfits. I had no real clue about who Jesus was or the deeper meaning of the verses we would read as part of the sermons. I didn’t understand most of what I was looking at and I wouldn’t have thought to dig any deeper. I just wanted to be good. I wanted to be accepted.
It’s no wonder that when I left the church all those years ago, I stayed away for over 25 years. But worse than this is the fact that when I did return to the church, although I was on fire for God and I threw everything into learning and building a strong foundation in Him and His word, I eventually ended up feeling just as alienated and detached from the church as I had all those years ago. The difference this time is that I have a deeper understanding of what it means to walk with God and of what it means when someone walks away from God. It is very important for us to understand the difference.
My ideas about this aren’t popular in most church circles, but I can say with no hesitation that my decision to leave the church this time around was not the end of my relationship with God. And the decision isn’t permanent. I don’t feel that I have stepped away from God at all. I am not making my own rules; I’m following His. I’m not saying that I don’t need the church; I’m saying that right now I’m at the point in my life where God has fed me within the walls of the church and then He has told me to go out and use that nourishment to fuel the next leg of this journey. I’m not meant to sit in the pew and fatten myself up on the word of God. I’m meant to get out and find ways to serve and learn and grow.
I don’t believe that we are meant to grow stagnant within the walls of the church. I don’t believe that church is to be achieved in such a prescribed fashion that it lacks the ability to receive the Spirit. Organized worship is fine, and it is very necessary. There is much to be said for having a safe place to land when we are broken and for finding acceptance and peace when we merge with the right congregation. But when sitting in church becomes painful or worse, boring, it is time for us to go out and find Him again because at that point, He has clearly left the building. As I said, I know there are many Christians out there who would say that I’m not a true Christian if I don’t feel that I need to be a regular member of a church. My response to those people is that I take my direction from God and if He tells me to go, I go. I will not allow myself to drown out His voice with what is comfortable and safe. And I would hope that when it is your time to move, you’ll do the same with as much confidence and faith as I have.
Being a Christ-follower is not supposed to be easy. It isn’t supposed to be safe. You can have joy and still face challenges. You can know in your heart that He’s got you but still be upset by adversity. God made us to experience more than one emotion. He gave us the ability to break through the walls and climb those gigantic mountains. We can walk through that desert and find shelter in those storms. And it doesn’t have to look like what everyone else is doing in order to earn the label of Christian. God knows your heart. He knows your mind. He knows if you are manipulating or playing the system. He knows what we hide from the rest of the world and what we hide from ourselves. We can’t hide from Him. Even when we are sure that we know better, He’s right there looking over our shoulder at the mess we’re about to get into. And He won’t be any less willing to help us if we’re dressed in our Sunday best than He is if we’re in rags.
47 Days of Self-Care is a blogging project that is being published between three different blogs owned by Author & Publisher, Rebecca Benston. Over these 47 days, she hopes to share thoughts and resources for better self-care. You can view related posts at Higher Ground for Life, at the Leading the Follower blog, and on the Higher Ground Books & Media blog.