Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is That All There Is?

Is That All There Is?

I have heard it said that the reason for many troubled marriages and divorces is one or both spouses having unrealistic expectations regarding what marriage was and/or how the other spouse would behave or treat them. It struck me as a very good observation.

Of course, some expectations are quite legitimate, such as having your spouse remain faithful, and being treated as they would like to be treated themselves. But in every marriage, I am sure that there are expectations held by both parties that are at least slightly unrealistic, and doomed to never be realized.

As I remain away from organized church, I have wondered if I haven’t had the same unrealistic hopes regarding what “church” should be, and as a result have come to a place of chucking the whole business altogether. Yet, I think that, as in the case of marriage, there are certain components regarding what our gathering together should look like that should never be compromised, or gone without.

From reading scripture, it is clear to me that believers in the New Testament enjoyed certain elements in their corporate fellowship and worship. They sang, encouraged one another, and shared everything they had, were involved in each other’s lives, prayed for one another, confessed their sins to each other, held each other accountable. Each one of them had spiritual gifts that they exercised in order to edify the whole body. Meals were shared, bread was broken, and the cup was passed. Their focus, and their hope, was the Lord Jesus; His life, death, resurrection and soon coming again.

In my “church” experience, I came on the scene later in life. I assumed, like most people, that church had always been the same, though perhaps with some modern “improvements” along the way. I never questioned the traditions, how we did things, or why. After all, there were certainly centuries of Christians before me that had shaped them, and I was confident in believing that all took place according to what the Bible said.

Church to me was the place to be, to be with others who loved God, to sing with them, pray with them and listen to sermons. For years church was right up there on my list of priorities. If you were a Christian, you went to church. It was where you had fellowship, worshipped and were fed spiritually. And for a long time I was happy in it.

Over the past year, however, I have struggled with church. Slowly, I began to try and find reasons that I couldn’t go. I started to dread it. When I was there, I could hardly wait for it to be over. Increasingly, I felt out of place, and as though I were just going through the motions, putting a smile on my face and repeating my lines as if they came from a script. All the many “ministries” that I had devoted myself to became unwanted duties, and I felt as though all that we did in that building was utterly futile in terms of building God’s kingdom in ourselves and in the world around us.

I went through a time of depression, and at the end of that, I realized I wanted to stop going altogether. I was surprised to discover that was my earnest desire, and even more surprised to realize that God was right there with me, was maybe even leading me to that conclusion. Of course, I went through all the second guessing, thinking I was losing my mind and feelings of fear and guilt that you might expect. But at the end, when I finally made the decision, I felt a huge weight lift off my spirit. And the freedom only increases with each passing day.

Church for me had become a frustration instead of a fulfillment. It was a disappointment, and no more a delight. I knew it should be more that it was; much more. I also knew that if there were changes to come at my church, they would be agonizingly slow. And every other church would be basically the same.

My expectations of church changed. I believe they are rightful, proper expectations. I believe that the way we have church now is a sham, and a shame. I liken my current disappointment to this example:

You read about a new restaurant in the newspaper. There are rave reviews about the food. So you call them up and make a reservation. You and your spouse arrive promptly at the appointed time. Both of you have taken care to dress up; this is a special treat. This will be the first time that either of you has eaten at a restaurant. The hostess seats you at a comfy table, and you place your order. The menu lists many delicious sounding items, and you can hardly wait to dig in. You ate sparingly all day so you could enjoy the meal. You are expecting to have a gastronomic experience that lives up to all the hype you have heard.

The waiter finally arrives with a large domed tray. He sets it down on your table, and with a flourish, lifts off the lid. You behold in amazement what is before you. At first you think you are seeing things, so you pick up a piece of the food. But it’s true! It is all plastic! Just like the play food your little daughter uses in her pretend kitchen. You look at one another in disbelief. The waiter stands there, smiling smugly, as though proud to be the bearer of such a feast. You look around, and you realize that the other patrons have the same fake food on their plates. But they are picking it up, and pretending to eat it! They are even smiling, licking their lips, and nodding to others at their table as though agreeing to the deliciousness of the meal.

Stunned, you both get up and walk out of the restaurant. It all seems like a joke. What is wrong with the other patrons? Can’t they see that what they are experiencing isn’t real? Driving home, you both agree that you won’t go to restaurants any more. You will stay home and cook your own food. Perhaps you won’t have fancy food, like that served in many restaurants, but it will be real, and satisfying.

That is where I am now. At home, having my own worship, prayer, study. Meeting with others when I can for real fellowship. It is so much simpler, so real, so satisfying. Yes, I do think that my expectations were unrealistic. It was unrealistic of me to expect all of those good and right elements of “church” to take place in that building, in that form, on those certain days.

Maybe you are in a similar place. Maybe you are questioning, like I did, asking “Is that all there is?” If so, I want to encourage you that no, that is definitely not all there is. Jesus meant for it to be so much more, and for Him to be so much more in your life. Ask Him to show you, to lead you. Trust Him to do this. It will be His pleasure, I assure you.


William said...

I think I need to read the story again of the little boy who declared to everyone around him that the "emperor has no clothes".

I am constantly encountering persons who are separately coming to the same conclusion about the church - namely that, "the emperor has no clothes". While the phrase may not be the exact one the Holy Spirit is planting (Melanie's illustration is an example of a different one) the message is the same. The church is naked!

AmyC. said...

This is excellent. Well said. So true.
~Amy :)