I’ll be honest. This morning was one of those mornings when I felt like sleeping in would have been more valuable than going to church. Attending “Bedside Baptist” or “Church of the Holy Comforter” is what we termed it at my Christian college when we (or our friends) skipped church to sleep in. It makes sense, right, that I can meet God alone just as well as at church?
Yes, and no. In our individualistic society, we have the false notion that we can be sufficiently self-contained in ourselves if we try hard enough, read the right things, listen to the right people. But the reality is that God created us for community. In my own private worship time with God, there are glaring sins I miss because I’m blind to them. How can I see? Through people around me lovingly pointing them out in a way that points me to Jesus. My husband can see sins that I conveniently ignore (and vice versa). Even more so in church, I am drawn to worship God in a way that I wouldn’t be able to alone. Singing worship songs alone can minister to my soul, but it falls short of the awe found in worshiping by singing that same song with a whole congregation. Praying alone can be sweet, but I’m easily distracted and not nearly so focused as when praying alongside other brothers and sisters in Christ. Hearing their prayers focuses me and directs me to pray in ways I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. I love that during our church’s congregational prayer time, I hear different people spontaneously voicing their prayers — of thanksgiving, confession, worship, or request. When it comes time for the sermon, I always hear something that I wouldn’t have challenged myself with and I see a new way of reading a portion of God’s Word.
Why do I go to church? Because I need church. Even when I don’t know I need (maybe especially so then), I need it. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ to point me back to the gospel through their prayers, words of encouragement, sermon, hymn-singing, honest doubts and questions.
This morning as I was wrestling through why to go to church, I read a chapter in Eugene Peterson’s book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” that reminded me of all of this. He says it much more succintly and poetically than me, so I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did:
If we stay at home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss a lot, for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unnoticed prejudices. In worship we are part of “the large congregation” where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us not only in our heads but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith, and blessing with the worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience. We want to hear what God says and what he says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God.