Thursday, 18 June 2015

Endurance Exercise

Here's a little snapshot of some of the thoughts that pass through my head when I'm on the treadmill:
  • When do I get to stop?
  • I don't belong here. 
  • Is being here really going to make a difference to anything?
  • Is this really doing me good!?
  • I actually think I am in a worse mood than when I arrived.
  • I really wore the wrong thing...
  • This is just a social club. And I'm not part of it. 
  • My lack of progress is shameful... am I even moving forward!?
  • Everyone here is weird. 
  • Is it time for food yet?
  • I am not good enough to be doing this.
  • Is this a good use of my time? I could be working right now. Or sleeping. Or eating.
  • Is it time for food yet?
  • This is boring. And painful. And difficult. And stupid. And emotional.  
  • I can't keep going.
Just a few reasons why I am not next in line to the Mr Motivator throne. (#ontrend #1996trend)

However, what's great about exercise is that, in order for it to continue happening, I have to do it in spite of the above avalanche of anti-motivational thoughts. And that's been a great discipline for me. As I slog away on the treadmill getting ever wheezier, ever sweatier, ever tomato-ier, I am presented with the choice: listen to yourself and give up, or tell yourself something different and keep going. 

The other day I was struck by how often I have pretty much identical thoughts about church. 

Have another read of the list: any of these seem familiar to your Sunday experience?

Now, before I go on I should say-  I don't feel particularly let down by any church. I know many people who do, but this post isn't skillful or sensitive enough to be for them. It isn't a" gripe post" or the Christianese version of Taylor Swift's Bad Blood. It is just an acknowledgment that my experience of congregational life (and maybe others?) can feel, at times, disappointing or humiliating or irritating or painful or pointless (or all of the above). And at those times, I am presented with the choice: listen to yourself and give up- or tell yourself something different and keep going. 

With both the gym and church- I know I should keep going. 

On the treadmill, I tend to tell myself things like: "you will look stupid if you stop now- it's been 3.12 minutes..." or "you almost certainly won't die." (Like I said, Mr. Motivator- your legacy remains unsurpassed.) 

But with church, I need something better. It's not just that I need to tell myself something different, but something in some sense truer than the natural "go-to" list.

So, here are some of the things I tell myself when I'm trying not to listen to myself:

1.     You belong here. Maybe you’re wearing the wrong shoes, or went to the wrong school, or don’t add “do” as an infinitive clause in your prayers- but you still belong here. And do you really think any of those things could every really make you belong with God's family!? Of course not! The King makes you belong! He bounded out to meet you, set your place at His banqueting table, delighted to invite you near. So draw near! If he has said, "you are mine"- who else (including you) has any authority to say anything different?

2.     Being here won't make a difference in that being here doesn’t justify you. You come, fully righteous, because of Jesus. You are not here to "get filled", because in Him you have complete fullness already. So if you're here to make yourself acceptable in some way, you may as well have stayed in bed. If you're here to get secure: waste of time- your life is hidden with Christ in God. It doesn't get more secure than that.

3.     Being here will make a difference. Whatever else happens, you’ll hear the Bible. If the preacher is having an off day- God’s Word will not- it will achieve a glorious purpose, so get under its rays.

4.     It is doing me good, even when it feels like it isn't. God intends to do good for these people through you, and to do you good through them. Does it feel like that's impossible? It's not the goodness of your congregation you are doubting; you are doubting the goodness and redemptive power of the God who called them (and you) and has created them (and you) to be his masterpieces.

5.     Yes, everyone here is weird. As are you. They have deep and awkward needs, as do you- and Jesus has power to meet all of them. Rejoice that you gather in broken awkwardness- because you have a glorious Saviour who can redeem all those depths. Rejoice that you have a Saviour who is more inclusive than you. Rejoice that you have a God who sees a warrior in Gideon and a rock in Peter. Rejoice that you have a Father whose very nature it is to overflow in love, to shine his light and warmth and life in to darkness.

6.     Yes, it is painful. Jesus knows what it means to love the church. For him it was costly, and painful. So, he understands the battle. He understands the cost. He understands the pain. In learning to love the church, you are also learning something of the depth and quality of Jesus' love for you.

7.     It will be worth it. Jesus persevered for the joy set before him. There is a joy in loving others that you will only learn if you keep on going. So keep going.

8.     You will get to stop soon. Hebrews 10 says: " Don’t give up meeting together… and all the more as you see the day approaching". Because you get to stop soon, keep going! The day is approaching.

9.     You are right- you can't do this. You cannot keep going as a Christian and you cannot keep loving the church. But Jesus can. It doesn't matter if you feel weak, exhausted or empty. It will not be your strength, your energy, or your fullness that will enable you to complete the race: it will be Jesus- he will carry you in His arms. And more than that- it will not be your own strength of character, your own supplies of love or your own power that keeps you committed to His people- but His. Go in faith- that he will carry you, and that he will give you what you need to love your family.

10. It’s not quite time for food yet... but that time is coming! The awkward, disappointing experience you have of church right now isn’t the end of the story. A feast is coming: and it will be warm, and rich, and you- together with all the other needy, awkward people will be present- fully healthy and fully healed. You'll want to hang out with them then. Church now can be dreary and dull- but the glorified church will be vibrant and joyous and feasting. (And there will be more than just poorly diluted squash on offer).

11. Behold! Look at the church. Just look at her. She is a ramshackle bunch of broken, odd, sinful people... and YET... she has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus! This fragile, foolish and bizarre bunch of people (rest assured- you fit right in!) has been paid for and will one day be completely redeemed and glorious: presented without blemish!  Look at the church... but look past her, to her Redeemer!  Just look at him! Look at the worthiness of the One who has committed himself to people like this! Look at the one who has power and grace to redeem these depths, to strengthen this weakness, to heal this brokenness Keep going to church to remember something of the worthiness of the Lamb who was slain for such as these, who makes priests of these sinners and kings of these weaklings. Church is a reminder of your total unworthiness and a beautiful reminder of the worthiness of Jesus. 

"You are worthy... because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them (them!) to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." 

Revelation 5:10 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! This is so timely!


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