(This post was originally written in 2009, before my kids woke me up early every day.)
“…[T]rain yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7b NIV)
A few weeks ago, I noticed that I was feeling reluctant to go to church. I always feel a little bit unenthusiastic on Sunday morning, because the 9:30 a.m. church service is earlier than I usually get to work. But this time I noticed a little resentment in my reluctance, and that gave me pause. I’ve been to church nearly every Sunday of my entire life. Why did I suddenly resent it?
I used to believe that being sick was the only reason to miss church, but I’ve relaxed a lot since college. However, I do still consider church attendance an important discipline. The author of Hebrews urges, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25 NIV). The pattern of joining other Christians in fellowship and listening to Christian teaching on a regular basis is valuable and not to be taken lightly.
But how quickly a discipline can become an obligation, and then a burden! If we lose sight of the reasons behind our actions, we will quickly lose our enthusiasm as well. This tragedy befalls many church attendees: the traditions become meaningless, so the followers become passive and uninterested. Many ultimately give up.
To keep our disciplines from becoming burdens, the first step is to pay attention. If you are feeling indifferent or even resentful about something you used to do willingly, take a moment to see whether it is simply the Holy Spirit giving you a little conviction. Don’t continue to beat yourself up over your perceived failure of duty. Remember, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV). Next, re-evaluate the practice about which you’re feeling guilty. Remind yourself why you got started in the first place. If you’re not sure, take the opportunity to research a discipline or tradition; its origins might surprise you!
Because I noticed my bad attitude about going to church, I was able to reflect on what might have happened. I considered whether I was getting lax in other spiritual practices—such as praying and doing my Bible study—and resolved not to let myself get away with it. I then looked at my schedule, to see if I was giving my Saturday night bedtime a priority corresponding to the high priority I claim to place on going to church. And finally, I accepted God’s forgiveness, for he is slow to anger and abounding in love.