As a pastor, you never know what—or when—people are going to confess to you. I’ve introduced myself to strangers on planes to immediately be met with the most personal and awkward confessions:
“I don’t love my spouse anymore.”
“I hate our poodle….I’m a cat person and my husband doesn’t know.”
“I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.”
“I illegally downloaded The Passion of the Christ.”
These stray confessions aren’t confined to planes. The other day I sat down to have lunch with a friend and he said, “I didn’t go to church this weekend.” I responded, “Cool…so do you want to split the nachos or not?”
Of all the surprise lunch confessions I’ve heard, this one doesn’t even move the needle on the shock-meter. It’s not shocking because the struggle is very real! Let me summarize our conversation, and I guarantee you’ll see yourself in it.
- Guy hasn’t been to church for a while, and it’s affecting his family.
- His family really loves church and once they make it there, God speaks and they don’t want to leave.
- But every Sunday morning is difficult.
- He doesn’t feel like going.
- And they fight.
- And the kids act up.
Does this sound familiar? Did this exact scenario happen in the minivan that you swore you would never buy? After laying it all on the table, he said something quite profound, “It feels like a war!” To which I responded, “That’s because it is.”
In Romans 7 Paul reveals that a war rages within every believer. It’s a war between the Spirit of God at work in us and the remnants of our broken humanity. The Spirit of God stirs our desires toward life and joy in Christ, but our sinful nature always pushes back, urging us to embrace self-destructive behaviors. This is why Paul writes, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).
Can you relate? Don’t you have the desire to come together with your brothers and sisters in corporate worship? Doesn’t part of you long for the preached Word, for singing, confession, communion, and service? You long for these things because the Holy Spirit of God is leading you to life! But at the same time that the Holy Spirit is stirring up holy desires, the broken part of our humanity whispers: “Serving is going to be hard today…don’t you feel tired?” Or, “The weather is too nice to be inside.” Or, “You can’t miss this game…concert…camping trip…fill-in-the-blank.”
On paper this reads like an easy, “Would you like door number one or two?” scenario. Church attendance or the UCF game? Corporate worship or a day at the beach? But for those of us who live it, the struggle is anything but easy. Paul uses the phrase “waging war”: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Romans 7:22-23).
In his book, Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp expounds upon the concept of war as it relates to church: “You could argue that every worship service is little more than a glory war. The great question of the gathering is, will the hearts of this group of people be captured by the one glory that is truly glorious or by the shadow glories of the created world?” Tripp goes on to write that we are easily seduced by other glories, so that we can “live in the light of God’s glory every day and yet…be functionally blind to its splendor.”
Some Sundays, sleeping in sounds a lot more glorious than telling five-year-olds about Jesus. Or listening to a challenging sermon. Or confessing our need of God. But it helps to recognize that attending church means warring against lesser glories. If we plan for war, we will act differently.
War is about destruction of the opposition. Don’t take my word for it, even though I have fought in every major conflict in US history…on the Xbox. But listen to General Patton who said, “The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other man die for his.” How do we destroy our opposition as believers?
First, we arm ourselves for battle. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
In other words, when those errant thoughts argue that it’d be easier to sleep in, argue back. Take your thoughts captive. As Pastor Mike likes to say, this is violent language. It implies that our thoughts will not go willingly. We must be proactive to know and rely on the divine power of Scripture to take our thoughts captive.
Secondly, we must persevere. I love the charge in I Timothy 6:12 to “fight the good fight of faith.” It’s not enough to declare war or respond to war; we must persevere in war. We must take our thoughts captive again…and again…and again. We must show up again…and again…and again.
What next steps can you take today to make church attendance a priority in 2020? How can you proactively partner with the Holy Spirit to fight the good fight of faith?