Why Going to Church is Important to Me: Part II
Well, this post is a bit overdue. So much for my monthly post track record.
Anyways, in Part I of this mini-series, I shared how church (the people who are purchased by Jesus’ blood) is the modern-day tabernacle and temple of God, and therefore it (the assembly of the members) is the best and most fundamental place we can go to meet God. The author of Psalm 84 expressed his ardent desire to go to the tabernacle and courts of the Lord so that he can cry out to the living God. Likewise, if we have a thirst to draw closer to God, the church is one of the best opportunities we have to satisfy it.
In Part II, I would like to share about the second blessing in Psalm 84.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
When the Bible talks about “pilgrimage” or “pilgrims” it often describes a journey, implying that where we are now is not a permanent dwelling but in the bigger picture just a place we’re passing through. In these verses it describes a journey that passes through the Valley of Baca and leads to Zion. Hebrews 11:13–15 describes how Abraham considered himself a stranger and pilgrim on this earth, looking forward to a heavenly country.
As Christians, it is important that we always keep this perspective of a pilgrim. We believe this world is not our home, but rather we are journeying towards a better place. Keeping this perspective, however, is something we must proactively remind ourselves, otherwise we can be easily caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities, pleasures, and struggles. We can try to constantly set our hearts on pilgrimage using our own strength and willpower, or as these verses state, we can draw from strength in God.
But what is “strength in God?”
What does it look like? How can we experience it?
“Strength in God” can seem like a very general, abstract concept. This can be problematic because it is often cited as a solution from the pulpit to many of our problems, but in reality we don’t always know what it is or what form it takes. Sometimes in testimonies we hear people describe receiving strength in God through prayer and the Holy Spirit, and although I do not doubt their experiences, for many of us that can make “strength in God” seem like some mystical surge of energy that we’re supposed to feel when we pray, but seldom (or never) do. Many times our experience may be that we try to read the Bible and pray everyday, but still feel a lack of strength and motivation. Gradually, our fervor to walk on the journey of faith can fade even with habitual spiritual cultivation.
Note: I am not trying to discount the importance of regular cultivation in the form of Bible reading and prayer. Personally I think it’s crucial and would endorse doing so even if it’s done merely out of habit. All I am trying to say is that it is unrealistic to expect some supernatural resurgence of power to magically carry us through all the church work we have just because we prayed today. On the contrary, regular cultivation is about gradual, perhaps even imperceptible, growth over time.
By looking at the Hebrew words used for strength in this passage, we can get a little insight on what the author may have meant. Interestingly, even though the English word “strength” appears in vs.5 and vs. 7, in Hebrew they are two different words. In vs. 5, the Hebrew word (עֹז) is used in a more generic and broad sense (e.g. “might, power”). In vs. 7, the Hebrew word (חַיִל) has a much more concrete usage. It is most commonly used to describe an army or host of people. In a way, we can understand the word “strength” in vs. 7 as “strength in numbers.”
To me, this teaches us that having fellowship with brothers and sisters has a very direct impact on our ability to walk on this pilgrimage. It means that one very important way we receive strength in God, and “go from strength to strength,” is by being with other fellow believers.
In 1 Samuel 23:15–16, we see this idea in action. David was on the run from Saul, living the life of a fugitive. David, who we know was a mighty warrior, a man of faith, and someone very close to God, found himself in a downcast and frustrating situation. And how was he strengthened?
“Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God.” — 1 Sam 23:16
Church is where we can find strength in God
We may find ourselves lacking strength for a variety of reasons. Maybe we’re going through a difficult time, maybe we’re just drained from all of our responsibilities, or maybe we have a clear idea of how to improve things for ourselves but just can’t get off our butts to do anything about it. In the midst of this dearth of motivation and strength, we may be tempted to skip out on church. This thought has crossed my mind many a time when I wake up on Saturday morning and don’t want to do anything except continue doing nothing until I get tired of doing nothing. “I need an indefinite break” I think to myself sometimes.
But thankfully, even if largely out of sheer obligation, I get my butt to church. And you know what? Most of the time, after a full day of services and sometimes a full day of serving, I return home feeling renewed, even if only a little (also tired, yes, but never because of regret). There was even one week when I felt a surge of renewal not during the sermon, not during theBible study, but during the church building committee meeting that was after all the services.
A church building committee meeting. Doesn’t that sound so exciting? Exactly, not at all.
Yet in that particular meeting, the fact that God arranges all of us together for His good purpose became so apparent to me. It become so clear how God moves His workers and trains us up with different strengths and qualities so that our servitude can be more complete together. Experiencing this made me feel so fortunate and blessed to be able to serve, and to serve with this group of people at East Bay.
More generally, when I come to church and see everyone also serving with their hearts, working together to keep services and activities running, it inspires me to keep going. It reminds me that we are all in this pilgrimage together, and not always walking on our own separate and individual paths. It confirms to me that continually meeting with like-minded brothers and sisters is critical in going “from strength to strength.”
Some concluding thoughts
Reflecting on these experiences, a sobering question came to mind: What if I had really decided to skip out on church?
Maybe I would be able to sleep more. Maybe I would have a little more fun and be more relaxed. Maybe the break would help me mentally recuperate from the week’s work.
But at what cost? I would’ve missed out on the renewal of my spirit. My motivation to serve would at best stagnate at a lukewarm level, and more likely continue to decline. And I would not have experienced the strength in God that the psalmist described.
When we feel weary and lacking in strength, especially because of fatigue from serving, the temptation to skip Sabbath services can become very strong. But in my experience, when we’re in that state, church is even moreso the place we need to be.
Let us continue spurring one another on in the work of God, so no one feels like they’re walking this pilgrimage alone!