Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV
For the last 10 years, I have held a job in some capacity in the local church. Prior to, and during that time, whenever I would take a weekend trip or go on vacation, I would rarely attend church while I was out of town. After all, I was on vacation, and that was a part of my "job". That all changed recently when my wife and I had our first child. I realized that I didn't want him associating Sunday morning church services solely with my "work". It has now become our family practice to, as far as it is possible, attend church while we are away from home. We want to foster a sense of value for Sunday worship gatherings in our family. If you've spent any amount of time in church, whether as someone who regularly attends gathered worship services, or someone who goes to the occasional service, you may have found yourself at one time or another questioning the value of corporate worship. For some, the pace of life today makes it difficult to prioritize Sunday morning church. For others, it may be that they don't feel a "connection" in these types of services. "I can worship God just as well or better doing (fill in the blank) than I can in church," you may have heard someone say (that's not to say we can't experience deep worship for God in other experiences - I just spent a weekend in the Rockies and was constantly in awe of our Creator). Regardless of how busy our lives are, or how connected we "feel" in corporate worship (Scripture tells us that our hearts are deceitful and not to be trusted in Jeremiah 17:9), it is important that as believers we "do not neglect to meet together" as the above passage in Hebrews states. There is great value to be had - for the believer, for the Church, and for our cities - when the people of God gather together to worship the One True God, proclaim His gospel, and encourage one another. Here are just a few of many reasons why I believe this is so valuable.
1. Our hearts so quickly turn to idols.
In Exodus, while Moses was away on the mountain receiving the 10 Commandments and other instructions from God, it was not long before the Israelites grew weary and returned to their former practices that made them feel safe and comfortable. They had just witnessed God do incredible things like the parting of the Red Sea, yet in Chapter 32 they had Aaron melt down all of their gold and fashion a golden calf for them to worship. Like the Israelites, we too have an affinity for our own idols. It can be easy for our hearts to quickly turn away from the God of the universe, to whatever is right in front of us - whatever sin or creature comforts that make us feel safe and comfortable. Weekly gatherings with fellow believers where the primary goal is remembering and reminding one another of the greatness of God, and all that he has done, can do much to realign our hearts and minds toward our heavenly Father.
2. Jesus loves the church - he died to unite it as a family and as his body.
Jesus, our Great High Priest and the one who has made it possible for us to "enter the Holy places", loves the church; after all, he is the "head of the church” (Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18). As believers who were bought with his blood, we are referred to over and over in Scripture as the body of Christ. In the human body, brain, heart, lungs, etc., signals are constantly being sent to one another. If there is a breakdown in communication, our bodies don't function properly. Likewise, if the body of Christ does not regularly meet, knowing each other and being known, that local body can begin to function improperly. False teaching can creep in. Disunity and division fills the space we leave when we aren't engaged in the local body. I've heard people say that they only need Jesus, not the church. But if Jesus loves the church, and his desire is for his body to be unified and functioning, then we must commit ourselves to the regular gathering of believers in the local church.
3. We are to stir one another up for good works, encouraging one another.
When we go to church on Sunday, we are not consumers of religious goods and services, showing up merely to take in little snippets of truth and then repost them over images of mountains on Instagram. We are battle-weary missionaries in need of rest, encouragement, and equipping. As Christ followers, we have been called and set aside according to God's purpose (Romans 8), and sent on the Great Commission. When we gather with fellow believers who are sent out on that same mission, we can be a great source of encouragement for one another. Rather than approaching church with the mindset of "what can I get out of this" or "what value is there for me here," we should recognize that the church needs us. You are in a unique circumstance where God has placed you, with unique giftings and experiences. We need you, the church needs YOU! The church needs you and all that you've learned, experienced, and all of the insight the Holy Spirit has given you, so that you may encourage fellow believers and stir them up to good works. This encouragement, this stirring up, should fan the flame of God's mission in our hearts, so we leave church ready to be salt and light in our communities.
As someone who once viewed Sunday morning as being a part of a job description, I spent years missing the value of corporate worship (and I spent a lot of time leading worship!). Don't miss out on what God is doing in your local gathering of believers, nor deny that same gathering the ways that God might use you. Let us gather to take in that "fount of every blessing" that will tune our hearts to sing His grace to ourselves and each other, to unify us in His love, and to build us up and equip us to sing of that same grace to a world that desperately needs it.