We all like a good plot twist in a movie or book. There is something delightful about the surprise of thinking we knew where things were heading only to be blindsided with a whole new scenario. While we like this in movies and books, we tend to feel differently about life. in our lives we want things to move as we expect them to, surprises far too often bring pain and discomfort. They leave us reeling, unsettled, and unsure of how to react.
Life is not like the movies, we are too invested. There are too many implications and negative possibilities. Plot twists, or life not going the way we expect, make it messy; and no one likes messy. We like to have a plan and work it, to know what is best for us and structure our lives accordingly. There’s only one problem with this, what if we don’t actually know what is best for us?
The longer I live the more I am convinced that I usually don’t know what is best for me. I tend to structure my life for comfort and ease instead of subjecting myself to unnecessary struggle. I do what needs to happen to get by but will rarely choose to go in a direction that would be difficult unless there is no other way to avoid it.
The more I see this truth about myself, the more convinced I am that God knew exactly what He was doing when He came up with “church”. In today’s world people in increasing numbers are walking away from church. It’s too antiquated, full of hypocrites, dysfunctional, cliquish; all true to be sure. There are so many other options for spiritual enrichment available today. I can go to virtual church, podcast amazing teaching, get the best worship music right in my headphones while I walk by the river. That’s so much better, so much more meaningful. There’s only one problem. Leaving church takes away the difficulty of actually interacting with people. I don’t mean people who act and think like me, I’m talking about avoiding people who are different, difficult, and sometimes down right dis-tasteful. The fact that the church is full of people who think and act differently than I do may be one of its greatest strengths. In the context of weekly encounters with “them” I am forced to confront the selfishness and arrogance in “me”. In my frustration of trying to live with people who don’t agree with me I am confronted by different opinions about life. In my participating in rituals and music and sermons and whatever else that bugs me or I consider not as good as I can find elsewhere I am challenged to accept people for who they are and not what they offer me. This, not surprisingly, is how God accepts me.
People ask me all the time if they have to come to church to be a Christian. I don’t think coming to Church makes you a Christian, but I am increasingly realizing that if you don’t make being a part of a church a weekly habit you will avoid all the rough edges that a relationship with Jesus seeks to transform in you. Connecting weekly with a specific group of people is one way you are forced to grow and realize who you actually are and the areas in which you need to grow. Church is not some sort of spiritual supplement that you take to augment the work that God is doing in you, it is the gym where you go to exercise the spiritual muscles that have lain dormant in you for far too long.
One last comparison. I work with a kids basketball program in my town. Little kids always grab a ball and try to shoot from the 3 point line. I hate the 3 point line. They aren’t strong enough to hit it from there without severely compromising good shooting form. Their desire to hit “the big shot” actually hampers their ability to hit any shot. What they really need to do is start shooting from just beside the basket. They need to train their muscle memory to shoot the right way every time. As they gain strength they will be able to take a step back and shoot from a greater distance, but it takes time, and shooting from near to the basket doesn’t seem all that glorious. This “shooting from close range” is church. It looks far too ordinary, and often it isn’t fun. Others are doing it differently and we are drawn to something different. Something we want, instead of something we need. Church is God’s glorious plot twist to help us grow in ways we don’t even know we need to grow.
If you are serious about spiritual growth you should find a local community and start engaging on a regular basis with a specific group of people. It may not be what you think you need, but have you ever been wrong before?