“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
I once read about a revival which took place among some of Scotland's rural churches in the 1800s. Many of the believers who belonged to these churches lived in the middle of nowhere and would travel long distances for gathered worship. Bear in mind, this was before the emergence of automotive technology! What's more, the revival came during winter months, which made the commute treacherous due to weather conditions—especially since the mountainous terrain was not ideal for travel.
Needless to say, meaningful participation in the life of the local church wasn't easy for these believers. Nevertheless, they were faithful and God visited them in a powerful way as one minister from that time noted:
“It was often a stirring sight to witness the multitudes assembling during the dark winter evenings—to trace their progress as they came in all directions across moors and mountains by the blazing torches which they carried to light their way to the places of meeting. The Word of the Lord was precious in those days; and personal inconvenience was little thought of when the hungering soul sought to be satisfied.”
As we look to the example of these believers, let’s make one crucial observation: those who are hungry for Christ consider it their joy to be inconvenienced for the sake of His church.
Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the way many people treat the church today. Countless multitudes attend church regularly, but view it as a commodity—a conveniently located provider of spiritual goods and services for which they make no real sacrifice.
Of course, such a perspective can be manifested in different forms. In some cases, it assumes the form of total avoidance of any sort of participation beyond semi-regular attendance on Sundays. However, in many other cases, it is far less obvious than that.
Most of us don't mind some level of participation. We have no qualms about signing up to serve for an hour on Sundays, or joining a small group. In such cases, the problem isn't one of whether we're participating in the mission of the church; it is one of how we're participating. As advantageous, over-scheduled Americans, our participation is often subject to our convenience. Far too seldom is it something for which we readily adjust our schedules or re-envision how we live.
Instead, we settle for being involved enough to feel like we've done our due diligence before God, but without any disruption of our everyday lives. Or, to put it more plainly, we've resorted to negotiating our participation in the church's mission when we should be completely surrendering it. God isn't after the win-win; He's after our full devotion.
Let’s boil this down so we can see what's really at stake. Our aversion to being inconvenienced for the local church reveals our lack of hunger for Jesus. For those who hunger for Him above all else will joyfully love what He loves and value what He values no matter the cost. Or as the Apostle John put it, those whose hearts have been apprehended by the love of Jesus lay down their lives for the brethren (see 1 John 3:16, quoted above).
Therefore, when it comes to life in the local church, we have two choices before us—we can have convenience or we can have more of Jesus. We must decide. We can't have both. So for you, which will it be?
As you consider that question, read this insight from Ray Ortlund:
If your relationship with your church is ambiguous and sporadic and subject to convenience, the problem is not your relationship with your church. The problem is your relationship with Christ. He has made his loyalty clear. He even delights in his church. He is committed to the revival of the world through the revival of the church. To God, the most important thing in all of created reality is his church, a crown of beauty in his hand. Your own greatest happiness is the revival of your church.
Want to experience true happiness in Christ? If so, your local church must feel like an inconvenience; its mission must cost you something. God is calling us to make adjustments in the areas of our lives that are hindering us from costly participation in the mission of the church—not because He wants to take anything away from us, but because He wants to give us more joy in Christ.
For the sake of greater satisfaction in Jesus, let's stop orienting His church to our lives, and begin orienting our lives to His church. When that happens, we'll no longer be treating the church like a commodity that is subject to our convenience. Instead we'll be delighting in it as the precious bride for which Christ laid down his life.