“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers.”
See Hebrews 10:25
“I don’t need church to love God!” This was something I said for a very long time, and yeah, it is true, I don’t need church to love God. But Jesus has taught me that He likes church, so I should too. He’s also taught me that church is not so much for Him, as it is for me. And even when it’s not for me, my presence there could be beneficial to someone else. We are a body of Christ, and body parts need one another to function at their highest levels.
For so many years I didn’t think I needed church, even as a Christian. I thought church was a place specifically reserved for the “perfect Christians,” you know, the ones who never made any mistakes? The people whom God loved more than me because they did everything just right? Those who loaded up on brownie points with our Creator through all of their Scripture memorization, mission trips, fried chicken dinner fundraisers, and youth group organization skills?
Oh my goodness, the sin of my flesh loathed these people! I wasn’t privileged enough to grow up in a good church–or in any church for that matter–so I had no clue how to “be” like these people. I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. I’m no preacher’s kid and my family life growing up was destroyed by adultery, divorce, addictions, and foster homes. As a boy, my siblings and I were split up like real estate, eventually being abused by employees of the State. It was very bad. No kid should ever have to deal with what we went through. The system is really messed up, and it wasn’t fair.
So when it came to acting perfect and going to church, I fell short. My unrenewed mindset was not adjusted to this type of environment. It was like trying to enter a junk-yard dog into a Prettiest Poodle Contest—this was not natural to my old way of thinking. My spirit? Yes. But my mind had yet to learn the facts of my spiritual perfection. My true identity in Christ, I did not yet believe in full, because of bad teaching. So the parts of me which were really messed up (my thinking–which turned into my actions and attitudes) had no clue what to do in church or with church. I stuck out like a turd in a punchbowl.
Eventually, because I couldn’t seem to live up to their cliquey standards, I resented those who went to church and disregarded them all together. However, I still felt a calling to go to church. It was strange. I now know it was Jesus in my spirit, but back then, I didn’t know it was Him.
I constantly thought to myself, “How am I supposed to go to church with people who make me NOT want to be a Christian?” Truth be told, even if I didn’t want to be a Christian, I still was, and nothing could ever change that–not even me (see 2 Timothy 2:13). Jesus knew this so He kept saying, “Matthew, get up and go to church.” My reply was usually of the effect, “But I don’t like these people! They make me feel like dirt!”
I would continue to put up a fight, “I do not want to go hang out with them, much less be taught by them!” Jesus replied, “Trust me. Just keep going. I’m trying to teach you how to handle this, but I need you in church.”
Succumb to His relentlessness, I gave in, “Fine. I’ll go.”
As my relationship with Jesus grew deeper, He soon taught me that He loves everyone–even the legalistic people who have their theology off kilter by making a geographical location the end-all be-all. The whole reason He was trying to get me to keep going to church with difficult people was to teach me how to show them grace!
This also resulted in Him revealing something else in my spirit: the people whom I thought were perfect in word and deed–or better than me–were not! Instead, Christ exposed the graceful truth that we are all exactly the same! We all have perfect spirits because of our faith in Him! HE REVEALED WE ARE EQUAL IN HIS EYES! (See Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
Christ continued to knock off the rough edges in my thinking as I continued to go to church. Even when the pastor’s message didn’t match up with my spirit, God Himself kept giving me lesson after lesson. Mainly, He was grooming me on how to give legalistic people grace–the very thing they withheld from me. At first, it felt as if I was being force-fed shards of glass, “Ouch! Ouch! OUCH! I don’t know if I can do this, but I will!”
The reality was, I previously didn’t like church because I had been hurt so badly by people in the church. So many of them tried to use the gospel to manipulate me and cause fear in me, that I didn’t even want to shake their hands. I wanted to knock them upside their heads with a heavy frying-pan–*ahem*–my old, unrenewed thinking wanted to do this, of course, not me. That’s not the behavior of a perfect, holy, blameless saint, a heaven-ready spirit (see Colossians 1:22, Romans 8:9).
And I’m not saying you need to make a law out of going to church by forcing yourself into a place where the unconditional love of Jesus is not present. No, not at all. Leave if that’s how it is, and don’t feel guilty or condemned about it because you’re not! (See Romans 8:1). What I am saying is, ask God to send you to the church you should be at. One that is grace-focused, Christ-loving, real, understanding, truthful, hopeful, empowering, and motivating. They are out there!
To find this place–either physically or online–simply pray and ask God to show you where it’s at, and don’t give up! You have 52 chances a year to find the right church!
And most of all, while you are searching, don’t feel guilty about searching. Your identity is not in a building but in Christ! So be sure to enjoy your life in the process! The devil wants you to feel terrible about not being settled in a church, don’t give that idiot his way! Tell him to shut up! Sometimes Jesus talked back to the devil, so occasionally we should too!
So today, my friends, know this: Is going to church really necessary? No. Anyone can go to church, even non-believers. Being the church is necessary. God’s grace is necessary. Now, because you are the church and God’s grace flows throughout your being–go to church! That place needs your grace and presence!
A prayer for you: God, I want to thank you for making all of us the Church. What a great idea! Thank you for destroying the need to enter a physical building to be in your presence! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of them have been hurt by people in church, today I speak healing and forgiveness over their minds and lives! Help them begin to understand we are all constantly growing in the knowledge of your grace! Teach them to GIVE your grace away to those who don’t deserve it because that’s exactly what grace is! In Jesus’ name, amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 1. Get your copy here!