359) Faith and Habits (part one of three)

     Occasionally I would question my eighth grade confirmation students about their worship attendance.  I’d ask them to tell me how often they attended church and why.  I’d then ask some other questions to help me understand their attitude towards worship and the church.  The results were always interesting.  The reason almost everyone at that age gives for going to church is that their parents make them go.  Given the choice, they would not or do not go.  This surprises no one.
     However, it would always surprise the students when I’d point out to them that it was those who go to worship most often that usually have the most positive attitude toward the church, even though they have been dragged there by their parents many more times than the others.  It was those who went to church only two or three times a year that would have the greatest complaints about how long and boring the service is, even though they had to endure it only once every few months.  But it is those young people who are in church every week, even though also there against their will, who get the most out it and speak the most positively about worship.  I believe this is also the case for adults.
     You see, it does not work to say only every once in a while, “I haven’t been to church for quite some time, I think I’ll try it again.”  Someone going with that attitude will probably leave the service disappointed because it did not provide the uplifting boost that was expected.  But the benefits of worship do not come from an isolated service.  Rather, the blessing comes when there is a commitment to worship every week; when worship is a regular part of one’s life, the service is familiar, the congregation is your family, the pastor is your friend, and each week you build on previous knowledge and experience and fellowship.  The service still may not be a thrill a minute, but consistent worship can become a solid presence in one’s life, blessing the rhythm of the week with the regular hearing of God’s Word.  The greatest blessings of worship come when it is important enough to be a consistent part of one’s life.  God blesses such obedience.  And contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to clear the schedule and be in church every week, without exception, allowing absolutely nothing to interfere outside of illness or tragedy or unavoidable work obligations.  It can be done.  Even the very busiest people have managed it.  When out of town they find a church to visit, when guests stay for the weekend they bring them along to worship, and if they are sick, but only then, they tune in to a radio or television service.  Their priorities are set, no excuse is accepted, and they worship every week.  It can be done if one is serious, and such commitment will then serve to strengthen the faith of everyone in the family.
     Work schedules can be a problem.  Workers are needed every day in health care, on farms, in transportation, and in many stores, to name just a few of the jobs that can interfere with regular worship.  And Jesus even said that if your ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath you are going to go to work and get it out.  My father had milk routes when I was growing up and the milk had to be picked up at the farm every day.  In college I drove a garbage truck.  I had to have a job, and there were several businesses that had to be picked up on the weekend.  Part-time employees like myself had the weekend routes, and that sometimes meant missing church.  But the rule I learned at home was that you made every effort to worship when you could.  I know all about work schedules, but I also know that is not the main problem for most people.
     All reasonable excuses aside, most people could be far more consistent in their worship.  In fact, everyone should be committed to worshiping every week.  This is the key to worship’s effectiveness.  What’s more, this is the obedient way.  God’s commandment is to “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” and the Sabbath Day comes every week.  Jesus allowed the necessary exceptions, but he also said that he came to uphold the Law, not do away with it, and that Law of God says, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”
     It is not the individual worship service that one misses that is crucial.  Being absent from church once will not destroy faith.  But what is important and is so often missing is this commitment to consistency, without which we can so easily drift away from faith in God, and then, salvation can be lost.
     Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up on meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.”  What does the word habit refer to in this sentence, the habit of meeting together or the habit of giving up on meeting together?  Actually, it doesn’t matter, because it works both ways.  As I visit with people who are not in church very much, this word habit comes up often.  They bring it up.  Habit is the word they use.  It is usually clear that they still believe in God and they usually have no anger toward the church.  But they often tell me that while they were once in the habit of going to church, they are now in the habit of not going to church, and habits are hard to change.  In the long run, one habit will strengthen faith and the other habit will weaken faith, and that can make all the difference in the world– and in eternity.  But usually the conversation does not begin with such ultimate concerns as salvation.  Rather, they tell me they are just not in the habit of going to church anymore.  These habits may seem like such little things, but one’s eternal salvation can be lost by the wrong habits.  Faith can weaken and die.  Disobedience to God’s command to worship can move one farther and farther away from God.  Right after speaking on the habits of worshiping or not worshiping, the book of Hebrews speaks of “the fearful expectation of judgment.”  It is important that we pay attention to the habits of faith.
Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
Luke 4:16  —  (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom…
Hebrews 10:25  —  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching. 
O Almighty God, from whom every good prayer cometh, and who pourest out grace upon all who desire it; deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind; that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.   
–William Bright (1824-1901)