Is going to church inspiring for you? It should be, shouldn’t it? But should it be inspiring every time? How about most of the time? Remember, we are worshiping God, the Creator of everything. Even the One who created us!
And yet, in a recent survey, Barna Group found that most American Christians are inspired by going to church. But the unanswered question is this: what does “inspired” mean? Since it wasn’t defined, it’s up to each individual to define “inspired”. So here in part two of the series on The state of the church 2020 we’ll take a look at some things “inspired” brings up in the early church, from the Bible. Then, we can better evaluate ourselves to see if our definition of “inspired” is reasonable.
What does inspiring mean?
The dictionary definition of inspiring
- aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence: an inspired poet.
- resulting from such inspiration: an inspired poem; an inspired plan.
- inhaled: inspired air.
I’m actually surprised by the definition, especially the first one. It’s pretty useful as a starting point for our discussion. But let’s make it more specific to being inspired by going to church.
A Biblical view of inspiring
The first thing to note is that “inspired” is an adjective. As such, it always refers to something that causes the inspiration. I was surprised to see that the word inspired only occurs nine times in the NIV. Considering how much we talk about things like the Bible being the inspired word of God, or being inspired by God, that’s a low number.
Further, it turns out there’s only one verse that’s directly applicable to what we’re going over. It’s 1 Thessalonians 1:3. However, as usual, I include the entire passage for context.
1Th 1:2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
We see here that the inspiration for the Thessalonians comes from their hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, for our topic, the inspiration we receive from going to church should also be from our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
What follows below then, since it begins with the word “For”, are some of the reasons why Paul wrote what he did. In Christian-speak, these things are the fruit that shows our faith is true and active.
1Th 1:4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
Can we say that our inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit. And that it comes with power and deep conviction?
One of the ways to know is whether or not anything comes from our inspiration. The fruit, so to speak. Paul continues with examples of what came from the Thessalonian church.
You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord;
Paul and those with him were examples of how to follow Jesus.
It’s unfortunate that all to often, we don’t seem to have people like that with us today. Too many Christian leaders end up falling prey to sin, and in a very public way. It erodes faith in the church, for sure. But it also erodes faith in Christianity.
Jesus told us things like this will happen, even that it will get harder and harder to follow Him as time goes on. Do you remember Thomas, who needed to see Jesus, and touch His wounds, before believing Jesus was resurrected?
Jn 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
Jn 20:26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Jn 20:28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jn 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jn 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Most of the disciples didn’t need to go to the same length as Thomas to believe Jesus was alive. And aren’t we fortunate that Thomas needed that?
But then, look how Jesus responded.
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So here’s my point. Thomas knew the other disciples. And yet, he still needed to see and touch Jesus Himself in order to believe.
We don’t have the luxury of being able to do what Thomas did – see and touch Jesus. But we also don’t know anyone who saw Jesus either. And with each generation, we get further and further removed from the events and people recorded in the Bible.
With the passage of time, without eyewitnesses, faith can wane. Doubts creep in. Doubters and naysayers multiply. Therefore we need to hear and believe Jesus response not just to Thomas, but to every one of us today:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Back to: Paul and those with him were examples of how to follow Jesus.
By and large, we don’t have that kind of example today. We must go back to the Bible. Back to previous times when it appears people like that were more common. Or maybe it’s just that people back then weren’t so easily destroyed by social media and 24-hour cable news.
But, it doesn’t matter as much as it might seem. We’ll find out why in a moment.
in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
We’re back to the Holy Spirit here.
And we have suffering. Which makes me wonder, are we inspired while, or even by, suffering? Or are we inspired when God protects us from suffering? More on that thought later.
7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
This is inspiring in action. The people in the Thessalonian church turned their lives around. Repented. Turned to God. And then proceeded to model that behavior. By doing so, they inspired others to follow their example, just as they followed Paul’s behavior, just as Paul followed Jesus’ example and teaching.
Again, I wonder, are we this kind of inspiring today?
Is going to church inspiring when we’re suffering?
For those of us who remember Mt 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, are we still inspired by going to church while we’re suffering? Do we feel let down by God and therefore we’re uninspired or even angry?
Do we even go to church when we’re suffering? I remember times when I avoided church in the midst of bad things going on. Earlier in my life it was because I was actually trying, totally unsuccessfully, to avoid God. Later, it was because I wanted to avoid people. I didn’t want to hear what I thought was a lot of pity and false words of caring.
Eventually, I realized that yes, there may be some false words and even some “I can fix you” attitudes, but they weren’t a good reason to avoid Christian community completely. After all, look what happened in the end with Job and his “I can tell you what to do” words of advice.
Job 42:7 After the LORD had said these things to Job , he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.
Notice what happened here. Job’s friends told him that everything happening was Job’s own fault. That he, Job, did something wrong and the events occurring were his punishment from God. But God said – No – to Job’s friends. God told the friends that they didn’t correctly portray God. Even that they sinned against God by their words.
It really puts that “I can fix you” attitude in a new light. For sure, when we’re on the receiving end. But also when we’re on the giving end, telling our own friends and even strangers that we can “fix” them! So, fresh from a good sermon, was going to church inspiring us to “fix” people? Or was it inspiring us to be loving, as Jesus was during His ministry on earth?
Is going to church inspiring for U.S. adults?
Here’s the chart for the Barna survey showing U.S. adults on inspired feelings prompted by church attendance:
The numbers are what they are. We can’t know the cause for any lack of inspiration. Maybe it’s the people, the sermon, the room was too hot or cold, Etc. We just don’t know.
But there’s a question that still must be asked, and answered. Inspired to do what? Are we inspired in the sense of the Biblical inspiration from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church? Or are we inspired in the sense, especially for us guys, that we can fix anything?
The difference is huge. The first is loving, as in God’s love. The second may still be loving, although it’s going to be in the fashion of human love. And for non-Christians, that’s not unexpected. However, for us as Christians to go out with the “I can fix it” mentality we aren’t showing God’s love.
Worse, as we saw in Job, we’re misspeaking about God when we do that. Not because we intend to say anything wrong. No, it’s because the other person sees us acting as Christians, assumes we’re going something in a Christian Godly way, and ends up getting the wrong message.
It reminds me of the light on the hill Jesus spoke of.
Mt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Mt 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Yes, we are supposed to let our “light”, Jesus, shine before others. However, we must always be cognizant of the fact that anything and everything we do also shines before others. And if other people know we’re Christians, then the un-Christian things we say and do will be cast as part of that light as well. And it’s those un-Christians things we say and do that cause us to misspeak about God. It’s those things that give people a bad, and false, impression of God.
If we then look at the salt portion of this passage, once we’ve gotten a reputation for the un-Christian things in our life, what good can we be as a witness for Christ? It takes a huge rebuilding effort on our part. Returning to God. Repenting. Consciously and visibly repairing the damage we’ve done. Just as what God told Job’s friends.
Conclusion – Is going to church inspiring for you? Why? or Why not?
After all that, what do you think? Is going to church inspiring for you? That is, is it inspiring in a Biblical sense? Is going to church inspiring you to live as Jesus taught us to live? As He showed us by the example of His own life?
It’s that kind of inspiration that matters. It’s going out and walking with the Holy Spirit as our guide and in our hearts that matters. Because of we’re inspired to do something else, to do something under our own power and for our own satisfaction or glory, we aren’t inspired for the right reasons. That means, in a very real sense, we weren’t inspired by God at all.
Paul gave us an example of living by the Holy Spirit.
Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Gal 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
What we must do is compare our own life with what Paul wrote. And then, to get a really honest answer, we must pray Psalm 139, where we ask God to examine us and tell us if He sees anything we need to work on. Of course, there will always be something. And so, we use His answer, and continue our process of transforming our lives to look more and more like Jesus’ teachings and His own life.