“Train yourself for godliness.” (1 Tim. 4:7)
I recently returned from a road trip. As with most trips, it required visits to the many gas stations that litter the interstate. Inevitably, someone grew hungry. Or required a caffeinated beverage. Or needed to visit the restroom after consuming said beverage. Or the vehicle needed gas. So we’d make a pit stop.
As random as it may sound, this series of gas station visits got me thinking about the local church and how we tend to perceive its role in our lives. If I had to guess, I’d say that many Christians view the church a lot like I viewed those gas station visits. Let me explain.
On The Road Again
Being immersed in a culture that champions human autonomy, we tend to view life as a personal road trip. We’ve been trained to see ourselves as the masters of our own fate, charting our own course and determining our own destination.
However, somewhere along the way our tank runs low and we decide it’s time for a spiritual pick-me-up. Thus the church becomes our proverbial gas station—a place where we occasionally stop to refuel. And after the benediction, we hit the road again, resuming the “life journey” we’ve mapped for ourselves.
Unfortunately, this perception falls short of how your life and the life of the church are supposed to fit together. You see, the church isn’t designed to provide attendees with a “worship fix” that superficially fills up our spiritual tanks so we can get back on the road. If we treat it that way, church will always be a let-down. And we’ll constantly be running on fumes (that is, if we’re not already broken down on the side of the road).
A “Healthier” Way to Do Church
So how should we think about the church and its role in our lives? Well, for starters, I believe 1 Timothy 4:7 (quoted above) gives us some profound insight.
Writing to a young pastor, Paul is providing instruction concerning how true belief in the Gospel leads to godly living in the church. And he exhorts Timothy to demonstrate the value of godliness to the degree that the church might take notice and begin to train themselves according to the young leader’s example.
When we read into what Paul is saying here, we begin to see that the local church is the God-ordained training ground for godliness. In other words, it isn’t like a gas station at all. Rather it is, as John Calvin once said, a gymnasium for souls.
Think about it. As we gather each week, our “worship muscles” are being exercised by the work of God’s Spirit among us. He’s our Trainer. And the equipment He uses to get us in shape is two-fold: (1) the Word of His power and (2) the witness of His people.
Through the Word, the Spirit is retraining our appetites. You see, the “life as a road trip” mentality has taught us to stop occasionally to feed on gas station food and gulp down an energy drink. Doing that for long enough leaves us with a flabby gut, feeling groggy at the wheel. But when the life of the congregation becomes a gymnasium for our souls, our experience of church begins to change profoundly. Sunday after Sunday, we’re growing to desire what we didn’t desire before. Why? Because the Spirit is retraining us to hunger for what is healthiest. He puts us on a steady diet of Scripture as the Bread of the Word is broken each week to nourish our souls.
And yet what’s at stake is much more than merely listening to a sermon. After all, if you have an iPhone, you can hear a sermon anywhere. What you can’t find anywhere is the messy process of working out the real-life implications of the Bible’s truth with other people who need it just as badly as you do. You and I aren’t theoretical sinners and therefore we need more than theoretical truth. Rather we need to see the Word in action through the faithful witness of God’s people. We need “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). This is how our hearts are thoroughly retrained for godliness.
So what about you? Is church a mere pit stop along the highway of life? Or is it something else—something uncomfortable and at times painful, but never without God’s power to “strengthen weak hands and make firm feeble knees” (Is. 35:5)? Whether we realize it or not, this is what we need most—the Word, the Spirit, and the blessing of gathering to worship. Apart from this gymnasium for souls, we can be sure that we’ll quickly grow flabby and lethargic. So let’s get off our butts, submit our lives to the Spirit’s work, and train for godliness together.
Songs for Sunday, May 01, 2016:
The Glorious Three
As performed by LifePoint Music
Beneath The Waters (I Will Rise)
As performed by Hillsong Worship
In Christ Alone
As performed by Keith & Kristyn Getty
O Come to The Altar
As performed by Elevation Worship
As performed by Phil Wickham