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“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the Name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”” (Isaiah 56:6–7, ESV)
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV)
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15, ESV)
I recently was invited for a Christmas party to which I did not desire to go. I had initially committed myself to attend, but the day preceding the party was marked by hardship and difficulty, and by the end of the day I was just plain tired! My physical body simply did not desire to attend. I also knew there would even be some in attendance with whom I might struggle to find topics of conversation that we could both enjoy! As I began to think about it, I realized that there were plenty of things that needed doing around my house in order to get ready for the busy holiday season. I began to consider other ways that I might spend the time. At last my mind came to the notion that I might even get into my pajamas and go to bed early, because... after all, I could attend to other priorities with more vigor if I was better rested! Isn't that silly?!?
At this point, most people would conclude within themselves, "So... don't go." My body was tired. My mind was rationalizing and justifying that I should not go. Everything was waging war with me not to go to this gig. But at the end of all this, I knew in my heart that I would go no matter how many good reasons not to go, for I had one reason that simply overpowered all the good reasons not to go: confidence in the Word of God. The Scriptures are clear that we find joy in gathering ourselves together with other Christians. The Scriptures promise that I will find rest and joy in the company of other believers. But Satan was tempting me not to believe the promise of God's Word. Satan was attacking my faith, and the end goal was to rob me of the rest and joy that God promised by substituting a counterfeit rest and an empty joy! Isn't it funny how temptation masquerades most of the time as a reasonable excuse?
I knew what the Word of God promised. I was sinfully attempting to justify a host of reasons not to go. I was refusing to enter the assembly of God's people, and I was attempting to substitute shallower, emptier forms of rest and joy for the good, authentic, all-satisfying rest and joy that God had for me.
Many Christians do this when it comes to church attendance. The prophet Isaiah, moved by God, promised joy to those who would pursue God's day of rest. God promises to give rest and joy to those who keep the Sabbath and join themselves to the Lord and offer up sacrifices. The author of Hebrews, in the same vein as Isaiah, encourages back-sliding Christians to enjoy the worship assembly together, to consider how to stir each other up to love and good works, and to encourage each other. The author of Hebrews also compares praise and worship of God to that of animal sacrifice and says that we should engage in this type of worship. When you understand the Christian assembly of the Church as an act of covenant keeping in joining one's self to the Lord by joining with His people, and when you understand the act of praise and worship with lips and voice as an act similar to the act of animal sacrifice, then Isaiah 56:6-7 begins to take on new meaning. God promises joy, rest, and refreshment in church attendance. Which means that you can't find His all-satisfying joy anywhere else. Everything you might substitute for God's promised joy in the company of the Church on a Sunday is simply that: a cheap substitute that can't satisfy for long.
I suppose you're wondering what I did with that Christmas party? I went to the Christmas party. I believed God. I prepared a plate of food and slumped down in a chair in the living room. I forced myself to begin engaging others in conversation as I munched on my goodies. All of this was done as an act of faith in God. I simply chose to believe that God would be faithful and that joy would come at some point. The evening waned on, and without my noticing it, I found myself immensely enjoying everything. I was startled to find so much joy and happiness erupting into my heart as the evening came to an end. I felt refreshed. I felt relaxed. I had laughed with quite a few friends. I had enjoyed serious conversation and light playful teasing. I had eaten some good food, and before I knew it, I was happily engaging in everything fully refreshed, relaxed, and joyful.
As I drove home that evening, I knew that God was good, that His Word was true, and that by trusting Him in obedience, I had found real rest and refreshment. Don't settle for excuses! Don't justify reasons not to go. Trust God, find joy in the church, and know the true rest that currently eludes you!