Common Problems That Hinder Going To Church On The Lord’s Day
In the previous post, the question, “Are Christians required to keep the Lord’s Day?” was asked, and it was answered in this manner: Christians keep the Lord’s Day—not out of a sense of obeying a particular law—but out of love for the Lord and his people. It is not legalism but love that motivates the believer to worship the Lord with his people on the Lord’s Day.
However, it is easier said than done to maintain a consistent habit of going to Church on the Lord’s Day. This post looks at some common problems that hinder people from doing so. The next post will address practical suggestions that will help believers treat the Lord’s Day in a God-honoring manner.
Consider this attendance statistic to see what I mean by the problem with consistent attendance on the Lord’s Day. There are 52 Sundays in a given year. Suppose one were to miss 1 Sunday per month in coming to Church; that makes it about 12 Sundays for the year of missing church. And that leads to 23% absenteeism for the year. Let’s press on by supposing that a person misses 2 Sundays per month. That would result in missing 24 Sundays per year, leading to 46% absenteeism.
Do you see the problem? So easy to see our consistent absence as not a big deal until we see some concrete numbers staring at our faces. I hate to go further to prevent some readers of this post from getting too uncomfortable [which, in one sense, may not be a bad thing!]. I fully understand that perfect attendance is not the goal nor a sign of true spirituality. After all, the Pharisees were perfect in attendance, but their hearts were far from God. However, attendance also tells us to a certain extent about priorities and whether we are treating the Lord’s Day as his day!
With those introductory thoughts in mind, let’s look at the common problems that hinder a person from coming to Church consistently. For the sake of simplicity, I have grouped them into 2 broad categories: Profit and Pleasure.
Before I proceed further, a disclaimer: This post does not apply to those who are genuinely unable to go to the Church due to reasons beyond their control [health, for example].
The Chinese have a legend. They tell of the man who went to the marketplace one day, and he had a string of seven coins. He saw a beggar, and he gave the beggar six of those coins and placed the seventh in his pocket. However, the beggar—who was also a pickpocket—lifted the seventh coin and took that for himself also. An apt parable of our modern day! Our Lord has given us six days to do our work, but so many are saying, “Yes, and I will steal the seventh also and use it for myself.”
The Lord’s Day is just another day of secular work for many professing Christians. Now I am not referring to situations when one has to work. Even in the early church, many believers who were slaves were forced to work on Sundays as well. I fully understand that there are times when even committed Christians have to work on some Sundays because that is just the nature of their job. (Even in such cases, one could still pray and ask the Lord to change the circumstances. God has the power to change the situation in his time)
I am only referring to those times when one has a choice of not working but still chooses to work and a result, missing out on church. Even in such cases, one can still cry out to the Lord to help overcome the temptation to seek worldly things that lead to skipping church. The Lord will help—if our motives are set on honoring him on his day. There may be a financial cost or another cost in terms of being unable to keep rising up the corporate ladder—if we choose to say “Yes” to ways that honor the Lord. However, should we even calculate such a cost when it comes to honoring Jesus—the one who gave his all for us?
As a side note, students who miss Sunday service due to studying for exams are also doing something that dishonors the Lord on his day. How so? If we are not to put even family above the Lord Jesus [Lk 14:26], can we put an exam above him—the One who gives us the opportunity to study and write that exam? Instead of skipping church, one should, by faith, seek to obey the Lord by coming to worship with his people on his day. A couple of hours can be made up by prayerfully and effectively utilizing other times for study. If coming to church to worship the Lord leads to grades going down a bit, so be it! That is the cost of obedience! It’s good and right to learn to put Jesus above all things—even from a young age!
In this matter, even parents should encourage their children and not be a stumbling block to them by pushing them for higher academic achievement or work—when it hinders them from coming to Church on the Lord’s Day. Children form habits. Parents, what patterns are we cultivating in them? Let’s not fool ourselves: We will end up reaping what we sow today much later! Besides, if we as parents give priority to work over worship on the Lord’s Day, what message are we sending to our children? What is the point of watching Chariots of Fire or reading Eric Liddel’s testimony in the Olympics of how he honored the Lord’s Day by refusing to run in the Olympics on a Sunday because it was the Lord’s Day and then turning around and setting a bad example of neglecting the Lord’s Day?
Having seen profit—the 1st problem hindering believers from coming to Church on Sundays, let’s move on to the 2nd problem.
The second major problem that prevents people from coming to church on the Lord’s Day is the preoccupation with pleasure—specifically with sports and other pleasure activities on Sundays. This includes signing up children for season-long sports activities that make it impossible to come to Church for long periods and, that too, year after year! How can such decisions be pleasing and honoring to the Lord?
One might say, “After all, that is the only day I have. What’s the big deal about a little pleasure and relaxation? Also, what if my kids love their sports? How can I hinder their growth in sports? We are not legalists. God is a God of grace, and we don’t live under the Law as in Old Testament times. Plus, it’s not like I am working. I make it a point not to work on Sundays. No labor on Sundays!”
Yes, we’re not legalists. And God is indeed the “God of all grace” [1 Pet 5:10]. Equally valid is that we are “not under the law, but under grace” [Rom 6:14]. However, the sad thing with those who stay away from work on the Lord’s Day but are preoccupied with pleasure is this: They have merely substituted one idol for another (i.e., pleasure for work) because the end result is the same: Not worshiping the Lord with his people on the Lord’s Day!
I do understand parents want to do good things for their children. I’m a parent too! But let’s be honest with ourselves: Isn’t choosing sports over honoring the Lord putting the gifts [children] above the Giver [God] himself? Will God be Ok if we delegate him to be #2? No matter what our words may say, at the end of the day, our actions do speak louder as to who is really #1 in our hearts!
The same can be said of other things, be it the park, fishing, camping, and so forth, thus leading one to continually miss out on worshiping the Lord with his people on the Lord’s Day. Does this mean we cannot go to the park, go out to do things together, rest and relax, taking vacations? Not at all! One can do all those things within reasonable limits and still honor the Lord by coming to his house on the Lord’s Day! Even during vacation, we can make a sincere attempt to visit a local church and worship the Lord with other believers. We search beforehand for spots to visit while on holiday. How often is an attempt made to look for a good Bible-preaching church nearby to visit?
A pastor once visited a church member who often missed Church during the Summer/Fall months. So, he asked him the reason. And the man, who was an avid golfer, confidently replied, “Pastor, don’t worry about me not being in the church on Sundays. While I am at the golf course, I worship the Lord.”
The Pastor quietly replied, “You are not worshiping the Lord on the golf course. You are actually worshiping golf on the Lord’s course.” You see, no matter what we say to ourselves, when we choose pleasure for ourselves or our children, over God, in all reality, we are worshiping ourselves and our children—not God!
God indeed gives us many good things “for our enjoyment” [1 Tim 6:17]. However, when the gifts replace the Giver, then it becomes idolatry. When pleasure frequently comes in the way of worshiping the Lord on the Lord’s Day, it is a stumbling block and must be cut off ruthlessly! Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and a believer should strive to be present in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day.
It is sad how professing Christians don’t even feel sorry about missing the Lord’s Day. In fact, many view the Lord’s Day as such a hard thing. They say, “It’s so hard to come to church. So much effort needed.” They make it sound like it’s such a burden! They keep repeating how hard it is until they start believing the lie that it’s indeed hard to go to Church to worship the One who died for their sins! Such an attitude reminds one of the priests of Malachi’s day [Mal 1:6-14].
It’s also heartbreaking how we treat the Lord’s Day as compared to other days—even when it comes to something like illness. I am not at all referring to those times when we are genuinely so sick that we cannot attend. On such occasions, it is only appropriate for one to stay home and rest the body—which belongs to the Lord. I am only referring to those occasions when it’s a little pain here and there, and we prefer to stay at home—when such pains do not stop us from going out to work. Sometimes, the pain may come on Friday, and we have already decided that we can’t make it to church on Sunday! Amazing to have such prophetic powers! Yet, there is the strength to participate in other fun activities—including parties and staying late on Saturday nights with high energy and enthusiasm! However, when Sunday morning comes along, we are too sick to go to Church—mentally and physically! What does it tell about our priorities?
Years ago, a letter from a Pastor to a local newspaper captured this spirit. Here are his words:
There is a disease that is worse and more deadly than smallpox. It is diagnosed by the spiritual as “Morbus Sundayitis.” It is a disease that afflicts most church people. The symptoms vary but never affect the appetite. It never lasts more than twenty-four hours. No physician is ever called. It always proves fatal to the soul. It is very prevalent and destroys thousands every year. The attack comes upon them suddenly every Sunday morning.
No symptoms are evidenced on Saturday night. The attack comes about nine o’clock Sunday morning. Usually, the sufferer has enjoyed a very good night’s sleep and eats a hearty breakfast, but about church time, the attack comes upon him with sudden severity. It continues until morning services are over and then seems to abate long enough for him to eat a large dinner. In the afternoon, the sufferer seems to be much better and often goes out for a motor ride, a game of golf, or some other form of exercise.
Morbus Sundayitis never seems to affect the eyes, for the patient seems to be able to thoroughly enjoy the Sunday paper. About supper time, he gets another attack that seems to last until [evening] church services are over. On Monday, he awakes refreshed and does not have another attack until the following Sunday.
Remedy: one large dose, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14).
In his book, “Expository Listening” the author Ken Ramey also sums up the problem quite well: “For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around the church.”
By treating the Lord’s Day the right way, we are telling the world that they don’t dictate how we treat the Lord’s Day, but the Lord dictates how we treat his day. We also need to remember; it is the Lord’s Day. Not the Lord’s half-day! “I’ve given my 2 hours to the Lord. Whew! Now, off to my own thing” should not be the attitude. With such an attitude, how can one worship the Lord wholeheartedly—especially when the eye is always on the clock? We must treat the entire day as the Lord’s Day and strive to honor him.
Suppose the Lord’s Day is regularly crowded with so many other activities. In that case, activities such as church, reading the Bible, reading a good Christian book/praying/meditating on the Lord are lost. But imagine when the family spends time together on the Lord’s Day, spending a few minutes reading/praying/meditating on the things of the Lord as a unit and attending the church as a family. What a blessing that will be! (I understand some reading this post may have unsaved spouses or adult children who refuse to come to church or read the Bible. As difficult as that may be, the professing believer must strive to do their best to devote as much personal time as practically possible to things that matter to God).
Dwight Hillis, a Pastor from long ago, conducted the funeral of a beautiful girl who had been killed in an automobile accident on the Lord’s Day while out for pleasure. As the father said goodbye to the loved form, he turned to his friends and said in a choking voice: “We have spent our Sunday playing golf or automobiling. Our children have followed our example and have outstripped us. My son has disgraced me, my daughter is dead. I tell you there is only one way to rear a family, and that is in Sunday School and the church. I know what I am talking about.”
I repeat: Parents, what patterns are we setting for our children? Let’s not sacrifice the Lord’s Day upon the twin altars of profit and pleasure. Instead, we need to let our love for the Lord and his people drive us to honor the Lord’s Day as his day.
With that said, in the next post, we will see some practical suggestions that I hope will help one honor the Lord’s Day the way it should be honored.
However, unless there is a holy resolve to put these enemies [sins?] of profit and pleasure to death, no amount of practical suggestions can help. Unless coming to worship the Lord on his day becomes a conviction that grips one’s heart, it will not happen. So, why not pray fervently for such a conviction—if you don’t have it yet?