Around eighteen months ago I wrote a blog post on the joy of attending a prayer meeting; so in the spirit of better late than never here's the next part to it! Truth be told, this was not a post I could have written back then because it has only been over the last six months or so that I've actually regularly started to look forward to going to church. Although it still surprises me when I wake up on Sunday and I find that I'm actually eager to attend.
Before I get started I'd also like to say that while the title to this piece speaks of abundant joy then that is still very much an aim for me. Most of us will hopefully know the partial joy of church attendance and it is my hope and prayer that this will spur us on to seek its abundant joy.
The first and most basic joy is that of obedience. As the 4th commandment goes: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God." (Exodus 20v9-10) Even if our Lord's day is otherwise a joyless affair and we can see no point in attending church at least we do go. When all other joys fail there can still be the joy of duty, however minor such a joy may be.
Jesus said: "If you love me you will obey my commandments," (John14v15) and by obeying the 4th commandment we are expressing our love to God. We are also being imitators of Jesus Christ, as he kept the Sabbath and we are mirroring God's day of rest after he finished his creating work at the dawn of time. It is no idle thing to be at church on Sunday, though often we may feel and think it is. Rather, it is a most holy thing, being an act of obedience, love and worship to God.
Having dealt with the basic joy let me now deal with the greatest one: the joy of meeting with God. Obviously, God is with us in all times and all places but there is an extra special blessing to be found when coming to worship him on a Sunday. Jesus said "The Sabbath was made for man," and that is true: it was ordained by God for our good and spiritual benefit. It is necessary for us to dedicate one day a week to God, to stop our usual work, be that study, paid employment or otherwise, and to focus on worshipping God. For we are prone to wandering, apt to forgetting, swift to lose sight of heavenly matters and easily overburdened with the cares and worries of this passing world.
We are too weak not to go to church and avail ourselves to the worship of God and the hearing of his Word. It is a much needed means by which God graciously deals with us, it is the great meeting place of the soul with the heavenly physician, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our joy at going to church will stem from recognising our desperate need to do so.
When the psalmist Asaph was struggling with some spiritual problem and a depressive spirit then he writes: "But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end." (Psalm 73:16-17). Such is it with church today, we go with our concerns and problems, down hearted, weary of this evil world and the sin in our hearts. And we go away, having met with God, and having been ministered to and had our mind set on better things, our eyes fixed back on Christ, and our hearts renewed with strength for the week that is to come.
Over the past few months then I have found I keep on hearing sermons I needed to hear. That is a mighty joy. For it shows that God is so ordering things to encourage, not just me but the whole congregation, to keep on keeping on with the Christian walk. It shows that as he has ordained that his people should go to church so does he graciously meet us there with the spiritual food we need.
It is also for our mutual encouragement: "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." (Hebrews 10v35) Paul links church going with encouragement and that is how it should be. As we attend church on a Sunday and see the familiar faces of our church family then it does us good to be encouraged by them and to be an encouragement to them also. There can be no lone wolves on the Christian walk and we need to try and remember that our church family is necessary for our spiritual good as much as we are to them. Let us strive then to be the good we should be!
If I look back over my Christian life, short though that might be, then I can say that the times when I least looked forward to going to church were also the worst times spiritually. Attending church is a great blessing, a supreme privilege, for there we join with our brothers and sisters to express our love to God and to meet with him.
Is it not fitting for the Bride to be willing and eager to meet with her Groom? Why then, it is so fitting that the Church should be willing and eager to meet with Jesus Christ, our beloved and chief among ten thousand (Songs 5v10)
There is probably much more to be said and I could go on about what type of church to attend and what type to avoid or on the joy of serving for the church but times runs away from me. As a final encouragement to always avail yourself to the abundant joy of church going then here's a few verses from Isaiah:
"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honourable,
and if you honour it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.," (Isaiah 58v13-14)