Struggling in Your Faith? Isolation Isn’t the Answer

The Weary Go to Worship

The hardest thing for struggling Christians to recognize is that church is exactly the community they need. So often, they feel it isn’t. Church, they tell themselves, is for the strong, the confident, the “at peace with God and man” believers. When Christians who are finding the journey hard really need to be part of the church, they convince themselves they should be anywhere but church.

Is it the tempter at work, or is it just the natural instincts of discouraged people to isolate themselves? It’s both, of course. But this can’t be the final answer for exhausted saints. All Christians always need one another. The church is God’s masterpiece, the community in which his glory in Jesus is displayed (John 17:22; 2 Cor. 3:18). If we’re struggling in our faith, we simply need to get ourselves to that glory display.

Resilient Faith

Lewis Allen, Sarah Allen

Lewis and Sarah Allen encourage and exhort believers to approach life’s adversities in a biblically grounded way by leaning on Christ and committing to his church.

David knew this, as Psalm 63 testifies. The harsh desert he found himself in was a stark picture of his life, the life he had so nearly destroyed. Despite all of his sin, and the utter despair he could have been swallowed up by (his own son was hunting him down), David knew he was utterly secure in God’s covenant love. He encouraged his heart by thinking back to precious worship in the sanctuary, the place where he had gazed on God’s power and glory (Ps. 63:2). His testimony in all of his personal turmoil? “Your steadfast love is better than life” (Ps. 63:3). It is. And it’s in the worship of Jesus Christ with others that we uniquely behold the power and glory of God’s grace.

We see glory in the gathering of the church. As Christians come to worship, God comes to meet with his people. We both really do mean that. Years of church involvement can lead us all to be skeptics. We all are skilled at detecting insincerity, mixed motives, fixed smiles hiding pain or sin (most likely both). We all inwardly groan at clumsy leading, bad music, and bad preaching. Maybe some are dealing with wounds of unkindness from leaders and people alike. Sundays can be stressful. This much is true.

What is truer still, amid the failure, is that Jesus comes to shepherd his people. Sunday by Sunday, as we sing, pray, hear preaching, celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and open our lives to one another, we encounter the glorious love of the Good Shepherd by his Spirit. The Lord who has died to win his church to himself delights to walk in her midst. There is a substitute for our isolated struggles, and it is the corporate gathering of the church. The weary need to hear this and believe it.

How are you doing? Do you get up on a Sunday morning with a “shall I, shan’t I?” dilemma, ready to make up your mind about church according to whether you’re feeling good about the faith or about yourself? How about instead, you get up, whether with a joyful or a heavy heart, and tell yourself, Jesus is calling me to assemble with the saints. He wants me to draw close to him with others and to refresh and help me. He wants to use me to bring encouragement to fellow strugglers. This is my privilege and my duty. You worship, because he is worthy and because you need to be a worshiper. Worship nurtures faith.

Worship—but Not as We Know It?

In some circles it’s been fashionable to downgrade the place of the weekly worship gathering. The reasoning is that God wants all of our lives to be worship, as he has redeemed every area to be filled with his praise and service. After all, doesn’t Paul tell us that, whatever we do, we are to do it “to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)? Surely, then, worship can be working, golfing, traveling, sleeping in, and everything else besides? So let’s not lift the Sunday experience higher than the Bible does, or so goes the popular wisdom.

Some might say, “But how much do you worship God when you focus on the golf ball? How conscious are you of the Lord and his goodness, and happily responding to him in thanksgiving when you’re navigating a stressful relationship at work?” Yes, these are real areas for you to develop your awareness of the Lord and satisfaction in him; but worship is a conscious, intentional bringing of mind, heart, and body to the Lord as we praise, thank, pray to, listen to, and enjoy him.

The Lord who has died to win his church to himself delights to walk in her midst.

That’s what the Bible teaches us in both Testaments. In the vast majority of its uses, the main word for “worship” in the New Testament speaks of the church on earth and in heaven praising and adoring God together (see Matt. 14:33; 28:17; Acts 13:2; Rev. 4:10; 5:13–14; 19:4). It is something Christians stop everything else in order to do. We turn aside from the good (enjoying God in all of his gifts) to focus on the best (enjoying conscious fellowship with him in the gathering and shared worship of fellow believers).

This worship strengthens faith. We worship, and our faith is deepened. We don’t wait until we have deep faith before we worship God. We take the little we believe, the little we know, the thanks and the praise we have—aware that it feels so little—and we bring it to him. And he meets us.

Worship Rules!

If Sunday worship is this important and faith-building event, let’s take a few basic pointers for really engaging in it in ways that bring blessings. Here are four for you:

1. Come expectantly.

That means you will pray. Pray for your heart, for all of our hearts. Each Sunday morning in my quiet time I (Lewis) try to pray for the discouraged, the weary, and the unsaved—I sort of figure that that covers most of the people at church! I’m aware that there are many vibrant and joyful saints, but I’m aware too that almost every heart carries deep sorrows, and I long that all meet their comforting God in Christ. I’m praying, and therefore expecting, that he will meet with them.

Do you pray before you come to church? What do you pray for? And do you pray that the good shepherd would call his sheep, feed them, strengthen and reassure their hearts, and strengthen them to love and serve him? Pray for the preaching, for those who lead worship, for those who teach children, and for those who welcome and serve in many other ways. Pray that all in the congregation would experience and enjoy grace. Expect the Lord to work and show that expectation as you pray.

2. Come to encourage.

We encourage when we come on time. All of us are late sometimes, but none of us should be late all the time or even most of the time. That is distracting and discouraging to others. If gathered worship is what the Bible says it is, the coming of Jesus to his people and his people to Jesus, then we come ready to meet the King, and we come on time.

3. Come to take part.

We are all called to worship. None of us are passengers, spectators, or critics. So sing wholeheartedly, pray with focus, listen with care. Worship is an act of mind, heart, and body. Yes, body too. Stay focused—raise your voice. If you want to raise your hands, raise your hands. But for your sake, and for your Master’s honor, don’t be a half-hearted worshiper. Worship is Christians delighting in God’s love in Christ, and bringing all that we are, with our thanks, our praise, as well as our struggles and needs, and eagerly coming into God’s presence to find his love and strength for us. Wholehearted worshipers encourage and spur on others.

4. Come to share with others.

It makes no difference if you’re not at the front, this week or any week. We are all sharers. We all come to encourage, to welcome, to help, and to serve. No one comes without something to share. We come to praise; we also come to get to know others and share burdens. Where else do we want to be? This is our family. This is the church of the living God.

This article is adapted from Resilient Faith: Learning to Rely on Jesus in the Struggles of Life by Lewis Allen and Sarah Allen.

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