My daughter is one and a half now, and she is starting to put words together to form her own thoughts. It’s great to come home and hear her say, “Daddy’s home!” And it’s frustrating when she refuses to eat her eggs, shouting, “No!” But the words that completely caught me off guard were uttered a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning: “fun church.”
That morning, the last thing I wanted to do was to wake up or go to church; but my daughter figured out it was Sunday, and she insisted on going to church. She whined: “outside!” She repeated, “fun church.” I groaned, “Eat your oats.”
Church doesn’t always feel fun. I have wanted to quit church more than a few times. I have had some serious doubts about Christianity that I have had to work through, and I am not always excited to show up to church on a Sunday morning.
I’m an introvert. I fear crowds. Loud noises stress me out. New faces and names can leave me dazed and confused. Even attending our small church of just one hundred twenty people can feel like getting into the ring with a heavyweight boxer: I’m just trying to last the twelve rounds. So how do I get through it? What keeps me coming back Sunday after Sunday? At church God meets us: he gives grace to us, and he gives grace through us.
1. To find grace at church, come ready to receive.
Church is for people like me, people who sometimes feel God-forsaken, people who need to be reminded that God is with them, people who need to feel God’s love. Church is a place for us to receive grace. This happens in a few ways.
When the church is a place that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, we hear God’s words of grace. We hear that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. We hear of the hope of our resurrection from the dead. We hear that God does not count our sins against us, but receives us as his own children. We hear that God is with us healing our broken hearts, conforming our lives to imitate Jesus’ life of love, hearing our prayers, responding with love, providing for our daily needs.
When the church is a place of worship, we experience God’s grace. Singing lament psalms and songs in minor keys has helped to heal my pain, while singing songs of joy and thanksgiving has challenged my melancholy emotions, drawing out praise I didn’t know I had. Confessing my sin has revealed my need. Hearing the gospel has given me hope. Reciting the Apostle’s Creed has reminded me that I believe. Receiving Holy Communion—ordinary bread and wine given as the body and blood of Christ—has helped me to feel God’s love.
When the church is a place for the tired and the lonely and the burned-out souls just trying to survive another week, it is an arena of the gospel: God has given us a family to love and a family to love us. It’s good news that God hasn’t abandoned his people, that he has brought us together and given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to love and serve each other. It’s good news that God has given us a place to experience his grace and know that our sins are forgiven.
To find grace at church, we need to come ready to receive what God gives freely: faith, hope, and love (Eph. 3:1–14; 2:4–9; and 5:2).
2. To find grace at church, come looking to serve.
Church is a place to give to others what God has given to you. It’s a place to join God’s movement of grace and love, pouring out mercy on sinners and sufferers alike. God has uniquely equipped each of us to serve, to love, to show grace. This is part of God’s healing process. Service is humanizing.
God has given teachers. Some Christians can speak or write. They derive insight from the Bible and can share it with others. Some of these people, like me, may feel out of place. We may stand at a corner in a large crowd, but if you ask us a question, we can talk all day.
God has given pastors, elders, and evangelists. Some Christians can care for souls. They have insight into human nature. They know how to apply the Bible and theology. They know what people need to hear. They know how to share the gospel to meet the realities of everyday life.
God has given hospitality and friendship. Some Christians are happy to share their possessions, their homes, or their friendship. God has given them opportunities and a heart to love outcasts. God has given them ordinary jobs where they are involved in everyday life, bringing God’s gracious presence wherever they go. They know how to have hope. They know how to live by faith and not by sight. They know how to love, and God is using them right where they are.
When you come looking to serve, looking to share the grace God has given you, you may feel that you have so little to give. You may feel weak and needy yourself, but God has promised to be with you and to love through you (Eph. 2:10 and 4:1–16).