Back to God

Seven days without God makes one weak.

That’s what we call bumper-sticker theology. Cutesy maxims aren’t always the best way to illustrate our understanding of God. But sometimes they stick so well it’s hard to not use them.

This one does relate to a biblical passage.

The prophet Samuel is the last leader of Israel before they asked for a king. 1 Samuel 7 says that “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” He was a faithful leader. So, he understood what the people of God needed if they were to live faithfully before God.

The text says the people “lamented after God.” The NIV helps us best understand what their feeling was. It says all the people, “turned back to the Lord.” Recall they had suffered a great defeat. As a result, the Philistines took control of the ark of the covenant. When it returned to their possession, the people felt a need to turn to God.

Had they concluded their failure was a consequence of a disconnect between them and God? It could be.

Had their suffering opened their eyes to realize something about what they had become? Perhaps.

These are reasonable thoughts based on Samuel’s response to them. He gave them instructions if, indeed, they were “returning to the Lord with all your heart.”

If they were ready to turn back to God, they would need to do three things: put away the gods they had grown accustomed to, direct their heart to God and serve God only.

Right before I began writing today’s devotional, I read an article from the Religion News Service. The article discussed a recent study that suggested more churches are closing in the U.S. than are opening. Of course, that kind of news is nothing new. We’ve long heard about the gradual decline in church membership over the last few decades.

In some regards, much of that is balancing off the exponential “growth” that happened in the mid-twentieth century. What the church in America experienced then was an anomaly. A perfect storm of factors contributed to the kind of growth the church experienced. Now, we’re seeing that erode.

It pains us to think our children are leaving the church. We can’t keep up with programs the way we used to do. Buildings are getting older and becoming more of a financial burden. Whether all of that is completely good or bad is what get’s talked about again and again in online articles, podcasts and even weekly sermons.

At the very least, many of us in the church realize something has happened. What is our response going to be? Taking a cue from 1 Samuel 7, turning to God requires something of us. If you’re reading this, I assume your response would be to turn to God. 

If so, understand this, there are plenty of gods in the church today. How many church leaders bow to the gods of statistics and finances? How many churches serve a sense of accomplishment and success instead of mission? So many of the ministry conversations I’ve had have centered around going back to what we had at an earlier time. It’s not because of what was happening, but, rather, because that is what was important to me. In many ways, we’re prone to serve ourselves before we serve God.

We’re weak if we keep with those ways. So, let’s do an inventory. What gods and idols take up space in God’s church today? And don’t just point fingers at others. That’s too easy. Look at your walk with God, what you expect out of church and what you’re willing to do or not do for the sake of the mission of the church.

If you experience the freedom of serving God in fulness, you’ll be better prepared to help the church do the same.

Stay blessed…john

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