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Does Going to Church Feel Like a Duty?

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A Christian friend confessed that he struggled with attending church even since becoming a dad. “Going to church hasn’t been an option for us,” he said. “The idea of getting my kids dressed up and out the door, only to spend three hours telling them to be quiet through gritted teeth, and have them inevitably yell and disturb everyone, is my idea of hell.”

Believe me, I understand the feeling! Sunday mornings are often a mess for the Lazars. We’re not an ultra-religious family that floats to church on a cloud. Even though I’ve now had ten years of experience taking my kids to church, it rarely goes smoothly. Half the time, it’s okay. But the other half of the time, we’re running late, a shoe goes missing, teeth don’t get brushed, the girls have barn hair, someone wears a ridiculous outfit or nearly gets an eye poked out, and the forty-two-minute drive to church feels like a cage match until we finally arrive and settle in.

But once we’re there, we’re glad to be there. But we have to get there first.

I came across a quote by Evan H. Hopkins that helped me understand what was happening. He said there are two motivations for living the Christian life, which you can imagine as a big circle with a smaller circle within it. The outer ring represents what he calls “duty life,” while the inner circle represents the “love life.” Hopkins says you can live the Christian life as a sheer act of the will, doing the right thing out of duty, even though you’d rather be doing something else. Or you can live the Christian life out of “love,” doing the right thing because that’s exactly what you want to do in the moment. But we’re not always consistent. As Hopkins says, “We may be within the first and yet not within the second” (Hopkins, The Law of Liberty, pp. 80-81).

Ideally, the mature Christian will live entirely out of love. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet! Getting to church on Sunday mornings is often a matter of duty life. I grit my teeth, wrangle the kids into the minivan, and drive us to church whether we want to or not. However, once I’m there and settled in, I usually enter a “love-life” frame of mind, and I am happy to be worshipping the Lord with His people. As David said,

“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let’s go to the house of the LORD’” (Ps 122:1).

But we often have to force ourselves to get to church before we truly want to meet as the church.

The will makes it possible, but love makes it easy.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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