For many Christians, the Sunday gathering of the church is the most eagerly awaited event of the week. The preaching, the sacraments, the praying, the singing, and the fellowship are life-giving. But there are those Sundays when we feel as though we are not ready for worship. Our hearts are cold, our week was fraught with failure, and the idea of “going to church” seems to be an exercise in futility if not an act of hypocrisy. Somehow, we believe the lie that it is better to stay home and try again next week when our hearts will be right. But the troubled soul is meant for corporate worship, and that is exactly where we need to be.
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. (Ps. 73:16–17)
In Psalm 73, Asaph finds himself struggling with faith and on the verge of misunderstanding God and His Word. He saw the wicked prospering and the righteous suffering. His heart and mind were in turmoil until he entered “the sanctuary of God.” Only there, in the gathering of God’s people for worship, was his soul made right.
The person who is slow to draw near to God because of sin or doubt is the person who will not find hope. Such is the man whose faith only continues to wither and whose strength continues to weaken, for in pulling back from the Lord and the means of grace, we deny ourselves access to the primary way in which God speaks to our hearts and lives. Staying home and licking our wounds does not heal but callouses the soul, making us increasingly less sensitive to the truth we need to hear.
The local church assembled for worshiping our triune God is the place where God’s Word and Spirit are at work to move us to repentance, revive our hearts, instruct our minds, and reveal to us the plan and purpose of God in all things. The songs we sing lift up the truth of God and resonate with our faith, however small our faith may be. The Word of God read and preached penetrates the inner man to uncover unbelief, expose sin, and lead us back to the love of God for sinners like us. The Lord’s Supper allows us to fellowship with God as we rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Prayer is the needy cry for mercy from the God of compassion who hears us and is ready to answer us in the day of trouble. In the sanctuary is where all this happens in its most effective and concentrated form.
When we are not ready for church, we must remember that the church is ready for us. Jesus is ready for us. And grace abounds for the sinner who is willing to come to Christ.