When you talk to some people, you might get the impression that they view their attendance at church services simply as an obligation. They go, because God expects them to go. Yet, when they go to church for God, they have no intention to exceed God’s expectations. As long as they put in the minimum time that God requires, they believe that they are good.
I can’t help but wonder: What is the minimum amount of time that God expects of our attendance at worship services? An hour? Forty-five minutes? Half an hour? If we could squeeze it all into fifteen minutes, would God say that we have got ourselves covered?
If I am going to church, simply to ‘punch a time clock for God’, then I might very well wonder: Have I put in enough time that God should look upon me favorably? What if I only put in forty-five minutes, but God really wanted an hour? What if I only put in an hour, but God really expected two… or three… or all twenty-four?
As I think about people who express such views about their attendance at church services, I think that they really miss the point. Church services are not simply an opportunity for me to meet my obligations to God. Church services are an opportunity – most especially – for me to receive the gifts that God so graciously gives to me.
I do not think about myself as a rich man who goes to church to sacrifice a little bit of his time to God. I go to church as a beggar. I go to church as a poor, miserable sinner. I go to church as someone who is sick and dying, and yet, there at God’s house, He is giving away the medicine that I need for free! There at God’s house, He is filling the hungry with good things. He is exalting the lowly and lifting up my head from the dust and ashes of death. There in the services of His house, God serves me and washes away all of my sins in the blood of His Son, Jesus.
When I think about my primary reason for attending church services, I like to think about the words that are printed below. (Even though they were written specifically about confession, they most certainly apply.)
“If all this were clearly explained, and meanwhile if the needs which ought to move and induce us to confession were clearly indicated, there would be no need of coercion and force. A man’s own conscience would impel him and make him so anxious that he would rejoice and act like a poor miserable beggar who hears that a rich gift, of money or clothes, is being given out at a certain place; he would need no bailiff to drive and beat him but would run there as fast as he could so as not to miss the gift” (From “A Brief Exhortation to Confession” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. T. G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959: 459:23).
When I consider the length of a church service, I do not consider it a burden if the clock goes past the one hour mark. I consider it a blessing; God is going above and beyond my weak expectations. God is working overtime to bless me with His good gifts of grace, given to me for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.