This Sunday I’m preaching from 1 Kings 8 on the dedication of the Temple. The chapter is really all about worship. At one point, after the ark is brought into the Temple, the glory of the Lord fills the Temple and the priests were so overwhelmed they “could not perform their service.” I find this rather funny! God shows up and the ministers are dumbfounded; paralyzed by his presence! It’s like they were fine as long as God was way up there, but as soon as he showed up they didn’t know what to do. They’d been playing with the idea of God for so long they were stunned when the real thing showed up!
As I was thinking about this, I ran across something by one of my all time favorite writers – Daniel Taylor. In his book, Letters to my Children, his son Matthew asks, “Church is getting boring. Why do we have to go to church?” Taylor’s reply to his son helps me understand a little better why church is sometimes a far cry from what happened that day long ago when Solomon dedicated the Temple:
Think about it. If a friend called and said a famous athlete or singer was going to be at his house, and asked if you wanted to come over, wouldn’t you go? Wouldn’t you be excited? Of course! So would I.
Well, church is the place where God will be, every time you go. Of course he’s with you whether you’re in church or not, but he can be there in a special way when many believers gather to celebrate him together.
“Sounds great,” I hear you saying, “but then how come you fell asleep so much? If God is really there, I mean really there, then how come we aren’t bug-eyed and breathless most all the time?”
That’s a very good question. I wish I had a very good answer. Part of it is that God knows we can’t take very much of him. It’s like when you hold Fluffs, our hamster. If you squeezed very hard, Fluffs would be on his way to hamster heaven. You have to hold him gently, talk to him quietly. Well, God has to be sort of like that with us.
Truthfully, though, the biggest reason might be that we don’t want very much of God. We want God to stay in his cage like Fluffs does. We’re afraid of losing control of our own lives. We just want him to help us a little here, and forgive us a little there, and let us handle the rest. And so we try to make church a safe place where we can get a little bit of God but not too much.
We don’t like surprises, not even from God, so we make our churches places where surprises aren’t likely to happen. We ask God to come, but only if he will be polite. And therefore, little kids and adult kids often fall asleep—even if they keep their eyes open.
And yet, at the very same time, church is a wonderful place. God has chosen it, “sorry-ness” and all, to be the place where he will meet his people, the place from which he will send his people to all parts of the world to preach the good news about Him.
Daniel Taylor, Letters to My Children (InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 64-65