It doesn’t feel quite right. You sit there anyway. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to feel like. You know the problem isn’t Jesus, so you think the problem must be you. You have faith. Church has been this way as long as you have been coming. Is this all there is? Is Christianity only about believing in Jesus and then discovering the right way to live as a person of Christian faith? Something is missing. You know it, but you can’t put your finger on it.
You go to the service with a different worship style. You join a life group for a while. You like the people, but the group seems purposeless and doesn’t quite meet the spiritual hunger gnawing at your heart. You try to engage more and become a social justice warrior. That felt good, but still unfulfilling. You volunteer. They assign you to the nursery! You resign yourself to come week after week thinking this must be all there is. Where is the wonder? Where is the awe? Where is the world-changing passion to share the relationship you have found with Jesus? Forget the “40 Days of Purpose.” You’d settle for just one really good day of the kind of faith and church experience that would challenge you to suit up in the armor of God, run out, quit your job, sell everything you own, and serve Christ with abandon no matter the cost! You are, in so many ways, told that if you just do the right things, God will make your life better. You’ll be happy. You’ll have purpose. You’ll have a job, a relationship, a big slice of the American pie. You’ll be filled and fulfilled. The bluebird of happiness will build a nest over your door. Problems and pains will be banished to the land of the faithless. Your children will do their homework. The IRS will send you a refund. Your life will change, and you will change the world. All this and you will be home for dinner (made by someone else who also washes the dishes).
Doubt creeps in. Where is Jesus in all of this? He’s in our worship songs. He’s in the sermon. He’s in the Sunday school. He’s in the service opportunities for the destitute people in the city and around the world. Jesus seems to be everywhere in the church, but something still seems to be missing. You don’t dare form the thought, but it creeps in anyway. “Is Jesus here?”
The Bible actually addresses the problem of a church filled with the works of Jesus, but missing Jesus Himself. In the last of the seven letters (or “report cards”) to the churches in the book of Revelation, Jesus sounds an ominous tone with heartbreaking words: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20 / ESV). The Laodicean church had a lukewarm faith—not unlike passionless faith devoid of the awe and wonder that comes from walking daily with God. The Laodiceans couldn’t recognize the problem. They were prosperous, but passionless to the point that they were clueless that Jesus had left. And so, Jesus stands outside His own church, knocking for anyone who will hear and let Him back in! The church’s addiction to mediocrity did not turn hearts cold, but worse, lukewarm. It’s like lukewarm coffee. It’s good cold. It’s good hot. But the same cup of coffee, when it becomes lukewarm, isn’t worth drinking.
But we’re not talking about something as trivial as coffee. We are talking about Jesus. We are talking about His church. We are talking about the eternal salvation or damnation of seven billion people. We are talking about sitting in a worship service and thinking, “Is this all there is?” Does it matter if our spiritual coffee cup has become lukewarm? You bet it does!
Where is Jesus? It’s an odd question, but in light of Revelation 3:20, you now know what to ask. Is He outside your faith knocking to get in? Is He outside the church? How can you tell? Look for lots of service activities, but no transformation in those who serve. Notice the metric is transformation in those serving, NOT those being served. Of course there will be transformation in those being served. You’re meeting felt needs. But transformation in those who do the serving builds faith, wonder, and a deeper love for God as well as others. That kingdom impact only happens when Jesus is “in the building.” Lesson? The true Gospel has no meritorious works to gain God’s favor. You are saved entirely by grace through faith, and you are made holy entirely by grace through faith. Talking about Jesus at church is not the same as knowing Jesus. Volunteering, attending service, changing the world, and even “doing life together,” are meaningless without knowing Jesus. Many churches talk about Jesus, but never bring people to Jesus.
How else can you tell if Jesus is in His church? There will be a deepening love and dear devotion to Him that brings a new focus to our worship, our activities, and most importantly, our rest. Think Mary and Martha. Imagine Martha’s surprise to find out that despite her doing all these good service projects for the Lord, lazy Mary curries Jesus’ favor with her indolence! “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42 / ESV). The church often becomes a hive of activity producing spiritual endorphins for those cannot stop—until they burn out. By the way, burnout from serving Jesus is another way to tell that Jesus is not in the building. A church congregation that proclaims the true Gospel will not just talk about Jesus, but will lead people into a dynamic, ever-deepening, and transformative love for Jesus and His people. Your next question jumps from your spirit. “How do I get that?” Like all relationships, the one with Jesus deepens over time and with shared experiences. That’s from your perspective. He already loves you totally and completely. You just have to get to know how He thinks, what pleases Him, and what it means to be united with Him. That happens for the rest of your life.
A good place to start is the Bible. It goes without saying that the Bible is a book (actually a collection of sixty-six books), so you need to read it. Don’t just read it like it’s a math book, a self-help book, or even a collection of fortune cookie aphorisms to make life better. The Bible is unique in that it was written by the Holy Spirit through people. It talks entirely about Jesus—even when His name is not explicitly on the page. And when you read the Bible you actually encounter God through His Word. You will come to know and love your Heavenly Father. And ANY encounter with God will always result in transformation. None of us is actually adequate to approach the Bible and figure out how to hear God in His Word. So, the Holy Spirit who indwells you will teach you, will testify to Jesus, and will bring about changes in you. He will open your eyes, open your mind, and open your heart.
Church, we have a problem. Jesus is outside the building knocking to get in. Opening that door brings with it a new vibrancy, a spiritual awakening, and a revival of faith so that you never ask again, “Is this all there is?”
Authored by Dr. David F. Ingrassia, Stewarding Pastor of Charlotte Awake