What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

The fact is there are lots of awesome church people out there that have decided it’s not okay for them to leave their churches because they don’t really have biblical reasons to do so.

So they are staying. Right where they are. And, truth be told, they are miserable. They find it difficult to be at their churches. They aren’t happy, and unhappy people have difficulty connecting with others and with God.

What then?

Are they obligated to stay at their churches and be miserable?

No.

God doesn’t want you  miserable at your church. Barring any unbiblical things going on, God wants you happy at your church. 

Read that again.

God wants you happy at your church, not at a new church. 

How do I know that?

a) God loves us and wants us to be happy (Psalm 68:3). God is a compassionate God who weeps with us and rejoices with us and is able to relate to every emotion we have (Matthew 14:14, John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). He desires for us to feel happy, but that is not the end all be all of our existence, and if our happiness and our growth in Christ are at odds with one another, God will choose to attempt to grow us every time (2 Corinthians 3:18).

b) If there is one thing the New Testament stresses to the church, it’s unity (2 Corinthians 13:11). When people leave their church bodies in search of personal happiness in a new church body, whether they intend to or not, they effectively stress fracture their former body. Whether they leave quietly or recruit loudly as they go, they weaken other believers in that body by taking away their services (assuming they were serving in the first place) and by causing other believers to wonder if they should leave too.

When the body gets multiple stress fractures from multiple people leaving, it becomes so weak it breaks. And when the body breaks in multiple places, it hurts. A lot. For a long time. Ministry is crippled, to some degree, among the remaining church members as they are left to try to salvage the body. Energy and resources have to be focused on healing the body rather than on what the church should be focusing on: spreading the Gospel and discipling believers.

c) Every time we feel like our happiness is at odds with an opportunity for us to grow, we aren’t viewing the situation how we should (James 1:2-3). We need a heart change quick. We should value above all else our conformation to the image of Christ. That should be our chief source of happiness, and being miserable at your church affords you the perfect opportunity to grow. Rejoice.

So, if you’re unhappy at your church, can I gently challenge you to stop waiting for the things around you to change to suit your preferences and to start changing yourself?

If you want to feel happy about going to your church, stop the self-focus – “What am I not getting?” – and train your mind to focus on others (Philippians 2:3-4) – “How can I serve others here today?” If you’re not serving, start (1 Peter 4:10).

Now, the tricky part is we can serve until we’re blue in the face and still feel unhappy about our churches because our hearts are still focusing on ourselves while we go through the motions of serving others. Psalms says God doesn’t value that kind of external sacrifice, he wants our hearts (Psalm 51:16-17). When we serve with the motivation to honor the Lord, others will experience the love and truth of Jesus, and we will gain joy knowing the Lord is happy with us (Ephesians 6:7). 

If you are among the minority of church members who do serve and are others focused, but you still feel unhappy with your church, there is one other area that needs to change.
Consider that everything your church does is not for your benefit. If you’re a seasoned believer, the outreach arm of your church is not trying to make you happy, it is trying to reach unbelievers and new believers and welcome them into the church so they can come to know Christ. What’s more important than that? (Matthew 28:18-19)
Knowing this, seasoned believers should approach outreach times not with an “I’m not getting anything out of this” attitude but with a rejoicing heart that the Gospel is being preached and non and young believers are getting exactly what they need – small doses of scripture and basic truths (1 Corinthians 3:2). Your jobs during outreach, seasoned believers, is to bring non and new believers so they can grow and to pray for the Spirit to move. Rejoice that seekers are being introduced to Christ at your church!
Likewise, if you’re a young believer, the intensive Bible studies that are way over your head are not trying to make you happy, they are trying to help seasoned believers go deeper in their relationships with the Lord (Hebrews 5:14). If you’re in one of these classes, and your eyes are glazing over because you don’t care about the original Greek, your job is to pray that the Spirit would move and grow these other members in their walks with Him. Rejoice that seasoned believers can grow at your church!
This is the kind of perspective change – to value others more than ourselves – that is called maturing in Christ. If you church-hop in this moment, you lose. You lose the opportunity to mature in your faith (Ephesians 4:15). You lose the opportunity to be apart of others coming to know the Lord.
If none of this is helpful, you need to call your pastor, schedule a meeting, and have an open, honest discussion with him about how you’re feeling. Tell him that you are unhappy and that you don’t want to leave, but you don’t know how to get happy, and allow him to speak to the sources of your unhappiness. Some of the very things that cause you the most trouble could be simple misunderstandings. Or they could be legitimate problems that your pastor needs to be aware of so he can redirect the church.

On Account of You

I’ve read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead a time or two. But when I read John’s account again last week, something new grabbed my attention.

On Account of Us
image via digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

Which is something I adore about scripture. But that’s a different post.

After Jesus, exhibiting God-like qualities, raised Lazarus from the dead, John reports that a lot of Jews started believing in Jesus. This ticked off the Jewish leaders, in part because they didn’t believe Jesus was God, and in part because they didn’t want to catch flack from the Roman government over the Jesus brouhaha.

So guess who the Jewish leaders wanted to kill?

Did you guess Jesus?

I did.

And I was wrong.

Or partly wrong.

They did want to kill Jesus, but they also wanted to kill somebody else. John 12:9-10 reads, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well…”

What?

Why in the world would Lazarus be on their hit list? He hadn’t asked to be raised from the dead… And, honestly, what good will killing him do? It wouldn’t erase his resurrection  from history… There would still be people who had witnessed his resurrection telling others about it…

Verse 11 tells us the logic the Jewish leaders were using to justify their desire to murder Lazarus, “…for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him,” (John 12:11).

Jews weren’t believing Jesus was the Messiah because of Jesus’ teachings or the disciples’ following Him or the rumors they’d heard about Jesus’ miracles in distant lands. They were putting their faith in Jesus because Lazarus – a man they knew from their town – was living proof of Jesus’ power.

Not only was he most likely verbalizing his belief in Jesus’ deity, Lazarus’ very life – his breathing and walking – was a testimony to Jesus’ godness.

Lazarus’ existence was so compelling, the Jewish leaders felt they needed to eliminate him.

As I read verse 11, you can guess what questions came to mind. On account of me, are many people believing in Jesus? Are any?

I talk a lot about Jesus. I say the Gospel often. But does my existence – my life – what I do – encourage others to believe?

Your initial objection might be, “Yeah, but we haven’t been raised from the dead like Lazarus, so our physical existence isn’t quite as compelling as his was…”

Have we not?

Believers in Christ have been born again in a spiritual sense – resurrected from spiritual deadness and given new life through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a much more significant way than Lazarus, we’ve been raised spiritually. We have a story to tell. A story that will compel others to come to Jesus and believe in Him.

Are we telling it?

We have the ability to live new lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11-12). Our existences – our breathing and our walking – should look supernatural to those who don’t know Christ.

Does it?

Who is believing in Jesus on account of you?

At the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

Spiritual Gangrene

In my last post I tossed out the idea that when we choose Jesus to be our Lord and our Savior, our “old things” pass away… but, like gangrenous tissue, they are still apart us, threatening our new lives in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Although the old things no longer have the power over us they once did, until we remove them, they can still affect us in seriously detrimental ways. But what does removing our dead spiritual tissue look like?

D&C
image via Apples Eyes Studio/freedigitalphotos.net

Unlike a case of physical gangrene , there is no antibiotic to take or surgery that can be performed to remove our dead spiritual baggage – the lies we’ve believed our whole lives, the sinful coping mechanisms we developed before we met Jesus, and the erroneous thought patterns ingrained in our psyches as unbelievers.

No, the removal of spiritual gangrene requires two things: a desire to get better and a trust in the Great Physician performing the “operation”.

When we become believers, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. The Bible says the Spirit’s job is to guide us into truth (John 16:13). One way He does that is by convicting us – giving us a feeling of “that shouldn’t be” when we sin or are tempted to believe lies. When we feel this conviction, we can ignore it, or we can pursue it.

We know we are pursuing what’s behind our conviction when we start asking questions like, “Why is this wrong?” and “How can I change?” When we want to get to the bottom of why we’re feeling convicted, we are almost ready for surgery.

The other part of our pre-op is emotionally preparing ourselves for the pain during the procedure. Dealing with parts of ourselves that are unhealthy is hard. Which is why most people never do. But the Lord says He is trustworthy. It will be painful, but He will use the painful process to heal us if we let Him.

When we want to get better and resolve to trust Him no matter how intense the pain gets, we are ready for surgery.

Unfortunately, we will not be anesthetized. We must be awake and cooperative during the entire procedure, or it won’t work.

We begin by allowing God to label parts of our lives – thoughts as well as actions – as “wrong”. In fact, we invite Him to do so (Psalm 139:23-24). And we wait for His reply. This can be quite a wrestling process, as He often points out things we had no idea were wrong. It’s okay to disagree with Him initially. Be honest with Him, and keep asking Him for understanding, for His perspective to become yours.

Once we agree with Him that a particular issue is indeed wrong, we repent. Even if we don’t feel very sorry, we acknowledge our wrongdoing. We ask for His forgiveness, and He gladly grants it.

Then we ask Him to correct that wrong thought or enable us by His power to no longer act in that incorrect manner. We feed our minds and our souls truth about who God is (found in scripture) to dispel wrong beliefs that are at the root of our wrong thinking and wrongdoing. We ask God to take away our desire to think or do this wrong thing and to give us new desires – His desires (Psalm 37:4).

Sometimes we must repeat the last 2 steps over and over again for months, maybe even years, on end. That’s ok. The important thing is that we have not gotten off the operating table and left the hospital all together.  Like a skilled surgeon, He is slowly, tenderly, cutting our healthy tissue away from our dead, infected tissue. And no matter how long the process takes or how much it hurts, we choose to trust His hand. Don’t worry, He’s done this before.

Eventually, God completely detaches the dead tissue within us and removes it. The old hasn’t just passed away – it is gone (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

The death that was once a part of us no longer threatens our lives. We are free.

Congratulations, the removal of your spiritual gangrene is complete… for that one particular issue…

Take a little time to recover, then get back on the table.

Why this “New Creation” Often Feels Old

I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that when we become Christians, we become “new creations”. Actually, I don’t so much have a problem with the “new” part as I do with the the idea that the “old” things are no longer a part of us (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And for good reason: the old things still feel like a part of me.

The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).

image via wandee007/freedigitalphotos.net
image via wandee007/freedigitalphotos.net

But when I became a Christian, my sinful tendencies didn’t vanish. In fact, I remained ignorant to the fact that most of them even were sin for quite awhile. Over time, the Lord brought (and still brings) to my attention what was/is not okay in my life. He exposes the old things that are still tripping me up.

But how can that be if the old things supposedly passed away when I became a Christian? There shouldn’t be anything left to expose…

So either scripture is wrong, or my interpretation is wrong. (Hint: scripture is never wrong.)

Last week an analogy came to mind that shed some light on the subject for me.

Sometimes things in our bodies go awry, and some of our cells begin to die. When this happens on a large scale, we can develop a condition called gangrene. You may have heard of this in relation to frost bite or bedsores. Don’t Google it, you’ll see all kinds of pictures that will make you vomit. All you need to know is trauma or infection causes the death of a large group of cells.

There are various treatments for gangrene, but all involve the removal of the dead tissue. In extreme cases, amputation is necessary. If patients opt to leave that dead tissue in their bodies, their health, and possibly their lives, will be compromised.

And so the analogy practically writes itself.

What is dead inside must be removed for the patient to fully liveThe removal of what is dead is necessary that the patient themselves might live.

Maybe that’s how it is with us Christians, too.

When we choose Jesus to be our Lord and our Savior, our “old things” pass away… but they are still within us. Our old selves, full of corruption and brokenness, are just as dead as gangrenous tissue… and just as deadly.

Until we have it removed, the death within us threatens our lives.

More on what the removal process looks like next time…

Prayer: Conflict Resolution with God

Unable to sleep despite needing to sleep, I went downstairs for the next best thing – coffee. I paced the length of my kitchen as the machine sputtered. The coffee maker struggled to brew as I struggled to order my thoughts.

I began speaking aloud to the Lord, using Him as a sounding board for my broken logic and heightened emotions. He listened patiently. He gave me all the time I needed to verbally rearrange the pieces of the puzzle… in vain.

Sometimes prayer goes like that. It isn’t so much a laundry list of “Please do these things for me, Lord,” as it is a wrestling match to align my heart with His on matters.

image via wikipedia/Jason M. Carter

His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Sometimes we have to fight for understanding. Sometimes we have to settle for peace without clarity, but even that doesn’t always come without an altercation with God.

Our broken minds are inclined to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, especially about ourselves and about God (see Jacob – Genesis 32). So it’s no wonder we have to spend a lot of time with God – the Spirit of Truth – to sort out our right thinking from our wrong thinking (John 16:13). Part of “fight[ing] the good fight of the faith” is mentally fighting the inclination to believe falsehoods (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5).

He doesn’t take offense to our (respectfully) arguing with Him (see Moses – Exodus 3-4). He knows that’s part of the process. He delights that we’re speaking honestly with Him, seeking to reconcile our perceptions of reality with who He is and what His Word says. And He knows it is hard and exhausting at times (see Jesus – Luke 22:44).

He never expects us to will ourselves to believe things we struggle to comprehend. Mostly because He knows we can’t. And He certainly doesn’t expect us to pretend we trust Him when we don’t.

Instead, He invites us to come to Him in conversation and work things out. He knows that it is through this wrestling process that our hearts will learn to value what He values and trust His character.

If your heart is overwhelmed, put on your singlet, pop in your mouthpiece, and get on the mat with the Lord.

How to Have Hope in the Hopeless Times

There are times we feel stuck in suffering. We look around and see no way out. The hurt is so deep, so constant, and everything we’ve tried to counteract the pain so ineffective, we feel helpless and hopeless. Or, as Paul put it, “in our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Image via sakhorn38/freedigitalphotos.net
Image via sakhorn38/freedigitalphotos.net

That’s pretty severe.

On the heels of our discussion about whether or not God gives us more than we can handle, I find it interesting that Paul said this to the believers in Corinth, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life,” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Paul. Super apostle. He had experienced Jesus in an incomprehensibly amazing way during his salvation experience. Yet, when the crap hit the fan, even Paul “despaired of life.” Sometimes life is just too hard. For all of us.

So what do we do when the pressure of circumstances are “far beyond our ability to endure”? We still have to live the day to day. Make choices. Accomplish tasks. Take care of families. Go to jobs. Participate in life. How do we do these things when life feels like a death sentence?

Paul says hardships and unbearable pressure happen, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

When we feel like life is a death sentence, we are to rely on Him who literally raises the dead. 

God is in the business of redeeming that which seems unredeemable. That includes people, yes, but it also includes hardships and pressures, circumstances that seem too far gone or too overwhelming to overcome.

It’s true that you and I cannot raise anything from the dead. We cannot go to a funeral, stand over the casket, call out the person’s name, and tell him to arise. But Jesus literally did that (Lazarus, John 11:38-44). God the Father literally did that too (Jesus, Matthew 28:5-6).

Just as God is capable of resurrecting dead people, He is capable of resurrecting the “dead” parts of our lives. Dead relationships. Dead careers. Dead ministries. Dead communities. Dead parts of ourselves – from physical infirmities to emotional sinkholes. Anything that is dead, He came to give it life.

We’ve seen that in our pasts. We can all come up with a time or two when we “felt the sentence of death”, and God, somehow or another, delivered us. (If you’re having trouble seeing past your despair to remember such a time, think about your salvation story. He delivered you from a literal death sentence – Hell – and gave you eternal life when you “got saved”.)

Paul encourages us to reflect on redemptive moments in our pasts so, in our current hardships and pressures, hope will well up in our hearts. “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (2 Corinthians 1:10).

If life is unbearable right now, take heart. Remember how He has taken great care of you in the past, and set your hope on His goodness and power to deliver you from your current plight.

As long as God is still God, nothing is hopeless. Nothing.

How to Forgive Anyone for Anything

(Yikes. Hope this article can really live up to that title…)

(It’s ok, it’s not the words in this post that inspired that title. Scripture inspired that title. So I can go that big with that claim.)

(I probably shouldn’t start a post with a dialogue between me and myself.)

(It’s ok, my readers have come to expect some crazy.)

Now that I have my attention…

As a parent of more than one child, I spend a lot of my time settling sibling disputes. I try to teach the offending child to recognize her wrongdoing, apologize for it, and ask for forgiveness. I try to teach the offended sister to accept the apology by verbally extending forgiveness.

Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And it goes over about as well as it sounds like it would. Through gritted teeth, they obey me because they have to, not because their hearts feel much empathy.

As an adult in her 4th decade, I don’t do much better handling my own conflicts. A lot of people struggle with forgiving those who have hurt them. We genuinely want to forgive, but we don’t know how to get there. We don’t want to say we forgive and try to force our hearts to feel forgiving because we all know that doesn’t work. We can’t will ourselves to a place of forgiveness.

Yet, we’re commanded to forgive all over the place in the Bible. One example is Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

A lot of times we really want to do this… and we feel guilty when we don’t do this. And we feel angry that we seemingly can’t do this. (I can’t help but think this is all part of Satan’s plan (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).)

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, what do we do?

I got to thinking, what if we’re focusing on the wrong thing? What if mustering up forgiveness isn’t really the place we should start if we want to succeed at forgiving someone?

I know it’s a strange thought, but we’ve already proven time and time again that psyching ourselves up to give our best shot at forgiving rarely (never?) works.

So what if we try something different?

If we read the verses surrounding Colossians 3:13 (namely, verse 12), we get some clues as to how we can improve our chances of forgiving as the Lord forgave us.

Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

This verse – immediately preceding the verse commanding us to forgive all people for all things – says (at least) two important things we need to know and do before we will be ready to forgive well.

1. Recognize Whose we are. Every believer is purposefully hand-picked by God, set apart for Him, and cherished by Him. Maybe instead of jumping prematurely to trying to will ourselves to forgive, we ought to meditate on these three truths about ourselves. When we internalize the implications of our identity in Christ, two things happen: the offense committed against us doesn’t seem quite so important, and our hearts, overcome with humility, start to soften toward the offender, who is really just like us – a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgiveness isn’t going to happen inside the cold, hard hearts of people whose self-worth is wrapped up in what others think of them. So let’s start here and get our heads right.

2. Get dressed. Before we can forgive, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This is a lot easier to do after we’ve spent some time reflecting on Whose we are. These characteristics seem to start flowing out of us when we are secure and in tune with our Father’s love for us. But trying to forgive without these things going on in our hearts is, as we’ve all experienced, impossible.

After we’ve “completed” verse 12, verse 13 actually becomes attainable! Feeling enveloped in His love, walking in love toward others, we are enabled to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:13).

If I can be so bold, we can forgive anybody anything (which is how the Lord forgave us) when we follow these two verses IN ORDER. 

Dare to try it with me?