CAUTION: This is NOT intended to be a replacement for gathering with God's people! This is great if you are traveling or if illness prevents you from coming, but if this becomes an excuse not to come, "Oh, I don't need to be there, I watch the live stream" ... then repent and go to church!
There are times when we just have to be gone on a Sunday and are not able to gather with God’s people for worship, and other times we chose to be away. Family vacations, visiting relatives, illness, job demands and even the kid’s sports can cause us to miss church (the time and place where God has called us to hear His word, be challenged and strengthened in relationship with other believers and grow in Christian community.)
In a secular society that doesn’t honor the Lord’s Day, Christians are increasingly forced to make a choice between being in church or participating in other events. Here are some thoughts on why we don’t want to miss out habitually on what God has given us for our good, and what you can do to honor the Lord when you can not be in church.
Sports and the Sabbath …
So let’s talk about the big one … sports. There are some things that keep us from gathering with God’s people that are inevitable, but athletics we choose.
“God forbid we value the discipline of a sport more than the discipline of Christian living. Both require great application of time and effort, but one is worth far more than the other. Because time is our most limited resource, how we allocate it reveals much about our hearts.” Jen Wilkin - Gospel Coalition
C. J. Mahaney “Parents if you are allowing your child to miss gathering with God’s people on a consistent basis you are giving up much more than you think.”
- We miss the nearness of God as we gather with His people
- Clear teaching and admonition of the preached word of God
- Opportunities for relational connection and service in the body of Christ
The Lord’s Day reminds us that one day we will enter into eternal rest because of Christ’s work on our behalf as not only Creator but Redeemer. If we are parenting in light of “that day” these are things we will not give up lightly! One of the marks of true Christianity is community. That is, authentic Christians are supposed to congregate for mutual edification and corporate worship.
There is something we miss out on when we are not gathered with the church and we can't get it by just gathering with our family (reading Gods word and praying) but let’s be honest … most don’t even try! So this should not be ‘the norm’ of a healthy Christian family. That does not mean that Christians can’t be a God honoring light in a dark world when they must be away from the gathering of believers:
- Be intentional about “lifting your eyes” to God on the Lord’s Day
- Glorify God by recognizing and acknowledging His good gift of joyful, restful play.
- We give thanks before a meal ... but how about a football game? (or volleyball? soccer? movie? play? concert?)
- Glorify God in demonstrating godly character in your play and cheer
- Know yourself and your children. If you are not able (or willing) to take some extra steps to honor God on the Lord’s Day you should probably say “no” to any activity that would take you away from worshipping with God’s people.
- In some cases God may convict your heart not do something on the Lord's Day. We too often look first to our personal liberties rather than how can we honor the Lord in our actions or non-actions. (if your first thought is to come up with reasons why you should be able to do something rather than “how can I honor God in this” you are missing the point!)
Practical Steps …
The following is a framework for you to build your family’s worship as the Lord directs you when you have to be away from the gathering of God’s people. This is NOT a religious mandate or religious obligation, but instead an attempt to help you establish and maintain a pattern of honoring the Lord’s Day no matter where you are.
Step 1: Gather the Family (including other believers with you)
If this is a new experience for your family, keep it very simple. Have the whole family gather in the living room together. Even the very young children should participate. Turn off any phones, radios or televisions that might be distractions.
Step 2: Read Scripture
If your children are confident readers, ask them to read portions of scripture from their bibles. Prepare in advance to explain any difficult words.
- Listen to or atch the podcast, the RE-Read the main scripture and discuss it.
- Ask questions like, “How does this apply to us today?” or, “Do we do a good job of this today? Where do we fail? How could we do better?” or, “How does this passage point us towards the Gospel?” (our inability to save ourselves and our need for a Savior)
- Read a passage of scripture and discuss it. (if no podcast)
- Try to read more than just one verse as we want to always read God’s word in context (plus it will give you more to talk about)
Step 3: Pray
Lead the family in a time of prayer. Include elements of Praise, Thanksgiving, Confession and Requests. The prayer time should focus on the passages you have just read and be a response of worship to God.
Step 4: Sing
Select a song that is familiar to your family. Using a worship CD may be helpful. Many families prefer to sing without background music. (My guess is that right here you will discover that there is something ‘just not the same’ about singing when you are away from the congregation … you are right, but fight through the awkwardness and do it anyway!)
Step 5: Honor the Lord’s Day
The temptation for many of us is to say, “Well, we did it.” and be done with our worship as if we were checking off a box of to-do lists. Make a point to set aside this day as holy unto the Lord. Here are some ideas:
- Pray before and after games or activities.
- Pray before thanking God for the chance to glorify Him in what you are about to do and asking God to protect not only your physical body but to guard your heart and reactions in a way that glorifies Him
- Pray afterward thanking God again for the opportunity to stop our normal work and enjoy this time and bring Him glory
- Be intentional in the things you do, and chose not to do, to let everything that day point towards honoring the Lord. (in a way that marks you out as different from the unbelievers around you)
- Be thankful for the good gifts He has given you
- Remind yourself the whole day of God’s rule over your life as Creator and Redeemer
- Find a local church where you are traveling to join in worship (be careful about what church you pick)
- Gather later in the day (maybe on your way home) and talk again about the scripture you read earlier
- Ask yourselves, “How did we honor the Lord today?” “How could we have done better in honoring God or witnessing to our faith?”
Step 6: Stay Connected
Connect later with others who weren’t with you and share how you honored the Lord’s day and hear from them what you missed in church. Don’t allow your absence from the gathering of believers to become your new normal or you will eventually feel the distance from God’s people, the church, that He has connected you to for your good.
Hebrews 10:24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.