It’s that time of the year when people go away on vacation. We pack up the car or our airline-approved suitcase, and head off to a cherished holiday spot or a new adventure.
Mainly I think we want to get away from it all, all the must-dos, and have-tos that weigh us down. But I confess that for me too often this getting away has included my relationship with God. In a flash, I find myself rolling through my vacation without a thought of who He is or what He’s done, or how I need Him.
I’m not the only one. I recently read the episode in Exodus 33 where the Israelites make a golden calf while Moses is up on the mountain having an intimate talk with the Lord. It’s stunning how quickly they abandon their pledge to ” do everything the Lord has said.” [Exodus 19:8]. Before you know it, they are handing over their gold jewelry to Aaron and sacrificing burnt offerings to a statue.
I know that pull of wanting something tangible to worship. How often I have desired to see a spectacular display of God’s power, or to see Him face to face, or to hear His voice? I want to be done with faith, and instead, I’m presented with new challenges to deal with. But God has given us ways to encounter Him through our physical senses and within a larger spiritual body, His church.
As I gather with fellow pilgrims, I have a chance to come into His presence and experience the fullness of who He is. In a gym or a cathedral, in a homogeneous group or in a foreign country, in a village or a city, I have the opportunity to offer a sacrifice of praise. No matter how exotic the locale, once I step inside, I’m with my spiritual brothers and sisters.
That’s one reason why I started to make an effort to attend a worship service whenever I’m away from home. I need to join with others to praise God, and to remind myself of His path, and His love, and His provision. Otherwise, like the Israelites, I can easily forget.
It’s never easy. I have to go to the trouble of finding a church. I usually decide on very earthly grounds of convenience like when the service is, how close it is to where I’m staying, and how similar it is to my home church. Next, I have to enter a strange space, and sit down surrounded by strangers. Sometimes I’m greeted warmly. Sometimes I’m ignored. Sometimes the style of worship is so different, it’s hard for me to focus on God. Sometimes I discover a theological quirk that sets my teeth on edge. Sometimes I don’t even understand the language.
At the same time, I’ve found that these experiences are often the most memorable part of my trip. On my spiritual tour, I get a glimpse of what God is doing in other places. I’m reminded that His family is a lot bigger than my local congregation. I see the faithfulness of other believers as they show up for their weekly worship. I learn creative ways they are sharing the love of Jesus with the people around them.
And what about those vacation Sundays where I don’t take the trouble to gather with others and worship my gracious Father? I can take comfort in His never-ending desire to restore those who fall. The truly amazing part of the golden calf episode is how quickly God was willing to forgive the Israelites. By the next chapter, He’s renewing His covenant with them. It’s as if He wanted to model what true faithfulness looks like.
What about you? What’s the most memorable worship experience you’ve had away from home? I’d love to hear about it.
And if you have the pleasure of worshiping at your home church this Sunday, be on the look out for long-lost relatives to welcome!