Do you ever just feel bored of church, of endless services week after week, of hymns and worship songs, of prayers and liturgy you could say in your sleep, of Bible study and quiet times, of meetings and missions and all the other paraphernalia of organised Christian religion? I confess that I do.
When the church leadership announces some new initiative or scheme that’s going to save the world or revitalise the church, do you find yourself sighing inwardly? When the latest Christian fad arrives, be it the Purpose-Driven Prayer of Jabez™ or a phone app that evangelises for you, do you yawn with absolute unenthusiasm? I do.
When you’re sitting in church of a Sunday morning, do you ever gaze longingly out of the window and wish you were out there in the sunshine, or even the rain, just to be outside and free and not cooped up in rows? Do you ever secretly envy those who are bunking off church to play football or just to have a lie-in? I do – though to be fair, these days I’m often the one bunking off.
Are you ever bored of the Bible? I confess that I am at the moment. Admittedly there are some parts I haven’t returned to many times – usually the ones that are obscure, bizarre or just upsetting. But there are countless others I’ve read so often I’ve become, for the time being, inured to their power and meaning. They’ve become too-familiar words that provoke little more in me than boredom or guilt or possibly mild puzzlement.
(If I’m really honest, perhaps the truth is more that I now know roughly what any given part of the Bible is going to say and I’m not comfortable with it, so I’d rather just lay it aside for the moment. But that’s another post.)
If you’re thinking ‘No, I don’t identify with any of this; I love church and the Bible and worship songs’, then good for you. I’ve been there too. Come back and re-read this if it ever becomes relevant. Or if you’ve already been through the bored, jaded, grey time and emerged from it into the sunshine of a second innocence and enthusiasm, congratulations and I sincerely hope to join you there one day.
Losing the fire?
I clearly recall the early days of my new-found faith, when I was so excited about ‘Christian’ things. I eagerly lapped up Christian books, talks and songs, tuned into Christian radio, and enthusiastically attended as many services and events as I could fit in. It was all so fresh, so new, so thrilling.
But then gradually life kicked in, with all its frustrations and distractions and disappointments. And when you’ve been to nearly a thousand similar church services, heard a thousand similar talks and sung 8000 similar worship songs (including many of the same ones repeated a hundred times), you can start to feel a bit jaded. When you’ve read the gospels goodness knows how many times, they can start to lose some of their freshness and power. And when you’ve been praying for the same things for years on end, often without seeing a great deal of obvious progress, you can start to lose heart and hope.
An obvious response to this is to revitalise your faith by going on mission trips, or undertaking other exciting projects where you actually put your faith into practice in real situations. Been there, done that. All good, and I don’t wish to downplay the value of such work. But it doesn’t necessarily address the deeper long-term malaise.
Now I’m aware as I write this that I sound like one of the seeds that fell in bad soil in the Parable of the Sower. I started out enthusiastically, but the weeds grew up and choked me, making me unfruitful. Maybe there’s truth in that. However, I haven’t given up or turned my back on my faith; I’m just a little tired and bored with church and ‘Christian’ things at the moment.
Life to the full
The good news is, I think God may well be a little bored with many of these things too. Because the heart and life of Christianity is not ‘Christian’ things. It’s not church services, or hymns, or liturgies, or worship CDs, or Christian talks, books or conferences, or even necessarily the Bible.
The germ of this post began as I was walking home from work recently, thinking and praying. I was feeling deeply dissatisfied with my life, and praying for more of God in it, in me. And the thought struck me that what I very much didn’t mean, and didn’t want, was more of church, or more of ‘Christian’ things. No thank you very much.
No. I meant that I want to live, and live to the full. I want to drink deep of life, plunge into its oceans, swim in its waterfalls, scale its mountaintops. I want to laugh with the sheer joy of being, and weep with the tragedy of the world. I want to dance like a loon, and sing like a drunken fool – drunk with reality and beauty and meaning and absurd infectious hope. I want to play like a child, jumping in puddles, leaping through waves, climbing trees, gazing in wonder at the stars, running and skipping and galloping just for the sake of it. I want to engage with the whole, real, complex world in all its strange and messy magnificence. Above all, I want to love and be loved.
More of Christ
So yes, for now I’m bored with ‘Christian’ things; even with Christianity, or what often passes for it. But what I’m not bored with, and don’t think I ever could be bored with, is Christ himself. I may be disturbed by him, confused by him, upset by him; even frustrated and furious with him. But one thing Jesus can never be is dull.
What I long for is to be full of Christ; full to bursting with the One who is Life and Light and Love. I want to be so charged with his energy that I’m sparking and crackling with it; that when people come into contact with me, they feel the electric shock of his presence. I want to be so filled with his song that I resonate and vibrate and thrum with it, and when people come near me they pick up the resonance too, like the deep bass notes of a cathedral organ. I want to be brimming over with his beauty, like a great jewel that pools the light in its heart and then scatters it abroad from all its rainbow-flashing facets.
Yet so often I find more of life and meaning and beauty – more of Christ – outside the church and away from ‘Christian’ things. I find life in music, in passionate symphonies and raw-edged rock songs. I find life in good drama and theatre, in story that makes you feel as well as think, that moves you to desperate tears or furious anger or helpless laughter. I find life in art and poetry, in rhythm and dance that moves your body as well as your heart. Above all, I find life in real people, in all their messy and messed-up beautiful reality.
For of course, all of these things are God’s every bit as much as ‘Christian’ things are.
None of this is to say that church or ‘Christian’ things are bad or wrong or worthless. They aren’t; they just aren’t the only places we can meet God.
Nor is it to say that we should flee dull, drudgeful duty for the sake of excitement and beauty; absolutely not. Commitment and faithfulness are at the core of who Christ is; love isn’t all about chasing the latest thrill. Sometimes we have to stick patiently, persistently and painfully with a dull task or a boring situation for the sake of love and faithfulness. I understand that. Boredom isn’t always bad, whatever our entertainment-addicted culture tells us.
But if we have lost all the spark, all the joy, all the life, then it may be a sign that something isn’t right; that something is missing. It’s not a reason to give up or turn our backs on faith, or even on church. It’s certainly not a reason to turn our backs on Christ.
But it may be a wake-up call to seek new ways of being Christian, fresh understandings of what it means to follow Christ. It may be a call to find larger, wider, more open vistas of the Spirit in which to walk and breathe the air of the Kingdom. It may be a call to find Christ in places we haven’t expected him to be, outside the comfortable confines of our theologies and programmes and books and all the other boxes we place him in.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. All of life is God’s. Step outside, stretch your limbs, breathe deep. Life’s too short to waste in slumber.
Well, except perhaps when I’m wanting that lie-in next Sunday…