The Challenges of Forced Non-attendance – Ecclesiastes 7:11-14

This short paragraph, written more than 2,000 years ago, is more appropriate than anything you read on the internet yesterday. Of course, we aren’t surprised, because this is the inspired Word of the eternal God. The Holy Spirit says, “Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.” Have you heard that the government is going to give you $1,200 and more if you are a part of a family? That may put a smile on your face, but be careful. It could be more of a disaster than a blessing. As in all “inheritances” wisdom in regard to that money will be important over the next few weeks. How will you spend that money? On necessities? Will you hold on to it for as long as you can, or will you throw it away? I understand the business of vice is prospering right now – alcohol sales are up; probably marijuana too. I saw that the sales of Corona beer has been strong and growing since the invasion of this virus. Either some lunatics think that Corona BEER is like a vaccination against the corona VIRUS. Or people just have nothing to do so they are blowing their money on drugs and alcohol.
Solomon goes on, “For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” I don’t know how many times I have heard, and I have said, over the last couple of weeks that the world is upside down right now. Perhaps a month ago you thought that your life was running smoothly – and in a straight line – but then God permitted a global earthquake which has redirected everyone’s pathway.
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider” or be careful. Don’t we take things for granted in the day of prosperity? Don’t we often sit back, and with little thought and even less thanksgiving give the Lord little consideration? But when adversity comes along we begin to think, to look around, and to worry – because we revert to our flesh, finding that our spiritual lives to have become far less than they should be.
“God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.” Along comes another world war, a pandemic, economic disaster and we are reminded that we are so small in the sight of the omnipotent God. We are like pebbles thrown into the calm lake – we create a tiny ripple, running on for a while, and a minute later the lake returns to its previous serene condition. And if a storm is stirring that lake, our little pebble-like-lives create an even smaller stir.
Over the last two weeks with churches’ doors either locked or growing rusty on their hinges, I have heard several people talk about what they miss about church attendance. I have said that we don’t hear of people’s needs and as a result, we don’t hear their prayer requests. Some have spoken about the lost joy of fellowship – just to see the smiling face of Christian friends. A simple handshake on a Sunday morning can be a comforting thing – it’s the only human contact some people experience. The worshipful hymns are gone. More and more people are forwarding, over the internet, the singing that others are recording in their living rooms, because people miss the congregational worship. But it is not the same when we try to join them, singing toward the computer screen. And there is a difference in listening to a message over the internet and being physically present in a church service – where an occasional “amen” can be heard and the emotion of the preacher can be felt as well as watched. There are many limitations and lost blessings in not gathering as churches of Christ. Some, for the first time, are beginning to understand the importance of the exhortation – “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

As sad and hurtful as these losses are, I think there is something far more serious. By not assembling together with other saints, there can be a general deterioration of personal spirituality. A public church service implements Proverbs 27:17 – “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Most of us need to hear – and experience – the preaching of God’s word with the attending ministry of the Holy Spirit. Without it our spirituality suffers. Many of you listening to me tonight are not as spiritually-minded right now as you were a month ago. Look into that heart of yours and see if it isn’t true. And across the country, many who were faithful in their church attendance in the past, are becoming so spiritually lazy that when the church doors are open again, they won’t be as inclined to attend as they were.
My point is – we need to work at maintaining and cultivating the spiritual part of our lives, especially during these days of non-attendance.
Is it possible to live a spiritual life while on earth – in a society where God’s churches do not meet?
The answer is a qualified – “Yes.” I believe that it is God’s will for His saints to serve Him through His churches – His local assemblies. There is no such thing as a universal, non-assembling assembly – there is no such thing as a universal invisible church into which all God’s saved are automatically added. When Paul said, “unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end,” he was talking about the church in Ephesus, and the church in Philippi, and the church in Thessalonica, and the church in Post Falls. But it is hard to glorify God in our church when our church is unable to assemble. And it is more difficult to learn and grow, feeding off the spirit of our Christian neighbor.

And yet it is still possible for the individual Christian – the individual church member – to maintain his relationship and fellowship with God his Saviour. Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, David at times, Daniel and so many others, were forced by circumstances to stand alone for God. At times they had no ecclesiastical fellowship – no community hymn singing, no gathering with two or three others for prayer, no sharing of tears and smiles – and yet they were some of God’s greatest servants. At times they lived alone – if it is to be alone with no one but Christ and His ministering angels.

I am saying that it is possible to be spiritually-minded while living in a sinful, upside down world, and where there is no personal fellowship with fellow church members. But it may be twice as difficult as it was when the church doors were open. More responsibility falls our own personal shoulders. We can’t rely on others to provoke us to prayer and to consider God’s message. I know that we can still turn on our computers, but let’s admit it – that is something we’re not used to doing for church. And for years it has been counterintuitive. Didn’t you use to condemn the internet and Facebook as tools of the Devil? Is it really possible for these to become tools of God? Apparently they can, but we have to employ them with self-discipline and prayer.
Even though spiritual-mindedness is possible for the segregated and separated saint, it is not easy. As I mentioned Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, David and Daniel, didn’t it come to your mind that along with their days of great victory, every one of them suffered from periods of spiritual depression – sometimes severely acute depression? If Elijah had Elisha with him after Mt. Carmel might he have been able to maintain his own spiritual victory? Didn’t David recognize and long for the house of the Lord? He said in Ps 27:4 – “One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” Why did David need the house of God? Because he had grown to love and depend on it. I won’t say that church is a crutch for the Christian, but it has always been a tool of the Lord. And the truth is, sometimes we ARE so weak and ill that a crutch is exactly what we need.
But has the Holy Spirit forsaken us in this time of non-attendance? Of course not. Have you ceased to be God’s child, and has His love toward you grown cold. Of course not. Did you leave your Bible at the church building and now you have no access to God’s message? Can God hear prayers only as they ascend through the roof of a church sanctuary? Of course not.
Determine today that with the Lord’s blessing you are going to grow in the things of the Lord.
Preaching to the saints should be designed to teach, edify and encourage. That is what I am trying to do through this internet connection. But ideally, you should already have all the tools necessary to continue your spiritual development. I am not saying that we don’t need to assemble ourselves together – defying or denying Hebrews 10:25 – but until that privilege is restored we can both continue forward in the Lord.
Daniel continued to pray, even when his three friends weren’t there to create a spiritual quorum. Alone, in the blackness of night or hidden deep in a cave, David prayed his best Psalms to the Lord. Can you imagine how lonely the Baptist must have felt throughout his short ministry? The Jordan didn’t run through any narrow canyons on toward the Dead Sea, but even if John felt boxed in he could always look up. We can always pray, asking the Lord for help in focusing our hearts “on things above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”
But do you feel that an over-cast sky and billowing clouds are blocking communication with heaven? I can assure you, it is not the wicked government which is hindering your fellowship with God. It’s not that the church doors are locked, and the neighbors are watching to see that we don’t assemble. When we don’t experience joy in prayer it is because something has defiled our conscience. If you were free to attend our services and you refused, then you might expect the Lord to turn away at your prayer. But under these circumstances, non-attendance will not hinder your prayer life – it is something else. Is the virus of sin growing in your heart and seeping out through your flesh? Are you becoming more testy and sharp towards your family cell-mates? Are you angry at the government for its handling of the circumstances? Are you worried over your worsening economic condition? Are you growing more fearful over every cough and sneeze you hear or experience? There is nothing wrong with praying about your situation. But while you do, you need to acknowledge your lack of faith and to confess your sin in that regard. Plead with the Lord for cleansing and full fellowship with Him.
And look for opportunities to exercise your faith and service. When was the last time you wrote a letter of encouragement to someone? The postal system is still operating. Sit right down and write that guy a letter. And the telephone still works. The cell companies are considered an essential industry, so use your phone. When necessity forces you to go to the grocery store why don’t you pick up something extra and leave it on the doorstep of a neighbor in need. I know you don’t like the internet, you’ve told me many times, but isn’t there some way in which you can use it for the Lord’s glory? Email. Messenger. Facebook. Tell people that you are praying for them. Oh, and don’t forget to pray for them. Tell some of your “friends” that Bro. Fulton is teaching about the life of David on Wednesday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and encourage them to tune it, explaining how easy it is. Don’t permit the physical restrictions against us to dry up your spiritual service. Pray and trust the Lord to bring something good out of all this, because that is certainly not beyond His power.
I know that this might sound like pouring salt into your wounds. But you still need to continue to honor and worship the God with your tithes and offerings. I know that your income has been cut in half, but 10% of that half still belongs to the Lord. Can you honestly expect the Lord to keep that little bit of meal and oil at the bottom of the barrel, if you aren’t giving to the Lord what is His? Put your offering in the mail if you can’t send electronically. As I have said, the USPS is still working. No I don’t need your money, the church doesn’t and certainly the Lord doesn’t either, but you need to remain faithful to God in this area of your life.
Let me ask a personal question. You don’t have to text me your answer or put it on Facebook. “Isn’t true that a month ago, and going back for years, your practical Christianity has become habitual or a tad bit formal?” You went to church on Sunday at 9:55, because that is what you had been doing for years. You essentially wore the same clothes, carried the same Bible, applied the same smile and shook the same hands of the same people week after week. You sat in the same pew, slouched down to the same posture, picked up the same song book and essentially sang the same hymns every week. Hasn’t your religion become a formality over the years? How much has Satan been involved with that? But now the pattern has been broken by a foreign virus and the dictates of government. What are you going to do with those broken habits? Improve them? Develop something new? Or will your religious life fall apart because the rigidity of formal church attendance is no longer there to shore up you up?
I mentioned Satan a moment ago, but we have to admit that generally speaking, he is not our worst enemy. The primary enemy to our spirituality is found within us, or perhaps I should say “upon us.” The greatest enemy of our spirituality is our flesh, which is played upon and enticed by the world and the Devil. I saw a funny thing the other day, which only illustrates this point. The author told his readers to get out of their pajamas every couple of days and put on their usual clothes. “Your pjs are telling you you’re just fine, but your regular clothes will tell you you’re getting fat.”
Spiritually speaking, is your flesh getting fat while your spirit is growing lean? Paul said to the Corinthians – “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” One Greek expert says that to “keep under my body” literally means “punch it in the face below the eye” – beat it black and blue. If we don’t keep our flesh under subjection, it will begin to control our spirit, and we will loose our spiritual focus and God’s blessings. In these days of closed gymnasiums and little spiritual exercise, we have to take responsibility to control and “mortify our members which are upon the earth.” With enforced non-attendance we can’t rely on our spiritual trainers and exercise partners to do it for us. When our pastors are not as available to us in the same way as they have been in the past, we need to rest directly on Christ more than ever.
Much like yourself, there was a time when Jacob was in exile from hearth and home. One night he was given the blessing of a ladder upon which the angels of God were ascending and descending. One might say that those angels were going up and down doing the Lord’s bidding, caring for the saints in their needs. Jacob didn’t feel so inclined, but I wonder what might have happened if he had stepped between a couple of those ascending angels and began his own climb toward Heaven? Would he have been pushed aside or would a heavenly voice have told him that this escalator was for angels only?
With that ladder in mind let me take you to the last verse of John 1. Jesus said to Nathanael, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” It might be argued that the angels were coming to earth to minister to the Saviour. But most commentators suggest that Christ is the ladder upon which the angels travel. And from there I point to the verse in which Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Are you regularly going to the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ?
God’s church is important – it is essential – as the means of spreading the gospel to the lost. But the Lord’s church has also been commissioned to “teach… them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The church – God’s local assembly – is the Lord’s tool to convey His instructions to the saints. But the church is not a ladder to heaven; it is not means by which we fellowship with the Lord. In these days when we have no access to the sacred auditorium, we still have access to heaven. And we need to have it firmly planted in our hearts to make that journey – not every Sunday, not once a day, but every hour and every available minute. Christ should be – Christ must be our focus and attention – especially in trying times. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Christians today are people in need, but our unsaved neighbors are people in even greater need. If there has ever been a time in our spiritual lives when we needed to be spiritually alive – this is that day. Yes, we are in quarantine of sorts, but so was Noah for a while, and so was Jonah in the fish, so was David in the cave of Adullum, and so was Paul while in prison in Rome. We can waste that time or we can use it for God’s glory. When you eventually stand before the Lord, what will be said of you in regard to how you spent these few days of enforced non-attendance?