A few years ago, we tried a new church.
From the first time we went, the Lord used the pastor and other leaders to speak directly into our situation. I knew the Lord wanted us to continue coming.
However, I struggled. I couldn’t stop mentally criticizing everything about the church. I felt very out of place. Most people dress pretty nice there. We were shopping exclusively at thrift stores at the time.
Everything seemed designed to appeal to people’s senses. There was great music, warm coffee, big screens, and colored stage lights. The facilities were way too nice. I thought we should feel guilty worshipping there while our brothers in poor countries worship on dirt floors.
I struggled to believe the friendly atmosphere was genuine. And how could the worship team get up there service after service with so much joy and enthusiasm? Were they faking?
The pastor was extremely likable. I liked him so much, I thought something had to be wrong with him. “He’s only giving people spiritual milk. He’s preaching doctrinally shallow sermons because he doesn’t want to upset anyone. Yes, that must be the problem.” These kinds of thoughts went on and on for the first few months.
But I knew God was speaking to me personally through the sermons. I knew God wanted me there.
I’m not sure what came over me. But finally, I caved one day during worship. I said, “Lord, would you please remove this negative and critical spirit from me?”
Immediately, my thoughts began changing. Before, I would have a thought such as, “This is just a bunch of rich people putting on a show.”
Now I would think, “How wonderful that the people who go to this church give so much of their time and resources to help others!”
Before: “This pastor is giving everyone spiritual milk.”
Now: “This pastor is an incredibly gifted communicator. He explains difficult issues in a way everyone can understand.”
In every case, my thoughts were turned completely around. I began to realize this church was spiritually thriving! Thousands are being saved and baptized. Thousands are fasting and praying together. This church ministers to prisoners. They care for widows and orphans.
Everything they do is driven by prayer. People are showing up at 6 am during weekly prayer services, every Saturday, Wednesday nights, and on special serve days.
Much of the congregation is serving the church every week. Thousands are feeling welcomed and loved by a church for the first time in their lives! People’s lives are being transformed. Marriages are being restored. People are getting free from destructive attitudes and actions. People are being healed of deadly diseases. People are being comforted in their pain.
This church is extremely generous! A lot of money is flowing out of this church and into the world to spread the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick.
After my eyes were opened, I began to wonder how I ever found anything wrong with this wonderful church!
I was amazed.
I’ll never forget God’s final reforms on me in this area. A couple of months after I prayed this life-changing prayer, I was in worship. Some of the old attitudes started to creep up. I remember saying, “Okay, Lord. This is a great church. I get that and I love it. But, why do they need all the fancy lights?”
Before I could finish my question, a fully formed answer was present in my mind. I believe this was the voice of the Holy Spirit. Here’s how the conversation went.
Me: “…But, why do they need all the fancy lights?”
The Voice: “Chris, you know there’s fancy lights around my throne in heaven…”
I remembered a passage from Revelation.
“The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow.” – Revelation 4:23 (NLT) emphasis added
A huge smile came to my face. I was moved to tears. I said, “Okay, Lord. I got you on that. But what about the smoke?”
(By smoke, I was referring to the fog from the fog machine)
The Voice (in a happy, playful type of way): “Yeah, there’s smoke too…”
I remembered a passage from Isaiah.
“…I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne… Above him were seraphim… At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” – excerpts from Isaiah 6:1-4 (NIV) emphasis added
God’s Spirit is being poured out on me as I embrace the worship service. The last thing I hear in my spirit is this.
The Voice: “You know the tabernacle and the temple were copies of the real thing in heaven. You’re just practicing for what you’re going to do in eternity.”
I remembered a passage from Hebrews.
“That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven… Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven.” – excerpts from Hebrews 9:23-24 (NLT) emphasis added
This blew me away! Ever since that time, I often think of heaven during worship service.
Obviously, smoke and colored lights are not required. New covenant believers have freedom to worship how we choose. But God showed me there certainly isn’t anything wrong with colored lights and smoke. In fact, God is rather fond of them! Otherwise, He wouldn’t have them around His throne.
God used the smoke and lighting as final illustrations which allowed me to fully embrace everything about my church.
For the last few years, I have fallen more and more in love with my church every day. I love Jesus and I love my church. I love everything about my church! There’s no way for me to put into words how much I love and appreciate my church. What God has done is simply indescribable. This pastor has become my pastor and this church has become my church.
I’ve been set free from critical, accusing, and slanderous thoughts.
You can be free to love your church as well! Just ask!
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