We had a discussion in Bible study the other week about how busy people are, especially families with children. Oftentimes both parents work outside the home, children have multiple extra curricular activities, social activities abound. That's just the tip of the busyness iceberg. People are busy! In Bible class the question was raised: Are people too busy? The insinuation was made that busyness keeps people from worship and Bible class, from personal Bible study and prayers. Do our people have too much to do? I would propose that the problem is not busyness, but priorities.
When I was in college, I worked for a summer at the Kraft Oscar Meyer meat packing plant in Davenport, Iowa. I was summer help, which meant I had no control over my schedule. I had to work the shift they assigned to me. I was nervous when I found that out because I had a wedding I was standing up in toward the beginning of the summer. If work scheduled me on that day, I would have to show up, or they would fire me. I had resolved in my mind that if I got put on the weekend shift, I would try to ask off, but the likelihood of that happening was slim. If I couldn't get off, I would have to quit and find another job. The wedding was my priority. I had made a commitment to stand up in the wedding, and I wasn't going to back out a month before the ceremony. Fortunately, the shift for which I was scheduled allowed me to attend the wedding. But then after the wedding my shift changed. I was moved to weekends. I didn't mind working weekends, except that I missed church every week. I wasn't in the heart of WELSdom...the local WELS churches only had Sunday morning services. Because of my work schedule, I missed church for about 2 months that summer. At first I did feel very guilty about missing church. We rarely ever missed when I was a kid, and the Lord gave me the conscience to continue that habit. To try and compensate, I increased my daily Bible study and study of the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord. I justified my decision to miss worship with the rationale that it was only temporary and I really didn't have a choice. But I did have a choice. In fact I had already made up my mind that work would not keep me from my friend's wedding. Work did keep me from worship for 2 months. That was the choice that I made. Work took priority over worship.
Worship Habits Can Be Clues
Now I'm not saying I stopped being a Christian during the time I chose work over worship. Looking back I believe my decision did show a lack of spiritual maturity and trust in the Lord. If I had chosen to seek employment elsewhere, would the Lord have failed to provide? I don't think so.
I don't want to make it seem like missing public worship is a worse sin than any others or that missing public worship is always a sin. Circumstances will sometimes keep a person from worship without sin. Some people are kept from worship because of health issues. Some serve our country in the military and are deployed to places where they cannot worship with like-minded Christians. Some have jobs that schedule impossible hours. I don't want to put undo guilt on those whose hearts long to be with the people of God but are truly unable. This is for those of us whose hearts do not love the house of the Lord. This is for the rest of us who do have a choice but make the wrong choice. The Godly choice might be a hard choice. Maybe it means missing out on fun activities or a higher paying job or family time. But God does command us to meet together. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He Who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Hebrews 10:23-27). If God is not our first and highest priority, then repentance is in order. Out of place priorities are often seen in worship attendance habits.
Jesus was never too busy. He was never too busy for the crowds that needed Him. The apostles had just returned from their mission journey. Jesus sent them out "to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:2). They returned and reported to Jesus what they had done, and Jesus took them with Him to a solitary place (Luke 9:10). Jesus wanted time alone with His disciples. He wanted them to share their experiences and the joy that was theirs through the preaching of the Gospel. But the crowds found Him and flocked in droves to see Him! Jesus doesn't turn them away. He doesn't invite them to return another time. He welcomed them (Luke 9:11). Jesus always had time. He made time for what was most important. And that meant time in God's house too. It was Jesus' custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16). It was a regular occurrence in Jesus' ministry for Him to go off by Himself to pray (Luke 4:42; Luke 4:18; Matthew 14:23; Luke 22:41). Jesus was never too busy to do the will of the Father. "I always do what pleases Him," Jesus says in John 8:29. Jesus' always prioritizes the will of His heavenly Father first. Jesus' life is the one that God expected us to lead. Jesus' life is one like to that which we needed for God to look favorably on us. Jesus' gives His righteous life to us and for us. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). "My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40). Light and life have come to us who once walked in darkness! His name is Jesus Christ! He is why we worship! In Him we have eternal life! He is why we love to gather together with God's people to worship God together for salvation from sin in Christ. He is light and life for the world, and especially for those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).
We strive to make our God the first and greatest priority in life. We can be busy and still do that. In fact, I would suggest that busyness is a good thing. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." It is not in the Bible, but it is generally a true statement. Read Proverbs 31 - the wife of noble character. She is busy! Proverbs against laziness are scattered throughout that Book. Paul shared this rule with the Thessalonians, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Busy is not bad. God wants us to be busy with His work, working in His kingdom. Jesus was busy. He wasn't idle, He was always doing His Father's will. Busy is good. Be busy working for God. Busy yourself with learning about God in the Bible. Make Him your priority.
I think my parents did a good job teaching me about prioritizing God and worship first. When I was in grade school, I played on a club soccer team. We were pretty good and traveled all over the state of Florida for games. We played and practiced almost all year round. Club sports were not nearly as crazy then as they are now, with games and tournaments almost every Sunday morning, but there were quite a few tournaments that had Sunday morning games. Now we didn't have midweek services at our church, so you either went on Sunday or not at all. Yet, I only remember missing church once. We either went to a WELS church close to where the tournament was held, sometimes missing a game, or we skipped the tournament. Church was the priority. Going to church was never in question. I never wondered whether we were going to church on a given Sunday. I never wondered if I could get away with sleeping in and skipping church. We went to church and Bible study or Sunday school. Period. My parents gave me a conscience for going to church, and I am grateful to them for that! They passed on good worship habits to me. No matter how busy we were, worship of God with fellow Christians came first. They didn't have to tell me that church was important. They showed me. Thank you Mom and Dad!
Lord Jesus, our priorities are often divided between You and other people or things. Forgive us for not making You our chief and greatest priority. Forgive us for divided hearts. Your priorities were never divided. You always did the will of the heavenly Father. You did that to bring glory to Your Father and to accomplish our salvation. Thank You! Lead us to worship You always with lives of private and public worship. Keep us busy with Your work. We pray in Your name. Amen.