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Something Nice For Me…

When I was a student in Wales, several decades ago, my landlady used to go to chapel twice every Sunday; “Recharges your batteries!” she would exclaim. I’m quite sure it did. Times of worship are powerfully strengthening, and can be very uplifting, and nothing has a stronger positive effect on our lives than belief - possessing the sure knowledge that God’s love, truth, and promise of glorious destiny, is ever with us.

But none of these things are the reasons why we are Christians, or should not be. Perhaps most people enjoy worship; but maybe some don’t, and most of us find church services disagreeable some of the time.

People outside (who very likely, I have suggested, see things very differently; Inside and Outside) often imagine people go to church because they “like that sort of thing”, or that “religion works for them”; and many – they should try listening to Harry Blamires’s Brother James (Quotes, 13) – imagine, strangely, that religious belief presents some kind of crutch or support for the feeble.

Of course faith “helps” us – but only certainly in the long term, i.e. beyond this present life/existence. The day-to-day help only applies in some parts of the world. In China, North Korea and parts of Nigeria and South-East Asia, being a Christian can mean beatings, torture, long-term imprisonment, or attacks on your home by death squads; being a Christian is definitely not a nice thing.

Yet still, time and again, one hears of people of great faith who find a powerful inner-peace, serenity, or contentment, and some are foolish enough to believe that “religion” is the way to find it, and is to be “got into” in order to do just that.

I’m sure some people of faith are lucky enough to find these good things (as opposed to the oppression that they would experience, if they had been unlucky enough to have been born elsewhere on the planet), but I suspect that these come in the category of those things C. S. Lewis wrote of, when describing people whose sole intention is to find, say health or happiness: set out to acquire them, and they will elude you, only producing badness as a result, but forget them and seek some higher goal, and you will probably get them, thrown in with whatever goodness you were actively seeking.

There are too many kinds of “religion”, or religion-substitute, in our western world, whose sole concern is the promise of nice things for adherents; many of them are marketed as promising health, wealth and happiness – and certainly serenity, fulfilment and “self-realisation” (whatever that is); often, they come at a financial price, the cost of signing up to some course or membership, or the acquisition of materials teaching some technique or other.

People only “do” them if they “work”. Faith in Jesus is nothing at all like any of these, his promise to us is the reverse of this. Belief in him means suffering and persecution, not acquiring peace or serenity (ask Christians in North Korean jails if you doubt me – not that they are able to speak to anyone).

Sadly, however, one encounters more and more people who complain that they cannot find a church where the hymn tunes are quite to their liking, and think, maybe, that they’d have much more calmness in their lives if they took up Transcendental Meditation instead.

So often, these people look upon their faith as something only to be held because it promises a satisfying “experience” of one kind or another, the “something nice for me” kind of religion. Nothing nice happened to Jesus, and the experiences he promised were never going to be “fulfilling”; deadly dangerous, very likely.

If you testify to truth in a world ruled by lies (as ours clearly is), then you are sure to attract something very unpleasant (as seen in the final chapters of each of the gospels). If nothing unpleasant happens to you – if, in fact you attract the opposite: status, security, perhaps, and even wealth – then your testimony is clearly not being very effective.