There’s this guy I know who always has something negative to say about church. If I’m being perfectly honest, I hate him.
Can I admit that as a Christian? I hate him.
It doesn’t matter what I do or preach; he always has something to say. Or, if he doesn’t say it, I can read his body language. The sermon runs a bit long? He lets me know. The song is too unfamiliar to enjoy? He gets worked up. The baptism plus the Communion plus the video after the sermon means the toddler natives are getting restless? He crosses his arms and pouts.
I hate that guy.
What’s even worse—he shows up at other churches. When I visit other services, to enjoy worship instead of to lead worship, he shows up and messes with my experience. He nitpicks and expects so much of human preachers and mortal musicians. He has so little love for church, yet he shows up every Sunday.
Like I said, I hate that guy.
The problem is that guy is . . . me. Well, not really me. He’s that ugly part of my heart that’s hostile to God, to gratitude, and to love. The apostle Paul described him: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:15,17).
One of the things I hate most about sin living in me is that it sabotages even my church services. It comes not as a beggar desperate for bread but as a critic, preferred-worship-experience checklist in hand. That’s why, to quote Paul in Colossians 3:5, I want to “put to death” that ugly attitude in my heart.
Do you struggle with the same thing?
I want to share some advice I learned from a wise Christian named Rich. He once encouraged me to have “lopsided ears” in church—one small ear listening for style and one gigantic ear listening for substance. Sure, my small ear might catch a song that could be better, a sermon introduction that could be more engaging, or a reading that could be less monotone.
But my gigantic ear is listening for any syllable of truth. For anyone who would read God’s Word to me. For anyone who would sing of God’s glory. For anyone who would preach Jesus to me. That ear could care less about the personality or the style or the beats per measure. That ear has no concern for traditional/contemporary, stained glass/screens, or a thousand other issues that create church critics. That ear only cares about the cross of Jesus. It loves the life of Jesus, rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus, and can’t wait for the return of Jesus.
And when that ear hears that Word, it has not a word of criticism. Only praise. That ear tells the mouth to shout with King David, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:1).
In other words, I want to be like my father-in-law, Wayne, who is now worshiping in heaven. When he was on earth, he had lopsided ears. I can remember a dozen services where my heart was so frustrated with a dozen imperfect details. It took everything I had to get to the car without spewing my criticism.
But as soon as we would get there, Wayne would be the first to speak: “That was a wonderful service!”
And he meant it.
God, give me Wayne’s heart today. Give us all ears that adore the sound of Jesus’ name, no matter whose mouth speaks it.
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.
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