The word “oasis” probably evokes one of two images in your head. If you are from my generation, then the word probably turns your mind back to the mid-90’s when the British rock band, Oasis, was tearing up the charts like a champagne supernova in the sky. If you are from one of the generations that has no clue what a Wonderwall is (admittedly, my generation doesn’t really know either), then your mind probably conjures more traditional images.
Most people know an oasis to be an area in a desert where vegetation surrounds some water source like a spring or a well. It’s an area of safety and a source of life in the otherwise lifeless void of the desert. For the desert traveler, an oasis is the difference between life and death on a long journey. In fact, oases are the only reason travelers can actually make long journeys through the desert. Needless to say, they are kind of a big deal.
An oasis provides the traveler a great deal of amenities otherwise unavailable in the barren waste of the desert. There a person can find rest in the comfort and relative safety of the trees and their protective shade. Canteens can be replenished and camels can be watered. Oases also provide an excellent opportunity for the traveler to recoup, reflecting on the road traveled thus far and mustering the courage necessary for the road ahead. Again, an oasis is kind of a big deal.
So why on earth would anyone intentionally skip the oasis in the desert?
Skipping the one life-sustaining pit-stop on the desert road would be ludicrous (not the rapper, note the proper spelling). No one in his right mind would travel on by the rest and replenishment afforded by an oasis. But I believe Christians are guilty of this irresponsible insanity on a regular basis.
I see the regular, weekly gathering of my church as an oasis in the desert. Let’s be honest: life is pretty brutal. Monday carries a nasty stigma for a reason. It represents the beginning of a spiritual battle for Christians where they will face innumerable dangers between the end of this week and the beginning of the next. During this barren trek, the Christian will be tested, tried, and tempted in an incredibly hostile environment. The rain dries up and the sun blazes down. And every step along the path of this dry and barren trek, we will desperately need a respite from the sweltering heat.
That respite comes when the church gathers. It’s our oasis.
The oasis provides rest in the shade. By regularly gathering with your church, you find safety amongst friends and comfort knowing that you don’t have to worry about being attacked by like-minded travelers (or at least you shouldn’t have to, but that’s a whole other post).
The oasis gives you an opportunity to fill your canteens and water your camels. A regular church gathering gives you an opportunity to be replenished and refreshed by the Spirit of God, experiencing His grace poured out abundantly through various means. You are encouraged, challenged, held accountable, and supported by all that you find of the Lord in and through His people.
The oasis allows you to work up your nerve and plot your course. Church gatherings provide the environment you need to make the hard decisions of life before you are ever faced with the hard decisions of life. Temptations are going to come. And they are not easy to deny. We rarely make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. Odysseus knew this truth when he was approaching the island of the Sirens. That’s why he decided beforehand to lash himself to the mast of his ship and sail on by. We make a lot of poor decisions in the heat of our week. But we make a lot of good decisions surrounded by God’s people, learning God’s Word, and worshiping in God’s Spirit. We make good decisions in the oasis.
That’s a pretty strong argument to put a high premium on a regular stop in the desert oasis. And it’s a strong argument to place regular church gatherings in a high position of priority in our lives. So why would we ever skip it?
I’m not talking about missing your church gatherings because you’re sick or because you go out of town for the occasional vacation. I’m talking about people who allow almost any manageable or avoidable excuse to keep them them from gathering with their local body of believers.
I hear it all the time. People skip out on church because…
- Their show is on or there is a football game they don’t want to miss.
- They’ve been working really hard this week and just need to rest.
- They haven’t had any time with their spouse in a while and it’s just a good time for it.
The reasons are numerous, and many of them could have been avoided with a little effort and planning. But I’m not trying to shame you into gathering with your church. The truth is that I just don’t understand how you do it. Let me explain…
I need the church. I need the oasis to get me through my week. I need the rest in the safety of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I need the accountability that comes from people trying to live life on the same path as me. And I need to be challenged and encouraged to face the sweltering heat of the days ahead of me. I need the church.
I think this is what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he penned those words that we often use to shame people into going to church:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
At this point, I think it’s important for me to clarify something: I’m not just arguing for Sundays, and I don’t think the author of Hebrews was either. Traditionally, the church has gathered on Sundays to celebrate the day that our Lord rose from the dead. We have historically used Sunday as a day to come together for the purpose of sharing in the ordinances of baptism and communion, as well as many other forms of worship. So I do see Sunday church gatherings as the base from which you should build your regular stops in the oasis, but I’m not arguing for Sundays exclusively. I think, as I believe the author of Hebrews would argue as well, that the oasis provided by gathering with your church could happen just as easily on a Tuesday as it could a Sunday. Small groups and mid-week worship gatherings and Saturday service projects can be just as refreshing as a Sunday worship gathering. My point is not that we just need to prioritize gathering on Sundays. It’s that we need to prioritize gathering frequently, regardless of the day of the week. Sunday provides the historic basis for such a gathering of believers. One way or another, we need to see gathering with our church on a regular basis as incredibly important.
But I’m not trying to shame you into placing a high premium on your regular church gatherings. I want you to see the beautiful benefit of gathering with other believers, causing you to actually want to prioritize those gatherings. I want you to see your own desperate need for an oasis in between difficult days of living life.
Stop viewing church gatherings as just another dot on your calendar that can be rescheduled or ignored as easily as your hot yoga class. Start prioritizing that time and actively guarding it with every ounce of your being. Don’t let distractions and excuses keep you from preparing for the drought ahead.
Decide today to view your church as the oasis in the desert of your dry and barren week. And drink up! You never know where the next oasis will be…