Do I Have To?

I got a most intriguing question from a friend the other day: “Do you think I have to go to church?”


Several things weren’t included, so I was left answering a very general, “no way out” kind of question (which was his goal I think). Did he mean 1) the church building, 2) the actual service, or 3) the 2nd grade class? Furthermore, my answer depended on the intent of his question, which he never voiced. What was he really wondering – does he have to go to church to be saved? To be spiritual? To have a good reputation? To win the lottery?  To feel connected to and encouraged by others in the body?


But, to keep the conversation going and make things interesting, I just simply answered “No.” And “Yes.” He smirked and rolled his eyes.


We continued talking, especially about the many “have to’s” he was glad weren’t really “have to’s.” Like attending church. Or giving financially to those in need. Or helping in the toddler room. Or even the Jr. High room. And boy was he glad! I eventually asked him my own “no way out” question: Why do you want to find a way to get by spiritually? “It seems your desire to squeak by says way more about what’s really in your heart than any kind of external record or badge of buttons may say about your image,” I commented, quite sure he might not want to continue the conversation.


He did.


An experience I had with my dad helped me as the discussion continued. Ironically, there was a day I asked my dad that very same question. If I remember correctly,  had just turned 16, maybe 17, and, from my vantage point, had a good grasp on life (can you spell p-r-i-d-e?) So when I asked him my “have to” question, he answered with a surprisingly simple, “No.” He never even blinked. Wow, that was easy I thought. But then he finished his answer: “You don’t have to do anything; but you do have to accept the consequences of your decision.”


That drastically changed my next question, which I never actually asked. Why? I already knew the answer. And that answer – the one I instinctly knew – amazingly changed my “have to’s” to “want to’s.”


As my friend and I kept talking, I shared this experience with him. Though he was more amused at my dad’s parenting prowess, I still think he got the point. And that’s when I pulled out my iron-sharpening tool  and responded more truthfully to his initial question. “Yes, I believe you should go to church. But not because you have to. Instead, because you need to, and, consequently, want to. When you sense it is about a ‘have to,’ there are usually deeper, personal things you need to wrestle with. Namely, your wandering heart.”


“I have to go,” he said.


“Have to?” I asked, chuckling.


We both grinned and said our goodbye’s for that day.


But even as I left I thought about how the “have to” mentality creeps into too many areas of my own thinking.


Like when it comes to giving. When I think in “have to” terms, I usually think of how little I can give and still “get by.” I wonder when I can stop instead of where else can I give. Sacrificial giving knows no such thinking. It is rooted in a “want to” mentality and enjoys being lavish, not selfish.


Or serving. When I’m in a “have to” mindset I count hours and track slots. I look for applause and credit. But that’s not how Jesus served. And that’s not the way a “want to” server goes about his duties. “Want to-ers” are content with opportunities and open doors, no matter what lay on the other side.


And there’s more than those two areas. But the Holy Spirit had already arrested my attention. Frankly, I was no different in many respects. So as much as my friend may have benefitted from our conversation, I profited more. And not because I had to. I got to!

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