‘Ought’ is a mean word. It carries with it a sense of compulsion, of obligation, of duty that can drive us forward in obedience but without passion or enthusiasm:
“I ought to do the washing up.”
“I ought to get out of bed.”
“I ought to get some exercise.”
“I ought to go on a diet.”
“I ought to go to church.”
“I ought to pray and read my bible.”
I was reflecting on ‘ought’ as I looked at the books on my ‘ought to read’ shelf. They are books that I have been given, or have bought, or have been lent, which I know would be good to read but I often struggle to make time and space for those things. So ‘I want to’ or ‘it would be good to’ has become ‘I ought to read them’.
I think that can be what happens when we feel that we ought to go to church or pray or read our Bible. In the past we have known that these things have done us good: God has blessed us through them. But they have become more of a chore and a duty over time as the passion and excitement have gradually faded. On the occasions when I recognise that this is happening I go back to the gospels. I put myself in the crowds following Jesus, I watch him and listen to him. And I am re-energised (spiritually) by the realisation that I know him. He calls himself my friend! Doing those things change back from the possibility of ‘ought’ to the recognition that they are special moments with him.
It might not be that the whole service blesses me. It might not be that I spend hours in prayer or that I read the whole Bible from start to finish in a week. But there will be moments when I catch glimpses of Jesus. I see him wink at me, beckon me towards him, or perhaps he will whisper something gently that requires me to draw closer.
A while ago there was some correspondence in the Times (I think) about whether it was worth going to church because the original correspondent had been going weekly for the previous 30 years and could not remember any of the sermons. The correspondence got heated and excited until one person concluded it with these words:
“Sir, I have been eating Sunday lunch every week for the past 30 years. I can’t remember any of them but I know that they have done me good.”
Be blessed, be a blessing.