I didn’t go to church, and I felt absolutely OK with it. This was the sentiment I had even after becoming a believer, specifically during college. With even only a couple years as a Christian, I was quite well-versed in the Bible. I picked up concepts quicker than some who’d been regular church attendees for decades, and members from my church back home would comment on how advanced I was in Scripture for so new of a Christian.
It wasn’t out of malice that I didn’t go to church while away at college; it just seemed unnecessary. “I’m a believer, and I read the Bible, and I’m a good witness to others. Why exactly do I need to go to church?” was my reasoning. Since very few college students went to church, at worst I was keeping up with everyone else. I’d go when I came home for Christmas or the summer. That seemed good enough.
Until one day when one of my roommates and I were talking. My roommate wasn’t overly religious, but he went to church every Sunday.
“It actually surprised me that you don’t go to church, Steve,” he said. “Since you talk about God all time…”
“Ehhhh…” I felt inside.
That sound is the “conviction train” hitting you at 100 mph. We know it as the Holy Spirit (John 16:8).
As I reflected on my friend’s words over the next few days, the verse I kept running into was Proverbs 27:17, telling us that, “Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.” Engaging in discussion and Bible study with other believers (especially those smarter than ourselves) is one of the best things we can do to strengthen our faith. You don’t sharpen a knife or tool with a cloth or rag; you use something equally sharp to counter and refine it.
As I reflected on “iron sharpening iron,” I thought of a recent family get-together. My family had gotten a ping-pong table, and during Christmas Day, I had a chance to play against my uncle. My uncle was known to be fantastic at the game, but somehow on that day, I was able to hold my own. We went back and forth like something out of Forrest Gump. I never thought I could play that well, and I ended up beating him. Fresh off that excitement, later that day I played one of my little cousins. He was just a child, so I knew it would be simple to win and I’d go easy on him. But it wasn’t easy for me. After a while, I realized I actually needed to work to beat him. And I ended up losing.
I made mistakes; I missed easy shots; I hit it off the table. I couldn’t understand it. He was just hitting it back to me with the force of a child. Why did I mess up so much? Afterward I realized exactly what had happened. In playing my uncle, I had to rise to meet the challenge. But playing against a child, I wasn’t challenged at all. I didn’t intend to miss shots or make mistakes, but they happened. By not facing a highly skilled opponent, my own skills had begun to dull. In the same way, I questioned if I was really growing as a Christian if I wasn’t constantly surrounding myself with “iron” — people that challenged me to read, to learn, and to strengthen my faith.
Even today I reflect back on this example if I ever get into a rut or feel myself trying to do too much on my own. Something small like a phone call from a friend who wants to discuss Scripture gets me excited again. “Why don’t I feel like this every day?” I ask. Then I realize, “Oh, that’s right. I can.” Just as we’re called not to neglect the need to meet together with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), it’s up to us to instigate conversation, to seek a higher level, and challenge ourselves to grow in our faith. We need that opposing force to sharpen our skills.
My friend’s words in college weren’t meant to hurt; he was genuinely surprised that he hadn’t seen me leave for church too many Sundays in a row. But the benefit from hearing those convicting words was far greater than any hurtful words he could have said.
To elevate your game and ensure you’re carrying all the tools you can to serve the Lord, do yourself a favor: Take yourself out of your comfort zone and find someone smarter than yourself. Use that person to sharpen the iron of your faith and realize you can elevate your game to a higher level. You’ll be motivated to read more, study more, and become the person God wants you to be.