I have heard it said, “It is better to sit in a tree stand thinking about God than to sit in church thinking about hunting.” While this may sound philosophically deep and meaningful, it is fundamentally flawed and misleading. There is nothing wrong with sitting in a tree stand while thinking about God and there is definitely nothing wrong with going to church; however, there is something concerning about thinking that one is an acceptable replacement for the other. To be completely honest, it really seems like an attempt to justify going hunting instead of going to church. I know that I have been guilty of trying to justify what I want to do instead of doing what I know I should do so it is an attempt that I can understand; however, it does not make it okay.
A statement like this is predicated upon a few misconceptions about church, God, and hunting. Here are some of the most significant of these misconceptions:
Misconception: Church is just a place to learn about God
Reality: Church is a place to be encouraged, deepen relationships, and worship God.
There are so many misunderstandings about church out there. But the truth is that the church is a good thing and a gift from God. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “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.” Church is a place to learn about God, but it is also a place to be encouraged and to encourage others. It is a place to worship God, giving thanks to him for all that he has done. It is also a place to walk with others through their struggles and have others walk with you through yours.
I know that some of you have probably been hurt by people in church before; so have I. But let me ask you this question: what do you think will happen when you get hundreds of sinners under one roof? They will likely sin sometimes. Instead of blaming the church for the way that individuals have hurt us, we should all the more be a part of the church to do our part and help make it what it was always supposed to be.
Misconception: Being by myself is no different than being in church
Reality: Being in church is essential to having a healthy mindset when I am by myself
This misconception is built upon the first one that we just talked about. If church is just a place to learn about God then I can take care of that on my own. However, being in church and hearing the Word of God spoken into my life is essential to having a healthy mindset when I am by myself. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This means that God’s word is essential to my understanding of myself, my sin, and my need for a savior. If I neglect to have the truth spoken into my life by others when I am at church, then I greatly risk having a skewed view of myself, my world, and my God when I am by myself.
Misconception: It is okay for my heart to be elsewhere while I am in church
Reality: To think about hunting in church instead of God is a sign of a deeper issue
When something holds our affections and our attention above God and when something causes me to forget about God’s commands, there is a word for that thing: an idol. It is no longer a passion or a hobby. When I am willing to spend time in church thinking about something other than Jesus and my relationship with him, I have replaced him. I might not think that is what I am doing, but ultimately that is what I am doing. The very first command God gave to the people of Israel in the desert was “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2). An idol is anything that I allow to hold more affection, attention, and allegiance in my life that God. If I am incapable of sitting in church without having hunting in the forefront of my mind, then I have an idol problem, plain and simple, and I need to take care of it by making God my number one priority.
Misconception: Hunting brings me closer to God
Reality: Hunting is a gift from God that can be taken away if abused
I have had some incredible moments thinking about God while I have been hunting. Being in his creation and enjoying all that nature has to offer is a fantastic opportunity to ponder how great God is. But we have to be able to separate admiring God’s creation and God himself. Truthfully, hunting is a great way to be thankful to God, spend time in solitude in which I can pray and meditate on God, and admire all that God has done in my life. But hunting is a gift from God and if we abuse it God has the right to take it away from us (if he feels that is what is best for us). Instead of making hunting more than it is, I should have a healthy view of hunting as a great gift from the Great Giver. I should go to church because the One who has given me so much built the church and gave his only Son for the church; if it is that important to him, it needs to be important to me as well.
I am not saying that you need to stop sitting in a tree stand. What I am saying is that I do not ever have the right to say that I can get more out of sitting in a tree stand than I can get out of church. The Church is the bride of Christ and if I claim to love Jesus I cannot in the same breathe say that I do not want to be a part of his church. I need to have my priorities straight, putting God first and loving the things he loves. When he is in his rightful place in my life, then I can truly enjoy the privileges he has given to me to their fullest potential because I will have a healthy understanding of God, myself, church, and hunting.
Sit in church and think about God. Sit in your tree stand and be thankful that God has allowed you to be there.