Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:14-16
This story is from a long time ago, but it came into my mind when I was thinking about going to church this morning. Usually when things pop into my mind like that there’s a reason. So, first, the story.
The year was 1996. Our time at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola had been amazing, but we knew God was leading us to a new congregation, where Rebekah would be called to serve as head of staff. She had been in serious conversation with several search teams, but that weekend the entire crew from Brandon were in town. We had a fun dinner party, Rebekah stayed around for extended conversation, and then – Sunday morning – they all showed up for church.
One of the Brandon visitors presented himself as a particularly hard nut to crack. He was determined, it seemed, to find something wrong and to make sure the last thing they did was to call a woman to the pulpit.
After worship I ran into him in the lobby. “I was really surprised,” he told me. “God really spoke to me through the message. It was an inspirational worship service. It’s not what I was expecting.”
Framed in Prayer:
Now you’d think that I would have come up with some politic response, careful not to offend someone who evidently held the power of veto over our future as a family. But that’s not what I did.
I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit, or if I had just consumed too much coffee that morning, but I challenged his unsubtle inference.
The exchange went like this:
“I’m not surprised at all!” I responded. “Because I watched you when you came into the sanctuary.”
He looked puzzled.
“You took your seat early.” I said. “Why?”
“To find a quiet place and avoid all the unnecessary chitchat,” he said.
“I understand,” I continued. “And what did you do then?” (I already knew)
“Well, I prayed for a few minutes,” he replied.
“And why did you pray before church even started?” (I already had a good idea).
“I prayed that God would be present, that the word would be preached, and that the Lord would speak through the message…”
I waited a moment, just to give him time to process what I was doing…
“So why would you be surprised?” I said. “Of course God touched your heart! Of course you received light and encouragement through the sermon! It wasn’t because of Rebekah… although I’ll grant she is a consistently excellent preacher. God spoke to you because you prepared your heart and your mind ahead of time. The message found a place to land because your spirit was willing…”
He hadn’t expected that! But Rebekah and I have always known that a powerful worship experience has more to do with hearts open to receive God’s word, and to be touched by the Spirit, than it does the preacher.
So I am going to try to remember to approach worship this morning with the same open spirit, the same listening ears, the same humble heart. That is where God meets us – unfailing and faithful. – DEREK