We have been attending a nearby church for the last several months, but we haven’t joined yet. In fact, our membership is still officially at our old church in Florida (you know, the community we left back in May of 2006). I like this new church — they are a biggish church (it’s no Willow Creek or anything, but it is big enough to have two satellite campuses in other areas, and three associate pastors who help run those campuses) so there is an amazing variety of activities being offered every week. This church does a lot of outreach – and it’s real, practical, helpful stuff that makes an impact on the community – and it has a wonderful children’s ministry. Truly, the teacher in the Toddler Room is an angel.
So why haven’t we joined? Mainly because I’m sick and tired of leading the way when it comes to our faith life. I haven’t done the work (not that it’s a big deal – basically checking off a box on our weekly connections card and then meeting with the pastor), so it hasn’t been done. And it doesn’t seem to bother Gruff. He has never mentioned it once, on his own, without me initiating the conversation.
The problem with the situation is that I’ve allowed it to set the tone for my personal walk. I feel like I’m “off the hook,” so to speak, with no Sunday School class to prepare for, no ladies’ Bible Study to read for, no group of friends and mentors to be accountable to. (And I know, the dangling prepositions in that sentence are giving my high school grammar teacher a heart attack right now.) My quiet times have slipped off into an “every once in a while” slump, and I’ve let Gruff win the battle on whether we can afford to give to the church (I say yes, he says no). I’ve started to feel cut off from that deep part of myself – that spiritual wellspring that gives the rest of life so much more meaning – and I’m realizing that it’s not a good thing at all.
This past Sunday, we tried (another) new adult Sunday School class. We’re still the youngest in the room, but maybe only by 8-10 years this time. (That week when we found our way into the room of all the 90-year-olds? That was funny. One old dude actually fell asleep mid-lesson! Not exactly the class “for us.”) The group was nice, talkative, and everyone seemed bright & interesting. They’re doing a video series right now, so we watched a DVD clip and then broke into small groups to discuss some Bible passages, then got back into the big group to discuss as a whole. Gruff and I and one other guy made up a small group – and the other guy was an FBI agent. How cool is that? I’ve never met an FBI agent in my entire life. But that’s really off the subject… As for the class, Gruff mentioned afterward that it was cool to be in a room with so many young guys. He’s right; this is the first Sunday School class we’ve ever been in that lacked a large, distinct majority of women. He liked the discussion and volunteered (!) the fact that he’d like to go back to this class. So maybe that’s a little something.
The sermon yesterday was, apparently, a direct letter to me from God. I’m not sure why all those other people were there this week, but I know why I was – I needed to hear this. It was a familiar topic (prayer) and a fairly familiar take on the subject (God’s answers to our prayers can be yes, no, or not yet). The Scripture that was used was new to me, at least in this light.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:1-8
Our pastor pointed out that this is NOT an allegory – we are not the widow, and God is not the judge. Jesus points out the contrast at the end of the passage, when he reminds his disciples that the judge didn’t care a whit about that woman’s well-being, whereas God is intimately concerned with the lives of His people. Then he went on to say that he finds the most important part of this passage to be Jesus’ final question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? –That is, will he find faith that can withstand the times when God’s answer is “not yet”, when God’s answer is “no”? Can we hold on to our faith when we pray for healing, but God answers the prayer by restoring our loved one to a perfect body – in Heaven – not to a healed one on earth with us? Can we hold on to our faith when we pray for a situation in which the free will of another person creates pain and suffering for us, when God does not force that other person to do what is right — just as He does not force us to love him?
At the conclusion of the sermon, we sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness – a hymn with great personal meaning to me. This particular lyric:
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
is a line that ran through my head repeatedly for days after my second miscarriage. It brought me such a sense of peace and assurance and calm – and only after weeks of hearing it in my head could I identify the song from which it came.
During the pastor’s message, I kept hearing a refrain in my head… those prayers I’ve been praying lately? For ease of our financial burden, for a quick conception and a healthy pregnancy? God may be answering both — with a not yet. And just as He asked me to trust him three years ago, when my heart was breaking with the worry that I’d never have a child, He may be asking me to trust him again now. He isn’t promising me that I’ll get what I pray for – only promising that He will give me strength for my todays and hope for my tomorrows.
Maybe that’s all I need.
And maybe, if God is sending direct letters to me, care of this particular pastor & church, I should get over my stubborn self and just join already!