Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Get Thee to the Church in Time

Not a typo.  The title of this post, that is.  I know that the phrase is "on," not "in," but as I mentioned yesterday, there are some people who just weigh on your heart so heavily that you shudder to think you'd be stuck standing there, one minute too late, thinking only "I coulda saved them."

Of course, you and I don't ever save anybody.  That's God's job.  Our job is to get them to God.

Did you catch that?  Our job is to get them to God.  Not to get them to church.

Because here's what happens when you get someone with a fragile, about-to-take-the-leap-of-faith heart to actually go to church with you.  True story:

I had one of these people.  I longed for her to go to church with me, and she finally agreed.  One time. The Christmas Eve service that I happened to be slated to play some welcoming music for, so I warned her that before service and for the first few minutes, I would be otherwise occupied.  I invited her to sit somewhere close and comfortable, and she picked a seat in the back row.  I kept an eye on her, and when I looked up again, she was no longer alone.

Our international missionary, Bible school-teaching, testimony-giving, God-is-so-awesome, concerned-with-your-salvation, completely-uninhibited older church woman had joined her and was already talking her ear off.  Now, I don't know what was said in that conversation. By the time I was able to join them, my invitee's eyes were almost permanently rolled in the back of her head and she just gave me that look.  She has never come back.  (Yet.  I'm still working on it, but she always teases, "What?  So you can leave me with whats-her-name again?") 

There's nothing wrong with getting someone to church, but you have to know when you get them there what they might run up against.  I love our dear older woman and she loves people well, but when I looked up and saw her sitting there with this woman who'd finally agreed to come to church with me, my heart sank.  Judging based on personality alone, I knew she wasn't the kind of woman that my invitee would connect with.  And I was right.  And that one ill-destined moment (which is no one in particular's fault) pained the moment.  It just pained it. 

I should have stayed with her.  I should have found a way to stay with her.  Because my presence might have sheltered her experience and allowed her to focus on the God of the night, the God she was searching for.

That's not to say, though, that when you see a heart poised for Passion, that it's always your responsibility to stand guard and see that heart through to the finish line, protecting it at every turn and dominating its conversion process.

Because there are some hearts that you, personally, will never be able to pull through those final tormented moments of choice.  And many more that you weren't called to.

A woman was in and out of dabbling with Jesus (to my eye.  She may tell it differently.) and I was trying to work on that without making her feel like a project.  Without becoming preachy.  Without making every interaction a theological discussion or a debate about the merits of fellowship.  (She's one of those that insists that church is not necessary for a relationship with God.  I argue otherwise.)  One night, we were sitting in her living room talking when a repairman stopped by for an estimate.  HVAC? Plumber?  I don't remember.

He came back with a bid, then popped a squat on the couch just to chat for awhile.  He wore a cross around his neck, and of course, I couldn't help but mention my newly-published Recess with Jesus book.  Hey, a girl's got to sell.  We talked about that for approximately twenty seconds before he turned to the other woman and started asking about her faith.  They talked for ten minutes, then twenty, then thirty, then forty.  Somewhere near an hour, he just sat talking to her.  Not about his estimate or the problem to be fixed, but about what she was looking for in life and in God and why would she not venture into church.

She admitted that every time she came close to church, she couldn't stop crying.  She started crying just saying those words.  He told her that was her burden being lifted.  It was a freedom in her heart.  And they continued to talk.

It was the coolest moment ever, and I was kind of jealous.  I mean, hey.  I'd been working on her for awhile and this guy just got further in a few minutes than I had in a few years.  But it was so awesome to see her open to the moment like that.  I wanted to cry myself.

He gave her his personal cell phone number, an open invitation to join his family for dinner some night, and a gentle hug with a promise that he'd be in touch.  Then he walked out into the fallen night.  She never heard from him again.

That pained the moment, too.  Because with all of her preconceived notions about Christians, about God, about hypocrisy, about unfaithfulness...she needed to hear from him.  At least one more time.  It just hurt.

We all have these people that pain our hearts.  They are so close and they are so thirsty and they are so hungry and empty for Jesus.  And that's a delicate moment.

We have to remember that our job is more than to get them to church.  We have to get them to God.  We have to get them to that place where they can experience Him - which maybe could be church but doesn't have to be.  And we have to remember that it may not be our job at all.  We may just have to open them to the moment for someone else to step in and break down a new wall.

But we must also remember that when it is we who step in - like the repairman - we can't just step away.  We have to keep our promises.  We have to maintain our presence.  Until and unless one party makes it clear that the invitation, the moment, is passed.  (And sometimes, even after that.)  Because it will be our presence - and not our petitions and not our persistence and not our preaching and not our proclamation and not even our promises - that bring these hearts into His presence.

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