I was chastised tonight in the parking lot of the church. I pulled in to the parking lot, put the car in park and prepared to practice my song one more time before going into the building. I was supposed to share a special song at the end of the worship service and I just wanted to practice it one more time. My son sat in the passenger seat, sunk down as low as he could go, looking off into the distance with a hurt expression on his face. He had disappointed himself just a few minutes before we got in the car to go to church and his reaction escalated quickly until he was out of control. To be honest, he had disappointed me too, but I am learning that sometimes, the experience is enough of a teacher and I was not going to hurt him with my admonishment since it seemed like his own disappointment was more than enough.
His voice, just barely above a whisper, broke the silence in the car as I was scrolling through my music to find the track I was going to use tonight. He said, “Mom, I am hurting so much.” I looked over at him and said, “Bub, you probably need to pray about it. I have to practice this song.” I only had five minutes before service started and we were still in the parking lot. I turned back to the phone, pressed play, and started singing along to the music, hitting all the right stops and starts, nailing the song … while the Holy Spirit stared into me. How can you think this service to God is more important than the person sitting next to you?
I was deeply ashamed of myself. If the Holy Spirit is going to say that to me, that means that God doesn’t think my singing in church – even if it’s for His honor and glory – is more important than praying with my son. It seems that goes without saying, but I probably do this often. I’m a one-track mind kind of person. I get stuck on something, and I have to work really hard to maintain focus so I will finish things, or I don’t. I am an expert at ignoring distractions to get work done, but apparently, sometimes, I ignore the work while I get distractions done.
I was really affected by this chastisement, and when my pastor preached this evening on the Acts 2 church, it dawned on me that this isn’t just my problem; it’s the church’s problem. We have mastered the art of doing service for God. Man, we do, do, do. And when we have a moment of nothing to do, we plan for the next service we are going to do. But we have neglected the people around us time and time again. We want to minister to people, thinking we can make a huge impact on them and their circumstances, but how can we make any impact on the world around us if we aren’t willing to stop and pray? The world is saying, “I am hurting,” and the church is responding, “You should probably pray about that.” Then we turn back to what we were doing before and ignore the brokenness around us.
The men and women of Acts who experienced a great, sweeping heavenly fire weren’t adhering to a carefully thought out program. They were praying. They were waiting on God. They had agreed with Jesus to still themselves in prayer until the Holy Spirit showed up. When the cloven tongues fell, those men and women were equipped to do God’s work, and God’s work no doubt took them by surprise. Which of them woke up that morning determined to make a fool of him or herself? The people outside accused them of public drunkenness, but they were just filled with the Spirit of God. They participated in what God wanted to do through them, and thousands came to Christ. That’s never happened in my lifetime, and I think I know why: the church has prioritized ministry in such a way to keep people and appeal to people, but not really to reach out to people where they are and minister life to the dying, or pray with the desperately hurting.
This is a tough word, but trust me, friend, I am not pointing fingers. I am GUILTY of this. My own son! I think, if we want to see a move of God as in past generations, we have to get on our knees. He must become greater and we must become less. We have to stop the incessant programming that keeps God in a box, close our eyes for a bit and really press in past the distractions to know God, know His will and His heart for the people around us. We need to be reminded again how powerless we are without Him, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to empower us in our weakness. Only then will we see a mighty move of God, instead of mediocre acts of men and women.
Notice in Matthew 25, Jesus talks about God’s work, and it all involves people. Reaching out the people. Providing for the needs of others. Taking care of those in desperate circumstances. Casting out demons and working miracles are most certainly a work of God that He equips people for, but if we neglect those around us’ most pressing needs because it doesn’t fit into our idea of ministry, we have failed in what God called us to do. Jesus warned that many will say to God on that day, “Lord, didn’t I prophesy in your name and cast out demons, and perform many miracles?” But Jesus said God would tell them to depart, that He never knew them (Matt. 7). These men and women thought they were doing the Lord’s work, but God didn’t acknowledge them or their efforts! Why? Because, while service is most definitely what God enables us to do, we are still responsible to do His will in His timing.
The church has become indifferent to things that God could never turn away from. How many orphans remain institutionalized because God’s people haven’t responded to the need? How many young people are desperately searching for love and attention in things of this world because men and women of God haven’t stepped into the empty places left by broken homes? How many men and women are more concerned about finding the right one, because they have never been introduced to The One who, alone, can satisfy? “You should probably pray about that.”
Father, break our hearts for what breaks yours. Teach us to pray, Lord. Teach us to tarry in prayer, waiting for you to move us instead of being so busy that we miss what you really want to do through us. Remold your church into the body of Christ as it should be, and teach us to do your work, and not our idea of it. You love people, Lord, and sometimes, it seems that we love the lights, platform and accolades. Forgive us for putting minor things in the place of major things and neglecting those around us while we chase our own dreams.