Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why One Should Pray Before Joining

In the six years we have lived here, I actually did join a church once.  It was during a very long and difficult deployment, and I had been attending a wives' group and had a flag blessed for my soldier.  This congregation had its own "Hug Lady," who goes around hugging most of the congregants during the meet-and-greet, and the messages and music fed my soul.

Then my husband came back, and I heard "we'll pray for him to come to church" over and over.  The wives' group finished its study and the tenuous connections were broken.  Sitting in the crowd, I felt lonely and unsettled.

This Sunday, I went back to that church, a prominent Baptist church, to see how it felt.  I am, after all, technically still a member of the congregation and I'm sure my name is still somewhere in their rolls. The music was uplifting and made me happy, their resident hugger made the rounds, and it felt so very familiar.  The pastor was as charismatic and engaging as I remembered.

The message was the last part of a series, and the focus was on Matthew 16:21-28.

Jesus Predicts His Death

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

What is the cost of following Christ?  What must we do?  This is another of those sermons that I've heard many times through the years, with the focus on laying down my life/picking up my cross, and following God.

I took notes.  I wrote down the verses and the meaning and his intent in the message, but there were a few things that truly spoke to me that were outside his proposed lesson.  I heard more than the usual lesson, and by doing so I learned a little more about following.

First, "The best place on earth to be is in the middle of the will of God."  It isn't enough to know God, we must obey Him.  We must follow what He intends for us.  Even if it is something good, and right, and wonderful, if He doesn't want it for us then it will not be right for us.

Second, and this is what I can't get out of my head, the pastor talked about people who wanted to join his church.  He said that if he happened to be the one to visit with them prior to membership, he would pray over them that membership happen "if it is the will of God." And if it wasn't God's will, that He make that very clear to the person who wanted to join the church. The pastor went on to say that if someone wanted to join the church, and it wasn't God's will, then the person would be miserable, the pastor would be miserable, and everyone around them would be miserable.

Did I pray before I joined?

Did I really seek God's will?

I'm not sure.  I don't remember exactly who met with me about membership (it wasn't the pastor), and I don't know what was prayed.  I do remember, though, that nothing felt right at the church after that.  It began before my husband returned home, and just wasn't as evident to me at that time.

No wonder I haven't been able to find a church home yet; it isn't God's will yet.  I don't know if He really wanted me to do this blog, or what His intent was, but it wasn't to join that church.  Apparently, that isn't where He wants me.

Again, "The best place on earth is in the middle of the will of God."  And anywhere else will feel like ill-fitting clothes that you paid too much for or shouldn't have purchased at all.

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