It became a running joke for one of my parents to always hear, “don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave.” You see, growing up, they were always in positions of leadership in our church; whether it be as Deacon, Trustee, Sunday School Teacher or Superintendent. When the service was over and the last doughnut crumb disappeared from the coffee hour table, my parents were often stepping into leadership meetings while my sister and I ran around with the other kids who were similarly waiting for their folks to be done. No matter how hard we tried, we always managed to be the last family to leave, with my Father turning the key to lock up.
For a number of years, I sat up in the balcony during the church service to help the gentlemen who ran our sound system, but what I secretly enjoyed the most was the vantage point to watch the people below. Over time, I began to notice a particular pattern; the same individuals were always the first ones out the door! I knew it wasn’t my business (and I knew I should’ve been paying more attention to the service). I don’t know why it irked me, but it did, perhaps because it was so different from my own experience (always being the last ones out of the building). I watched them each week like a bird in my perch. The Doxology would play- the Pastor would finish his benediction- and the same folks were always grabbing their coats and flying for the exit- leaving the door swinging faster than you could say “amen.” Even at a young age it caused me to wonder why some people seemed so content with what appeared to be the bare minimum. Of course, I didn't know their hearts. I could only take things at face value, but it still left an impression...
Do you ever wonder if some folks are uncomfortable around too much spirituality? Do some avoid fellowship at the risk of their sins being exposed? Do some people just leave because they don’t like coffee and cut-up doughnuts? I wasn't naive, even as a young man. I knew that some people just had things to do; maybe their kid played little league or they had to mow the lawn- perhaps they had a big family dinner to cook or they just wanted to catch the game, but even in my spiritual immaturity, I was aware of the unfortunate reality- that many slip out of church because they feel they've made their “contribution” for the week. It’s sad, but true. So many hearts “clock in,” for a taste of supernatural betterment just to make a hasty exit after their Sunday "visitation" at the Lord’s house.
I don’t say any of this to pass judgement. There are certainly no “bonus points” for lingering in church. My observations are meant to point to a much bigger problem... too many of us don’t give God our full focus! True spiritual growth is contingent upon seeking God’s face wholeheartedly. It may sound like a strange question, but how interested are you in a relationship with your heavenly Father? I think back on that younger version of myself; perched in the balcony, fixated on everything except what truly mattered. I look back on the child who waited so impatiently for his parents to finish serving, so he could go home and play with his toys. Too many so-called “Christians” approach God with the same attitude, and it spills over into much more than just their Sunday mornings. Countless hearts "admire" what God’s about- they just don’t want to be expected to do anything more than pray at the dinner table. Again, I don’t say any of this to offend anyone, but if you happen to be reading this (and feeling a bit defensive), perhaps you need to do some soul searching. There’s much to be said about the heart that longs to dwell in God’s presence. Walking the narrow path brings a reward of peace, hope and purpose, but what can be said about the wanderer who meanders down the broad path, grabbing for God like a box of french fries at the drive-through?
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7: 13-14
Is your relationship with Christ your top, first and biggest priority? You can learn a lot about your Spirit by assessing your attitude and intentions. Are you more prone to doze off in prayer than to tune in? Do you spend more time mouthing worship lyrics than you do singing from your heart? Are you more engaged in your phone than you are in hearing God’s word? Friends, do you seek Christ with true desperation? Or, do you stand like a spectator in the “Jesus paparazzi,” content just to get a picture of the celebrity? It tugs my heartstrings to know that so many souls fall into the second category- dwelling in the crowd; uninterested in the pursuit of the Savior because it challenges and shakes their comforts and routines. What are you willing to do to meet Jesus? How far are you willing to go? How much are you willing to sacrifice?
“One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!” Luke 5: 17-26
Here, we most often fixate on the Pharisees first; shaking our heads at their ongoing judgements and familiar accusations. We then point to the healing; the miracle of Christ’s power to make a lame man walk again. That’s understandable- it’s amazing after all! But, do you see another moral at work in this story? Do you see that desperate faith draws us closest to God?
Can you imagine the anxiety and wonder in the heart of the man on the mat? Would you, for a moment, put yourself in his position? You don’t have to be paralyzed. You don’t even have to lay down. Just try to empathize with his desperation... so hungry… so passionate for Jesus that you’d be willing to do anything imaginable to meet Him. We as humans pour ourselves into what that we deem “worthy,” investing in that which interests us most. Many came to “see” Jesus that day- some to find His fame, others to "see the show" and possibly witness great miracles. Many more sought to catch him in an act that they could deem “unholy.” Only a faithful few came to know Him, touch Him and find hope. Adopt the faith of the man on on mat. Allow nothing to stand between you and your Savior. May Christ capture your greatest interests and fill you with wonder!
We are without excuse, friends. God’s Word remains readily at our fingertips and we have an unquestionable freedom to open the Bible without fear. Jesus Christ stands today as our advocate before the throne of God, interceding on our behalf. We have divine power against the fear of sin and death through the Holy Spirit that dwells inside. The days of our lives will speed by, for they are fragile and limited. What (or who) we live for will determine the legacy we leave. Our greatest interests receive our greatest efforts. Friends… choose Jesus! Reach out to Him today and see amazing things!