We are programmed to expect the big, the unusual, and the spectacular, and we miss the glory of the ordinary (Mastering the New Testament: Luke; Larson, p.174)
In our American culture, we are trained to believe that every single person is extraordinary, will make something special happen, and will be successful given certain conditions (degree, debt free, own house, have car, etc). However when you think about it, if every person is told this, then every person thinks they are extraordinary, expects the extraordinary, and ends up extremely dissatisfied and disillusioned with their life - for most people. Some people do attain levels of perceived greatness, but usually at great cost.
I believe our lives are filled with extraordinary moments that have great meaning for the individual, or individuals, involved. The rest of the time we live in the ordinary, or as some may term it, "the mundane." Day after day things just seem the same and it feels like nothing is happening. Well, that can be true if you are chasing after what you were programmed to chase! How often are we told to explore skills rather than interests? Really think about that. Our interests could be incredibly varied, but we might have a skill sets that fits within a particular area of interest.
I, for example, am interested in a great many things, but my skill set fits with public speaking, writing, reading, vision implementation, and team/system development. As a believer, this led me to become a pastor. These skill sets could also work in the business world as an entrepreneur. It also works in fitness. Sometimes we just go to the gym and do what we've been told - either directly or by what we see in the media. But there are many ways to be healthy and in which we can work out. We just need to find what keeps us going through the mundane.
On that note, there are three things can I think are common in just about all walks of life that can be thought through: it can seem tedious; it feels like there is no progress; you don't actually feel like you are doing anything; desire for 'fame'. I'll be talking about these in more detail in the next month with some thoughts on how to get through these feelings. For now, I will simply say that "ordinary" is just fine. Ordinary allows us to live simply, but also can cause us to reflect on where we want to be, and within the ordinary moments we then prepare for the extraordinary moments that life offers us. So there is always, then, something worth waiting for and something to look forward to.
1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)
8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Recently I started working in the gym that I was working out in. While this is bringing in extra money (sorely needed - stupid debt! Lord forgive ...) it has caused me to not be able to workout as much because of when I can work versus when I can workout. I've been doing more home workouts lately, and have been reflecting a lot on my genuine sadness and disappointment at not being able to give my all in the gym anymore. Why is this so important to me? Why am I working out? Have my reasons changed? What are my goals? etc etc.
In these reflective moments the verse above keeps coming to mind. It makes me remember that while I am disappointed at how little I get into the gym, and how regimented and disciplined I am and desire to be with it, I do not have that level of commitment to the spiritual disciplines that we as Christians need to aspire to do. These disciplines have shaped believers for a few millennia, and who are we (who am I) to not aspire to have the same commitment to God as those who have come before? To not have those same aspirations as I do in going to the gym?
Thinking on these things then, I think the same reasoning for 'getting in shape' and joining a gym can be the same - or at least very similar - for the spiritual disciplines:
I have to start looking after myself / take time for myself and get fit / want to look good (again)
This one is probably the most vain for either spiritual fitness or physical fitness, but it's still a reason why many want to begin "getting in shape." And speaking in terms of the spiritual disciplines, we might want to look better than other Christians on how we practice or faith. If I am being honest, there was a time in my youth (both age and Christian walk) where I wanted to be not just a good Christian man, but the best Christian man I could be.
I wanted (and admittedly, still do) people to come to me and ask for advice because of how well I was living. I wanted to be like people such as Thomas Jefferson or John Wesley, who used to journal about their character every day in order to improve themselves. I started to do this in High School. Lately, I have actually been thinking about how I seemed to have better self control and discipline in High School than I do now!
In practicing spiritual disciplines, we should start slowly with the basics: prayer, reading the Word, fasting, worship, spiritual conversation. Many of the "basic" practices should include a good mix of personal practices as well as corporate practices (doing things for yourself and doing things for others). With daily dedication, we can begin to focus more and more outside of ourselves, and daily be in the habit of John the Baptist, where we become less and Jesus becomes more.
While there may be a desire to look better and exercise, there is also the understanding that diet is a huge part of getting in shape. Often people thing it means eating less, when in fact, some people (like me) may need to eat more. I have been eating what I should (and a little of what I shouldn't, I do love my icecream), but not enough. In order to grow muscle like I want, and lean out, I need to almost double my caloric intake. Most people need to first cut out the bad, establish some kind of baseline, and adjust accordingly.
I think that idea about dieting down and adjusting accordingly is where the similarity with spiritual health comes into play. All of us, and I genuinely think all of us need to first cut out the bad and get some kind of spiritual baseline established in our lives. Speaking as a Methodist, I would say this involves tuning ourselves into the grace of God, and understanding we have a measure of His grace already in us - that still small voice encouraging us toward life eternal. I believe this lends us to then focus on those "basic" spiritual disciplines that I listed above. From there, we can adjust our spiritual walk accordingly as we are convicted of our brokenness and sin to become more and more like Christ, who lived and died so others would know the grace and love of God.
Want to be healthy
Perhaps the best idea I have heard is when someone just wants to be healthy. This understanding of being healthy can mean different things to different people (we aren't talking about just losing weight here). Generally speaking, there is a desire for a fuller life and a longer life. Honestly, I like it when people say this because it seems like there is more intentionality involved, and an understanding that being "fit" is more than just exercise and trying to eat better. It also involves the knowledge that diet and exercise isn't something temporary or for a specific goal that comes and goes. The reality is that being healthy is for longevity - a lifelong aspiration.
The same should be true of our spiritual walk. We ought to desire to do the spiritual disciplines every day for reasons of longevity. And the idea of longevity with Christians is eternal life with God. Therefore, exercise is of some value (temporary outlook), but godliness is of value in every way because it is not just benefiting us now, but will also benefit us when we have the new bodies in the new heavens and earth. I mean, we have a part in remaking ourselves with God! That is so cool, and how awesome is God! In our discipline, we shape ourselves to more attuned to Him, and he shapes us to be more like Christ through His power and grace in the Holy Spirit.
Like anything, start small and do what you can handle each day. Start with one discipline, work on it until it is a habit, then start another while keeping the first. As you understand yourself more and more, and as God reveals more and more to you, the results (or fruit) will begin to show and like physical fitness you will want to do more and more because of the good you begin to feel and see in your life.
When difficulties come, or when you feel like you can't give things the time like you want or things are working as well as you had hoped, don't focus on that. Work around the problem. If you are used to the quite time for prayer in the morning but can't anymore, find a way to get used to praying in different circumstances or areas. Don't get caught up in the 'perfect' way to do something. Just find a way to do it!
Like not being able to be in the gym as much, I can still work towards physical health in other ways. It can be the same with our spiritual walk. God is everywhere and in everything, so we don't need to go searching for him in a closet to pray! Also realize that God may be guiding you in such a way that you have to focus on something different than you have planned or desire at the present moment. Time is not against you!
So press on.
Often I'll watch videos to get myself motivated for a workout, and I see in these videos these buff guys giving everything they've got in their workouts. It is convicting because I often just go in and do what I need to do, without much progress. The reality is that with exercise and diet if we want to see changes we need to give it our all! When we give everything we've got (and then some) in a workout we feel exhausted, but we also feel euphoric afterwards.
We need to do the same with our relationship with God, especially in prayer. I am going to be doing a few blog posts about "giving your all," and in this one I start with giving your all in prayer.
Now, there's much on the subject - but probably because people feel uncomfortable with prayer, or don’t know how, or are uncertain with how to do prayer ‘right.’ Maybe some just think that praying throughout the day at random times is ‘good enough.’ All are excuses - all. Praying throughout the day is good, but you have to make space for prayer (and reflection) each day. And when it comes to prayer, just do it. Yes God already knows what is on your heart and mind. But real grace isn't fully realized (I think) until you make space and give him your full attention too. And honestly, how many of us give our all in prayer?
I think when difficult times come, we give our all until the particular issue is resolved. But how often do we give God our all in prayer for someone else - especially their salvation? How often do we pray for God to use us each day for his purposes? How often do we go to battle with the Enemy in prayer? How often do we pray for our community and local leaders to be guided by God's Truth? How often to we pray for those who have done harm to us, that the relationship would be fully resolved, we fully forgive, and we are sure we are not in the wrong in anyway?
These questions are just as convicting for me as they may be for you.
If you haven't seen it yet, watch the movie "War Room." This is a great example of the power of prayer, and a great example of giving one's all. It also serves as great motivation when we need a little encouragement, because sometimes even when we make space we can end up like we might in the gym, just going through the motions.
Don't go through the motions today. Make some space. Give God your full attention in prayer. Give God your all in prayer today.
In the blog, "When You Really Just Can't" I talked about a few things to try to calm your mind and focus. In my last blog, I started to focus on those items I mentioned one at a time, beginning with "Making Space." Today, I was thinking about prioritizing and how often we define (for ourselves) needs vs wants, or "I need to" versus "I have to."
For me, when I think "I HAVE TO DO THIS!" It is an emotional response to something - usually financial - where I feel panicked and a sense of emergency. When I think to myself, "I need to do this," it is another emotional response, but usually one where there is a bit of disappointment and a touch of "should have been doing it all along." And that is usually the precursor to "I HAVE TO DO THIS!"
It probably started in college with procrastinating the work I had to do, and it can be the same with fitness - even family. There is usually something that happens in our lives that cause us to say "I HAVE TO DO THIS!" when the reality is, it could have been being done, little by little, all along.
Also, when I think, "I need to do this," it is quite often more important than the "I have to's." My "needs" - when it really comes down to it - are those things that I realize I need to do where if I don't, I will look back on my life later and regret not having done it. And thinking that way has caused me to really think about priorities, and the case of the "need to's" versus the "want/have to's." So here are some things to think about when you have a case of the "HAVE TO's ...":
Slow Your Role
Stealing this statement from my childhood, I think it's important that when we feel panicked we take a moment, realize that the world is not crashing down in this very moment, and collect our thoughts. I suggested making a list and literally writing things down - even narrate your thoughts into a document; it really helps me.
Define the Need, Want, and "Have to"
I think it's pretty obvious that, once you collect yourself, you should then really evaluate what you are panicking about and see if it is something that just needs to be done - like a checklist item - or something that is urgent. Urgency for me needs to be less emotional and more factual. For example, I could get all emotional that my savings account needs to be higher than it is and start shoving money towards it, but to the detriment of my grocery budget that week. It is important that my savings grows, but it will take time. So I need to be a bit more rational about that.
Or perhaps my cholesterol is wicked high. Not eating for a week is not that answer, but eating right for the rest of my life is. And that takes time, and a little good education too. Again, rationality over emotion. Another example could be with exercise. It is going to take time to look different. If you don't like what you weight, or what you see when you look in the mirror - it can be emotional. But if you start exercising based on emotion you will carry that with you and it will be a real roller coaster of highs and lows to get in shape.
Do What Makes Rational Sense
I think there needs to be a separate blog post on "rationality," because we can get confused in the various emotional responses we have - relationships, for example. But here, I want to focus on the rational sense decisions when it comes to our health.
So if you have those moments where you don't like the person's health that you see when you look in the mirror, you need to make a rational decision to become healthier. This means that 1) you know it is going to take time; 2) you know you are going to have to be consistent; 3) you know you will have to live differently than you have been. Now, you may know this and still make an emotional decision to move forward. But here, I would say the difference comes with your mindset about it - and I am going to assume you have an idea of what I mean. There are just those times when you "are in your right mind" and without using emotion, you make a plan to see something through and make a logical plan to get it done.
When you feel like you "HAVE TO," slow down. Take a look at what is actually the problem, evaluate it, and then rationally move forward with a new resolve.
In last week's blog, I talked about various ways that we just can't seem to get out of the daily grind, creating a sense of anxiety and longing for something more. I wanted to examine each of those ideas I offered in turn, talking first about making space. What do I mean by making space? In answering that question I find it helpful to think about, as individuals, how we often don't think about health like we should.
There is a general apathy, or disinterest, in the daily thoughts toward being healthy. And we must also recognize what a great and wonderful idea this is that we have to consider daily health, because that means we do not have to work for our own food - as in we don't have to grow it ourselves, or work the land ourselves. We can go to the store and get what we need. What a blessing!
But I also think that this enables our apathy, and really the reality of the sin of gluttony that it is. So when I talk about making space, I mean that we need to make space in our calendars, minds, houses, places of work, etc. In other words, we need to literally make some space so we can focus on healthy, and we need to make a time slot in our day to actually do healthy things. And don't scoff or say 'yea right.' Quite simply, you need to not make excuses and do it. Not doing it is your fault, no one else's.
Have to Literally Make Space
Chances are you have a room or space that is full of junk. No matter how small your apartment, trailer, or house you have junk piled up somewhere. Get rid of it. Think of how long it has been there, try to even think about what you have - and I bet you can't remember. Time to dump it. If there is a pile of junk that you haven't gone through in a month or more that means that you haven't needed it. And I really don't care "that I might need it someday," get rid of your junk.
This is the first step in your overall health. I do think that when we store up crap and don't live simply it is an outward sign of what is happening internally. The more we hold on to outside, means that we are holding on to some fear that is causing us to be 'stuck.' Start cleaning out your crap and start cleaning up your life. Sell, give away, and throw away your literal junk. Confess, talk about, and let go of your fears and failures to someone you trust and look up to or value.
Making Space in Your Brain
Chances are you are unhappy about yourself in certain ways. Well I can almost guarantee you that when you start making literal space in your living space, you will begin to feel better about yourself. It's like making your bed every day in the morning - you have accomplished a task and done something. The harder part is the mental game, and that is what health really is - it is a mindset, and a mental battle.
Likely, it has been years since you may have thought positively about how you live, look, and act. That is unhealthy in a variety of ways. So now you need to start thinking that you are getting healthy. You can think that you are not, because you probably are! But the change is that you are now "getting healthy." You are on a journey, a great journey, and you are joining many others on similar journey toward wellness. You are no longer in a state of apathy - a state of feeling stuck and standing still. Think to yourself, "I am on a path of health and wellness."
Some of you might think that is stupid - I think it's stupid to sit around all day feeling sorry for yourself for no good reason other than your warped perspective of yourself. Get your head right.
Making Space to Do
If you have done the other two previous steps (or when you do them) you now need to make your "feet follow your mouth" so-to-speak. If you have created literal space, time to do bodyweight squats, push ups, and various ab work. Start with 5 each every day for a week. Then do 10 everyday until it is easy, then 15, and so on and so forth. This will begin to make you feel better about yourself for several reason, but short story is that your brain will literally begin to change - for the better.
Let's think about this all for a second. I bet that you work, eat, watch tv or play video games, sleep and repeat. Every once and awhile you go out and do something, but then have had enough of "people" and go in and hide. Yet all the while you feel stuck, out of shape, and wondering if there is "more." And this process has gone on for years. So your space, your thoughts, and your perceptions are all based on what you are interacting with - and if you are only interacting with work and media - of course you are going to not be well in many ways!
Start making space to change your circumstance, perception, and self-image. It can be done, because you have spend years doing the opposite. Time to change the game, for the better.
Today I am having one of those days when I am stressed about everything. Ok ... I am having a few days of stress! Taking a look at my calendar I narrowed it down to two factors: finances and how I cannot get to the gym.
I am sure that you may have a similar issue every now and again. You become really stressed and it affects how your mood in such away that you feel like you just can't get anything done today. The root of this is worry (insert your favorite, or often heard, Scriptures about not worrying here ...). I can read about how not to worry all day long, but I still worry. I need practical helps to get me through, so I hope these help you:
1. Make space
If you often worry, then you know that you are going to spend half the day wasting time going to and fro in your house doing little things - things that you just do because you need to feel like you are doing something. The "make space" idea is to realize that since your going to waste time anyway, turn that time into some productive thinking.
Sit down at a table somewhere and get out your planner (calendar), or get a sheet of paper because you're going to make a list. I avoided making lists and organizing my thoughts for a long time but trust me it helps. You can organize your thoughts any number of ways but the planner (calendar) works for me. The first thing I do is put down when the bills are due and when my wife and I get paid. Right off the bat I can see when I am actually going to have money (you know, that one moment you get paid before it all goes away - anyone have $120k they want to donate?!). But at least I know when those things need to be in.
I do the same thing for tasks and meetings.
What this does for me, is shows me what I can now prioritize for today, and I know what I can actually get done today. Admittedly I do stress about thing still but I am beginning to get an idea of what I can start "checking off."
I have this as step two because you can't really prioritize in a practical way until you get your schedule figured out. Now that I have my schedule figured out, I now know when I can do the things I really want to do - like figuring out when I can actually go to the gym. This week I am finding that in order to get things done, I just can't go to the gym. But I can do things at home. Doing things at home is outside of my 'routine,' and that is causing me stress. The gym is a priority for me, and it's high on the list. But in terms of need, going to the gym is NOT high on the need list.
3. Decide what is a need and what is a priority
This may seem strange because some of you may think that prioritize are needs. In my mind they are not. I attach some pretty high emotions to priorities, and that is what causes me some undue stress. Thank God for bringing me to that realization! When I look at my task list (now that I know when the bills will be paid) I look at what actually needs to get done. The gym does not need to get done when the task list is long. But it still is a priority. So here I need to re-frame that thought.
The gym is a priority for me. No. EXERCISE is a priority for me. EXERCISE can take various forms. It is ok to workout at home.
I know, that looks kinda dumb, but for my brain it works and makes me feel better! Also, I can do a home workout in such a way that I get a good workout in where I do feel like I have accomplished something good for my body - not just did something. The home workout is also much shorter than a gym workout would be (minutes verses an hour or two).
4. Organize your day
Now that your thoughts are out on paper and out of your brain, you can literally see what you have to do. If you use a planner, you can see when you'll have time to get things done. So block out your needs/tasks and priorities for one week with realistic goals. Think about how long things actually take you, and include some time for recouping or rest. Don't give yourself too much in a day because you know all that is going to do is stress you out!
After you organize your day get to it! Don't sit there and start thinking about everything all at once again because that will cause the downward spiral into worry. You have all the information in front of you now, and you can get started on the things that you need to do. After you get those things done, you will find that some of your priorities will be accomplished too - like a secondary muscle.
Now I feel like I can drop a Scripture quote where it will be a little more meaningful: Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Interestingly, this verse in context has to do with financial peace ... God used to be a priority for me, and now God is a need for me. Seek God first, everything else will eventually fall into place. When you make your list, but God first at the top, and God last at the bottom; that way you can see that God has everything under His control, which leads me to my very last point -
5. Give it all to God
After you do your lists and get your head right, stop and pray. We are stressing about things from our own perspective, but we still need God's. So pray for His Eternal perspective and be comforted by the fact that God has you in the palm of His hand.
Things will work out.
Reflecting on last week's blog post, I started thinking more about my own experiences with visiting churches and stories I have heard from others over the years when it comes to the people you often engage with in those first few visits. Chances are you might expect some kind of greeter who stands just inside the door of a church that you have to shake hands with. More often than not that is the case, but I have been to churches that do not have any kind of greeter (or they show up just before service starts) and have milled around wondering what to do or where to sit.
When that happens you are bound to run into a person or two who are wondering who you are - and here is where those engagements can become "interesting." So here are some quick thoughts on the types of people that you may meet, but what I have to say at the end of this post is important to remember ...
Negative aspects you might expect:
Stand-offish - don’t sit in my pew
I think most people would assume that when they walk into a church they know that they are likely to end up sitting in "someone's pew seat." Notice how I highlighted "pew." I think churches in most communities still have pews. If you are in a small city you may have a church or two that has replaced the pews with chairs - but the idea is still there of sitting in someone's place.
I mean, when you think about it, how many times have you said "I hope I didn't take anyone's seat" when you meet the pastor of a church you are visiting? It is almost automatic!
The reality is that for the most part, people are glad that you are there. If you offend someone by taking their seat, they are not representative of the church as a whole. So keep that in mind!
You might assume that people in a church (generally speaking) are close minded to new ideas or new things happening. I think the first thing you might want to recognize is that when it comes to practical, material things, the church may not have the funds to meet modern / contemporary preferences for worship. Also, most people in churches (unfortunately) have not learned how to communicate what and why they believe. More often than not, people will say "you should talk to the pastor." My hope is that you will visit a church and speak with a few people and be able to comprehend who has a "servants heart" and seems to be able to give some kind of an account of what God has done in his/her life.
The reality is that most churches have the people that know Jesus and what God has done in their life, but they may not have spoken "their story" in a long time. Hopefully the church you visit has some kind of "fellowship hour" after church so that you can sit with the person who interests you so that you can talk to them about the church and what their particular part has been in that church. I have no doubt that the person would love to sit and talk with you.
You might expect one or two folks to be a little too excited that you are visiting the church. I've actually had someone say, "it is so nice to have a young person here, we would love to get a youth group going." I felt like my time at that church was already planned out! I seem to remember too, a lady almost dragging me to one of those fellowship hours to meet everyone she knew.
The reality is that in most churches, people are not pushy. In fact, they try very hard to be the exact opposite of pushy. They don't want to scare you away!
So here is the thing that I want you to remember if you are visiting a church or various churches. Most people there are on a journey in their faith, and will be at different stages of the journey. It doesn't matter how long a person has been going to the church, what matters is how they've progressed on their journey. What this means is that you may meet someone that has been to the church for a long time, but is still "young" when it comes to understanding the Christian faith. You may meet someone there that has been to the church for only a couple years but seems to have things in order and be further along in their journey.
Now the journey I am talking about is much like the journey of Emmaus. There were two disciples who thought Jesus was dead but they were, in fact, walking with Jesus that whole time and Jesus opened their eyes at the end of the story over a meal. We are all on that journey, and Jesus is opening our eyes in different ways.
Last week I talked about getting yourself into the door of a gym or church, and three ideas to think about when resolving to do so. This post is a follow-up to that one, and here I am thinking about ideas to consider when you are attending a bit more regularly. You are beyond just getting in the door, but are now a bit more comfortable with the surroundings: you know your machines, where to stretch, which piece of cardio equipment you use (or avoid), and have a general idea of who shows up at what time; in the church you have found out who does what, who sits where, who to talk to (and who to avoid), and have a sense of the church's mission.
My hope is that you have found a church that has authentic worship, small groups, and mission/ministries in the community or for the community that you can be involved with. Unfortunately many smaller towns have churches that are ... well ... struggling. I am going to be speaking about those small churches that may seem to have older congregations and fewer ministries. In fact, if you are just starting to attend a church you may be at the bigger one's with a wood pallet background and track lighting, but I want to encourage you to consider the churches I am talking about in this blog post.
These churches are like small gyms. They have all the right equipment, but some of it may be outdated. It still works, but might need some slight adjusting to bring about the results they were bringing and producing in the past. I like smaller gyms because I don't feel like I am getting swallowed up by all the options and all the people I do not know - or need to make small talk with!
So I am going to give you a "fly on the wall" view into what many churches are going through so that you can understand how to be a help.
I am going to overgeneralize here, and some of this is "tongue-and-cheek," meaning that I am over-exaggerating to make a point.
Most of the small churches you may visit or that are in your area are concerned about programs and the building. The building will have some issues, there will be outdated materials, there will be classrooms that haven't been used, etc etc. There will be a piano/organist, perhaps a couple to a few people in a choir, maybe someone that plays guitar, old hymn books, older people dressed in suits or nice clothes (Sunday best), pews and not chairs, and one or two grandchildren running around getting an icy stare or two. There will be one or two people that are "in charge" and he/she or they are not the pastor.
No doubt for a few years (or more) the conversations are revolving around keeping the one program alive that seems to reach people (and may only be reaching a handful), keeping people on the committees - particularly the trustees - and how there are fewer and fewer people, the people that come don't stay, and there may be talk about closing the church down during the winter to save money.
Okay, I have painted a pretty bleak picture here haven't I? The truth is that what I wrote above will not be in every church, nor will everything I wrote about be in one particular church. But most of the small rural churches will be facing those issues at some point. So what does this have to do with you? Why would you go to a church that is facing these problems?
God might have it in His plans for that church to use you to bring the momentum for revitalization. You will bring fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy. And guess what!? It wont' be received well - at first. Relationships run two ways - you need to learn about the people in the church, but the people in the church need to also learn about you. Understand here, I am not advocating for a way for you to come into a church an manipulate things in order to achieve some kind of legacy. What I am doing is letting you know that God has a purpose for you that you may not have ever considered before, especially if you are seeking to understand more about Him and all this seems like the "typical church issue" stuff you here about.
But you are needed.
Remember, we are all on a journey, and your part in this journey might to be run up the road a bit and catch up to some folks that might be too focused on how they are walking and how much their feet hurt, rather than on the people they are walking with.
Learning as they go
Like I said in the previous post, you will be learning as you go. Many of these churches are doing the same. At one time in its history, the particular church you might be attending (or thinking about) was making disciples. It was a full church. Now, many of the people in that church are thinking about those times and trying to figure out how to get there again, but they don't know how.
This is where you come in.
But no doubt you are thinking, "I don't know what to do! I'm not a pastor or churchy person!" But you do have needs, and you can tell the church that they have the ability to meet a need you have, and others in that community might need the same things. What is it? Do you wish to learn? Ask them if they have a Bible Study or group that discusses Biblical things. Are you struggling with something? Find someone in the church that you seem to be getting along with and ask them to meet at a local diner and start having discussions with them. Tell them why you are meeting with them and if the conversation goes well, plan to meet regularly.
This will inject new life into the church, and it will begin a journey into discipleship once again in that church.
I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be complicated. Just allow God's Spirit to move. Learn to trust those things that seem to be pressing on you, on your spirit - those things that make you slightly nervous and stupid for thinking about it. It might be God telling you to step out because He has something in mind.
All churches have hope - hope that someone will come along to help them, hope that something will kick-start the 'fire' in that church again. If you have found a place where you think you might be cared for ... then start thinking about how you can care for the people there too. Again, they will likely resist at first, but there are people there who will appreciate who you are and welcome you into "their" church.
You don't know it now, but you are an answer to someone's prayer in that church.
When we learn to trust in God, amazing things begin to happen. But those things don't happen overnight. It will take months. That's right. MONTHS. It's just like starting to go to the gym to get healthier - it takes months. It is the same with your spiritual life. You may be spiritually unfit right now. But you will be fit in a few months. In a few days you'll start to feel different, in a few months you will start being different. Imagine what a few years will bring, and what a few years could bring that church God is calling you to.
One of my guilty pleasures is to watch the Epic Fail workout videos on youtube. I am sure that there are probably some parodies out there for first time, or returning, church experiences. I know that whether it is a church or a gym that there are many people who don't want to start going simply because they don't know what to do after they get through some door that may or may not be the right door to enter through!
So here are three short thoughts I have when it comes to the idea of coming to church, or to the gym, for the first time:
1. You don’t know what you don’t know - deal with it
You may not know where to go to enter the building, you may not know what to do when you first walk in, and you may not know where to sit or get started. I have no doubt that this is the reason why the "front door" of churches are now considered to be the website - I know that's the first thing I look at for a church!
But when it comes time to actually go I would encourage at least two things: 1) go with someone else, preferably someone who already attends; 2) just "gird up and go." Sometimes you just might need to put your adult pants on and get to it. Just like with the gym, going to church can be an awkward experience because you do not know what to do. Don't worry! You'll figure it out.
Now, will you run into the 'regulars' who might get annoyed at you for their perception that you are in their way? Yep. Unfortunately you will always run into those people. But those people are the very small minority. 99% of the other folks in the church love it that you are there, and may feel a bit awkward coming to say "hi" because that may be unsure of what you want and what would make you feel comfortable. Not the other way around!
And if you don't know something .... ask!
2. Learn as you go
Asking brings me to the second item. As you attend you ought to pick up on some things - but really the church should be doing what it can to teach throughout the service as well. I wouldn't doubt that most people in the church have no idea why things are done the way they are, they just do it.
Ask questions. Observe.
There will be some things that seem big to you that might be pretty insignificant in the member's view. Ask questions, but also offer up why you are asking. Trust me this helps a lot.
You are not getting in the way. You are not being bothersome. If someone reacts to you in a way that makes you feel that why, congratulations! You found the 1% of the people in the church who are crabby. Now, move on to the next person and have a delightful conversation.
3. Be helped, and help others
There will come a time, soon after you start attending, where you will be considered a "regular attender." This is a great time to become a greeter or person who welcomes guests. The feeling of being at the church for the first time, and what you experienced, is fresh in your mind. What a great time to start helping others who are visiting! You know how they feel, you know what they might be thinking, and you know who you don't want them to run into first! So be that first person!
It's the same in they gym. I am always looking for those regular people who seem to have servant hearts. They are the ones picking up weights, cleaning machines off (who don't work there), people who are doing those "good" things that you think ought to be done. It is the same in church. You will see people milling around doing various things. Some are talking and having a great time, others might be cleaning up a bit.
If you are a person that feels like you need to do something then ask to help in whatever it is you feel comfortable doing. In that is the beginning of a discipleship journey that can and will lead to some significant transformation in your life.
So do not worry, just get up and get in there!
Some "weekly" musings from Pastor Dave as he sits on his porch and drinks coffee, thinking about theology and lifting heavy weights. For gymsharks, there is something called "Flex Fridays," where we vainly put up photos of ourselves flexing. So this blog is my attempt to flex my theological muscles through reflection ... get it?