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Bible Insights

God Answers Prayer

Take a Look at Prayer from the Almighty’s Perspective

In the post, The Implications of Omnipotence, I noted that there is nothing that an all-powerful God can’t do, yet, not every prayer is answered—at least not the way we think it should be. Let’s consider how God answers prayer.

Before we criticize God, however, consider:

  • Maybe our request is contrary to God’s nature, such as, asking him to harm another person.
  • Perhaps what we ask would require someone’s freewill to be superseded, such as, to make someone do something they don’t what to do.
  • What if God said “yes” to everything? (Consider the movie Bruce Almighty for a demonstration of how bad that would be.)
  • If God answered every prayer every time, immediately solving all our problems, getting us out of jams, and shielding us from the consequences of our actions, God would become our grant-a-wish-genie, literally spoiling us rotten.

When Jesus was teaching about prayer, he noted that even flawed parents know how to give good things to their children, so even more so, our heavenly father will give good things to his children.

  • Just as parents may wisely withhold some things for the long-term good of a child, God will do so too.
  • Children need chance to learn, grow, and mature, sometimes through failure or disappointment, so too do we.
  • Doting and indulgent parents keep a child from maturing and becoming stable adult. God loves us too much to let that happen.

Sometimes, “No” is the best and most loving response. It’s another way God answers prayer.

When it’s in our best interest, however, there’s nothing God can’t and won’t do for us when we ask.

That is the Almighty’s nature. He is omnipotent.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 10-12, and today’s post is on Luke 11:13.]

Read more about the book of Luke in That You May Know: A 40-Day Devotional Exploring the Life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

5 Discussion Questions about How to Go to Church

For both visitors and regular attendees, three keys exist to having a successful, meaningful, and Spirit-filled church experience: attitude, prayer, and expectation. Following these steps can make most any church experience—despite its shortcomings—a positive one. 

Consider these five discussion questions about How to Go to Church.

1. In going to church I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes, which often hinged on my attitude, prayer, and expectations—or the lack thereof.

Which of these three keys should we focus on to realize a more positive outcome at church?

Tip 1: Attitude is Everything

If we approach church with a bad attitude, we shouldn’t expect to enjoy our time there. It’s foolish to assume a positive outcome if we hold a surly disposition.

2. When we approach church positively, our optimism will direct our attention to celebrate the noteworthy and give us the grace to overlook the not-so-great.

What can we do to go to church with an eager attitude? How can we encourage others to do the same?

Tip 2: Prayer Is Essential

When Candy and I started visiting churches, we committed ourselves to a pre-church prayer each week. So significant were the benefits of these prayers that we continued the practice when we returned to our home church. 

3. After several weeks, however, our pre-church prayer slipped into a rut, with us repeating the same tired phrases each time.

Are we willing to pray before church every Sunday? How can we avoid our prayers becoming routine?

Tip 3: Expectations Form Experience

The foundation formed by prayer prepares us for the church service. It serves to shape expectations, which drives experience. Most of the time, positive expectations result in positive outcomes, while negative thinking produces negative experiences.

4. We say our pre-church prayer in faith, and we prove it from the activities that spring forth from our expectations. This is how we put faith into action.

If we don’t like church, who’s to blame: church, God, or us?

Go to Church Summary

Whether visiting a new church or attending our home church, we should follow a wise strategy, remembering that attitude is everything, prayer is essential, and expectations form experience. Then we’ll be ready to worship God and serve others.

5. When we go to church properly prepared, we can receive God’s blessing and be a blessing to others.

What must we change to ensure we go to church with the right attitude, covered with prayer, and with godly expectations?

[Read about How to Go to Church or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

How to Go to Church

3 Tips to Have a Positive Experience

When going to church—whether as a visitor or a regular attendee—there are three keys to having a successful, meaningful, and spirit-filled experience. These are attitude, prayer, and expectation. 

Without addressing these critical elements, many church services will fall short of expectations. Following these three essential steps, however, can make most any church experience—despite its shortcomings—positive, even beneficial, and, dare I say, memorable.

Yes, it is true. In visiting all these churches, I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes. And most of these outcomes hinged on attitude, prayer, and expectation.

1. Attitude is Everything

If we go to church with a bad attitude, we shouldn’t expect to enjoy our time there. It’s foolish to assume a positive outcome from church if we go there with a surly disposition.

When we approach church with positive anticipation of what will occur, our attention will focus on the positive elements of the service and give us the ability to extend grace to the negative aspects.

Our attention will celebrate the noteworthy and give us the ability to overlook the not-so-great. 

And remember, every church, congregation, and service will possess both positive and negative elements. No church is perfect in every way, just as no church is completely flawed. Our attitude determines which of those two aspects we focus on.

I approached most all the churches we visited with a positive perspective. Most of the time this came naturally. A few times, however, I needed to work on adjusting my attitude. Seeking a positive attitude means my overall approach to the church was positive.

Even so, that doesn’t mean I noted only positive elements. In visiting churches, I sought to share both positive and negative, celebrating the good that I witnessed and attempting to learn from the not-so-good that I encountered.

This is the reason I opted not to visit Church #69 (“Suffering from a Bad Rap”). From what people told me about their experience with this church and how the people who went there treated them, I formed a highly negative impression.

Based completely on this secondhand information, I developed a bad attitude about this church and suspected my experience would confirm what I anticipated. 

Since I had such a bad perspective, I saw no point in visiting them until I could turn my mindset from negative to positive. I tried unsuccessfully for a couple of years to adjust my attitude, but I never could.

Therefore, I felt a visit would unfold as a futile encounter and produce no valuable insight or significant spiritual interaction.

I now realize—albeit too late—that I never prayed about this. I never sought the Holy Spirit’s intervention to correct my flagging attitude.

Through prayer, I’m quite confident God would have turned my attitude around. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to seek him in this.

This brings us to the next point: prayer.

2. Prayer Is Essential

When Candy and I embarked on our 52 Churches adventure, we committed ourselves to a pre-church prayer each week. Initially this was before we left our house, but later it occurred during our drive to church.

Our intent was to seek God’s blessing for our time with that church and to request a positive outcome. We only forgot to do this a couple of times, with our lack of prayer serving to diminish what we encountered at those churches.

So significant were the benefits of our pre-church prayer that we continued this practice when we weren’t visiting a new church but instead were attending our home church.

Most of the time I would pray, and Candy would add her addendum as she felt led. Other times I asked her to pray.

After a few weeks, I realized our pre-church prayer could easily slip into a rut, with us repeating the same phrases week after week.

To avoid falling into a vain repetition (see Matthew 6:7 in the KJV), I would seek Holy Spirit insight on what specific things to pray for during our drive to church each Sunday.

As a way of example, and not to imply something for you to copy, here are parts of some of our pre-church prayers:

  • “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to go to church today. Please teach us what you would have us learn.”
  • “Papa, at church today may we receive what you want us to receive and give to others what you want us to give.”
  • “May we worship you today in spirit and truth” (see John 4:23–24).
  • “Holy Spirit, direct us to divine encounters with the people at this church so that we may encourage them, and they may encourage us, as needed.”
  • “Please give us positive attitudes so that we may see what you want us to see.” (I prayed this prayer a few times, but Candy clarified that she already had a good attitude. It was mine that needed adjustment. She was right.)
  • “We thank you, Jesus, for who you are and what you’ve done for us. May we celebrate you today at church.”
  • “God, please speak to us through the sermon today.”

As we returned to our home church, these types of prayers continued, though some new ones were a bit more pointed, as in:

  • “Please direct us, Holy Spirit, to someone to minister to today at church.”
  • “May you give us opportunities to pray for others before and after the church service.”
  • “Father, today at church, may we see others through your eyes and encourage them in Jesus’s name.”

Use these examples to form your own pre-church prayers. But regardless of the words you say, know that prayer is essential when you head off to church. These prayers don’t need to be fancy, but they should be heartfelt and Holy Spirit driven.

Prayer establishes the groundwork for what happens next. 

3. Expectations Form Experience

The foundation formed by prayer prepares us for the church service. It serves to shape our expectations, which will drive our experience. Most of the time, positive expectations result in positive outcomes, while negative expectations prompt negative results.

With prayer establishing the basis to move forward, we should easily slide into a mindset of positive expectation. This is how we put our faith into action. We say our pre-church prayer in faith, and we prove it from the actions that spring forth from our expectations.

When we expect great things to happen at church, we will see the positive most every time. If we expect disappointment, we will surely encounter it.

As I said before, we will never experience a 100 percent perfect service, nor will we ever experience a 100 percent horrible one.

Church experiences exist on a continuum from good to bad, positive to negative. And yet, when we walk in with positive expectations, our experience will skew toward the positive.

For most Sundays, our pre-church prayer did exactly that. Yet, on a few occasions, I needed to breathe a booster prayer as we pulled into the church parking lot, walked through the doors, or encountered some initial disappointment.

These prayers sometimes came forth as little more than a groan, but God granted my plea every time.

Summary

Whether visiting a new church or attending our home church, we should follow a wise strategy, remembering that attitude is everything, prayer is essential, and expectations form experience.

May we receive God’s blessing when we go to church, and while we’re there, may we be a blessing to others.

May it be so.

[See the discussion questions for this post, the prior post about How to Be an Engaging Church, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What Is God’s Perception of You?

How We See Ourselves May Differ from How Our Heavenly Father Sees Us

I was recently reminded that God’s perception of us can be quite different from our own self-perception.

The pressures of life overwhelmed a friend. One concern, a second, and then more conspired to weigh her down and steal her joy. She emailed me with a list of worries and asked me to pray.

Her concerns included the status of her job and her husband’s, finances, possible repercussions in standing up for what is right, her children’s struggles, and a lack of clarity over critical future decisions. Her message was full of worry and despair. And it surprised me.

It seemed out of character. I see her as a strong woman, full of faith and abounding in courage. This is far different from what her email portrayed.

Yet as I considered her situation more fully, I realized my lofty perception of her is misaligned from the reality I sometimes see in her life. There have indeed been seasons when she has worried and fretted over what is and what might be. Through these times we prayed, and God provided.

I laughed at myself over how wrong my perception was, but then God told me that my assessment of her as a strong woman, full of faith and abounding in courage was correct.

“You see her as I see her,” my Heavenly Father gently whispered in my ear. That gave me joy . . . and much hope.

Quite simply, God sees us differently than we see ourselves. Never forget that.

Gideon

This reminds me of the story of Gideon in the Bible. God sent an angel to Gideon, who at the time was hiding in a winepress has he tried to thresh his wheat. God’s messenger called Gideon “a mighty warrior.” This surprised Gideon. Not only was he living in fear, but he saw himself as the least in his family.

God’s perception of Gideon was quite different than his own.

Yet Gideon seriously doubted what God called him to do. Despite his lack of faith in the beginning, Gideon obeyed God in the end and did what God told him to do. And Gideon prevailed through God’s provisions (Judges 6-7).

As with Gideon, we can view things from a human perspective, considering the tangible evidence around us and draw one set of conclusions. Or we can consider things from a spiritual perspective and reach a far different conclusion, one more closely aligned with Papa’s.

God’s Perception

God gave me his perspective for my friend. Though it didn’t match what I could see in the physical world, it did align with what I perceived from a spiritual perspective.

God’s perception is the one that matters.

This makes me wonder about God’s perception of me. I suspect he’s much kinder and more generous of who I am than my own critical self-assessment.

More importantly what’s God’s perception of you? Does he offer you grace and mercy while you pile up judgment and condemnation that weighs you down? Though we could have an inflated self-perception, I suspect most followers of Jesus think less of ourselves than we ought to.

God’s perception of us is what matters. We can count on it.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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Christian Living

Deliver Us from Evil

Once We Pray This, Our Part Is to Stay Away from It

When Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray, he gives a concise example to follow. One of the phrases in this short prayer is to deliver us from evil.

We commonly call this prayer from Jesus the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father, based on the opening line; Matthew 6:9-13) but a better label would be the Disciples’ Prayer. It is, after all, the prayer Jesus gave to his followers.

Evil

Some version of the Bible say, “the evil one,” but the most common rendering is more inclusive and simply says “evil.”

From this we see that Jesus advises us to pray that God will keep us from the evil in the world around us. This is the physical evil that confronts us from other people. It also refers to the evil one, which is Satan, along with his minions. This reflects supernatural evil (1 John 5:19).

We need to guard against both. The prayer Jesus gives his disciples addresses worldly evil and supernatural evil.

Deliver Us

Consider the verb deliver. The action word of deliver is also the most common. To expand our understanding, we can consider other versions of the Bible. Some translations use rescue, keep, save, and protect.

All these verbs reflect our desire for God to shield us from evil and hold it at a distance.

Deliver Us from Evil

Depending on our faith practices and traditions, we may say this prayer that Jesus gave us each day, recite it in unison at church services, or use it as a model to inform our own prayers. Or we may largely ignore it.

Regardless, we all share a desire that God will deliver us from evil.

Our Part

Yet do we cooperate with God in our prayer that he will deliver us from evil? Think about it. Do we live a life close to evil or do we pursue a lifestyle of holiness that keeps evil far away?

We should consider the movies and TV shows we watch and the music we listen to. There are also the people we hang out with and the places we go. These can all serve to soften our view on evil and condition us to accept it.

Alternately these can encourage us to recognize evil influences in our world and to stay away from them. Though we shouldn’t isolate ourselves, we must take care that we influence the world for God, and not let it influence us to dishonor him.

We should also look at our priorities. These reflect our heart and our devotion. Some might call these our idols. Our priorities—our idols—may include our job, accumulating money, and our hobbies and pastimes.

Though well meaning, we can even elevate family to an unhealthy level that opens us to compromising in other areas of our life. This makes us susceptible to evil.

When We Pray

We’re wise to ask God to deliver us from evil. And we can have confidence that he will. Yet we’re also wise to align our attitudes and actions with this request, to do our part to stay away from evil in the first place.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

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Christian Living

Church Distractions

What Do You Focus on When You Should Be Focusing on God?

This is a post I’m hesitant to share. Yet I’ve always been forthright when I talk about my spiritual journey. So there’s no point in holding back now.

The disconcerting truth is I often struggle with church distractions during the service. I wrestle to keep my focus solely on God.

Though not often, sometimes my thoughts go elsewhere. I may fixate on something that occurred before church or be preoccupied with what will happen afterward. Though my body is present, my mind isn’t always there.

Yet these types of church distractions don’t happen to me too much—anymore. My pre-church prayer usually removes these mental interruptions.

My struggle with church distractions usually relates to what happens at church during my time there. This can occur throughout the entire service.

Church Distractions during the Music

Here’s a list of some things that threatened to take my attention away from God in the first part of the church service:

Edit song lyrics: As a writer, I fixate on words. Whenever I see something written—and even sometimes when I hear words—I’m mentally edit them. This happens often with song lyrics at church.

Irritated by false rhymes: Though I don’t often write rhyming poetry, I appreciate a smart rhyme. But whenever I encounter a false rhyme in a song—or a contrived twist to force a rhyme—I’m taken out of the text.

Add punctuation: Another occupational hazard of being a writer is that I edit too. This means I often mentally insert commas, periods, and ellipses into the song lyrics displayed overhead. This would make them easier to sing, especially for songs with odd timing.

Consider biblical support: The purpose of the songs we sing at church (at least I think so) is to draw our attention to God.

It’s not altogether bad if our focus shifts to the Bible, but too often a lyric captivates my attention as I mentally seek biblical support for it. I can easily miss the rest of the song when I go down this path.

Critique the audio: Early in my life I was an audio engineer at a TV station. I ran the sound board and mixed the audio feeds for broadcast. I sometimes slip back into this mindset with the sound and sound system at church.

Consider cameras: In my work in TV, I sat next to the director. This allowed me to hear his instructions to the camera operators and technical crew, as well as to watch him switch between video feeds.

Because of this, I sometimes slip back into focusing on the technical aspects of producing the service.

Watch the worship team: Another early job of mine was working as an electronics technician at a music store. Though not musically inclined, everyone I worked with was.

Their job at the music store was merely to pay the bills so they could pursue their passion to play music.

They mesmerized me with accounts of their concerts and performances. As such, I watch musicians from a perspective different than most people.

Church Distractions during the Message

My list of distractions is shorter for the second part of the service, but it exists nonetheless.

Technical aspects: During the sermon I’m less likely for the audio, video, and camera work to divert my attention, but it still happens.

Biblical support: I’m more likely, however, to be sidetracked in considering the scriptural support for the minister’s words. Though this is a laudable effort (Acts 17:11), I may sometimes go too far.

Delivery: I consume many hours listening to podcasts each week, normally at twice the normal speed, at 2x. This requires me to focus if I am to catch every word.

The downside is when I hear a minister speak live, the slower, real-time delivery (effectively at 1x) provides much opportunity for my mind to go elsewhere. Taking notes helps keep my focus on the message.

Writing and research ideas: During the sermon—as well as the rest of the service—ideas pop into my mind.

Often these turn into blog posts. Occasionally it’s a book title or concept. Sometimes it’s a topic to research in the Bible or contemplate more fully under Holy Spirit direction.

I jot these items in my notebook so I can shove them out of my mind at the time and return to what’s happening in front of me.

How to Stay Focused at Church

My lengthy list of church distractions may have some elements that resonate with you. Or perhaps you’ve come up with your own list. Everyone struggles in this area, although some much more than others.

The issue in all this, however, is to combat it. Though we may make some progress on our own volition, as an effort of self-control, the real solution comes from God.

When I remember to seek him in prayer—both before the service and when distraction threatens—this is the best way to remove the disruption and return my focus to where it belongs: on God and my relationship with him.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

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Visiting Churches

A Spirit-Led Service: Visiting Church #66, Part 2

Several months later we have a chance for a return visit to this same church. The opportunity to experience a normal service with their regular pastor should provide the chance to experience what we missed the first time. 

I hope to experience a spirit-led service.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 66.

1. The church moved since our first visit. An exterior sign guides us to the entrance, but that’s it. We walk down a long corridor and eventually find an open door.

How easy is it for people to find us?

2. We sing four songs, filling most of an hour. I try to worship God, but we don’t connect. I should have prayed with greater intention for this service.

Who’s to blame when we can’t connect with God?

3. As we sing, several people ease toward the pastor and surround him. They place their hands on him. Their lips move in quiet prayer.

Do we pray for our ministers before the service, during the service, or not at all?

4. The pastor begins with prophecies and prayers for healing as the Holy Spirit directs him.

Do we let God’s Spirit guide us to prophesy and pray for supernatural healing? If not, is he not speaking or are we not listening?

5. The pastor says to not preach against other religions, but to preach Jesus. Too many people fail to follow his advice, suggesting why so many view Christians negatively.

Do we rant about what we’re against or celebrate what we’re for?

6. When the minister shares a verse, I never see him glance at his notes. The text and reference gush forth as regular speech.

Do we know Scripture well enough to quote and cite it as normal dialogue?

7. The Holy Spirit powerfully directed our time together through both the teaching pastor and the worship leader. I’ve seen few church services this Spirit-led.

Does the Holy Spirit direct what we do when we gather with other believers?

[Read about Church 66, part 2 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Prayer Teams at Church #65

I met one of this church’s staff at a speaker’s conference. As we talked about the church’s belief in the present-day power of the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit nudged me to visit. At last, we will.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 65.

1. Inside is a bustle of activity, which beckons us to the right, yet I spot a quiet, darkened sanctuary to my left.

A woman glides up to direct us. How observant are we to people needing assistance?

2. It’s time for the service to begin, but my friend from the speaker’s conference dismisses my concern. “We don’t start on time here.” She smiles and gestures to the throng still behind us.

Is our church’s starting time fact or fiction?

3. Every song is new to me, and I struggle to mouth the words. The Bible says, “Sing a new song,” not the ones we know and like.

What is our attitude toward singing new songs? What about our favorites?

4. As we sing, one woman dances worshipfully off to the right, several more wave flags, and a few raise their hands as they sing.

How open are we to give God our physical worship?

5. The minister talks about living expectantly. Imagine waking up each morning and asking God, “Daddy, what are we going to do today?” What a grand way to live life.

How can we live with this kind of expectation? 

6. After the closing song, prayer teams form up front. Gentle music produces a safe and holy place. Some people go forward for prayer.

What can we do to provide a safe prayer time that people will accept? 

7. This church does many things right, but I expected more Holy Spirit presence. This is my fault for making false assumptions.

How should we respond when we don’t get what we expect or assume?

Yet overall, it is the prayer teams that stand out to me.

[Read about Church 65 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Short of Meeting Expectations: Visiting Church #65

Our home church canceled today’s Sunday service because everyone (except us) is off at church camp, a weeklong community experience on the shore of Lake Michigan.

While many at church dislike camping, they so treasure the extended time with a church family that they go anyway. It’s a highly anticipated annual event, the highlight of the year. 

Candy and I are not there, however. For one, neither of us are campers, not even close. Second, my work schedule and writing demands make taking a week off impossible. Even with much planning, one day off is hard for me to manage with any degree of success.

Lastly, the time when everyone else arranged for campers, Candy was embroiled in an intense season at her job that took every waking minute of her time and much of mine. 

An Open Sunday

The result is that we are not at church camp and have a Sunday free.

I’m glad for the reprieve. I need it. Candy doesn’t voice it, but I’m sure she realizes I need a break from the tedious routine of our regular church service.

I have a list of churches to visit and have longed to experience this one for over a year. I met one of their staff at a speakers conference. As we talked about her church and their belief in the present-day power of the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit nudged me to visit. 

“It won’t be soon,” I told her, “but it will happen.”

“Let me know when,” she said, “so I can look for you.”

I agreed, anticipating that day, not knowing it would take thirteen months. With this opening in our Sunday schedule, I email her, unsure if she’ll remember me. To my delight, she does.

Planning When to Leave

I fill Candy in on the details. “Their service is at ten, and it will take twenty-three minutes to drive there. I’d like to leave at 9:30.” 

She agrees.

As I move through my Sunday morning, I realize a 9:30 departure won’t be soon enough.

First, it’s unlikely we will leave at that time.

Second, we need a cushion in case we have trouble finding the church and to park our car and find our way inside.

Third, my goal when visiting churches is to arrive ten minutes early. This allows time for some pre-church interaction but not too much time in case there is none.

When I suggest 9:20 to Candy, she glares. And she shakes off a compromise of 9:25. “You should have told me sooner. I’m on track for 9:30. I don’t know if I can be ready before then.”

At 9:37 we leave the house. I’m frustrated. As I drive, I pray for our time at this church. I’m still not sure what the Holy Spirit has in mind.

My prayer is short and direct. “Lord, may we learn what you would have us to learn and share what you would have us to share. Amen.”

We encounter road construction on the way, which slows us down some but not too much. Our GPS says we’ll arrive at 9:57 and then updates our ETA to 9:58.

A Residential Setting

The church sits in a residential area. It’s a tired-looking, older facility, a bit on the dreary side, but I don’t have time to consider it much as I round the block looking for the parking lot.

We slide into an open space and walk with intention to the entrance. A few others arrive with us. I guess we will be fashionably late together. A woman with a walker lurches forward. If we give her patient passage, the delay will be interminable. If we rush past her, we might still make it by ten.

What Would Jesus Do?

I shake off that consideration as I scoot around her. Candy follows.

Starting Time

Inside is a bustle of activity, which beckons us to the right, yet I spot a quiet, darkened sanctuary to my left. A greeter of sorts glides up to us to provide an overview of our options.

Candy decides to snag a cup of coffee, leaving me alone to wallow in discomfort. When she rejoins me, we head toward the sanctuary and my friend warmly greets us. 

Relieved to see a familiar face, I introduce her to Candy and then mutter my despair over cutting the time too close. It’s exactly 10:00. She dismisses my distress with a nonchalant wave. “We don’t start on time here,” she says with a smile. As proof she gestures to the throng still behind us.

I follow Candy into the sanctuary. She bypasses many viable places to sit as she moves too far forward for my comfort. Although sitting toward the front results in fewer distractions, it also makes observation of the congregation more difficult.

It’s a challenge to balance engagement with examination when visiting churches, and I’m not sure which one the Holy Spirit wants me to focus on today.

Room-darkening shades cover the few windows in the space, and the lights are low. I’m not sure if I like the subdued, almost mystical, vibe or not. The room is about as wide as it is deep, with two hundred chairs, which might be 40 to 50 percent occupied.

I expected a bigger sanctuary with more people, but it’s mid-August. Church attendance typically ebbs to its low point of the year during late summer.

A Musical Experience

A worship team of five opens the service. It’s a contemporary assembly with the leader on guitar. Joining him are a backup guitarist, bass guitarist, someone on keys, and another on drums.

Their sound borders on grunge. Without much coaxing, I envision them cutting loose. They remain restrained, however, suitable for a church service but disappointing for me.

With words displayed overhead, we sing a contemporary song that is new to me and then another and another, four that I have never heard and most of which I struggle to even mouth the words.

“Sing a new song,” the Bible says repeatedly (Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, and 149:1, as well as Isaiah 42:10.). I try to shove aside my discomfort with the acknowledgement that the Bible never says to give God the old songs we know and like.

The chorus of one song starts to click with me, and I sing along—more or less. One phrase grabs my attention: “we are defiant in your name.” (A later search online reveals we sang “More than Conquerors” by Rend Collective.)

Self-described as spiritually militant, this line connects with me. I give it to God as my new song.

As we sing, one woman dances worshipfully off to the right and several more join her with flags on both sides of the stage. Easels of artwork flank each side as well, yet I see no one working on art during worship.

A couple of people raise their hands as they sing, but they are so few that I don’t want to call attention to myself by joining them, despite a gentle Holy Spirit nudge to do so.

Demographics

Our numbers continue to grow, and by the end of the fourth song I estimate the place is about 60 percent full. Most seem to be older generations without many Gen-Xers or Millennials. 

Millennials are supposed to be more open to spiritual things, and my expectation was that I would see them at this church, which is more open to spirituality through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t see any millennials. I suppose their openness to spirituality doesn’t make them equally open to a spiritual experience in a church building, or they just aren’t aware of this church. 

I fully suspect these spiritually-open Millennials are hanging out elsewhere in nontraditional settings and times. I want to be with them. I also know that not all that is spiritual is good, so I pray they’re drawn toward a biblical, Jesus-focused spirituality and not one that runs counter to it.

A Good Greeting Time

After a half hour, the music winds down and gives way to the greeting time. This church does better than most in making this awkward time feel not so awkward for visitors.

Many give us a sincere welcome, sharing their names and asking ours. They are genuinely interested.

With gentle probing they learn about us without prying: “Are you new to the area?” asks one. “Where do you live?” inquires another. “Is this your first time here?” queries a third. “Are you looking for a new church?” And so on.

A countdown display measures the time allotted for greeting. I don’t know where it started, but I notice it during a lull in conversation when it says 45 . . . 44 . . . 43 . . . Then my friend comes up and welcomes us again.

We’re nicely engaged in conversation when someone taps her shoulder and points to the screen. The counter has hit zero and the screen is now blank. My friend is supposed to give announcements, intended to start when the timer hit zero. She scurries off to her assignment.

She gains the attention of the crowd and corrals our disparate conversations. We sit down, but I only half listen. I want to continue our conversation, but we can’t. After the announcements, a prayer follows, and they ask first-time visitors to raise their hands.

I don’t like calling attention to myself this way and grouse at the thought of it. I don’t want to play along, but I always do, albeit without much enthusiasm. Even so, I’m relieved we don’t need to stand and introduce ourselves, as at Church #20 (“Different Language, Same God”). 

Someone hands me a card, which I accept, hoping this will end the attention I feel foisted upon me. Thankfully it does. The card invites us to stop by the welcome center after the service for a gift. 

Live Expectantly

The minister stands to give us his message, based on Luke 1:5–25. He talks about living expectantly. Imagine waking up each morning and asking God, “Daddy, what are we going to do today?” What a grand way to live life, but few people do.

Instead of living expectantly, we live with expectations, which are bound to disappoint us. I certainly had my expectations about this church, its size, its attendees, and my experience here. I’m sad to admit that today my expectations overshadowed my expectancy.

He wraps up with his prescription for how to live expectantly. The worship team reassembles, playing softly as he gives a call to action. I’m not really listening to what he says, only enough to know that it’s not a typical altar call.

Prayer Time

After the closing song, they move into prayer time, the third part of the service.

Prayer teams come forward in pairs, while most of the congregation files out into the lobby. A few linger for their own time of sharing and praying. Some go forward to meet with the waiting prayer teams. Gentle music plays to produce a safe and holy place.

“Do you want prayer for your knee?” I ask my bride.

“No, you can pray for it at home.”

That wasn’t the response I expected—or wanted. I long to tarry, but I know Candy does not. I hand her the gift card, which she accepts with an eager smile. 

“Meet me in back when you’re done,” she says, smartly granting me space without subjecting me to her eagerness to leave. 

I sit as I try to formulate a reason to go up for prayer. Each thought seems trivial. I consider simply asking a prayer team if God might give them a word to share with me. At the same time, I don’t know if they would be comfortable handling such a request.

I certainly don’t want to put them on the spot or make them uneasy. It’s one thing to pray for people in reaction to their request and quite another to proactively listen to what God would give you to share with them. 

I’ve done both, the first with ease and the second with trepidation, fearing that I might not hear correctly or in my anxiety to respond, I might mistake my nervous thoughts for Holy Spirit insight.

Instead of going forward, I sit, basking in God’s presence. He asks me gentle questions, which I jot down for further contemplation. Even so, I’m sad. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to a church that had time for prayer at the conclusion of each service.

At one time I would have been on one of the prayer teams, listening, praying, hugging, and sometimes healing. That seems a lifetime ago. I so miss it. A deep longing emerges. I want to be at a church that allows the laity to minister to one another, not relegating us to passive pew sitting.

My friend is half of one of the prayer teams. She and her partner stay busy praying for others. If they experience a lull, I will go up to talk, open for whatever prayers they will offer or words they might share.

I don’t have a chance. They steadily move from one person to the next, without a break. What they’re doing is more important than what I’m contemplating. I head out to find my bride.

Post Church Reflections

Candy stands at the welcome center, engaged in conversation. The gift was a coffee cup, which she passed on accepting because we already have too many. I catch the end of their conversation, and we turn to leave. One person welcomes us and adds, “Hope to see you next week.”

I know he won’t, but I don’t say so. Instead I nod to acknowledge I heard him and say, “Thank you.” I know it’s an awkward response, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so that I don’t give them false hope or be rude by saying we won’t be back.

As we drive home, I’m deep in contemplation, but Candy’s thinking about eating, which is usually my post-church priority.

We talk a bit about the prayer time, me with nostalgic longing and her contrasting it to the church we once attended.

There they played music loudly during the prayer time, so intense that we struggled to hear and be heard. Despite our numerous pleas, they never turned the music down. Leadership claimed loud music was most conducive to post-church interaction and the prayer team needed to deal with it.

“They do their prayer time right,” I say. “This is how it should be done.”

Candy agrees. 

“The sermon wasn’t great, but God gave me a lot to think about,” I add. “It will take me a while to process it.”

“I didn’t like it,” she responds. I know my spouse well enough to know she’s done talking about church. We go to Burger King for lunch.

The church offered much but overall came up short of meeting expectations. Maybe I expected too much.

[See the discussion questions for Church 65, read about Church 64 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Does God Accept Your Prayers?

Job Prays for His Misguided Friends Who Criticize Him, and God Accepts His Prayers

The book of Job is dialogue sandwiched between the story’s prelude and epilogue. The prelude, or premise, is that Job will remain devout to God regardless of how Satan might afflict him (Job 1-2).

In the epilogue, or conclusion, God repudiates the assertions of Job’s friends, affirms Job, and blesses him twofold (Job 42:7-16).

The intervening verses present chapter-long discourses from Job’s friends and Job’s equally long rebuttals. Then God speaks (Job 40:6-41:34). The story could end there, with God having the final word.

Instead God deals with our story’s main characters, too. He’s mad at three of Job’s friends, his primary detractors. (The fourth friend escapes mention, receiving neither criticism nor affirmation.) God instructs the trio to offer a sacrifice in Job’s presence.

Then Job will pray for them. When he does, God will accept Job’s intercession for these men and not punish them, as they deserve (Job 42:7-9).

Notice that God does not command Job to pray. What if Job decides he won’t intercede for his friends? After how they’ve failed to support him, he would be justified in snubbing them and letting God deal with them as they deserve.

Yet God knows Job. He knows Job’s heart. He knows Job will pray for these men even though they let him down.

And God says he will accept Job’s prayer.

Before Job even utters the words, God decides to honor what his follower will pray. What an affirmation of Job’s godly character and God’s esteem for him.

Imagine God saying that about you or me. Knowing our overall character, he acknowledges he will answer our prayers before we say one word.

May our relationship with God be like Job’s, with hearts so attuned to God that he will say “yes” before we even say “please.”

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Job 40-42, and today’s post is on Job 42:7-9.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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