Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to attend a church service in the poor area of the city. I came to the service because my girlfriend invited me. It was a big day for her as she announced to her church family her intentions of seeking elected office to be the community’s representative at City Hall. Although she had previously told me why she wanted me to come to the service, it did not dawn on me what was happening until I arrived.
I entered the large building and walked towards the sanctuary. Most people in the building were dressed in Advent amethyst to Lenten lavender and wore stickers or hats that had my girlfriend’s campaign slogans on them. As soon as the reality hit me, my thought bubble distended with, “since when does it make sense to bring politics into the pulpit? Haven’t these people ever heard of separation of church and state?” The tenor of God’s voice then reverberated across my chest as he said, “My house is also this community’s gathering place. They know that without me, they have nothing. Bringing together all aspects of their lives into this common space is their way of ensuring I am in the middle of everything they do. They unapologetically follow Me and use My word and My Spirit to guide their every decision.”
The Spirit then gently nudged me and said, “That was not a scolding. It is just important that you adjust your perspective. Remember what the scripture says?” Romans 13:1 tells us, “Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power.” He continued with, “Now settle down. This anxiety is not good for anyone. We do not bring you to any place without a purpose. His greater good is always His will.” As though He could not hear my thoughts, feel my heart, or read my mind, the words on the ticker tape that arrogantly scrolled across my head was, “okay…(grumble, grumble)…Show me.”
Then the organ began to play. The choir swayed and clapped as they sang. A church-goer began to rhythmically jangle and clang a tambourine. Shivers ran down my spine. The smug and negative thoughts continued to flow. I said to myself, “Ugh! I don’t care for Gospel music. Its sound, tone, and tempo remind me of the hypocrisy of others I experienced in my youth. About that time, a party of four approached the rear most pew where I was seated and tried to squeeze into the space for three. I though “ahh!!! And my exit strategy has arrived. How fortuitous! There isn’t enough space. I stood up and with the façade of grace and offered my seat to the fourth person in the party. As I backed up to make room for the person to sit down, I bumped into an usher who said, “Aw baby! They made you move and took your seat? Don’t worry. Come right on up here with me. I have the perfect place for you. Follow me!” She walked me from the way back last row slanted pew to the seventh row center orchestra middle of the pew. Just before she walked away to seat others, she said, “See, The Lord works everything out. He had something better in store for you; a place right up here. He’s always looking out to pull His children closer in.” Her words pierced my heart and pushed the pause button on my mind. My muscles involuntarily pulled the corners of my mouth towards my ears as I desperately tried to control the twitching of my eyes.
Because I was now the only one standing in the middle of the sanctuary and believed it would be embarrassing to me and insulting to others if I walked out, I crossed over others to access the middle of the row. As I sat down, the infant next to me puked on her mother and began to cry. Pandemonium nearly broke out as the well-dressed people around us seemed to scatter away from us as though the second sighting of the baby’s breakfast was contagious. Without thinking twice, I asked the mother if I could hold the baby to allow her to clean herself up. She said, “yes”, handed me the baby and thanked me. I cleaned the baby’s mouth, wrapped her in a receiving blanket and rocked her. The gentle motion and cheek to cheek contact soothed us both. Before I knew it, the baby and I were swaying in sync with the choir to the humbling song Because of Who You Are followed by I Give Myself Away.
After the choir was seated and while the announcements were being made, in His fatherly voice, God said to me, “Now that you are softened up a bit, we can talk. These folks have been filling this sanctuary and inviting my spirit into everything they do for the last 160 years; raising the roof and rocking eight city blocks every Sunday in My holy name. They make no claims to perfection or having everything right. While you are across the river worshiping in your un-prescribed way, they too are in here seeking me. Your preferences are personal to you but are in no way biblical. Show me where I have spoken against the hanging of a large photo in the foyer of the shepherd (and his wife) that I appointed; where singular raised fingers in white gloves is sacrilegious; or where the selection of choice clothing in blasphemous. Be very careful of your internal criticisms of My children. If not, you may begin to resemble that which you resent. Just as I speak to you in a way that you can understand, I do the same for them. Their language is called Gospel and they know the benefits of being governed by Me. Now keep caressing that sleeping baby while you hear this powerful, just-what-you-need word from My anointed and appointed shepherd.”
In his chock-full-of-rhetoric syncopated way, the pastor delivered a riveting message from Esther chapter 4, focusing particular attention to the part of verse 14 that says, …for such a time as this.” The points I took away from his message were:
- Our lives become the result of whatever we are willing to accept
- Faith is the evidence that something unseen is real
- Breakthroughs only happen in the lives of people who can believe beyond what they have been through
- God gives us proof of what he is capable of doing
- Ignore the voice of doubt And
- If the seemingly impossible is going to happen, God will have to work a miracle.
He reminded the community of the fate and destiny of many generations past and future. He said, “We have been called colored against our will. Now we choose this color as a symbol of His will for our future and prosperity. As we commit to continuously pray for the strong sister who has been uniquely placed in our lives and in our community to be the voice of His people, please join me in supporting her campaign to be there to represent for us and to be in service with us.”
Three things were abundantly clear to me as I left the church:
- Always stand on the side of God. Anything else is directly against Him.
- A loving heart, mind, and soul for God has the power to conquer every injustice or disappointment the world can bring.
- The only future that exists is one that stems from worship and service to Him.
The song that resonated with me throughout the rest of the day was Citizen Way’s Evidence which says, It’s not a flag on a field. It’s not a sign in my yard; not a cause that I joined, not a phrase on a coin. It’s the change in my heart…Might be the pain that you share; might be the time that you spend or the war you don’t fight; backing down from your pride after all, in the end. Mercy and grace and compassion, they’re only words without action. I need hands that are open, reaching out for broken hearts. ‘Cause that’s the only way this world would ever know who You are. Love is the evidence. Love is the evidence!
Be the love! Be His humble servant. It is the evidence. I pray that every day, I walk into every assignment He gives me with humility, openness and love; that I am able to suspend judgment and embrace alternate ways; and that I enter the room soft-hearted, teachable, and ready to serve. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.