I sat in my car in the near-empty parking lot. “God, are You sure this is where I’m supposed to be?” The answer came quickly. “Yes. There’s something I want you to see.”
I had heard Him say that earlier in the week, and later in the week, and just this morning as I continued to check with Him about where He wanted me to worship. It’s a conversation He and I have had every week since I lost my job and my church. I ask Him where I should go to worship, and He always answers. Sometimes it’s a new church. Sometimes it’s a church I’ve visited before. And sometimes, it’s my couch, just to sit quietly with Him and rest. But there has not been a single Sunday since I lost my job in November that I haven’t had a great morning worshipping my God.
Well, there was one. One church I visited I’d written off before I’d even gotten home that day. It’s a small church, I didn’t get a lot out of the message, and about nine other reasons it wasn’t the church for me.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I asked God this week where He wanted me to worship and the name of that church came to mind. Most weeks, God and I have this conversation on Saturday. This week, for some reason, the conversation started all the way back on Monday. For a week, I kept asking God if I had heard Him right. “That church? Are you sure?” “Yes. There’s something I want you to see.”
By Saturday night, I was actually pretty excited to go to church. God had something He wanted me to see, and I couldn’t wait to see it! So when I pulled in about two minutes before the service was supposed to start and mine was one of four cars in the lot, I was a little confused, and, a little disappointed.
What you need to understand is this: the thing I hate the most about being single – more than not having a date to weddings and New Year’s parties, more than not having someone to help around the house and open stuck jars, more than not having anyone to talk to at the end of the day – is visiting churches. Visiting churches isn’t really fun for most people, but for a single introvert? It’s about as close to hell as I can come. Just about every visit is either full of awkward conversations that end when the other person runs out of things to ask me after I answer “no” to “Are you married?” and “Do you have kids?”, or complete isolation as I sit alone without being acknowledged by another person in any way, shape, or form. It’s awful and I hate it.
Pulling into a near-empty parking lot is crisis-worthy for me. The smaller the church, the higher the probability it will be an uncomfortable visit. This is math. It cannot be disputed.
So there I sat in my car, waiting, wondering, debating. Did they change the service time? Are they not actually meeting this week? God, is this really where I’m supposed to be?
“Yes. There’s something I want you to see.”
I knew the only right decision was getting out of the car, walking into the church, and seeing what happened next. So after about ten minutes of debating, reaching for the door handle, stopping, debating some more, reaching for the door handle again, and watching a cat in a neighboring yard stalk an unsuspecting bird, I took a deep breath, grabbed my bag, and got out of the car. (Don’t worry, the cat, it turns out, is a terrible hunter. The bird got away and then sat in a tree and mocked it.)
My fear of awkwardness found a surprising comrade as soon as I walked in the door: The pastor. He greeted me with a warm smile and a bulletin, but I could tell he was uncomfortable. The worship team was already on stage, leading all of five people (including the pastor) in song.
For some reason, the minutes we spent singing and praying were some of the most precious moments with God I’ve had in a church in weeks. Our few voices sang out together about the joy of being in God’s presence, about His love and care for us, and about His holiness, filling the room in a way that made absolutely no sense. I found myself singing out louder than I had the previous week when I’d been in a church with about 1,000 other people.
God, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, isn’t it? “Yes. There’s something I want you to see.”
My suspicions that this was not a normal Sunday were confirmed when the pastor took the stage to preach. He joked about the low numbers, about the rest of the regulars who were probably somewhere enjoying tacos in the sunshine (sorry, Northern friends!), and about how he hoped for rain next week so he could make fun of them for skipping out.
The message he preached to the nine of us (another family had arrived after me and doubled our number!) was full of answers to questions I hadn’t even realized I’d been asking. Questions about spiritual slavery. Questions about freedom. Questions about how God teaches us to listen and obey. Questions I had asked just minutes earlier as I sat in my car in a near-empty parking lot. Questions I’ll need to wrestle with as I work on the book I’m writing about Exodus.
God wanted me to see these questions, and their answers.
The service ended and the woman I’d been sitting next to immediately started asking me questions. We got into a conversation about my recent past, and about her husband who refuses to darken the door of the church. This stranger and I committed to pray for each other this week.
God wanted me to see her.
As we chatted, the pastor came over and sat next to us. He apologized to me for the small crowd, and said, “You walked in and I thought, ‘what a bad week for a visitor!’.”
God wanted me to see that it’s not the size of the church, it’s the heart of the worshipper.
As I sit and eat my pancakes with mixed berries, sausage, and a good cup of coffee (yay Sunday food!!), I feel a holy stillness deep in my soul. I barely want to breathe for fear it will go away. It’s there, welling up in my chest, bringing a smile to my face, and tears to my eyes. A holy stillness. The peace that can only be found in obedience.
God wanted me to see the blessing of obedience. Again.
I don’t want to think about what today would have been like if I had left that near-empty parking lot and gone to get tacos instead of going to church, but I also know, that’s not something I would have done. No, I’ve walked with God long enough to know that when I sense Him telling me to do something – especially something I’m scared or confused about – the only thing I want to do is obey. Obedience leads to freedom. Obedience leads to adventure. Obedience leads to holy stillness. Obedience lets me see things God wants me to see.
And today obedience has taught me to trust God more quickly the next time I’m sitting in a near-empty parking lot.
What did God want me to see? I think it was simply this: In the midst of my season of waiting, trusting, wondering, and more waiting, God wanted me to see Him.