Ten years ago I spent most Sundays nursing hangovers.
This past Sunday? I heard the members of my church pray for one another out loud. For family members and help in battling sins and friends with sicknesses. My spirit breathed in good air as I heard eternal prayers from eternal people. Felt like sunlight and green grass. Felt like something that was too good for a man like me to be a witness to it. Which is how grace always feels when you’re seeing it rightly.
I’ll never know for sure in this life, but I have a Biblically-informed suspicion that any demon who heard those voices Sunday morning trembled, and that any of my Father’s angels who heard them rejoiced. After all, I know that the prayers of the saints are said to be fragrant to God almighty, and I know that Satan hates all that God loves.
When I hear a man pray for another man’s overseas nephew, or my pastor pray for my friend’s father-in-law, or a young woman in our midst humbly ask for prayer so she can leave sin behind, the fleshly and distracted me starts to die a little bit. When I’m in the presence of such things, I think Christ who lives in me is slaying a bit more of the old and bothersome man.
It was humbling. But then it always is when small men hear big things.
I need the people of my church, and I think they need me. I think it because I’m told so in the Word that speaks only true things, and I think it because I’ve experienced that need down deep, in my heart and my guts. I know there isn’t anywhere else in my life where I’m going to be able to hear what I heard this past Sunday morning. In a week where I had been battered by and (at times) too consumed with problems, hangups from a troublesome move and other internal stresses, I had the bigness of God and the sweetness of His mercies put right under my nose and pulsed through my eardrums. I saw and heard and was in front of real people praying for other real people. I was in a holy place surrounded by men and women who will someday judge angels, listening to ransomed people who were approaching the holy God who had redeemed them.
The second I heard that young woman ask for prayer, I felt like the ground was too high for a man of dust like me. I wished I had more than two knees to bend.
Church isn’t an event. It isn’t a place. Church is a people. And what I’ve learned at Panera on Wednesday nights, what I’ve had engraved on my heart when a family in our church gave my wife some groceries and when I hear my wife pray for my friend’s little boy and when I see three of our young church men having dinner together at the pizza place I manage is this: Heaven help me if I ever lose that people, because they are a part of what I was saved for and they are a part of what I was saved to.
I may have to wait until my death or until the end of all things to see my Savior, the Groom, face-to-face. But He’s allowed me to know and love His bride right now. I am of her and I am with her, and the more I love Him the more I will love her. The more I love Jesus the more I will love His people, small and dusty man though I am.
Humbling for a former lustful idolater and drunk. But our God loves to save sinners, so I know I won’t be the only former creep at the wedding feast.
I used to be something else, and if you’re a Christian then so did you. But together we have a husband, now, and He will never let us be lost to what we were.
I look forward to praying with my church this Sunday.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
*Note: This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.