Thursday, May 28, 2009

What God Told Me on the Way to Work Today

...okay, not really. At least, not in the way all you closet continuationists were hoping for. But that title sure got your attention, didn't it?

(Lunchtime and I'm already home from work...don't you all wish you had my job? Before you start secretly envying me, know that I have already driven 124 miles today. All things considered, it's pretty sweet, though. They pay me to talk. That's hilarious!)

Actually, He did show me something - which directly built on the frustration I shared in my last post about not feeling free in worship. And comparing myself to the hand-raisers, all the while wondering if bathing suits are too carnal.

About a mile from the hospital district in Boston where I work, an ambulance comes screeching through the 3-lanes of bumper to bumper congested traffic. As I pull over to the median, I happen to notice the woman driving the truck to my right - she's engaged in a passionately animated monologue....there's no one else in the car. She was praying. And I mean, really praying. Trying to stare without being obvious about it, it occurred to me she must have been praying for the person in the ambulance as her outpouring began quite spontaneously.

This woman really looked like she was worshiping - but she wasn't singing. There was no rhythm. She bobbed her head Stevie-Wonder style a few times, with her eyes closed, and she had that slightly-in-pain countenance typical of charismatics when they pray.When the light changed, cars behind her started beeping (one is oblivious to green lights when one's eyes are closed). Still watching her in the rear view mirror, I noticed she finally did pull up and go through the light - still praying out loud. Not a single fish or JesuChristo bumper sticker on her nondescript truck, either (I checked). Just a few rust stains.

I am not making this up.

So I start reflecting on this scene and why it struck me so much. I don't know how it is in the Bible Belt, but that is not something you see everyday in Beantown (especially during the height of the commuter hour!) She convicted and inspired me at the same time, if such a thing is possible. From all appearances, she was overflowing with reverent praise to the God of All Compassion, presumably interceding for a complete stranger in peril. As many have noted, the more focused we are on God and others, the less focused we will be on ourselves. I wonder why I struggle to worship sometimes, but I considered what the meditation of my heart had been at exactly the moment before I spotted this lady.

The radio was off, a rarity for me. I quickly tired of Audio Adrenaline and decided to pray instead. Fresh from reflections of God's sovereignty at last night's Bible study, (yes, I finally did read the chapters), I let go of the "What If's" in my life as per Linda Dillow's suggestion. I considered how I'd react if the Mission's Committee rejects my proposal to support a church in Bulgaria ("It's Your call, God"), and realized if my book is not picked up by a publisher, I will not be devastated - it can still be uploaded online. "The whole purpose in writing it is to help others, not get rich". (See how spiritual I am? I won't even be disappointed if my "plans to be faithful to God's calling" don't work out the way I'd planned.) That's mighty big of me, deciding to let God be sovereign, wouldn't you say?

One of the dangers of being a highly productive person is that you unintentionally equate "producing" in your spiritual life with being close to God. And then you have the nerve to be surprised when you don't feel that intimacy with Him that fuels true worship.

When that ambulance passed, siren blaring, I confess it never entered my brain for a nanosecond to offer up prayer for the victim. Praise God just for Who He is, because He is worthy? Didn't cross my mind. If anything, I might have felt a momentary flash of frustration at missing the light and having to wait (even though I was early for my patient's appointment). That's when I saw her, and the difference between my heart attitude and hers was in-my-face obvious (even though I don't know this lady from Adam). That's so typical of how God reveals lessons He wants me to learn - privately, and without public humiliation.

Once again, I'm flattered He was paying attention and humbled by His gentle correction. It's so cool how He helps His children to offer Him the kind of praise of which He's due. The music isn't the point - the desire and motivation behind authentic worship is what counts, and He generates it in a humble and grateful heart.


Hadassah said...

Well, you sure got my attention with that title!

I'd say that even in the Bible Belt, the kind of thing you witnessed is pretty rare. It seems you must be right in assuming that the woman's prayer was meant to accomplish more than she could have realized.

And by the way, I hate bathing suit shopping too. Like, I think the 7th level of hell is going to be a bunch of horrid overhead florescent greenish lights hanging over endless changing rooms full of women agonizing over terrible bathing suits. And the bathing suits all cost $200 to boot. You may have successfully conquered your body issues and moved on to ONLY worrying about modesty, but I still haven't! I get to deal with both when I shop.

OK, seriously I try not to worry about body image too much, but bathing suit shopping is ga-raun-teed to stir it up.

Room to Think said...

Thanks for stopping by again...loved this post.

I attend a Pentecostal church here at the Gold Coast. Yes, big on hand raising, jumping, you name it. Not everyone does it. And that is perfectly fine. Thing is, when you said in your previous post that it can make someone else feel inferior, like they're less holy, that kinda caught my attention. It is very easy to fake it til you make it. Sometimes I think people who visit for the first time try to do what everyone else is doing so as to seem like they're fitting in. I want to tell them they can just relax and be themselves.

It's not about us all looking the part or acting in unison (jumping at the same time, clapping all in beat). There are times I just stop. I stop singing and I stop moving and I just close my eyes and talk with God. I know when I am not 'making a connection', if you like....not truly worshipping but simply going with the motion.

I can say though, it was pretty liberating in a way to be able to express worship by raising my hands or even kneeling. I used to simply stand around and observe other people. I still get self conscious when I catch people staring at me when I do raise my hands or move about but I think as long as I'm not being a distraction to everyone else or acting in some crazy inappropriate fashion like randomly yelling things or grabbing others and making them dance when clearly they're focused on worshipping, then it boils down to God and me and what He knows to be my real heart condition.

At the end of the day, you'll know in your heart if you are really drawing closer with God and bringing Him glory. Doesn't matter so much what the form is. Thing is, I really do believe that God speaks to us all the time and sometimes it can be through things like this (as in what you saw on your way to work)'s just whether we notice. He knows exactly how to get our attention and when.

Yes, not a big fan on swimsuits either! Part body image, part modesty...beaches are good if you really have to go into the can go in with board shorts (whatever length you prefer) and a top over your swimsuit. Alternatively I sneak into the pool where we live when no one else is around and it's just my husband and me.

Daniel said...

Your experience really inspired me! It was so refreshing to hear that there are believers out there who engage with God in such a way.

Reading your post I realized that the woman doing the praying was not at church and yet she acted very much like a person would at church.

I have been doing a lot of writing lately on the topic of legalism. As believers, we neatly pacakge prayer and create appropriate ways of praying. We forget that prayer can and should be done anywhere and at any time.

Praying in the car, and especially for a stranger in an ambulance, definitely forces us to step outside ourselves.

Among other things, this story challenged my legalistic approach to prayer even more. It gave me yet another reason why I should not place God in a box, especially when I pray.

Marie said...

Hi Jos!

You definitely have the right perspective. That's exactly how it should be - individual, with no thoughts on "performing". It really isn't about 'experience' - I learned that the hard way a few years ago - but drawing near to God in your heart (as you stated).

@ Daniel,

Thanks for stopping by ~ I just clicked on your blog and the first thing that caught my eye were your sermon notes on "Hollowness vs. Holiness". That was definitely what I needed to read this week - thanks for posting the series!