"Great message," whispered my husband.
Was it, I wondered?
I recalled the words of a wise and godly woman. "If you don't get anything out of a service where the Word of God is being taught, it's nobodies fault but your own."
Her words rang true. That morning, I hadn't been paying attention to the sermon. Convicted, I quickly prayed, "Lord, what do You have for me to receive today? What do You have for me to give this morning? And, Father, what do You have me to take away?"
This prayer, which I have recently started praying every Sunday morning, was inspired by a story that the dear, old woman shared with me many years ago. She told me to imagine I carried an empty basket with me to church every Sunday. Then, during the service, I was to listen for the truths and treasures that I could fill my basket with. She said with grave seriousness, "You should never walk out of church with an empty basket. If you didn't get anything from the Word of God, it is not the pastor's fault."
Lord, what do you have for me to receive?
I never forgot her words to me. Sadly, I confess, there are Sunday's when I leave church with an empty basket. Often, I am distracted by the people around me or with concerns of my own. Sometimes, I just don't pay attention. And still other times, I'm just not in the mood.
A few weeks ago, I began my prayer, before a visit to my parents church in Arizona. Lord, I prayed, What do you have for me to receive? By the end of the service, my basket was filled with nuggets of wisdom and truth from the best sermon I had ever heard on Ephesians 4:26, Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."
Lord, what do you have for me to give?
That Sunday, at my parents new church, it would have been easy to skip over the second part of my prayer, Lord, what do you have for me to give? I did not know anyone there. What would I have to give after all? Surely, no one would blame me if I quickly slipped out when the service was over.
Yet, I believe church is not just about me filling up my empty basket. At times, I forget this, even at my own church. I greet familiar faces after the service and spend time catching up with friends. Yet, if I am not careful, I neglect to look for the new person who needs to be welcomed, or the lonely person who needs a hug, or the hurting person who needs my prayers. However, when I ask the Lord what He has for me to give, I change my focus. I also remember the words in Hebrews 10:25, Let us not neglect our meeting together...but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
That Sunday, after church with my parents, I had the joy of meeting and breaking bread with several of their friends. Although, I tried to be attentive to how I might bless them, I was the one who left all the richer for a delightful meal with the family of God.
Lord, what do you have for me to take away?
My basket was filled, that morning, with nuggets of wisdom about anger and not holding on to it. However, I wondered how the Lord would answer the last part of my prayer, What do you have for me to take away? You see, anger was something I dealt with in the past, but not anymore. Right!? Little did I know how much I would need the truths I had gathered in my imaginary basket that very day.
Later that evening, after a loved one made a decision that seemed to me hard-hearted, selfish and uncaring, I knelt by my bed and cried out to God, Help me not to let the sun go down on my anger. I confess, I tossed and turned that night. And, it wasn't until the end of the following day that my take away kicked in. For then, I realized, as another night rolled around, my anger was fading away. And, in it's place I was surprised to feel compassion for the one who had so offended me. I discovered instead, I hurt for this person and whatever had happened in their life to cause them to act the way they did.
Before I close, I wonder, do you go to church? Next time you go, I encourage you to take with you an imaginary basket. Ask the Lord, What do you have for me to receive?" Then, listen for truths and treasures the Lord wants you to fill your basket with. And, don't just go to fill up your basket, but ask God, What do you have for me to give? It may simply be a smile or a kind word, but be purposeful to encourage someone else while your are there. And, finally, ask the Lord, What do you have for me to take away? The Word of God is living and active, it grow and bears fruit according to God's purposes. Watch for ways the Lord wants to use the treasures you've gathered in your basket to bless you even beyond the Sunday morning sermon.
I would love to hear from you if this post speaks to you. And, I would love to hear stories of how you prepare your heart for church and what church means to you.