Have you ever felt like you just needed a break from your church? Recently my husband and I drove down to Tennessee to attend a small conference for pastors. We were seeking a place of refreshing where we could receive ministry from others for a change, instead of being on the giving end. My tank was running on nearly empty, and I longed to be refilled and recharged. Perhaps this is a poor confession, but I had actually become weary in well doing. The ministry had become a burden instead of a delight.
I felt far away from the Lord. And not only that, but I also felt far away from my husband, too! Of course, I talked to them both every day, but it was like we had become co-laborers rather than intimate lovers (whoso readeth, let her understand). My conversations with my Lord, as well as my conversation with my husband, centered on the church and the congregation. Precious few moments were spent expressing love, gratitude, and admiration. I yearned to be alone with God and with. Jack to renew my relationship with them. I desperately wanted to return to my first love.
And what better solution than to go to the beautiful mountains of Tennessee where I could spend time in the presence of the Lord, and also enjoy the company of my husband without interruption. As a deer pants for the water, so I longed for a drink of living water at the conference.
One of the delights of this gathering in Tennessee is that it provided the opportunity to fellowship with other pastors and their wives. It was billed as a pastors' conference, and although a few other church leaders attended, for the most part it was made up of senior pastors. What a blessing! Time with the Lord, time with Jack, and time with others of like mind. My cup was running over!
It was at the very first session that I noticed a young man sitting on the front row. He was dressed in a rumpled purple (l) suit, vt ith his long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and held in place by a rubber band. In his car was a large silver earring. I immediately despised him in my heart.
"What's someone like that doing here at this conference?" I pondered. Just then he turned in my direction, and I strained to read the title typed on his badge. I was astonished to learn that he was a pastor.
Imagine that. The man was actually calling himself a pastor. Who would possibly attend a church with a pastor who looked like that? He was a disgrace to the profession. I was so caught up with thinking unkind thoughts about this "intruder" at the conference that I was unable to get my mind onto worshipping the Lord.
The next day he looked even worse. Would you believe that he showed up at the morning session wearing a pair of faded shorts and a tee-shirt? The impostor pastor (for that's what I had labeled him in my mind) seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that he was improperly dressed and began to worship the Lord. He sang loudly and off key, but that didn't bother him either. Again, I found it difficult to enter into worship because he was such a distraction.
Directly in front of me was another distraction. She was a woman in her sixties who seemed to be attending the conference alone. Her manner of dress bothered me almost as much as the young man's attire. There was absolutely no reason she needed to look so frumpy and unattractive. During the teaching session I studied her carefully, mentally coloring her hair and giving her a modern up-to-date hair style. I applied imaginary make-up to her pale complexion and clothed her in a fashionable dress. As far as I was concerned, she was a total misfit at the conference, and I had no idea why she was even registered.
That session ended without my having taken a single note. I had been so busy being critical that my mind had been far away from spiritual things. It's difficult for me to admit to my pharisaical attitude, but it's essential that you know exactly how I viewed these two people if you are going t. understand what occurred at the final meeting of the conference.
Praise and worship was absolutely glorious as we gathered together in the sanctuary on the last night. The water was flowing, and there was an expectancy that there was going to be a visitation of God. When the speaker began to share from the Word, a holy conviction came upon the entire congregation. In the message the analogy was used of a woman who had recently lost her husband. She looked at his chair, but he was no longer sitting there. She opened his closet, and his clothes were all missing. His side of the bed was empty. He was no longer with h, r. Finally the question was asked, "Is the presence of the Lord still with you?"
An invitation was given and everyone moved to the front of the church. I found myself at the altar rail kneeling between the young pastor in the purple suit and the dowdy woman. Her head was cradled in her arms, and she was crying. I found it hard to pray, and I must be honest and say that I really wasn't sure that the presence of the Lord was still with me. I felt empty, and my attempt at prayer also seemed empty. I couldn't seem to move into a spiritual mode.
After several minutes, everyone went back to their seats. Only the woman remained at the front of the church. You could hear her sobs over the sound of the piano. I think we were all somewhat embarrassed over the emotion she was showing.
And then the young pastor rose from his seat, and walked over to the woman. Gently he placed his hand upon her shoulder, and I could see his lips moving as he prayed for her. Then, sitting down beside her, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief and dried her tears. As they talked together, her face became radiant and she began to smile. He was holding her hand in his, as they communed, and once he even reached up and stroked her hair.
Finally he stood up and helped the woman to her feet. They looked at each other face to face for a moment, and then he opened his arms wide. Without hesitation, she threw herself into them. They stood before us, the young man and the woman, locked in a holy embrace. Time stood still.
I rubbed my eyes in unbelief. The young man was no longer dressed in purple suit with an earring in his ear. In the spirit, I saw him wearing a white robe and sandals. I was looking at the love of Jesus manifested in human flesh. The very one I despised and rejected, the one I labeled an impostor pastor, was the only one in the midst of a hundred pastors who showed the heart of at true pastor. He was showing me Jesus!
And I knew by the Spirit that the woman, who I had also despised and rejected, was the widow of a pastor. For the first time, I noticed the gold band on her finger and understood her tears. The analogy of the widow contained in the message had opened the floodgates and loosed the grief stored within her heart. Probably she had attended this conference for years with her husband at her side. This time she had come alone.
My critical spirit had blinded me to the needs of others. I had knelt beside this hurting woman but turned my heart far from her. I had judged her by outward appearances and lost the opportunity to minister the love of God.
Not only that, but I had turned up my nose at a sensitive young pastor who was filled with the love, mercy and compassion of God, simply because I didn't like the color of his suit. I wept before the Lord as the true nature of my heart was exposed.
I came away from the conference with a new attitude. Chastened by the Spirit, yes, but knowing the blessed forgiveness of God. He had done a deep work in my heart. How easy it is for us to give place to a critical spirit, looking down on others and thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. But how faithful the Lord is to point out our flaws and melt our hardened hearts.
What about you? Have you been judging by outward appearances? Are you slapping a label on people before you really have an opportunity to know their hearts? How do you feel about long-haired pastors dressed in purple suits? Or frumpy women who have lust their joy? Are you still demonstrating the love of Jesus or have you become a respecter of persons?
Put yourself in my shoes. What would you have done?