Church buildings represent a place set aside for God’s people to gather and enter into His presence, praise Him, and find strength for the week ahead. Our church services are not really intended for the lost and unbelieving, though, everyone is welcome. Yet I’ve learned first hand, that the practice of “true worship” provides a powerful witness of faith to anyone who visits. For you see, I was led to Christ by an entire congregation of over 3,000 believers, all worshiping their Lord.
In 1983, my husband was serving in the Navy and we had just been stationed near my husband’s home town. Before being deployed, he introduced me to several of his high school friends. A week or two passed and they invited me to church for a Sunday evening service. Right away I knew I was in for something different. The church I was raised in didn’t even have Sunday night services. They came by my apartment and drove me to a church in the downtown area of the city. We had to drive around for a while looking for a parking place. It was January and the night air was particularly cold. As we walked several blocks to the church building, I wondered what all the cars were doing downtown on a Sunday night.
Opening the first door of the church building a great sound swelled in my ears. Then the inner door was opened for us by the usher and the singing was almost deafening. I was completely overwhelmed. The church of my childhood had never sounded like this – not even on Christmas with the pews packed full. I was more used to hearing a few squeaky voices while most of the people simply stared off into space. But here tonight; young and old, men and women, were all singing and they sounded so glorious and joyful! We managed to find a place in the back row. We sat elbow to elbow – packed in like sardines. I couldn’t imagine what would make all these people leave their warm fireplaces on a cold winter night.
Eventually the singing stopped and it was time for prayer. The pastor prayed for things I had never thought to pray about – for school teachers, for the President and Congress, for flood victims in another state, for Christians imprisoned in foreign countries, for Bibles to be sent to China, on and on. It seemed he was praying for the whole world. The prayer was long, longer than I thought I could possibly sit still. But I was frozen in place and there was an awesome hush over the entire building. Now and then I could hear a quiet whisper from someone around me: “Yes, Lord”, “Praise You”, “Amen”. This prayer was completely foreign to the recited prayers of my childhood.
Next, the offering plates were sent around and another startling difference became painfully evident: the plates were full. We had to be careful to not spill the contents as we passed the plate down our row. But even stranger to me was that they were filled with little envelopes. My friend pulled hers out of the back of her Bible and placed it in the plate as it went by. I realized that she had thought this through ahead of time. She wasn’t just pulling coins out of her pocket at the last moment with some vain hope of not looking cheap. And each of those envelopes represented someone who had also prepared ahead of time to put something in the offering plate.
Finally the sermon started. The pastor invited everyone to open their Bibles and read along with him. The sound of the rustling Bible pages was even drowning out this man’s words. I had never seen anything like it. I didn’t have a Bible so my friend held hers so I could see it. But when I saw writing all over the margins I realized that she must actually use her Bible. At the time, I didn’t know of anyone who really did that, except preachers of course.
As the sermon went on, I was amazed to see my friends taking notes. They were eager to learn about what this man was saying. And as I looked around, I saw lots of other people taking notes too. Then I noticed a funny thing – a sad thing really – no one was snoring. In my home church that was the custom – to fall asleep during the sermon.
At the end of the service we sang a song. Everyone held hands and stretched across the isles so the chain would be unbroken. The words and music echoed loudly and the people were all smiling. When the song ended, the people were dismissed, but most of them stayed. It seemed no one was in a rush to get home and the isles were all blocked as they hugged and talked. Everyone was enjoying just being there with each other.
The marvelous corporate worship of this congregation overwhelmed me; I felt surely God was in that place on that cold winter night. So I kept going back to this church each week. I wanted to see if the wonderful faith I’d witnessed really lived on in these people. And week after week, I asked countless questions of my husband’s old friends and the many new friends I met at this church. They encouraged me as I began investigating the Bible and they shared books with me like More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell. Through it all, my eyes were opened; not just to a new way of doing “church”, but a new way of relating to God and living my life. Then finally, on the first Sunday in February, I went forward at the service to receive Jesus Christ for myself. I had found salvation, forgiveness, peace, and much, much more. And now I was ready to become a true worshiper of the one true God.
Acts 2:42, 47 “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . .And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Describe the details that first brought you to the Lord.
Compare and contrast two seemingly similar experiences that were actually quite different.