This past Sunday at Oasis Church – where PJ and I both attend with our wives – I had a major breakthrough.
Our pastor, Todd West, finished up a sermon series about the qualities of a Godly church with a message on prayer. It was based on a pretty well-known excerpt from the book of Mark in which Jesus returns to the temple of Jerusalem and runs out all the people changing money and selling pigeons. Mark 11:17 quotes Christ as saying to the people “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
I’ve heard a lot of sermons preached on that verse, but until Sunday I think they’d all focused on the last bit, the bit about turning the church into a den of robbers. Todd’s, though, focused on the other part, about Jesus’ temple being a “house of prayer”. The most important part of a church service, he said, is not the worship (though the band at Oasis does rock). It’s not even the message (though our pastoral staff does indeed also rock). The most important part is the invitation.
The invitation: where the body of the church makes a decision about what to do with the message they just heard. A transition period between the ritual and order of a church service and the chaos and uncertainty of the rest of the world.
As Todd invited those in attendance to the altar to pray – to make the most of the invitation to speak to God – I realized that I had never, not once in my entire life, answered an invitation to kneel at the altar and pray. Not that I’d never prayed, or prayed in church, but I realized I had always considered the invitation to be for everybody else. Messed-up people. People going through divorces or struggling with addictions or facing big-time Fears-with-a-capital-F. But not me.
So when the time came, I grabbed my wife’s hand and we knelt on the stage with dozens of others and we prayed. Personally, I prayed that God would make me a better spiritual leader in my family, one that’s not afraid to invite our Creator into our dinnertime conversation or even our arguments. (Okay, especially our arguments.) I also used that time to thank God for everything that isn’t wrong in my life. My wife and I are healthy and financially stable; we’ve got wonderful, supportive friends and family; and we’ve found ourselves in a situation, career-wise, that lets us both do the things that we love to do.
I’m going to make a point of walking the aisle more often. Maybe every Sunday. Because I see now that the invitation is not the time to start gathering up my stuff so I can be first out the door. It’s a time to talk to God in probably the environment most conducive to authentic conversation with him: surrounded by other believers with lessons from his word fresh in your mind.
Have you had a similar breakthrough? Do you regularly answer the call to pray? Does your church even have an invitation period? We’d love to continue exploring this topic in the comments.