ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–I love the view of a sanctuary from the platform. It’s a view most people never get, at least not when the building is occupied.
It’s pretty funny what people think you can’t see. I get to see the youth text messaging from their seats, slumping down to be less obvious. There’s the businessman who thinks he turned off his cell phone, only to realize after the 15th ring that the phone going off actually is his. In the back, there is a whole family filling a pew. It’s a great time together, grandma tossing peppermints to the grandchildren, grandpa dozing off, grandkids giggling at grandpa. What a view.
One of the things I do to get comfortable preaching to a new congregation is to find friendly faces in the audience. You know the ones. They nod approvingly at the right time. They laugh at your worst jokes. They take notes as you share the truths of the Bible. They clap or ‘Amen’ when you reach a crescendo in your sermon. I love those kinds of folks.
My problem is that sometimes I become spiritually nearsighted. I can see clearly in the building but I lose clarity the farther out. I focus so much of my attention on the people in the building that I miss seeing the needs of people outside of the building.
When I change my focus, God gives me great blessings.
One Saturday afternoon, I took both of my sons to a restaurant close to our home and met one of those blessings. When we got our drinks and appetizer, I asked the waitress how we could pray for her because we were going to pray before we ate our food. I guess my question was much different than “didn’t I ask for extra pickles?” because all she could say was, “What?” After I repeated my offer, she asked for prayer for a decision she needed to make.
That prayer broke the ice. She became our friend and took extra good care of us.
On one of her stops, I asked her a more spiritual question: In your opinion, what do you think it takes for a person to go to heaven? Her answer was a typical works answer. I asked her if I could share with her how the Bible answered that question. To my boys’ amazement, she said yes. In just a few minutes, she heard what Jesus did for her and she prayed to surrender her life to Him.
Not only did I get to be a part of God’s work that day, but my boys were able to see that God can work outside the walls of the church too. My oldest son looked at me with wide-eyes and said, “Dad, I couldn’t stop shaking. I was so excited.”
The blessings of God come much quicker when we “compel them to come in” instead of waiting for them to show up.
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism & church growth team.