Office Hours (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 11, 2015)

Last semester, I was in my office a minimum of six hours each week outside of class time (though usually much more than that) for my designated office hours. Out of the dozens of students in my classes, only a handful ever came to see me during office hours. They were all invited, but very few ever showed.

 

A couple of those who came were my best students, and sometimes they popped in just to say hello, not because they needed anything. A few times, students would stop by with a question about an assignment. One student was at risk of failing my course and came by three times to talk to me about his challenges and progress, as the semester went on. Unfortunately, two other students who did end up failing never came to see me at all. They never answered emails or responded to my attempts to contact them.

 

I invited them, waited for them, reached out to them, and pursued them as best I could, but ultimately, the choice not to come was theirs.

 

At the risk of making students everywhere roll their eyes by comparing professors to God, doesn’t it sound a lot like the way he invites us to come to him … but we don’t?

 

On one occasion (among countless other times when the religious leaders of the day got their knickers in a wad over something Jesus said or did), the Pharisees and Sadducees started griping about Jesus sharing a meal with “notorious sinners” like a tax collector (Luke 5:30, TLB). He answered them bluntly by saying that sick people need a doctor, not those who are well. In the same way, sinners need a savior. He explained, “My purpose is to invite sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think themselves already good enough” (v. 32).

 

Several English translations use the word “called” in this verse, but I like the way some other translations insert the word “invited.” When I hear or read the word “called,” it sounds obligatory – like when a parent calls a child, and they are expected to come immediately. “Invited,” on the other hand, is an offer – a gift, you might say. Jesus invites us to come to him. Have you RSVPed?

The Intimidated Visitor (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 31, 2014)

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty friendly person, and I frequently tried to find new faces to say hello to on Sunday mornings, but having the tables flipped and walking into new places as a single-again adult has been a humbling learning experience. I can’t think of very many situations that feel more intimidating than walking into an unfamiliar church alone. If you have kids, you can kind of hide behind them as you figure out where they need to go, but once you’ve dropped them off to the nursery, kids’ classes, etc., you are on your own.

In Acts 2, we read about how rapidly the early church grew. Verse 47 says that “the Lord added to their number daily” (NIV), and other verses mention the thousands of individuals who flocked to the new congregations. I wonder sometimes about the demographics of those newcomers, but we aren’t given much detail other than knowing that the sheer number of new believers was skyrocketing.

I think Crossroads, in particular, does a fantastic job of making people feel at home, but we can all get stuck in a rut sometimes, so maybe it will help to be reminded of how much courage it takes to walk into a new place alone. I’ve gone to church my whole life, and I’ve been a leader in several capacities, but still, walking through the lobby and finding a seat in a new church made me feel very self-conscious and awkward.

That isn’t to say that people were unwelcoming; on the contrary, several people introduced themselves and struck up a friendly conversation. But when it came to finding my seat and participating in church, I still felt alone. Worse yet, I felt like I stuck out. I avoided the temptation to fiddle with my phone or re-read the bulletin a dozen times to look like I was busy. I tried making eye contact and saying hi to people, but it wasn’t easy. With these things in mind, I would like to offer some practical suggestions to make intimidated visitors feel welcome.

First, don’t stop doing what you already do so well! Keep greeting people; introduce yourself; get to know them. Better yet, invite them to come sit with you. I would have really liked for someone to ask me to sit with them, just so I didn’t go through the worship service alone. (Sure, there’s a crowd, but I think most of you understand what it feels like to feel alone in a crowd.) Don’t stop there. Invite them to your Life group (even if you aren’t the leader!). Take it upon yourself to introduce them to the pastor, etc. Remember the story of the early church in Acts 2: they focused not only on the gospel message, but also on fellowship and nurturing new members.