Allen Pirness | The Voice of Zion October 2022 --
Sometimes, especially if we are part of the planning group, we go to a lot of effort to arrange services gatherings. We are often shown that even with our efforts, services are truly arranged by God. I remember the effort one lady made to arrange services at her location in Togo. She told me after services she had invited everyone she knew and the only people who came were a couple of random people she didn’t know. The sermon had spoken to her and reminded her that it is God who arranges the services and calls His own unto Him. She was very comforted by this and was able to rejoice that those who came to services were granted grace to believe.
Perhaps you, with me, have experienced how it can be uncomfortable to be in a new or unfamiliar congregation. Maybe you have gone there by yourself or with a small group of friends, without any connections there or anyone knowing you’d be coming. It has taken a certain amount of courage to do this but it has also taken trust.
Trusting an unfamiliar situation is not easy. But if we have experienced something similar we already have an expectation of how it should go. We trust that the atmosphere at services in an unfamiliar congregation will be similar to what we have experienced in our home congregation. This familiarity is partly what gives us enough courage to go, but mostly we desire to go because we expect to receive the same message of hope and forgiveness that brings us comfort and encouragement to stay in faith. We wouldn’t want to go to services where we weren’t sure that we would hear that message.
Sometimes we have visitors we do not recognize at our services. Sometimes it becomes quickly obvious that this is their first time at the services of the believers. What is our reaction to this? I know what I want my reaction to be, but I must admit that it isn’t always that. I am not immediately trusting of new people that I encounter. I find the services of God’s children to be a refuge from the world so sometimes I feel more guarded when I encounter someone new at our services. It has been important for me to consider my reaction and make purposeful changes so that I wouldn’t be unwelcoming.
God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, whose members are joined heart to heart. We rejoice when our family can remain in faith, yet we especially notice the nature of God’s kingdom when faith and unbelief divide our family. It hurts that spiritual fellowship cannot be shared with our closest biological relatives. This helps us to consider that we do not own God’s kingdom, rather we are a spiritual citizen of this kingdom. We also do not own the gatherings of God’s kingdom and wish to remember that God can send whom He will to where His living gospel is preached.
The living gospel’s core message is the preaching of the forgiveness of sins. When we consider what this has done for us, we want to invite everyone to come and hear the proclamation of forgiveness for their own sins. It has given into our heart righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The answer of a clean conscience before God is the most pleasant state of being that a human can experience in life. Consider that an unbelieving guest to the services is being invited by God to experience this peace also.
We would do well to consider that the visitor had to trust deeply that everything would be okay when they entered the building or event where the services are happening. They had to get the courage to come and remain courageous all the way through to the arrival. It’s useful to consider all the obstacles that they have overcome to be standing in front of you in the foyer. It’s almost as though someone from a long and difficult journey has finally arrived at what they hoped is their intended destination.
I’m sure for many it hasn’t been easy to sit and listen to the services. God has needed to undress them of their own righteousness and leave them feeling sinful before His Word, just the same as we experience. We hope that the gospel found a place in their heart also. It would be important to find a chance to visit with them after services and ask them, “What message did you hear today?” or “Do you have any thoughts or questions about the message?” We hope that they would want to come again, but it’s perhaps better to make sure that they know they are welcome to come again.
God’s Word reminds us that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. The listener has done well to come to the hearing of the Word of God, also the same service guest has done well to consider how they can create a welcoming atmosphere for all who would come to hear. The words of Jesus remind us “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
Allen Pirness, along with his wife Jessica and four children, recently moved to Minnesota. A former commodities trader in Lethbridge, Alberta, he is now full-time pastor for the Rockford congregation and also serves the LLC Communications and Mission departments.