A long time ago, when we moved here, i blogged about my struggle with finding a new home church - after being a member of what i felt was the perfect church - for seven years. The separation from my distant church family and the search to find a new church were excruciating. I felt so lonely and really really needed a home church body.
Finally, after a lot of prayer and lot of crying and feeling sorry for myself and a lot of skipping church because i didn't feel i belonged anywhere and a lot of God encouraging my heart and a lot of true spiritual friends encouraging me to press through, i made a decision about what church i would commit myself to. It was so important to me to be a part of a local church and to find a way to contribute. It was almost a year ago - Easter-ish - that i made that decision.
But still, i, the quiet introvert, very slowly eaked my way into a few friendly acquaintanceships in my church. Not their fault - mine. But i loved my church, and slowly, but surely, i was feeling a little more like i belonged.
Then, something unprecedented (at least i've never heard of it before) happened. The Lord moved on the hearts of the pastors of our church and two other local churches - TO MERGE. You've heard of church splits, right? These guys decided to humble themselves and merge for the glory of God. I know that this decision was made with much prayer and confirmation from God in the minds and hearts of the church leadership. But to some of us, it came as quite a surprise.
At first, i was pretty ok with it, though i was concerned for some of my co-members, who didn't seem quite so optimistic. The main church we were merging with was the same church that had been with my current church in my "final two" selection process when i was searching for a home church body. And i could see some of the complimentary strengths and weaknesses that would help the two bodies to strengthen each other.
But then, it happened. I listened to the voice of discouragement, and i became so very negative - critical of all the new and different things. Intolerant of all the little quirks and awkwardness that must naturally come with such a merge. So much that i considered leaving the church altogether...even though i knew that God had directed me to this body.
One Wednesday evening, i forced myself to go to church, having in my mind that i didn't want to commit to service at this church yet because i didn't know if i was going to stay.
But before the service, i prayed a simple but sincere prayer. I admitted to the Lord that i knew my heart was wrong, and i asked HIM to change it.
He did. He did it right then. I started perceiving things differently, seeing people through the eyes of love instead of criticism, receiving the presence of the Holy Spirit in the work that was happening.
I even heard myself volunteer to commit myself to helping in the nursery on a regular basis. I say "heard myself" because that's what i mean. Afterward, my negative (and quickly diminishing) side was protesting, "wait! you said you're not going to commit yet!" But i was in.
God has continued to change my heart since that evening. And i have changed. I have begun to receive the Word of God from the leaders who are over this church, and i have benefited greatly.
And i'm so in awe of how God answered my prayer. How He seemed to do it totally independent of me.
Yesterday, for the first time since we merged, i had a thought that my almost silent negative side couldn't stand. I thought, "I like my church!" And i do.
God is doing something amazing here my little town.
Another unprecedented thing in this little community, i will share with you. When i was a child, a teenager, my family lived in this area, and my dad pastored a church. And we felt the strong heaviness of racism in very real ways. All i can say about that is that the members of the community and the church were largely very closed (vocally so) to the idea of black and white Christians worshiping together in the same place. There were "white churches," and there were "black churches."
Now, some 20 years later, Christians with black skin and Christians with white skin and Christians with a few skin shades in between, welcome each other in my church. It's a big deal. It really is. I am moved. I'm not sure i ever believed that would happen here. I am so happy it is!