I am often reminded how much work the Lord has to do on me. He isn't finished yet - not by a long shot.
I had hosted a women's group in my home for years until I found a much smaller church. There I joined a Thursday morning women's Bible study group and began to connect with the women at my new church. I was offered a wonderful job and sadly was no longer able to be a part of this group. This little church had Sunday School classes which I found to be quite large and not very in-depth Bible study or discussion. I greatly missed being with other women studying God's Word and so last year as part of the church ministry I began a small group at my house one evening a week. Hardly anyone from my new little church was interested in joining, but I held spots open just in case they would.
Fall study went by, then Spring study and we took a break for the summer. Because I was not offering a Bible study option in the summer, the church decided to offer an evening Bible study for women. 20 women signed up! Instead of rejoicing that all these women were now in a group and studying His Word, my mind went to 'Obviously there was a need for an evening Bible study group, but why didn't they sign up for my group last year?'
As I prepared for our group to begin in early September, I prayed the Lord would guide us to a wonderful study and fill the group with women He wanted in it.
After I had already sent out what study we were doing in the Fall and the schedule and two women had already bought their study books; I found out the church wanted everyone to do a particular discipleship study this Fall. They wanted my women's group to join them. Rather than cheering on the church for encouraging everyone to grow deeper spiritually; my mind went to 'Why didn't they give me notice? I can't change studies now as everything is arranged. Why does it feel like I am always the one out of the loop?'
I continued to pray.
I held spots open for women at the church, but no one new signed up. We even lost two women who said they were doing the church's study with their husbands. Again my thoughts ran critical. Not because these women left the group (I hope they return in the Spring), but because if I had only known the church was planning on this... I grumbled in my mind and in my heart. 'Did the church want this women's group to be a branch of their ministry or should I just be doing my own thing?'
And so I opened up the group to women I knew who were interested in being in a Bible group. And know who we have?!
2 Baptists, 2 Methodists, 1 who goes to a non-denominational church, and 2 Catholics!
Do you know how rare that is?
Our little women's group is like the universal church! We aren't really a church. But we are a mixture of Christians from different churches.
The universal church is the body of believers. It isn't a particular denomination or a building. All who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are in the universal church.
The concept of What is Church? has fascinated me for awhile - ever since I first heard Augustine's quote:
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
And in all things, charity.
My pastor at my old church used to use this quote a lot and for years I pondered what is essential? What is non-essential? And I came to the conclusion that what I believe is "essential" is what is put forth in the Apostle's Creed. I try to filter my thinking through that. If it isn't an essential, I try not to argue with someone over it. I try to give them freedom. If it is an essential I will dig my heels in and stand firm. And in all things I try to be loving.
Then when working on my family history and researching our heritage which included our faith - it led me to research Huguenots and Scotch-Irish and Presbyterian which led me to research the Reformation. I know what the differences are between Protestants and Catholics. I know why there has been so much conflict in history. But I also believe we are brothers and sisters in Christ. On the essentials we are unified. I know why we have so many denominations. Again, on the essentials we are His body.
This past year I have had numerous online conversations with people on a Bible forum about essential Christian beliefs. And a conversation with a guy about the universal church which he sadly does not believe in. Once a month for the past several months a friend and I are meeting to discuss a couple chapters at a time of Eric Metaxas' book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What is the Church? is a question Bonhoeffer revisits over and over in the book. So thinking about the universal church- the body of Christ - is something I have been especially pondering this past year.
So I was super excited there are a diverse group of women with various Christian backgrounds all coming together to study God's Word! And I get to be a part of that!
I'd like to say I was immediately joyful though how things turned out with my church. I chose not to do the discipleship study at the church because my women's group was doing a study on the Sermon on the Mount and I know I would have a hard time working, hosting and leading a group, keeping up with two studies, and all of this with Passion to Know More.
For the past few weeks I have internally grumbled and felt like I didn't fit in at this church. Where was my place to share what I've learned? How can I be part of this church?
Then this last Sunday a Bible verse was read which mentioned "endurance". This word continues to jump out at me when I read Scripture. I think it is pretty normal for Christians to equate numbers with fruit. Meaning if a whole bunch of people are reading this blog or coming to my women's group, then I am doing God's will and bearing fruit. But that is a lie. I know it is a lie. In God's economy sheer numbers do not always equate to His will. God has repeatedly told me "It's not about the numbers." and "Endure." If I reach one I have made a difference. If I minister to or encourage one, I am doing exactly what He wants.
During the church service I was thinking about my women's group and how no one from my church signed up for it. Why? And then the minister began talking about How do we see God working in our lives? And it occurred to me in my women's group! Had I not been praying for my church? Yes. Had I not been praying for my women's group? Yes. Do I not believe God hears my prayers and works through my prayers? Yes. Do I believe God is in control? I do. Then everything is how He wants it. Everything. Period. No "Buts..." on my part.
And God rearranged my thinking in that very moment. I suddenly felt like I had been acting like a Pharisee knowing the letter of the Scriptures, but not the spirit of the Scriptures. I hadn't only been critical of God's children and His church - my critical spirit was against God's very hand. Pruned! Oh Lord, forgive me. He orchestrated every woman in my group - and such a sweet group of women who are thirsty for His Word. He gave me this platform to impact His kingdom. I was exactly where He wanted me, with who He wanted me to be with. He guided the church to offer a discipleship study to everyone there and led each and every one to the group they are in. God is going to use who is where and what they are learning for His kingdom. He has this.
All is as it should be.
And me? I need to get with His program, be on His side, be on His team - not keep telling Him what I want to do for Him.
Yep, even though I know what the Bible says about prayer (He hears me), about the church (Jesus' body of believers), about unity in the body of Christ (live peaceably and perfectly united in mind and thought), about having a kind gentle spirit (putting others concerns ahead of mine) - my head knowledge doesn't always penetrate to those dark crevices of my heart. It is gradually making its way there though. Slowly but surely.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
Yep, He still has a lot of work to do on me. Please give me grace in the meantime. And to each other too.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."