Someone was reading Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. John Wesley listened and felt the story taking hold of his life. He felt his heart strangely warmed. He wrote in his journal, "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
Wesley did not want to go but he went. He did not want to be there but the message still caught up with him. The reluctant Wesley experienced something that enabled him to believe that salvation was by grace and grace alone and that Christ really had died for him. This belief continues to penetrate the hearts of Methodists who have followed him for the last two centuries. This message has continued to set hearts on fire. And it started with someone not wanting to be there.
I was recently having a conversation with someone in our church who shared with me how it sometimes takes everything within a person to get to worship. She went on to explain how our members live busy lives and that another commitment on Sunday can be just too much. She sought to justify some of our members not being in worship for weeks because of the busy demands of life in Washington.
This morning, I started my work week by having breakfast with another church member who is eighty-eight years old. Mary Elizabeth missed church yesterday. She started her journey from Arlington to downtown Washington and then encountered roadblock after roadblock of people bicycling in an event in downtown DC. After running into several roadblocks, Mary Elizabeth and the two members with her discerned they were not going to make it to church, and they turned around to go home. Mary Elizabeth then continued to tell me how much she missed church. She shared how she can hardly make it through a week without worship. Worship is the place where she is renewed and receives what she needs for the six days ahead.
I have been thinking a lot about the two perspectives shared with me. There are times when we are convinced that our lives are our own - that everything we have - our time, our talents and our resources are because of us - what we have done or what we have earned. There are other times when we are able to be won over, when our hearts and minds begin to comprehend that we are nothing on our own - that all that we have is because of the goodness of God. We live and move and have our being because of God. It is from this understanding that we arrive at the place where we cannot get through another week without worship.
I yearn for the faith life of Mary Elizabeth. I want people to knock on my door and find me reading the Psalms. I want to read scripture by heart and not always by sight. I want to offer at least 10% of every dollar I have back to God. I want to invest in the lives of others, providing scholarships and other forms of assistance. I want to live and breathe God - God's goodness - all the time.
I had my heart strangely warmed today. It would have been much easier to go directly into the office and face the dozen things on my "to-do" list. It would have felt more productive to tackle the tasks at hand than to sit and sip coffee for an extended time. But, my morning started with an experience of having my heart warmed - of knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God is with me and that God is blessing me. I was reminded again today of what is important and that a life in which God is first and not me, my goals, my priorities, my checkbook, my schedule - is the best life possible. I lingered for a moment, and I was able to see how worship and God always have to come first.
I wonder what would happen if we simply committed to putting ourselves in a place where God can touch us. What would happen if we committed to being in worship unless we are physically unable to be there - to showing up no matter what? What if we pushed ourselves and said that being in worship is more important than sleeping in, or enjoying a hobby, or getting to the office, or going on a run, or meeting friends for brunch, or anything else? What if we put ourselves in a place where we always demonstrate to God how God is first in our lives - beginning on the first day of the week, bringing to God the first fruits of what we have?
A very reluctant John Wesley went to a meeting room in Aldersgate. He did not want to be there. But God met him there. And those of us who are United Methodists still follow his teachings and form our beliefs on his faith today.
When have you last experienced your heart being strangely warmed?
When have you been willing to give yourself over to God - showing up even when you don't want to be there?
How can we better show God that we understand how God is the source of all that we have?