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You have probably seen the cartoons where the person is facing a decision about whether or not to do something, and suddenly there are two little versions of himself standing on his shoulder. One has a white robe and wings and represents their conscious, and the other is dressed in red with horns and a pitch fork and represents temptation. Well, I had an experience on Sunday that sort of follows that pattern. But I better give you a bit of background before I share the experience, or it probably won't make any sense.
I got woke up at 2:00 AM on Sunday morning and could not get back to sleep. After about an hour, I "gave up" and got out of bed. I started doing some GodSpeak work on the computer. The whole time I was doing this work, I kept looking forward to when it would be time to for church to start because I was really looking forward to when worship started at church. That is because The main draw for me at church as been the worship.
Please don't tell that to our senior pastor, I don't want to hurt his feelings. He is a great preacher and I like his sermons, but his sermons aren't the main reason that I go to church on Sundays. I also love praying for people at the ministry time at the end of service, but that isn't the reason that I like to go to church. The worship band at my church is very good and they usually do songs I love, but the worship team is not what draws me. The thing that draws me is how God comes in such a tangible way where His presence is so strong. That is what makes me look forward to going to church on Sundays.
I love to have encounters with God and to sit in His presence. That usually happens during the corporate worship; but the worship itself is not the "big draw" for me -- it is encountering God during that worship. I usually end up kneeling or end up spread-eagled on the floor, lost in prayer and His presence. I just love hanging out with God. He usually shows up in a very real and very tangible way during the worship part of our service, and that is what I "live for." It is my passion to encounter God, and I usually have a deep and personal encounter with Him during worship at church. And that was why I was looking forward to church so much on Sunday morning.
About an hour before service began, I suddenly started to feel exhausted and something strange happened to me. I did not feel like going to church any more, I just wanted to just stay home. This "little voice" inside of me began to whisper, "Teresa, you don't have to go to church today. You don't have any obligations there and there is not a rule that says you are never allowed to miss a Sunday. You're tired because you did not get much sleep last night. So why not just stay home and rest?"
You might laugh at me, but when I heard that little voice, I had a mental image of a cartoon version of me dressed up like a little "devil," just like in the cartoons when someone is being tempted. The suggestion of staying home began to sound really good to me. I thought, "Yea, I should just stay home and relax. My gym is having a barbeque party this afternoon that hubby is supposed to go to with me. Maybe I should just stay home and rest up for that." It was already 10:OO AM and the barbeque started at Noon, only two hours away.
As these thoughts ran through my head, I started to feel like going to church was an inconvenience, a hassle or an obligation. It was hard to believe I'd wanted to go so badly earlier and now I did not want to go at all.
Then another little voice spoke to me. It reminded me of what I do when I don't feel like working out at the gym: I usually force myself to go and work out anyhow. After I start working out, I usually enjoy it and I am glad that I forced myself to come. Maybe it would be the same way with church. Even though I did not feel like going, maybe I'd be really glad I came after I got there. So I made a decision. I would force myself to go to the service.
I figured that was the end of the battle between temptation to stay home and conscience, but I was wrong. I thought that when I arrived at Church, the battle was all over, but I was wrong again. You see, the enemy threw a little curve at me that I was not expecting. I went the "my" seat (the place I usually sit every Sunday). No one was sitting in it, but there was stuff on that chair and the chairs on either side of it, which is how people "save" or reserve a seat at the church. That bothered me for some reason. It should not have, and I was very surprised that it did. Maybe I was just too tired since I did not get much sleep the night before, or maybe the enemy was playing mind games with me to try and keep me from worship. It wasn't a big deal as there was an empty seat about three chairs away from my usual seat. But for some reason, it irked me.
The service started with announcements, and those announcements went longer than usual. No one came to sit in those seats where the stuff was. I tried to put all of that out of my mind and focus on God, but it was like the little cartoon demon appeared on my shoulder and whispered negative things to me. I did not feel like worshipping any more. It was completely irrational, but I was upset and I did not want to even be in the service -- all because someone's stuff was on "my" seat and I had to sit three chairs away. The music started but I did not begin to worship immediately. I could not believe I was struggling over such a minor thing.
Then I realized what was going on. "Wait a minute!" I told myself. "This is crazy. This is not about me. God deserves to be worshipped whether or not I feel like it because of Who He is. I do not come to church to sit in this seat or that seat, I come to church to encounter God." So, I made a conscious decision to offer up a sacrifice of praise to honor God. Then I asked the Holy Spirit to please help me worship the Father (well, all three members of the Trinity) in a way that would bring Him/Them pleasure.
You think that would have brought the victory and this would all be behind me. But, for some reason, the devil really did not want me to worship God that morning, and he was working extra hard to keep me from doing so. I begun to enter into worship after praying that prayer. It went well for about five minutes, then there was another distraction. The lady who I usually sit next to came back to her seat and said, "Oh, sorry," and picked up the stuff off of those chairs and put it under her seat. There was not really anyone sitting in my seat or the one next to it. I guess I could have moved back to my usual seat if I wanted to. But that little cartoon "devil" was still sitting on my shoulder, and it began to whisper in my ear. I started to feel upset that she had kept me from being able to sit in my usual seat. Some really crazy thoughts began to turn through my mind, like "She did it on purpose because she doesn't like me sitting next to her."
I rebuked those thoughts and tried to concentrate back on God and worship Him. I wish I could say that I had a complete and total victory at that point, but it did not work that way. I had a partial victory, I was able to worship deeply part of the time. The worship lasted about 40 minutes, and I probably spent about twenty of that in sincere and heartfelt worship. I could feel God's nearness at times, but I never did get completely lost in His presence and transported into the Heavenlies with Him the way I usualy do.
Those annoying thoughts would try to come back from time to time, and I would have to fight to keep my focus on God instead of getting upset again. Then I began to wonder how I could be so upset from such a trivial thing, and I'd start wondering if there was something wrong with me that maybe God needed to deal with. Then I would realize that I had once again shifted my focus from God back to me, and I would intentionally think about Him and His greatness and begin to truly worship again.
I did have one really neat experience during the worship. I had my eyes closed, my hards uplifted, and I had been feeling the Lord's sweetness around me for about five minutes. I was not distracted and I was able to truly worship Him. Then someone tapped me rather firmly on my right shoulder. I opened my eyes to see who it was and what they wanted. No one was there. So I looked around to see if someone was moving away from the area, thinking that maybe they had bumped me by accident as they passed me. But no one was in motion either. That was when I realized that an angel had touched me, or maybe even God Himself. It was a very physical and real touch; it was not my clothes putting a light pressure on my arm or some other natural explanation. There had been a very distinct physical touch.
It seemed so sweet to me that God would go out of His way to touch me in a tangible way on a day where I really struggled to enter into worship. Even though I was not focusing on Him as much as I would have liked, He still let me have a small encounter with Him. I found that very encouraging.
About how you are probably wondering why I am sharing this story with you since it doesn't have a great big victory ending. Well, that is precisely why I am sharing it with you. There are times when we have battles where we don't win a big victory. Sometimes we just hold our own ground instead of pushing the enemy back. That is what Ephesians 6:13 was talking about when it said, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." There are days when it is a "victory" if you are just able to remain standing after the battle is over because the enemy was not able to knock you down and defeat you.
There are some days when worship is more of a struggle than others. There are days when it takes every ounce of will power to keep our focus on God and His awesomeness instead of putting it on whatever is bothering us. On a scale of 1 to 10, maybe our worship is only a 3 or a 4 that day instead of the usual 8 or 9.
But you know what? God understands that we will have days like that. And He is willing to meet us as we do our best to push into Him, our best to seek Him and honor Him. There are going to be those desert days, where we can't seem to press into the glory like we desire. And that is OK, God is still willing to meet us and encourage us, even when we don't think we are doing a good enough job in approachng Him.
I would say that last Sunday's worship service was probably the worst worship I've offered God in the last six months. Even though I was trying my best to truly worship, it just did not seem to be working. But here is the neat part -- God accepted my worship and He reached down and touched me -- physically. He allowed me to have an encounter with Him and He encouraged me. Why would He do that? Because He is a loving Father knows all of our human frailties and weaknesses. He knows us inside out and He knows all of our failures and all of our weaknesses, and He loves us anyhow. He is kind and loving and good to us.
So the next time you are in the desert, whether it is for a few hours or a few days or a few months, know that He is right there beside you and He is willing to encourage you. He is willing to love on you even when you feel like you are letting Him down or not giving Him your best. He is willing to meet you even when it is a struggle for you to give Him the worship that you know He so richly deserves. He loves you and He is willing to reach out and encourage you, even when you are not having one of your better spiritual days.
He truly is an awesome God!