I can be easily irritated in church. Mostly by people who do not know how to behave. You know who I am talking about. Children who were not raised in church don’t know that you don’t get up and go to the bathroom ten times during the sermon, men wearing a dirty John Deere cap into the worship area, teenage girls texting messages to one another, teenage boys wearing their pants too low and old ladies who have long since lost their ability to smell that they are putting on way too much perfume. These things distract me and cause me to stumble in my worship. (Sometimes I enjoy being the weaker brother.)
About a year ago I discovered a new irritation. My family and I sat in our pew and I noticed about 4 pews down that there was a young couple who seemed to be coming to church for the first time. The reason I say that is because they were rather shabbily dressed. I thought they could have given that a better effort. That is fine. They are new to church. Cut them some slack.
The pastor began to preach his sermon and I was really enjoying it. I felt God was teaching me and challenging me in deep and profound ways. Suddenly this young couple began to kiss and cuddle in ways that made me uncomfortable. She was kissing his earlobe and he was so close to her that there was no daylight between them. And what was worse is that they were in my line-of-sight to the pastor. I couldn’t watch Pastor Dave without seeing their shameless display of PDA.
I found myself getting more and more irritated. I was trying to hear God but these ragamuffins were hindering me. I tried closing my eyes and just listening. That worked for a little bit, but then I began to grow angry remembering that I had gotten up that morning, showered, put on my best clothes , drove down to the church in the rain, put my tithe in the plate—and now I have to shut my eyes to hear from the pastor. I could have stayed home and listened to the podcast! So I opened my eyes again and tried to be mature about it. So, as an act of my will I concentrated on the message and the messenger.
That didn’t help. I found myself getting more and more frustrated. Thought to myself, “I am going to have to speak to that couple! I am certain that I am not the only person who is distracted. And in the interest of the fellowship of this church, I will take the responsibility to help them adjust that behavior.”
It was about this time that God spoke to me, “Joe, how about talking to me about them.” I whined, “Lord, it is hard to pray for someone who irritates me!” And God said, “That should tell you quite a bit about the depth of your soul.” That shut me up.
Now I am pouting. I had long quit trying to hear what Pastor Dave was preaching about. What is the use? I have a shameless couple right here virtually making love in church and the God of the universe scolding me. You can’t hear a sermon under those conditions.
The second thing God spoke to me about right was this, “Joe, it might occur to you that there are a lot of people who are not in the Kingdom because when they try to see Me or hear from Me all they can see are churches that are so self-absorbed that they are a distraction. They are so ‘into themselves’ that they are oblivious to the distraction they are to those who desperately wanting to hear from Me. Joe, there are countless people that want to hear from Me but they can’t because the church is only interested in itself.”
What do you say to that? I left church that day praying for that couple, hoping that they come back to church next week and making a mental note to sit in front of them.