As church goers we often show up at church, do our thing, and leave without ever questioning what we are doing. Some of us have gotten so good at it that we can go to church without ever wondering if the Holy Spirit was even present (outside of the Spirit that resides in all believers of course). We have gotten so used to going to church and having nothing change that we no longer expect to encounter God there.
Two young boys are at a school play. Both of them are excitedly expecting their fathers to come to the performance. When neither of the dads show up one boy, conditioned by a lifetime of such disappointments, isn’t really affected. The other boy is crushed by his father’s absence.
We should come to church expecting our lives to change. We should come together as believers, after a week spent walking with God, to encounter God in a fresh way. We should expect God, but most of the time we come and leave and never even question why we were there. This story works well as an opening for a lesson on seeking after the presence of God.
Once upon a time there was a boy named Jarred. Jarred was 10 years old and in the 5th grade. He had shaggy brown hair, a crooked smile, and he was dressed like a big wad of cotton. Jarred was also crying. His friend, Byron, stood beside him dressed like a bowl weevil complete with retractable wings. They were backstage waiting for their turn to go into their “History of Alabama” pageant.
Originally they hadn’t been cast as partners in the pageant. Jarred was a civil war veteran in the first casting, but their teacher couldn’t get the two of them apart. At each of the practices they would end up coming out together; so the teacher, fearing there would be a large beetle in the civil war scenes, changed Jarred from a vet to a wad of cotton. Jarred had been thrilled at the change. Not only did he get to be in the play with Byron, but his dad worked for Avondale Mills processing cotton into fabric. Every night Jarred would say his lines and then his father would pick him up and pretend like he was processing cotton Jarred. This mainly included a lot of tickling and noogieing.
Jarred couldn’t wait for his dad to see the whole play.
So as he stood backstage waiting for the play to begin he kept checking to see if his dad had made it yet. You see Jarred’s dad would often have to work late. Something would break on one of the machines and it was up to Jarred’s dad to fix it. Even still he came to most of Jarred’s games and performances. This was one of those late nights at work. Jarred had ridden to the school with his mom with the understanding that his dad would come when he could. Jarred was worried that his dad wouldn’t make it.
Byron was expecting his dad to come too. The difference was that it would be the first time that Byron’s dad had made it to see him in anything. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Byron it was just that there always seemed to be something else that would come up.
So every 5 minutes the curtain would part at the edge of the stage and a wad of cotton and a large bug would scan the audience for their fathers.
As the time for the opening curtain approached they would look more often. Stealing glances between their teachers repeated warnings to stay still, and in their places. Just as the play was about to start Byron tripped and fell knocking one of his antennae off. Their teacher let out a little cry as only a stressed out teacher could do and drug him off to find some glue. As Byron left he said, “Go look one last time. I’m sure they are out there by now.” Jarred dashed off as fast as a wad of cotton could dash and pulled back the edge of the curtain. He scanned the audience starting with his mother. No dad there. He looked to Byron’s mother. No dad there either. Then he scanned the back of the room. Seeing if maybe his father was standing there looking for a seat. He didn’t see him there either. A small panic started to rise in his little cotton body as he stuck his head out further looking desperately for his dad. Finally he stepped all the way out on stage searching through the lights trying to find his father. That was when his teacher grabbed him and pulled him back into the darkness of the backstage. His face was wet with tears, and his little cotton wad body was shaking.
Byron was standing there. His antenna was back on, all be it crooked, and he had a puzzled look on his face.
“He didn’t come.” Jarred said through the sobs, “I can’t believe he didn’t come.” Then he got his composure a little and put his arm on Byron’s shoulder and said, “You’re dad’s not here either.”
“It’s OK,” Byron said, “I didn’t think he would come anyway.”
Jarred was taken back. He almost stopped crying as he looked at his friend. Was he lying, just putting on a brave face so that he wouldn’t cry as well? No, from what Jarred could see his friend really didn’t care that his father hadn’t showed up. For Jarred it was awful. He continued to cry as his teacher tried to comfort him. He continued to cry through the early history of Alabama. The tears kept coming all the way up to his part. As he walked out onto the stage, trying to hold back the tears so he could say his cotton lines he noticed a familiar shape in the front of the audience. He strained to see past the stage lights, and there sitting on the floor, since all the seats in the front were taken, was his father. Suddenly Jarred’s whole appearance changed. He smiled his crooked smile as his eyes lit up with joy.
Then he said his line with all the pride a wad of cotton could muster.
Too often we come to church like Byron, not really caring if God shows up or not. In all of our times of worship, personal and corporate, we need to expect the presence of God, and when that presence isn’t there we should just shrug and say Oh well. We should be in tears as we wonder what could keep us from the presence of God. Too many Worshipers are Byron. If God speaks that is a bonus, but we’re not going to get too broken up over the silences. God calls us to be Jarreds expecting God’s presence and then being brokenhearted when God doesn’t move.