A few years ago, a woman approached the doors of a church. Her stomach twisted into knots as she opened the door. She was with a friend, but it made little difference. Her friend was “normal;” she was not. The smile on her face belied her anxiety and apprehension. Would these people accept her? Could she possibly fit in with them? These were her only thoughts as she found a seat.
She watched people talking with each other, walking past her. While a few stopped to shake her hand, most passed right on by – almost as if she wasn’t even there. Years of experience told her that she, in fact did NOT fit in, that she would not be accepted because she was too different, too strange, too odd (she had no understanding yet of the devil and his lies). They called it autism, but she thought of it more as the “don’t fit in disorder.” She sat on the outside of their social bubble and watched.
A few services later (she very rarely, if ever missed) she gathered the nerve to walk forward during altar call. She didn’t quite make it all the way to the front – it was just too much. She stood awkwardly on the fringes of the group, watching, alone, waiting for – what? Who would want to pray for her? She was such a sinner, nothing like these people who were so holy and who seemed to know how to pray. She watched, standing on the outside, just beyond the altar. And no one noticed.
That night, she went home and said to her friend, “I don’t belong, anywhere.”
Her friend started including her, drawing her in. Others in the church followed his lead and began reaching out to her. For a year she never quite made it to the altar, but a few people would step beyond the altar and come to her, reach out to her.
At the end of that year I received the Holy Ghost.
Fast forward several years. A young woman walks into a church. She is very quiet, reserved. It is easy to not see her, she rarely makes any noise. No one sees the struggle within her, but her mother cries out to God every night to save her little girl. He is leading her to this church, working in her, stirring her and a hunger is growing.
But she is unsure, apprehensive, shy and maybe even scared. There is so much she does not understand, so much she wants to know but can’t find the right questions. The words escape her. She listens though. Sometimes her head is down, but later she can explain what was taught.
She went to the Ladies Conference and something stirred her more. She was excited. No one could tell, but her mother could. There was something different in her spirit, something stirring, something hungry, something curious, something ignited.
The day after returning there is an altar call. She starts to get up, and then sits back down, unsure. Her mother nods, tells her it is OK. She walks toward the front but stops at the fringe of the altar. For several moments she waits, watches, standing awkwardly but no one notices her because she is beyond the altar.
That night she goes home and posts on FaceBook, “I don’t fit in…anywhere.”
This isn’t anyone’s fault – no one to blame, but we should be sensitive to the people with needs who are beyond the altar.
Because we rush to the altar so quickly, so readily, we just assume that everyone else is just like us.
But they are not.
We need to broaden our scope of vision. Yes, the people who come to the altar need prayer, but there are people who don’t quite make it there that still need something. There are people who stand on the fringe, just beyond the altar, shifting from foot to foot, feeling awkward and unsure. They long for someone to reach out, to draw them in and when it does not happen they automatically think that it is something wrong with them.
These people may not understand the love that God has for them. They may not understand that the sin they carry is the very reason they need to approach the altar and not a reason they are unable. They need to feel like they belong.
We should be drawing people in. Watch, observe, pay attention, listen – especially during altar call. They may not dress the way we do or look the way we do. They may not raise their hands or pray aloud. But everyone has to start somewhere.
It is God’s will that everyone – EVERYONE – be saved. Jesus met people where they were. He did not say that He would only heal them if they raised their hands in worship and dressed a certain way. He met them right where they were and let His love make the difference and start the changes.
Not everyone is bold. Not everyone knows that they can be bold. Some people believe that they do not deserve God’s love or healing or even to be embraced by the body.
We don’t know what people are carrying when they walk through those doors. Behind that smile may be a feeling of not belonging, of being a misfit.
But if they are brave enough to keep coming through those doors, we need to be committed enough to keep trying to draw them in – even those who stand awkwardly beyond the altar.