This weekend, our worship band played during a revival for Glory Cloud ministries, a charismatic African-American church in one of the less florid neighborhoods of Jonesboro. I came not knowing what to expect. I left with a reminder more valuable than I could have anticipated.
We were there on the last night of a week-long revival to celebrate the church’s tenth anniversary. They were thrilled to be the little engine that could. “No one thought we’d last six months,” the pastor said. “Ten years later, what do they have to say?” The fifteen or so acts sang and played and danced for nearly two hours—enough time for me to appreciate their stamina as well as their determination. And when the congregation cheered our band after three songs, it felt for all the world like I was a real musician, and not just a preacher posing as one.
Inspiring scene, right?
But what if I told you that the little church that started in the tiny north half of a small warehouse was, ten years later, still in that same warehouse? And that the crowd barely numbered fifty, including visiting musicians? What if I told you that the sound system was full of static, the carpet was tattered and dirty, the electricity was sketchy, and the hand-me-down pews looked a sickly green in the dim fluorescent light?
Not so terrific now, I know. Yet the place was alive and so was the amateur music—mostly, I think because of their sense of audience.
This is the lesson I remembered this weekend: that God accepts our work as an offering, regardless of the setting in which it is offered. And God judges our work not based on the results it produces, but on the beauty it expresses.
The youth choir did it for me. When they stood to sing “He’s Got the Whole World in His
Hands,” they were nervous. But why should they be, when no one in this dingy hall was any more beautiful or talented than they were, and most were less so? If anything, they should have resented being trotted up in front of parents and grandparents for a show that means nothing to the wider world.
Except that they understood their audience. God, of course. But more so (I would guess) the friends and family gathered there, who as a community serve as the incarnation of God, the body of Christ. Each person in the congregation mattered to them, and their unspoken attitude was, “They’re watching. We need to give our best.”
I grew up in a small church, in which I took so seriously the Christmas plays and Easter skits we did for maybe sixty or seventy people. But those things mattered so much to me! Could my time in larger settings and the pressures and glamor of big churches really make me forget that lesson so easily.
As a college freshman, I traveled with a choir from our Wesley Foundation to several local churches. Dawn, one of our seniors, would occasionally sing an acapella version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” She would close her eyes and sway, and the small sanctuaries and uncomfortable pews would melt away. We would find ourselves on holy ground, humbled and in awe of God’s grace to us all.
This weekend reminded me of those moments, and called into question my learned perception. The holy enfolds us regardless of the surroundings. In fact, the trappings of spiritual success often end up as mere static, blocking out the truth.
We are sparrows. And in our smallness, we are lovely, cradled together in the hands of God.