Points to Ponder/So, You’ve Had A Bad Experience?

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

For almost 15 years after my confirmation into a local church, I refused to attend. We had had a bad experience, deemed the church to be “full of hypocrites”, and dropped out. Whenever someone suggested I should go back to church I would recall my bad experience and wear it like a badge of honor - “I survived church and I ain’t goin’ back there.” That turned out to be a bad decision, which gained me nothing except some perceived notion that I was good enough, and even better off, without it.

It was my desire to know the Truth and to really know God’s will for my life that nudged me (even shoved me) back into church, and then Sunday School. It was not a desire to go; it was a desire to KNOW which compelled me to press myself into worship services (like Sunday nights), and even home Bible studies. I developed an appetite for Bible study and for being in church and in fellowship gradually, and over time.

I had studied on my own, listened to radio teachers, and sent for materials. My head knowledge was growing, but my heart knowledge was not. I did not really grow spiritually until I submitted to being in church, in fellowship, and in group-study (Sunday School). In fact, my growth quickened markedly when I let go of why I was not involved, and firmly decided to become involved.

I am finding that people have all kinds of excuses and reasons for hindering their own spiritual growth. They say they believe in God - even Jesus - but beyond that they will not extend themselves very far, if at all.

Because of a bad experience, some will never go to Sunday School or join a Bible Study. Others, because of a strict “religious” upbringing, will turn down invitations to anything beyond the comfortable schedule to which they have committed themselves.

Whether it is study or service, whether it is attending a worship service beyond the regular Sunday hour within their own church, or whether it is serving on a committee or activity team, most will dig up something from their past and flash it like an elementary school hall pass; “this excuses me from needing to, wanting to, or benefiting from whatever it is I’m being invited to do.”

Usually the root of the bad experience, the painful disappointment (or just the incredible waste of time) is found in the realm of human error. Someone with good or not so good intentions was trying to serve God and/or the church, and somehow messed up. We victims of these persons’ mistakes would NEVER do those things ourselves, of course; but why take a chance at letting someone else do it again to us.

Spiritual growth is a risky investment. Any valuable, deeply meaningful relationship you have involves risk. Think back on how you have grown close to your best friends, how you chose to marry your spouse, or even how you risked becoming a parent. Relationships that grow and deepen our lives require us to be vulnerable, to step outside of comfort zones, to try new things for the first time (or to retry old ones once again).

Why will we risk so much of ourselves for the temporal relationships we are blessed to have here for a short time; and yet withhold ourselves from risks that could deepen our relationship with the One who knows and loves us best? Are you holding back?

God wanted to use me and to teach me to know Him, but I had already determined to not go there or do this because of some damage caused by some other imperfect person. When I finally surrendered to God and asked Him to reveal His purpose for my life, I found myself constantly being challenged by these very things.

God stands outside the wall of our comfort zones, wanting to point us upward to a better place and the best way to get there. I found that God used a lot of different people to teach me and guide me. He even used my enemies and people whose names I have never known.

Had I insisted on keeping myself safe and protected against a 20-year old offense, which no one remembers but me, where would I be now? I would still be wondering if there was something else, something better. I would still be unable to know that the very thing I was avoiding was exactly what I needed to do.

The Bible says that pride precedes a fall. It can also be said that pride can keep you from ever getting up. What hinders the possibilities God has for your life? Are you purposely ignoring His counsel because it is not coming in a package you will accept?

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5; See James 4:6-10)

“Ask and it shall be given...” (Matthew 7:7)

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dennis
Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.