I eventually got baptized. If someone explained to me what the significance of getting baptized was, I don’t recall. After I got baptized I entered into a season I like to refer to as my “religious years”. I went to church without fail, joined the choir, and attended every activity youth were supposed to attend. So, I learned the "church talk” and had a "church" answer for everything. I often frowned upon those who didn't. To me the ability to “talk the talk” was evidence of one’s godliness. I knew how to clap and shout at just the right times during the sermon - when I was listening. I was the “perfect” person at church.
I recall an incident one afternoon after going out to eat with some church friends when one of them asked me what I was thinking whenever the song, “Center of My Joy” was sung. I went into a panic because I wasn't thinking about anything except that the soloist had a great voice. I mumbled something about “going blank” when I heard the song and tried to bring up another topic. My friend looked at me strangely and I didn't blame him. After that incident I tried even harder to be religious, thinking that it would help me have acceptable “church like thoughts” when I heard the song again.
Even though I went to church every Sunday, even though I was a member of the choir and other ministries, even though I was at the church during the week for various activities including Bible study, I now know: I did not yet know the Lord then.
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him. So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli discerned that the Lord was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, "Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.'"... (1 Samuel 3:7-9 NASB)
I will give you a brief background of Samuel's story. Samuel’s mother Hannah wanted to have a child and was unsuccessful for many years. Finally, out of desperation she cried and prayed to the Lord asking for a son and made a vow that when she had the son, she would give him back to the Lord. So, after Samuel was born, Hannah fulfilled her vow and brought him to the temple to work for the Lord. You can find all of the details in the first two chapters of 1st Samuel.
So, Samuel had been in the temple from a very young age and would have learned from Eli how to perform certain duties. Like how to wash the holy vessels, or how to light the lamp of God, and what garments to wear for different occasions. You know “church” stuff. Like how to say amen, when amen needs to be said, how to assume a posture of prayer, how to shout at just the right time, or how to turn heads on Easter with what you have on ...
Even though Samuel knew those “church” things he did not yet know the Lord.
When I was about 18, I was at a gospel concert that my church held annually inviting several churches from around the city. I recall sitting behind two females that were about my age. Throughout the concert they critiqued every choir and soloist. They commented on the choir directors and their ability to entertain the audience while keeping the choir intact. By the end of the night I was disgusted from over hearing everything they had to say. I knew deep in my heart that there was more to church than that. That night I went home and prayed, really prayed. On my knees at the edge of my bed I asked God to show me what church was really supposed to be about.
I began reading the Bible and trying to get a true understanding of God’s word. At that time a strong Christian woman encouraged me to search the scripture and seek God’s face. She also encouraged me to find a church home where I could grow, and I did. It was while I was at this church that I came to know Jesus and I accepted Him as my personal Lord and Savior. My “religious years” were officially over.
What Jesus wants from each of us more than singing in the choir, more than being a church leader, more than participating in various church ministries, more than going to church regularly - what He wants more than any of those things is for us to know Him. He wants us to know about His love, His grace and mercy. He wants us to know about His faithfulness - how we can always count on Him no matter what. He wants us to know Him as the King of kings and Lord of lords, He wants us to know Him as the Author and the Finisher of our faith. He wants us to know Him as the One of Ancient Days, the Great I Am, He wants us to know Him ...
I am thankful that the Lord called my name at that concert to let me know He had salvation and a relationship with Him in store for me. I am thankful that He placed a strong Christian in my life that recognized that the Lord was calling my name and she instructed me on where to go and how to respond.
Now, whenever I hear “Center of my Joy” I understand and appreciate the lyrics, instead of the soloist. I think about how good Jesus has been to me in spite of how I have been to Him. He has always been there for me and has continually blessed me. I think about His faithfulness to me, although I have not always been faithful to Him. He has shown me over and over again that He will never leave me or forsake me, even when those near and dear to me have.
Through every trial and tribulation He has been better to me than He was in the previous trial. My only regret is that I wish I had known Him in my years as a youth, but in His perfect sovereign plan for my life, I have come to know Him.
Better later than never at all.
Just Around the Corner,