Several months ago I began waking up early, before everyone else in my house, and sneaking off to Starbucks. After a few weeks of arriving five days a week at the same time, I became a regular. Baristas knew my name and order. And the other regulars welcomed me with nods and “good mornings”.
The truth is, I was there to be alone. There is a sensitive balance, as a stay at home mom of toddlers, between your need to be alone and your desire to be with other adults (both of which happen rarely). So Starbucks trips allowed me to start the day apart from being needed, apart from the piled responsibilities and laundry, surrounded by familiar adults, and alone with books, writing, and the Holy Spirit.
One morning I noticed that Craig, a semi-regular, was reading the Bible, and I commented something insignificant about us studying from the same source side by side. This struck up a conversation about faith that caught me by surprize. I was intrigued by what he mentioned so I asked if I could sit down with him and interview him some time. We set a day and got back to our studies.
Little did I know, my Starbucks experience was about to change. Eventually, I got to sit down with not only Craig, but also Howard (another regular) and discuss the work of God in each of their lives. They are so very different, but they possess a similar mission: pursuing God.
Here is what I learned:
Craig had his life turned completely around at age 25. He lived a pretty rough life, but didn’t know a better way. Soon after repenting and dedicating his life to God he attempted to surround himself with friends and roommates that shared his new-found mission. Then something happened.
He found that this new “church culture” was nothing like the Jesus who had saved him. Instead, they refused to associate with him at meals after discovering that he ordered the occasional beer. This rattled him in a severe way. Why is it that they fixated on self-defined markers of moral correctness rather than the work of God in his life? He decided that they didn’t really know the same God.
From that point on he made this commitment to himself and to God: No Golden Calves.
He would not accept bowing before anything or anyone other than God. This meant carefully praying over and studying any new teaching he heard about God before acquiring it as a belief.
As Craig shared his different experiences with church congregations he told me of many upsetting experiences in the process of learning what it meant to be a Kingdom Person. What baffled me, as someone who has served on a church staff, was that some of these experiences seemed harmless, if not helpful. For example, it offended him that upon visiting a church a man, not much older than him, approached him after the service and introduced himself as the Discipleship Pastor. The pastor then offered to get him “set up” with someone to disciple him. Craig never went back. Why? Because before getting to know Craig, someone assumed that because of a job title, he was to act as mentor to all that entered, not mentee. “What if God sent me to that church to teach him something?” Craig exclaimed!
I felt myself wanting to judge Craig, at first, as unteachable. But then, as I continued to listen I realized how wrong I was. He went to church to listen and learn. He found the sermon valuable for his own life. But the Church was only there to “serve” not be served.
I know, I know, “It is better to give than receive.” But if you take a moment and think that through, you will find that in order to love someone, you have to both receive and give. You have to allow others the gift of giving by receiving. And to disciple someone in how to receive teaching, you have to be willing to demonstrate a listening stance.
Craig could find no home in a place where he was not seen as valuable, where God’s work in his life had no weight against a man-given title.
I asked him, “So what is Church to you? Where do you find community?”
“Here.” He said. “Here, and at that Smoothie King right there. At work, and at the grocery store.”
He continued to explain that once he realized he was part of a the Monarchy of God and just a sojourner in this place, he discovered that there are fellow sojourners all around. He talked about his Kingdom citizenship the way a recently arrived immigrant may find themselves saying, “In my country…”
Breaking from his previous allegiances wasn’t and isn’t easy for Craig. He explained that a crucial part of learning to live as a citizen of the Kingdom is the need to unlearn the former commitments to political party and the “golden calf” of country.
He said that regularly hears himself saying or thinking something then catches himself with, “Wait. Why do I believe that? Who taught me that? This is the old me repeating something without really knowing it’s true.”
“No Golden Calves” meant not allowing others to become idols, but also not returning to old ways of thinking without bringing those thoughts before King Jesus.
This intentional repentance of former worldview was empowered by prayer.
Prayer was perhaps the most recurring topic in our hour-long conversation. I was convicted when he told me how frequently, intentionally, privately, and openly he prayed. He invited others to pray with him in many different settings. He brought all of his desires before God in prayer and witnessed miraculous provision and correction.
Prayer was also a common theme with my other Starbucks friend, Howard. Howard could not be more different than Craig. Howard is a mystic. He embraces the unknown of God and in return has found that God will meet him to comfort his worries, and challenge him to trust fully in God’s love for him.
As I talked with Howard and we shared with each other about the painful seasons in our life, during which God always came near, there was an ease about our conversation.
I kept thinking back to Craig’s response to my question about where he finds community and where he gathers with Church. “Here.”
The beauty of the Body of Christ is that we need both Howard and Craig. We need those who will seek God relentlessly for truth, and those who will sit in wonder of God’s mystery. We need them in our coffee shops, construction companies, hospitals, AA Meetings, and library story times. We have to be ready to “go to Church” wherever we are, learning from those who are seeking God along side of us, without paying mind to status or longevity of membership.
God is at work in the lives of those around us, and if we listen and look, we will see Him and be changed. I now know this to be true first hand.