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It was obvious to all that my sermon was drawing to a close. Not only had I uttered the words much beloved by congregations everywhere (“and finally…”) but in summarising my key points, it was clear that I was preparing to land the proverbial plane
But it was then that I sensed heightening tension, because everyone knew what was coming: a time of response – the altar call, as it’s sometimes described. My listeners braced themselves for the response time. What followed was a surprise to all, including me.
These response times are usually designed to cement the deal, as it were, at the end of the sermon. I wrote in this magazine just a couple of months ago about these ‘RSVP’ moments, which proves that I either think that they are important, or I spend too much time in church gatherings (and need to get out more), or both. The sermon lays down a challenge: the response time is the moment when the listeners pick up that gauntlet, engage their will, and decide. The actual choice varies: it may be a step towards giving more financially. It might be that the respondent is deciding to become a Christian, or determining to pass the good news around more intentionally.
And these moments of response can be very good. My own father, hardened by bitterness that encrusted him during four years spent as a half-starved prisoner of war, walked to the front of a church at the conclusion of a service because he decided to follow Christ. It was wonderful, but also a little bewildering too, as he walked forward without there being an actual invitation given. The pastor was sharing the end-of-the-service notices, so the mildly confused congregation couldn’t figure out if Dad was coming home to Jesus or registering an interest in the ladies’ embroidery group.
But that said, it can all get a little tiring. If you’ve been around Christian subculture for a while, you can start to feel worn out by the responses, especially if you’re in a church where an RSVP is extended every Sunday.
We can feel overwhelmed by the continual barrage of coulds, shoulds, oughts and musts. I’m not suggesting that passive Christianity is the way forward. The Church showcased in the New Testament, while not perfect, was certainly hard-working. But that same New Testament talks about the sense of rest that is the heritage of every believer. Belief without effort is meaningless. Belief that is just about effort is exhausting.
And so I offered the invitation: “Tonight, I want you to respond, by doing this…please do absolutely nothing, except… just sit down. That’s right. Sit down. Don’t come forward. Don’t pray, or feel compelled to make any decisions. Don’t do anything, except take the weight off your feet.”
The result was unexpected. Some people burst into tears as they just took their seats. Others said that they palpably sensed the presence of God in that moment. Perhaps it was just the relief, the knowledge that being a Christian is not just about what we do for God, but includes resting in all that God has done for us. But after the service was over, numbers of people came up to say how significant the opportunity to just do nothing had been for them.
They simply sat down. What is Jesus doing right now? One biblical picture has him sitting down, at the place of final accomplishment and ultimate comfort, at the right hand of the Father. So today, if you are busy for God, thank you for your tireless faithfulness. Sincerely. And if you’re hassled, frazzled, worn out and weary, take five minutes to just be with that seated Jesus…and join him.