Church Worship

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"Do I Just Go in the Woods and Pray?"

  • Cherry Pedrick
  • Published Mar 10, 2009
"Do I Just Go in the Woods and Pray?"

"I don’t know how!" Dana* exclaimed. "Do I just go out in the woods and pray or what? I’m reading my Bible, but I don’t know. I used to go to church with my Grandma when I was little, but I’ve done so much wrong since then. I just don’t know.”

Once again, Dana was calling to cancel an invitation to get together. She had been coming to our church for five weeks. Worship service and Sunday school! Her husband Gerald* came less often. They were both thin, gaunt almost. She was tall with long dark hair to her waist and usually looked somber. When she did smile, it brightened her face and she was beautiful. Dana seemed to listen carefully to all that went on during the services. Gerald had straw colored hair that touched his shoulders and didn’t seem to want to stay in placed.  He laughed and smiled often, like he was forcing happiness on himself and freely shared that he was recovering from post traumatic stress disorder. My husband Jim and I had invited them to meet us for lunch and they had canceled twice. When Dana came to church alone, sharing that Gerald was home in bed, very depressed, I invited her to lunch, just her and I.

“I’m afraid to go. No,” she said, “he’s never hit me; he just yells and blames me for things. I could tell she was afraid for herself, for her children, and for Gerald.

I asked her, “Dana, have you ever come to a point in your life when you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior, when you’ve asked him into your life?”

Dana was ready. I told her how we were all sinners. That none of us were deserving of going to Heaven, but that God had provided a way. He sent His Son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. God’s desire is that we each repent from our sin and follow Him, believe Jesus did indeed die in our place, and accept him as our Savior and Lord of our life.

It sounded so simple, yet I’m sure it seemed scary. I assured her she wouldn’t be alone in her new life. The Holy Spirit would be there with her, and so would her church family. I led her through a simple prayer, right there on the phone that went something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus to die on the cross for my sins. Please forgive me for my sins and come into my heart. I’m turning my life over to you and receiving you as my Savior and Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I gave Dana some key Scriptures to help her more fully understand her decision: Romans 3:23, 5:18, 6:23, 10:9-10 and Ephesians 2:8-9.

As I hung up the phone, I sat stunned. Jim and I already had an appointment with our pastor in just two days. Our concern was that we no longer had a formal invitation for people wanting to come to Christ or join the church. Only occasionally we had what some refer to as an “altar call,” a time at the end of the service when people could come down front to pray. And more disturbing was that his sermons now rarely included what it means to be a Christian. We told the pastor Dana’s story.

The following Sunday, there was an altar call. Dana sat with us. She stood and looked at me, beckoning me to follow. Jim and I followed her and, kneeling at the altar, we prayed with her and thanked God for her decision. I asked her if she’d like to go to the prayer room and she nodded. There, we rejoiced with another couple and prayed for Dana’s relationship with Gerald. She wasn’t sure he’d be there when she went home. He had threatened to leave.

Gerald did leave. Jim and I visited Dana and prayed with her. We researched resources she would eventually need and Dana committed to study the Bible with me. An aunt several miles away invited her to visit over Easter break. While there, it was arranged that she would move in with a cousin. Dana and her children moved hundreds of miles away, and despite her promise to keep in touch, we never heard from her again.

After that Easter, we had altar calls at church a bit more often, and the pastor’s sermons almost always included a message about what it means to be a Christian. For a while. Then we were back to the new more comfortable services again. I think the focus is on gradual knowledge of Christ through developing relationships with church members and learning from the more mature members what it means to be a Christian. It worked for Dana, but Jim and I wondered about those who don’t pursue God, those who only come once or twice. What about Gerald, Dana’s husband, who only came to our church twice?

There are all kinds of ways of doing church. The comfortable gradual approach to knowing Christ wasn’t working for us. It’s not the wrong way, just not our way. We could certainly see how some people would feel more comfortable seeking Christ in this way. These same people might be scared away in a church with an altar call and a more overt message of salvation. We found a small church that still has an invitation. You can’t walk into a service not knowing what it means to be a Christian and walk out still wondering. This is how we are used to doing church.

* Names changed
Cherry Pedrick is the coauthor of The OCD Workbook Second Edition, The Habit Change Workbook (also in Polish), The BDD Workbook (also in Polish), Helping Your Child with OCD (also in Chinese), and Loving Someone with OCD: New Harbinger Publications; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Anxiety Disorders: Lerner Publications.