“Does she have to go back to the pool?” This is a common question I hear after taking one of my penguins to visit a class in the zoo’s education department. While the activities the teachers have for the kids are very fun, the animal visits are usually a big hit. Most of the time when I take a penguin to the classroom, the kids sit in a semi-circle on the floor and I have the penguin walk around and let everyone have a chance to see him or her up close. Of course, they ask repeatedly if they can pet the penguin. I always feel like the bad guy when I have to say no, but I know how quickly that can end with a child being bitten. Though the birds used for these encounters are hand-raised and relatively sweet, they are still wild animals. Still, when the time is up and I have to take the bird back to the exhibit, the kids say “awwwww” and ask me to stay.
I was thinking about this the other day when I was listening to a recorded sermon. A few times through the message, the speaker said things like “You probably want me to get to the point” and “One more point and I’ll be finished.” I have seen my pastor look at his watch in the middle of a sermon and make a joke about being 20 minutes into the two hour sermon he had prepared. I’ve even heard preachers apologize for going “over time.” Why do preachers do that? I don’t think it is because they feel that God’s message is less valuable than our time. I think it is because we’ve trained them that way. We might look annoyed or look at our watches. We might bolt out the door in a hurry. We might even make a comment.
When I say “we”, I am definitely including myself. A few years ago, I was very in to… okay, obsessed with the show Criminal Minds. For me, it comes on Wednesday nights at 8:00. My church service on Wednesdays starts at 7:00. I would get home from work, change and head to church, but I wasn’t really looking forward to the service. I was looking forward to getting home and turning on the TV. You may say, “Isn’t that what your DVR is for?” True, but I didn’t like that answer, partly because I wanted to watch the show with my mom who watched it while it was airing, and partly because I didn’t have time to eat supper before church so usually I cooked supper during the commercials and then ate. That was too hard to do with my DVR since it is upstairs in my bedroom. As I’m writing this, I realize just how pathetic this sounds. At the time, it was a huge deal for me. I found myself starting to check my watch halfway through the pastor’s sermon. As the minutes ticked by, I became less focused on what the pastor was saying and more focused on how many minutes of my show I was going to miss. One day, God confronted me with just how wrong my priority was. I was making the characters of the BAU more important than Him. It took some time and a lot of work on God’s part to break me of this bad habit. Sometimes I would purposely leave my watch at home so I wouldn’t be able to tell the time. Though I certainly can’t say my attention never wavers, I can say that Wednesday nights are less stressful and more fulfilling now.
Jesus faced all kinds of audiences when He was teaching. There were times when thousands of people gathered around to hear Him speak. Some people simply ignored Him. He was even run out of one town because He performed a miracle and it scared them! Luke 8:37 “Then all the people of the Gerasene region asked Him to leave them, because they were gripped by great fear. So getting into the boat, He returned.”
I want to be more like the people of a town called Sychar in Samaria. This was a town that no self-respecting Jew would have gone anywhere near. In fact, most Jews chose to add miles to their journeys just to avoid setting foot in Samaria at all. But Jesus knew that the people of this town, and one person in particular, were ready to hear His message. He met with a woman at the well outside of town and so impressed her with His offer of salvation that she ran into the town and told the people that the Messiah was sitting right outside. John 4:28-30 says “Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?’ They left the town and made their way to Him.” Many of the people were amazed by the woman’s story and believed in Jesus because of her testimony. Even still, they wanted to hear more. Verses 40-41 say “Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed their two days. Many more believed because of what He said.” The people who went out to find Jesus already believed. They’d already received the main message, but they wanted to hear more. I need to remember that God’s message is much more important than anything else. When my pastor or the speaker that day starts to close the service in prayer, I should be saying, “Awwww, do we have to go?”