On a beautiful fall day five days before her 95th birthday, I buried my grandmother. It was the first day of October and my family and I put on our funeral clothes, and made the trek to Statesville, North Carolina. At a very old Baptist church just a couple of miles from my grandmother’s home, we gathered to share a meal, to receive friends and neighbors, and to say goodbye.
Usually wedding and funeral sermons are boring to me but this message from a fiery Baptist preacher held my attention. He was older and wiser and quoted scripture about Jesus faster than my much younger brain ever could. He lovingly spoke of my grandmother’s quiet faith and trust, and I learned things about her that I had never known. One of these learned details of her life was this:
She had attended that country Baptist church for, get this: 76 years. 1940 – 2016. She had worshipped in her pew on the back row of the church just two weeks before she went to meet her Lord.
Her faithfulness of attending a church for 76 years really made me think. My brain can’t even wrap itself around that. She attended one church longer than men in the United States are expected to live. She attended that church for a lifetime.
Think about your own spiritual life. How many churches have you left because you were offended or unhappy with church changes? I will confess: I’ve left one. And after hearing about my Mema, I feel ashamed.
There is much that we can learn from a little old lady’s faithfulness. It would be easy to just say, “Oh, she must have been a saint. That’s why she could be so faithful to one church.” But my grandmother was made of flesh and blood, just like you and me. As such, she experienced anger, hurt, and disappointment at the hands of church members, just like us.
Her feelings were hurt. Her ideas were probably ignored. What she thought was best for the church probably didn’t happen. She was probably gossiped about, overlooked, and not thanked often enough. Church people are mean. I know, I am one of them.
There are three main truths that we can learn from my grandmother’s faithfulness. The first is the power of forgiveness. To continue to walk in unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ, you have to become adept at forgiveness. You will get hurt in church. Since there are humans there that are overcoming their own sinful and selfish nature, being hurt in church should be expected. But how you react to that hurt is up to you. Forgive. Lay down your right to be right and forgive. You have to.
The second truth that leads to church faithfulness is humility. Humility says this: I have ideas for how the church should be run, but I’m not the leader. I’m not the person who God has chosen to be the pastor of the church or the leader of this or that ministry. I can share my ideas with church leadership but I can’t demand that they are done or become offended if they are not. And I will not “armchair quarterback” church leaders because I know how to run the church better than they do. That convicts me, for I am guilty of these very things. Ouch.
The last truth that is essential to faithfulness to Christ’s body is love. Love is a choice. There will be people in our churches that we do not like. There will be people in our church that we don’t want to be around. But we have to love them. We need to listen to their prayer requests. We need to speak to them when we see them. We need to serve them and pray for them. Christ laid down His life for us…we ought to lay our lives down for others. This takes love.
I don’t know all the battles that my grandmother fought to remain at her church. But I know that she could not have remained faithful for a lifetime without walking in forgiveness, humility, and love.
What about you? Has someone in your church hurt you? Do you not like the recent changes in your church leadership or way of worship? You have a choice to make. You can choose to forgive, be humble, love, and remain, or you can choose to leave. I pray that my grandmother’s life will inspire you to work through the issues and remain. You also can have a testimony, like her, of faithfulness.