My husband and I are second row Baptists from way back. Our proclivity for the front isn’t due to some super spirituality on our part, despite the grain of truth of my occasional jest that I sit closest because my need is greatest.
No, we began sitting up front when our oldest was a mere babe in the nursery. All us young moms and dads crowded together there in the front few rows. Mind you this was way before text messaging and even before cell phones. So if there should there be a problem of some kind in the nursery requiring parental intervention, one of the nursery workers would motion to the required parental unit through the tiny window of the door at the front of the sanctuary.
So there we sat, we young parents, bound together in our common worry over our babies, attempting to pay attention to the sermon but in reality fixating on that small window and deciphering the hand signals to know if it is I who is needed or maybe it’s the mom to my right?
And it stuck, my husband and I sitting in the front, through the years of our babies in the nursery, then toddlers sharing our laps, then preschoolers, and beyond.
This past Sunday I tried to recall what it was like, on any given Sunday, to wrangle four sons into our second row pew and maintain some semblance of order and attention. To my shame, I can’t remember. Oh, I remember the occasional small detail, like my third falling asleep with his head lolling back and forth on the back of the pew or my second son loudly demanding upon walking into the sanctuary “How long is this going to take?!” with an exasperated sigh.
But, for the most part, the normal Sunday morning details elude me.
This makes me a little sad but it is also a comfort. I like to think I can’t recall the details because they were ordinary, common habit. Getting up, going to Sunday school, going to church, this was our Sunday morning routine, week in and week out. The details are elusive simply due to their ordinariness.
And yet, as most habits do, this one trained me.
My pastor preached from 1 Timothy 3 on Sunday, emphasizing the truth that Scriptures are useful for training in righteousness. Training carries with it the implication of learning, of discipline, of repetition. We understand this when we think in terms of some sort of physical training. For example, basketball players shoot hundreds of free throws in practice. This habit, this repetition, forms them.
Similarly, we don’t read, say, the gospel of Mark just once and declare we’ve got it, no need never read it again. Rather, we know we are to read the Bible repeatedly, to dig deep to mine its truths, to listen to sermons, to read books, to train. And this training, Paul writes to Timothy and to us, is critical for our righteousness, for our being formed into the image of Christ. In other words,we are being sanctified–we are being saved–by this training in the Scriptures.
I’ve been trained by my years of Sundays on the second row. I’ve heard the Word of God preached, week after week, and I’ve been convicted and confronted and–please Lord let it be–changed, by repeatedly hearing the gospel proclaimed. It has saved me; it saves me.
These same Sundays have trained me through the fellowship of likeminded believers who encourage me and befriend me and hold me accountable. The simple greeting of one another, our worshiping together in the house of God, our singing songs, and our eating together, this habitual, routine fellowship saves me and keeps me and forms me as well, sanctifying me by training me in the righteousness that is learned by iron sharpening iron. I learn from my brothers and sisters; they teach me how to persevere in hope (and joy!), how to cling to the Word as life, how to live like Jesus.
Our habits form us, whether we are speaking of brushing our teeth every night or going to church every Sunday. The habits we persist in carry with them implications for all of life. Simple, ordinary, habitual obedience will transform us into the image of Christ, from glory to glory, and this is work of the Spirit, glory to God.
I’m teaching this Sunday on Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!‘” Yes! I am a church girl through and through. I love the church. I need the church. I am grateful for the church. Yes and amen.