The knotty wood floors creak as people take their places in metal folding chairs. The floor’s unfinished tongue-and-groove wood planks move freely after years of couples swaying while they danced to the likes of Merle and Loretta. The old honky-tonk’s double doors are swung open wide allowing what breeze there is to provide some relief while the shut screen doors keep the mosquitos at bay. The cinderblock constructed former dance hall sits a few yards off the rural State road that leads into the small community of Elmer, Louisiana. The faded letters on the rusted sign outside read “112 Hall” – named for its location on Highway 112.
My friends and I spend our days hauling bales of hay from freshly mowed fields to the immense barn at Rodney’s uncle’s dairy farm. We are rising seniors, and the work provides much needed summer monies. We shower, dress at Johnny’s house, and then grab burgers and fries at the Snack Shack that sits catty-corner from New Hope Baptist Church in Calcasieu – our home church.
We arrive at the 112 Hall just as the piano music begins wafting through the open windows onto the gravel parking lot. But instead of being moved to tears by “your cheatin’ heart” and “some broken hearts never mend,” we are ushered quickly inside by “there’s wonderful pow’r in the blood” and “at the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light.”
The itinerant evangelist for the weekend waits impatiently and then springs to the pulpit when introduced. Leaning closely at times and then grabbing the microphone, pulling the cord, and moving from one side to the other, he preaches for 45 minutes without seemingly taking a breath. What coolness enjoyed by the piddling breezes is now gone. The music and clapping, the fervent preaching, and the crowd rising for the altar call, has heated up the room and everyones’ hearts, too.
What may appear to an outsider as a corporate outpouring is in truth a time when worshippers retreat, closing themselves off into rooms tucked away in their hearts where they meet the Savior.
Growing up as a young child in First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs, Mississippi and First Baptist, Laredo, Texas provided other experiences. Bible memorization drills; Sunday afternoon choir practices concluding with snacks of ham and tuna salad sandwiches accompanied by cherry Kool Aid; Training Union classes; Royal Ambassadors’ patches sewn to blue vests as I advanced in my studies and service; dressed in black slacks, a white shirt, and sporting a red bow tie, sitting with Mom and Dad as trays of grape juice and small cracker-like wafers are passed from pew to pew – all were times when the church nurtured me as we gathered together beneath gleaming white steeples.
And it was in the solitude of an eight-yearold’s heart, as the piano played and the congregation sang the first, second and last verses of “I Surrender All” that I heard the call to come, repent and receive saving grace.
As a teen, I became lax and my sister was forced to conjole me to attend church with her on Sunday mornings. I grudgingly sat with her. We would rise and sing familiar songs and
I would bow my head at the appropriate times – all while being distracted by the things important in a high school freshman’s mind.
As the sermon began, the congregation sat in silence. The preacher’s voice grew distant and in my mind’s eye appeared an ancient weighing scale. I was asked to place all my dreams onto one side. On the other side, Jesus stepped and said, “Jim, surrender all.” In the midst of a crowded sanctuary, I whispered, “Yes, I surrender. Use me, Lord.”
Scripture teaches us not to forsake the gathering together – to read scripture, to lift our
voices in praise, and to encourage one another. As we worship and focus our attention, we travel together on a worn path that leads us to Jesus – to the foot of the cross where there is plenty of room and all are welcome. But as we kneel, in that moment, each one kneels alone.
Is it time for you to get away and be alone with Jesus? Is it time to slip away into a closet or an office or a prayer corner in the living room? You could even be in the midst of a crowd when you hear the knock on your heart’s door. Invite Jesus in, look Him in the eyes, and visit. Tell Him what’s on your heart. Feel the peace of His presence. In the solitude of a moment, renew your love for the One who loves you so. Selah.