HEARTLAND | Nate Adams
Several years ago Beth and I had the opportunity to travel overseas to Amsterdam. As Sunday approached, we began scouting out nearby churches with English-speaking worship services. Finding only one within walking distance, we made plans to attend and committed to starting out early. But it was not early enough.
This was before the days of GPS and smart phones, and all we had were verbal directions from the place we were staying. We recognized the various street names and landmarks they told us we would find along the way. We knew we were in the right neighborhood. But we could not find the church.
Did we ask others for directions along the way? Well of course, though as a self-respecting husband who rarely feels lost, I waited as long as possible. But most of the folks in the neighborhood spoke only Dutch, and at least one of our well-intentioned helpers actually directed us to a German-speaking Lutheran service, which only cost us more time.
Finally, as the scheduled worship hour was upon us, we met a nice little man who was willing to walk with us a short way and point down a narrow alleyway. We had probably walked past it several times, but never realized that it led to where we needed to go.
Somewhat by faith, we walked down that narrow passage until it opened up into a beautiful courtyard. And right in the center was a beautiful old stone church, the place of worship for which we had been searching.
What a rich and deep worship experience we had that morning. On the way out, we inquired about a stained glass window that had caught our attention, one that seemed to depict pilgrims gathered for prayer on an ocean shore. It turns out the church in which we were worshiping that morning was the church from which the Mayflower pilgrims had departed for the New World almost 400 years ago.
When we returned to the hotel and told them of our difficulty finding the church, the staff apologetically acknowledged that the neighborhood had grown up quite a bit around the historic church. New buildings and thoroughfares now surrounded and somewhat masked the entrance to the courtyard. They were glad that someone familiar with the entrance had showed us how to find it.
In recent days, I have sometimes wondered what it is that keeps me from feeling a more consistent closeness to God. Like that narrow alleyway in Amsterdam, it seems the path to greater intimacy with God can be hard to find, even when I’m diligently looking for it.
Psalm 100 gives us a wonderful word picture of entering God’s gates with thanksgiving, and entering His courts with praise. Recalling that psalm during some recent soul-searching, I asked myself if I had been feeling or expressing genuine thanksgiving to God.
I began realizing how much my prayer life had been consumed with either asking for things to be different or expressing frustrations, neither of which came from a heart of gratitude toward God. Like the buildings and thoroughfares that had grown up around that historic church, I had somehow allowed various disappointments and distractions to obscure my vision of God. They were keeping me from recognizing that I enter the courtyard of praise through a gateway of thanksgiving, and that God’s goodness and salvation and sovereignty merit my continual gratitude, even when things aren’t going my way.
Have your circumstances allowed obstacles such as discontentment or frustration or something else to creep in to your spiritual life and block your intimacy with God? Like that kind little man in Amsterdam, let me point you once again to the gateway of thanksgiving. You will be so delighted with where it leads.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.