It was November 2014, about a month after Jesus saved me, that I first visited the church I am now planted in. A month had passed since I was justified by God, saved by grace alone but the process of sanctification was just about to start. In the first month of my Christian life, I visited a Roman Catholic church and was preparing to be baptised. I had no intention of being a Protestant. So, I proceeded to meet with the priest and discuss baptism. However, by that time, I had been somewhat intensively studying the bible at home and as I was listening to the priest, I was saddened to hear myself think “this is not biblical. This is not biblical.” I needed a church whose authority was God’s word alone. I found myself a Protestant. It was hard. Although I grew up in a Muslim home, I went to a Catholic all girls high school. I had sweet memories of attending mass even though I was not a Christian but God had ordained it that I be a Protestant. It was time to go.
I told my now husband (then boyfriend, who was not yet a Christian) that I needed a church and he pointed me to an active church that had caught his attention before. The first visit was anxiety provoking. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. People seemed to freely move about and engage in loud conversation. Laughter was heard. I entered as a hardhearted ‘i’m not a people’s person’ kind of person. I was out of my comfort zone. This church was clearly concerned with people and community. There were singles, couples and families. Different ages, different nationalities. Then the service began. The worship was beautiful but again, so different to what I had known. Then the sermon started. I was all ears, this is what I came for. I wanted solid biblical teaching. The preaching seemed bold and biblical but I didn’t allow myself to get too excited yet. I wasn’t sure if God wanted me here but I decided on visiting this church a few more times, in hope that God would direct my steps.
It was perhaps a few visits later when the pastor preached about loyalty. He mentioned how sometimes people float from one church to another, never really getting planted, growing and serving. It hit me that I had to go home, pray and decide if I was in or out. I couldn’t just hang around as a casual observer anymore. And soon I realised, God called me to stay in that church and grow.
Having now trusted that God’s spirit is active in this church, I began to open myself up to know the people and make new friends. It was striking how gracious and others focused they were. My life’s struggles meant I wasn’t used to being treated very nicely and I was confused why people in this church were caring. I was actually quite suspicious at first. I would think “are you just being polite?” and “is this just because it’s what you think you have to do?” Soon I saw that this is actually habitual, it is the church culture and it is so because they are so madly in love with Jesus Christ. It was the love for God and of God that was the cause of this. I realised how crucial this is and the bible teaches that once we are saved, a piece of evidence of that salvation is that we will begin to love the brothers and sisters in the faith. If we do not love other Christians and realise we are part of one family, it’s a major red flag. The bible says
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)
My then boyfriend, now husband, got saved a few months after me and also came to the same church. The people at my church have had a far greater impact on me than they realise. They go the extra mile and they make me want to grow in my faith and be more like them. So often when I see their good deeds, I praise God, thanking him for what he can do through others. In the troubles that I have had since I came to the church, they never made me feel like my being there was a burden. They didn’t grow tired with me when I needed them. It was because God had saved these people and given them new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) and had built them into a Christ-exalting community. When I reflect on my local church, I often recall the verse in which the Lord Jesus says:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart… (Luke 6:45)