A lady with a sad face sat in the back row seating of a small suburban church. Typically this church’s attendance for Sunday morning services was about 50 to 75 people, so this woman, a visitor, was very much noticed. An usher had greeted her warmly as she entered but didn’t leave his post to find her a seat near someone outgoing and friendly. So she slid into a back seat.
Mrs. Thompson, a regular, across the aisle in her claimed back row where she could see everything, wondered about the visitor. Was she someone off the street? You know – one of those wicked people looking for a handout? Was she somebody’s relative and they just didn’t see her come in? That usher should have asked! Maybe she was invited and whomever invited her wasn’t coming today. These speculations roamed through Mrs. Thompson’s thinking as she sat still and tried very hard to look at the sad-faced woman without letting on that she was looking.
Mr. Spiegel, an elder, saw the visitor arrive from the front of the hall where he was aligning the collection plates, candles, and perfectly symmetrical floral bouquet to a higher degree of neatness. He had a rush of temper that the morning routine would be disarranged by the effort it would take to welcome someone new to the church. It was just too mean of Reverend Dobbs to require the elders to perform such service. Anyway, it could wait until after the service. Maybe she would slide out the door too quickly to be grabbed by the elders.
People wandering in after the sad lady glanced toward her and hustled to their own usual seats. Looking down at their watches, they all knew they had perfectly timed their arrivals for just the beginning of the service. It was a real pain to get there a few minutes early and have to pretend to be silently praying during the prelude.
Just as the lay leader stood to open the service, somebody’s cell phone rang a raucous, jazzy ringtone. The general reaction was nervous laughter with some real guffaws from the teenagers and people in the vicinity of the ringing started checking their pockets and purses. A couple of image worriers looked over at the visitor. Not to worry; she was looking down and apparently oblivious.
After that, the service went fairly smooth. The little choir did their best to impress the visitor. Mrs. Voche, who always sang a little flat, was absent, which helped. When the offering was taken, the sad lady put an envelope in the plate as it passed down the row; people who could see that warmed to her a bit. Reverend Dobbs preached a snappy little message that didn’t require getting the pew Bibles out and trying to find the right page without looking foolish. He looked over at the visitor twice, but she did not appear to be payng attention.
Promptly as scheduled, the service ended with a flourish of singing and a collective sigh of release. A hum of chatter filled the room. Elders nodded at each other, making eye contact to see who would tackle the visitor. Meanwhile, the sad-faced lady stood up and looked around her. Her face was no longer sad! Instead she seemed peaceful and pleasant and her face now looked glorious. She moved toward the door, quietly greeting people near her as she went. Elder Spiegel finally approached her, but he didn’t speak his party piece. The lady took his hand, looked warmly into his eyes and said, “God’s grace to you, sir.” At the door, she did the same with Reverend Dobbs. Then she left.
Later, when the treasurer of the little church opened the envelope the lady had placed in the offering plate, he found a small amount of cash, plus a note. He called the minister and the elders, and they read the note. The following Sunday morning, it was read aloud to everyone. This is what the note said:
Dear church people; Recently, I have experienced a very great trial. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, walked through every moment of this trial with me, and my heart overflows with gratitude for His goodness. He truly does sustain and protect us in every circumstance. As things have become easier, I asked the Lord how I could show my gratitude in a way that would help other people. He directed me to visit your morning worship service and to pray for every difficulty I saw, because you know you have trouble and secretly everyone is wanting to change. So today I have been with you and prayed for everyone and for your church in general. I do not know your specific needs, of course, as I write this note, but you can be sure that God is poised to do a wonderful work with you and your church. So I decided to give you a heads up that you have been prayed for, and you should begin praying for change yourselves. Be encouraged! The Lord has seen your need and He is already answering! Sincerely, Mrs. Z.
And the changes began that very week. Soon the little church was wide awake and seeking to please God. Mr. Spiegel still had to arrange the offering plate in a row – but nobody minded. Mrs. Thompson began sitting around different seats and getting acquainted instead of speculating. She even signed up to be a greeter. Reverend Dobbs began studying the Bible for his messages instead of newspapers and theology tomes. The choir members encouraged Mrs. Voche to sing a solo in a lower key that suited her voice. Everyone got to know the Lord a whole lot better because the new changes all demonstrated His love and goodness, and soon the whole community around the church felt the impact for Christ.
The sad lady never came back, unless – is that her, wearing the cheerful expression and sitting near the front?