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THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, WE’RE ALL FROM THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: PART 19

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Growing up a pastor’s kid, I (Allie Anderson) never wondered about my salvation, but I was uncertain of how to reconcile the observation of repetitive, weekly or biweekly conversions which seemed to lack staying–power in individuals’ lives (I later discovered that the element missing in these people’s lives was that while they took Jesus as their “Savior,” they never took him as their “Lord.”) Similarly, I never forgot the many people in church—even ministers sometimes—who were different people behind the scenes than the righteous, godly individuals they presented themselves to be in front of crowds. In fact, in my early 20s, I rebelled against God for a time, and then rededicated my life to Him. Having watched as so many subscribed to the spiritual rollercoaster that their emotions seemed to carry them on, I desired to serve Him from a place that rooted in my intellect. This included my will, my actions, and the decided direction in which I pointed my energy: a place which—for me at least—runs deeper and more disciplined than just my feelings. I wanted my moves to be calculated, purposeful, logical, and fruitful. (This makes sense, as it is how I approach all of my relationships in general: work, friendships, family, even how I interact with my children).

I was always in full support of other people who had exuberantly physical or passionate responses in worship of the Lord, but my interactions always filtered through a calculated and intellectual place within my psyche. I am aware that God reaches different people in different ways. And, since He blesses people each individually and distinctly, each person’s responsive worship manifests differently. Some people dance in the Spirit, some raise their hands and sing, and some laugh or shout exuberantly in the joy of the Lord, while others cry, or quietly take to their knees in devout prayer.

With all of this being prefaced, my motivation for saying all of these things is to explain to the reader that in a room full of Pentecostal, pew jumping, shouting, singing, and dancing saints, I’m usually that girl at the back praying quietly. And for years, there were those who tried to make me feel as though I was somehow less spiritual than those around me—or worse—somehow further away from God because my worship of Him did not manifest in such observable ways as those around me.

There were even those who suggested that I try mimicking the activities of others, in the hope that God would see it as some type of “gesture of faith.” Not wishing to subscribe to anything unauthentic, I declined, for which I was often viewed as—or maybe just perceived myself as being—increasingly ostracized from some others within the church. As a result, there were times I felt disconnected from the body of Christ and wondered what I was spiritually lacking that made everybody else able to worship with such physical exuberance but for me, seemed only awkward.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It wasn’t an issue of being embarrassed by doing the same things as I saw others doing: that would’ve been far easier to get over. After all, I’m often in situations that are uncomfortable or that I have to do things in front of other people, and in those cases I just muster up the courage to do what I have to do. This reservation was deeper: something about trying to manufacture the physical responses that others had in church came with a sort of warning that I couldn’t shake. Even now, I struggle to explain it. I finally decided that if I was being sincere before God and worshiping him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24); then I have to trust that my honesty before Him was what God wanted most of all. And yet, I still often felt like an oddball in church.

Then, one day several years back, Donna Howell and I were sent to a ladies’ conference. The official reason for going was business-related, but several of us prayerfully felt there were underlying reasons God was directing us to attendance. From the onset there were several unexpected, God-ordained confirmations which occurred in conjunction with this trip—even before we left for travel.

A day or two before departure, however, I began to feel run-down, and assumed that the busy-ness of travel preparations and shortened sleeping hours the nights of that week were culprits. By the morning after arriving at our hotel room, I began suffering symptoms of what I perceived to be a very mean cold. I attributed it to the air-circulation systems on the plane, the changes in time zone, altitude and climate, and every other adaptation a person’s system makes when flying between states. (This was before the COVID-19 outbreak, when most people went about their typical business despite potential virus, so long as the symptoms seemed common enough not to be particularly threatening. Later, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection, bronchitis and pneumonia, all of which were relatively advanced since I didn’t see a doctor until after returning to my home state.)

As Donna and I arrived at the conference, the first thing we noticed was that, despite the hot temperatures outside, the air-conditioning of the auditorium had been cranked to what must’ve been a mere four or five degrees. Okay, the reader may detect my sarcasm, but the truth is that women all around the building were huddled in blankets and shivering. One would think, at this point, administrators would observe this and adjust the temperature, but it remained this way for the entire duration of the conference. Additionally, this was a very charismatic event offering every physical avenue of praise I had ever known of and a few I had never seen before. During song services, some people danced with tambourines or waved flags and other colorful cloths through the air, while others blew shofars, clapped, laughed, or shouted. Most activity of this nature occurred toward the front of the auditorium directly below the stage, where many worshippers collected to praise during the singing.

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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!

The song services themselves were conducted much like rock ‘n roll concerts. There were fog machines, laser lights, and a full band with every kind of modern instrument one could imagine. There was a man whom they had brought in as a special guest, calling him a kinetic worship leader. In all my Pentecostal experiences, I had never seen anything quite like this. I didn’t want to be judgmental of other people’s methods of praising God, but I found it odd that at a ladies’ conference, a reasonably attractive man would be stationed to dance on stage in front of the female audience (at one point, Donna even overheard the lady seated in front of us describe the man as “hot”). Part of his presentation was to wave flags and other colorful amenities through the air—some of which displayed pictures of religious icons such as praying hands, the Star of David, a lion which was obviously depicted to be an artist’s rendering of the Lion of Judah, the cross, a dove representing the Holy Spirit, and other easily recognizable representations of elements found in Scripture. However, many of the man’s moves seemed as though they were a modified form of belly dancing, complete with the rolling hip and shoulder motions. I found it strange that this display was brought into a religious setting where many women were single, and others had travelled away from their husbands for the week under the objective of spending time with God. Conversely, each time the music began, I noticed the man had a small entourage of women who collected around him on the floor below the stage’s edge where he danced, separate from the many who flocked to the area all across the base of the stage, presumably to worship.

During the music, laser lights darted across the darkened room and a permeating, synthetic fog slowly crept up the aisles, working its way toward the back of the auditorium. (I quickly discovered that fog machines and respiratory distress—especially when combined with air-conditioning which has been cranked to subzero temperatures—can be an extremely uncomfortable combination. I spent much of these song services unable to sing because I was coughing the entire time. Instead, I would quietly sit at the back and spend that time in prayer. I meditated on the lyrics of what the crowd was singing, remaining somewhat disconnected from the activities which were occurring around me for both previously explained intellectual reasons and those pertaining to my illness. At times, people did things that Donna and I struggled to understand: those which seemed more distracting and attention-seeking than what may have been motivated by true worship. Essentially, we felt somewhat awkward.

However, because of the multiple confirmations we had received regarding this trip and before leaving our hometown, Donna and I continued to obediently attend every service, waiting for God to reveal the underlying reason he had brought us there. On the second-to-last day of the conference, between services, I stepped outside the auditorium and lined up at a nearby coffee shop with the intent of buying some herbal tea to both warm my body and soothe my chest and throat. As I observed those around me waiting to place their orders, it quickly became apparent that most of the others there were women who, like myself, had walked over from the conference. Realizing I was being intensely stared at by the lady next to me, I smiled in an attempt to alleviate awkwardness. Rather than looking away, the lady quickly shifted her weight and made intense eye contact, studying me. After a moment, she spoke.

“What’s your calling?” I was taken aback by the question itself. It seemed very personal, not to mention completely out of left field. Yet, she boldly brought up the very question I had been praying about. I was in one of those “in-between” chapters; the kind where one life-phase has ended and a person wonders what is next. (The truth is, many things I had poured myself into previously had come to a screeching halt, and I had been praying “God, now what?” for quite a while. So, despite the fact that some would’ve been very off-put by the woman’s intrusive question, I was immediately listening.)

“I’m honestly not sure yet,” I met her gaze evenly. “I’m waiting for insight from God right now.”

“Can I pray for you?”

I knew she meant right here, right now, right in the middle of the coffee line. And you know what? That was fine by me. As I’ve stated, I’m usually that reserved girl, quietly praying in the corner—almost never the one at the center of the visible activity in such matters. But, I also am willing to hear His voice any time or anywhere He chooses to reveal Himself to me, regardless of who’s watching. This whole interaction had the feel of something divine, and if God was getting ready to tell me something, I was all ears. And yet, the intellectual side of my inner-seeker was also on guard: I didn’t want anything that wasn’t really from God. I immediately began to internally pray “God, I want to hear your voice, but only your voice. Please set a shield about my mind: block out every other distraction, every other agenda, every false directive. Only your voice.”

Immediately, she turned to a friend who had been standing next to her but facing the opposite direction, visiting with a third conference-goer. The now-three of us quickly exchanged first names (I’m going to call the lady who initiated this interaction Becky). Becky announced that God was priming me to receive my calling, and that they needed to pray for me.

And they did. Right then and there at the coffee line.

I bowed my head quietly as Becky and her friend layed hands on and prayed for me. As Becky petitioned aloud, I experienced several confirmations through her words. By now the reader should gather that I am not an overly-mystical person, but she could never have known to pray for the specific things she did, nor to mention the very precise verbiage that she used. The answer to the question of calling did not come in that moment, but I knew the appointment was ordained.

After ending the petition with the word “amen,” Becky looked at me purposefully and pointed her finger at my chest. “God is going to tell you something tonight. During the song service this evening, go down and worship near the stage.”

At the risk of sounding unspiritual, I will admit that, inwardly, I groaned a little. First of all, that was the area where the synthetic fog was the thickest, and I was still recovering from the inescapable dose I’d had of it during that morning’s music. And, I still struggled with that awkward feeling of being the one who never seems to be struck with the same spirit of dancing or shouting that many others down front had already demonstrated the entire week. But I also believed in the core of my being that Becky had been divinely appointed to cross my path that day. So I nodded, “Okay, I will. And thank you for praying for me.”

I turned to go find Donna and tell her what had happened. She had likewise had a few interactions with people throughout the week that we both believed divinely reserved, but each of these had taken place organically throughout the natural course of our actions.

For example, at lunch one of the days, Donna had been given a specific message that she was compelled to tell our waitress. She felt a little awkward and struggled for a few moments with self-doubt, but—as anyone who knows Donna is aware—she is bold, and before long dismissed all second-guessing and delivered the message. And, as God so often provides, there was confirmation that this woman had needed to hear that precise dispatch on that specific day. But, these were occurrences which took place organically—while they might require the boldness to pray in the middle of a coffee line, or say something to a waitress, they were all occasions wherein we could respond to the elements which found their way to us. None of them required that we physically go anywhere different than we would have on our own.

This was different. Tonight, I would go down and stand amidst the showy laser lights, the dancers, the tambourine players, the flag-waiving worshipers, and try to sing amidst the chest–aggravating fog. I would stand in a place where I felt completely out of place—and I would do it out of obedience.

The moment came for evening service to begin, and the music began to play. As if it had been awaiting its cue, fog began to work its way outward from the stage, climbing slowly up the sloped walkway and into the audience’s part of the auditorium. I left my seat beside Donna and walked down to the crowded area around the stage, taking care to stand in an area far distanced from the male kinetic worshipper and his entourage. As I stood there, unable to sing due to my illness, I clasped my hands together “praying hands style” and raise my fingers to my chin. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. As I had done in earlier services, I meditated on the lyrics to the songs and maintained a prayerful state of mind. I alternated between worship of God and repeating the prayer that He would shield my mind from receiving any message except what He had for me. At one point, I felt a smack on my left shoulder and upper arm. I opened my eyes and noticed that somebody dancing had come too close to me and accidentally slapped me. Her eyes looked at me as if to say “oops,” and she grinned and kept dancing. I returned the smile and went back to my silent reverie. Minutes later, something similar happened on my right side, but the impact was to my leg this time. An individual who had fallen to the floor, seemingly slain in the spirit, had bumped me on her way down. She however, made no eye contact, unaware that it had happened. I stepped several inches to the side to give her room. Similar incidents continued to happen for the duration of the music. I began to wonder if, if at some point, God was going to suddenly “hit me” with the undeniable and uncontrollable compulsion to dance or laugh, or if I, too, would possibly fall down, but none of these things happened. I was more than willing if that would have been how His presence manifested to me, but I also did not want to get ahead of Him in such activity. Eventually, it became apparent that soon the song service would end. I felt certain that God had brought me to this place, at this specific moment, but I still didn’t know why. Time was running out, and whatever reason God had directed me to this place remained a mystery. My prayer changed.

“God, I only want to hear your voice. And if the lady today was wrong about you telling me something tonight, that’s fine. I would rather hear from you at a much later time and know that it was really you speaking to me than to get some random word tonight that’s not your voice. But God, I don’t understand. I don’t fit in. I don’t worship like these people. I don’t know how, and if I try without your prompting, I could end up faking it which I believe is wrong. I want to worship you, but I want my worship to be real and not contrived. I don’t understand why I’m different from these other people. I feel like I don’t fit in. I’m just not like these people around me.”

In that moment, the first nuggets of my answer came. And it was the beginning of God revealing to me the calling of my life, although the fullness of it came in layers of confirmation for several months following. Before God would reveal my calling to me, He had to reveal my God-ordained identity to me.

“Exactly.” I heard God say. Not audibly, but distinctly. “I don’t want you to be like these other people. I don’t even want you to try to be like these other people. I created you to be you. I want you to serve me like you and worship me like you. If it doesn’t look the way other people think it should look, don’t worry about it. I know your heart and your sincerity, and that’s where true worship comes from.”

That moment became a defining one in my life: one wherein I stopped feeling like if I were just a little bit more spiritual, my worship might look like someone else’s. I let go of the nagging, internal suspicion that said that if I were somehow a better Christian, maybe I would carry myself like others do when there is an exuberant and physical response at the altar. I realized that those who measured my spirituality by whether or not I followed all the same cues as other people in the room were balancing by flawed criteria (this had happened often as a pastor’s kid, and I’d even been called out for it publicly during altar calls in church).

Through this experience, God began to solidify in me His definition of who I am in Him; which provided groundwork for the revelation of His calling on my life. Such an understanding brings so many things into perspective: when we comprehend what He sees when He looks at us, we realize that our accountability is to Him alone. Our service is for Him alone. Our purpose, identity, goals, strengths, abilities, talents, assets, attributes—even vulnerabilities and weaknesses—are all elements shaping and impacting the journey which should be to pursue Him; alone and above all other things. Each of these factors which impact us daily can serve to distract us and whittle away at our resources and energy or they can each become refining elements which redirect us to move toward and lean on our Maker every day of our lives, in both big things and small.

Recently, I was at another conference, when I recalled my defining moment vividly. I sat amidst a group of people who were “getting’ rowdy for God!” The fired-up preacher was pacing quickly across the stage and the responsive audience would shout, wave their hands, or even stand and dance during his sermon. Every now and then he’d holler something like “stand up and testify!” at which approximately sixteen people sitting around me would immediately spring up, as though being ejected from a toaster, with their arms in the air, hands oscillating at the wrist. I, however, remained seated, clapped, and even made eye contact with the preacher while nodding. I don’t know if I appeared out of place to anyone else, but I sat secure in the knowledge that I was not out of place in God’s eyes. While in a different life chapter I may have felt that I was lacking because I was different, I now draw from the understanding of what God told me at that ladies’ conference those years ago.

God created an entire population of people who are misfits—each completely unique from one another—and these eccentricities can and should be used to serve and worship Him in a whole variety of ways. More important than any kind of sameness in either of these avenues of interaction with Him is that it is from the heart, sincere, and that it is dedicated to God first and foremost.

On a Practical Note

I mentioned attending churches where if an individual didn’t think one was showing enough physical exuberance during worship, that person risked being called out publicly. These church services often featured altar call endings wherein each seat had been vacated and all attendees were at the front of the church. This is a beautiful thing if God is moving in mighty ways and all altar-goers are there voluntarily; but often this was not the case. The pastor (an individual other than my own dad, who never did this) would point at those still lingering in their seats, making such statements as “You there in the back, it’s time to let go of what you’re holding on to. Come up here and give it to God, right now!” (Nobody was safe from such pinpointing: once a friend who had been upstairs working in children’s church—thus missing the bulk of the sermon—had come down to stand in the back of the auditorium for the last moments of the service. Despite his extremely late arrival, the preacher said to him, “You sir, I’ve been watching you through this entire service. You need to come up here so we can pray for you.”) Such awkward moments resulted in a no-win situation for the seated individual—who was now the focus of the entire assembly. If one didn’t have a particular prayer request at that moment, he faced the disingenuous situation of walking down the church aisle for prayer in front of everyone, possibly requesting intercession for any random thing that came to mind as a result of being put on the spot; or, he could choose to sit still despite the minister’s request, appearing unspiritual or obstinate. Attendees of such churches often choose the path of least resistance by pre-emptively going to the altar at the end of every service to avoid such a dilemma: hence the rows of empty seats.

However, a pattern I noticed among many churches I observed over the years was in that at many of them which held this practice also had significant issues of spiritual invasion or even demonic infiltration. (Much more about this can be read in Everyday Champions by Joe Horn). One particular congregation had such trouble that several deacons would collect during services to pray in an effort to keep demons out of the room until the service was over [Donna I need a one-liner to sum up this sentence, I think my facts are mixed up]. Some individuals who “danced in the spirit” actually engaged in salacious physical swaying with people who were not their spouses after meeting at the altar to each pray separately over marital troubles. Other manifestations which should have been brought into check occurred, but many were unaware of the circumstances since the focus of the service had been taken off of worshiping and serving God, and placed on either the individual’s emotional experience or his attempt to navigate it without being publicly called out.

This is devastating to a congregation because when we allow God to define our identity before Him, He directs as our diverse approaches to service and worship strengthen and subsidize each other while simultaneously keeping one another in check.

When people are allowed to spiritually thrive in the way that God has aligned their heart, soul, and mind to flow, free of the worry that others will measure their responses and pass judgment regarding their spirituality, we are free to interact with God aside from a human-based checklist of criterion. And, perhaps those who remain seated or standing at the back of the church during times such as worship service or altar call are positioned in a place to objectively observe what was going on. Then, if some of the goings on start to go awry (such as the male/female pairs dancing together in church which I mentioned), someone would have been positioned to notice it and intervene.

Consider secular activities such as a rock concert or sports event. These functions are laced with security. Many of the people there become emotional and excited. They might cheer, clap, jump up out of their seat, dance near the stage, or otherwise exhibit a physical response to the psychological and emotional stimulation they are experiencing. There’s usually nothing wrong with this. And yet, at each of these events, security would be stationed throughout the crowd. One would never see a scenario wherein the security team is dancing at the stage during a concert (well, let’s just say a security team member wouldn’t do it twice). People are intentionally stationed to be observers from all angles: watching the crowd for adverse reactions, potential problems, or other surges which might need intervention. Why should the church be any different?

Finding Your Unique Place in the Body

When people measure the impact of their interactions with God via the measuring stick of physical manifestations, comparison with other Christians, or other parameters which are written by mankind instead of God, our focus is drawn to those elements instead of on Him. The fruit of His presence in our lives is not recognized for what it is, which cheapens our appreciation of His operations within us. Furthermore, those who desire to connect with the Body of Christ but find themselves unable to associate with the mainstream crowd might leave Christianity because their basis for comparison wasn’t accurate in the first place.

The key to beginning to grow spiritually, both as an individual, as a Church, and in ministry, is by realizing and embracing the fact that we are not all cut from the same cloth. In fact, the greatest strengths are found in our diversities and eccentricities. God did not invite us into His Kingdom to homogenize us into a congregation of cookie-cutter matches. He created a population of individual and unique people who, when united under His purposes, can serve Him with a fuller and more thorough capacity than we ever can when we live under the scrutiny of trying to be like others. Once we embrace our inner-oddball, we become free to find His identity for us, His calling on our lives, and even discover the fullness of our own unique way of serving Him. By allowing ourselves to find the misfit within, we find ourselves free to experience the distinctive abundance that He has for each of our individual lives: we begin to live our own story.

There is a unique and special destiny that you have in the body of Christ, but you will never find it by trying to be like everyone around you. If God made you with a completely distinct, one-of-a-kind set of skills, talents, abilities, and perspectives, then surely He would not want to see it wasted in trade for a version of you that fits a cookie-cutter mold! It may be that you have always felt an outcast:  one who has never fit in and has always struggled with feeling ostracized. Yet, the more a person finds and embraces his own individuality, the more he becomes empowered to see his identity as defined through God. This is the groundwork upon which a unique and personalized calling can be received, answered, and lived out.

By embracing our inner-misfit, we courageously embark on a journey wherein we can discover our dynamic and thriving individuality, and ultimately, everything that our Creator destined us to be.

UP NEXT: WHAT MAKES A MISFIT, ANYWAY?

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