God knows your heart, so you don’t need to be like those you feel you should be like.
My heart rate increased as I tried to suppress my rising panic. Hot tears pricked my eyes as I listened closely to what the preacher was saying. He was getting close, I could tell. I had learned to expect these things on the last day of a week of spiritual emphasis — the dreaded call.
“Come up to the front if you feel like this is you.”
There it was.
Other students around me slowly stood up and filtered to the front. I was caught between my desire to answer the call and my fear of going up front.
Deep in my heart, I screamed for God to understand that I was answering the call on the inside, begging Him to take away the fear of what others thought.
Sometimes I would go up, hunched, trying to make myself invisible. Other times I guiltily went when I saw my friends. Without fail, the preacher would say, “Don’t think about anyone else. Do it for you.” But I couldn’t.
I felt as though I was betraying God, that I couldn’t do this one simple thing that others found so easy and uplifting; that I couldn’t do it for God when early Christians walked to the lions in front of stadiums of roaring Romans.
I felt as if an altar call, doing what the pastor had said, such as coming up to the front, was imperative for my answer to be legitimate.
This was my thinking for years, until one memorable Saturday (Sabbath). Back then, my home church consisted of 3,000 members, and the pastor had issued a call. I started getting stressed and fidgeting in my seat. Surely I couldn’t go up front in view of all these people? I looked over at my mum in horror, and somehow she understood.
“You don’t have to go up,” she whispered.
“I don’t?” I said in surprise. This was when I realized that I didn’t have to respond in any other way other than in my heart for my faith to be real.
When I was a child, I would watch the charismatic pastors up front, including my dad, excited to share their faith and openly proclaim their love for God, and I knew that that would be me one day. However, as I grew older, I became painfully aware that it would not. I could never raise my hands during song service like some. I couldn’t tell a children’s story about a Jesus moment in my life. I couldn’t even lead a Bible study. I knew that I loved God and wanted to have a relationship with Him and live a godly life, but I didn’t know how to put that into action when I couldn’t even talk about my relationship with Jesus with my friends or pray out loud in a way that felt real. The change where I would become like all those extroverted people on stage at church never came. As I entered adulthood, I wondered what was wrong with me.
In my mind, there seemed to be only one way, the public way, to approach God; and because I repeatedly saw this one way, I assumed it was the right way. One day, as I was reading Philip Yancey’s book Reaching for the Invisible God, I read a paragraph that drastically changed my perspective:
“I wonder whether people naturally divide into various ‘faith types’ just as they divide into personality types. [As] an introvert who approaches other people cautiously, I approach God the same way . . . why should we expect to have the same measure or kind of faith?”
I had never considered how personality might influence a relationship with God, and that it could also influence how others perceived someone’s relationship with God. I realized that those loudly proclaiming the love of Jesus and what He was doing in their lives found this easy because they generally loudly proclaimed most things about their lives. They felt comfortable with that. I never noticed those who were like me because, well, they were like me!
This launched me on a journey of learning that God understands the introverts of the church.
One of my favorite Bible stories is the calling of Moses. Face to face with the presence of God within a burning bush, Moses is hesitant when God calls him to go back to Egypt. He asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?” (Exodus 3:11, NKJV), and “What if they do not believe me?” (4:1, NIV). Finally, Moses argues that he is “slow of speech and tongue” (verse 10, NIV). God again assures Moses that He will be with him; however, Moses continues to balk, begging God to send someone else. Now, remember that Moses had lived in the desert for 40 years. I found it difficult to hold a conversation after just a few months in lockdown, but after 40 years, to storm the palace and accuse the Pharoah? I’d be begging God to change His mind too.
Finally, God says, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and teach you what to do” (verses 14, 15, NIV). Did you catch that? God says Aaron is already on his way to meet you! God knew He was calling someone who felt inadequate, who was afraid to speak, to stand up and fight for his God. Because God understood Moses’ strengths and weaknesses, He had already set in place the help Moses needed.
Introverts bring a very different set of skills to the church than extroverts do. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and both are equally important. While the extroverts may be the greeters who welcome everyone at the door or the worship leaders who get the congregation clapping their hands, the introverts are working behind the scenes. It may be the introvert who greets that one quiet, awkward person who is sitting alone, overlooked by others. It may be the introvert who plans the worship service. The introverts may prefer to write rather than to talk, and to play guitar rather than sing. And the introvert’s quiet thoughtfulness may bring new insight to a Bible study. We are all a part of the body of Christ, and while some of us might be the mouth, others might be the ears. All are equally needed.
Now, I don’t go up for calls if they make me feel uncomfortable. I answer them in my heart, knowing that God understands. I feel closest to God when alone, or in nature, and have recognized that it’s OK not to feel close to God when praying out loud in a large group, so I don’t force myself to. And instead of bemoaning my lack of confidence to lead a Bible study, I focus on one-on-one discussions with people. I’ve learned that what introverts bring to the church is equally important to what the extroverts bring. Most importantly, I’ve learned that God understands.
While I still hang back, I also try to push myself, however. I try to talk about my relationship with God when I can. I’ve discovered ways of being up front that don’t inspire panic, such as drama and music. And I’m learning to share my faith through writing.
If you perhaps are like me, I encourage you to lean into your strengths rather than trying to be like those you feel you should be like. God knows your heart, and He will show you ways of following Him and of being a fisher of men, even when you’re afraid of those men and would rather be hiding under the nets.
The original version of this commentary was posted by Adventist Record.