The sermon closes, the organ and/or piano plays, the congregation is standing and singing. Those singing are on the edge of tears, pulling for those who battle the urge to come forward. One steps to the aisle to come forward. A tear runs down the face of many who fight the urge to walk the aisle with someone they don’t even know. The sermon was moving, powerful, maybe even memorable. This wasn’t a sermon scripted to fit the hour between 11 and noon. Rather, this was molded from a combination of the scriptures and the life those in attendance brush up against each and every day. The preacher stands at the front of the church, he’s come down from the podium to join the rest. There’s equality at pew level, man and women alike. The feeling is strong, emotions are high, you can hear the intensity in the sound of the hymn perfectly sung by an imperfect choir of many. The hymn of course is, Just as I am.
I can’t even tell you how many times I saw this scenario play out while growing up. I guess I didn’t understand fully then, and maybe I still miss it now, that silence in solitude is so much more comfortable than a voice in the midst of many. I was in so many church services over the years, and I heard so many incredible preachers and evangelists bring their best to the pulpit on any given Sunday. Just as I am was often times the closing hymn of the service. As it should be.
I may be biased here, but my dad, the preacher, the man at the front of the church, was the best I ever heard. Not because he’s my dad, but because he poured all he had into each sermon, he left nothing in the sanctuary. When I got older and spoke passionately on various subjects in meetings, or coaching sessions and presentations, I too, learned what that meant. Remember, I was a teen for many of those church services. I wanted to be anywhere but in that church a lot of times. Like many teens I wanted to challenge my parents on what I thought I knew better than them. So, I wasn’t sitting there in my pew with stars in my eyes, although I wish I had more of that then. Dad just knew how to bring the message to everyone in terms they could relate to, even for a teenage boy who fought going to hear dad speak yet again.
I can hear it now, the sound of everyone singing the simple, powerful words of Just as I am. Listen to the words, read them, know how simple they are, but how much power they contain. Just as I am, there is no prerequisite. None.
I can’t think of another way to put my thoughts on this. The preacher wears it on his sleeve, gives it all he has, heart and soul committed completely to the words he speaks. Then to level the playing field, this imperfect human steps out from behind the barrier between man and many. He invites those searching for answers, or even those who don’t know what questions to ask, they just know something is missing, to come forward and join him and pray the prayer of salvation.
Here’s how this played out and still plays out in my own mind. I never made that walk physically. I believed. I just believed, and still do. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I made that walk in my mind, in my heart, and with my eyes following someone else who did, dozens of times. It was emotional EVERY time. The emotions still hit me, even as I listen to the hymn while I write this. So in my own words, in perhaps an odd approach, and this may get deep into the walk itself and what it represents to me. This me sharing this with all the layers peeled back, just as I see it. So, here we go.
Just as I am, I come. There is no other way for me to come forward, this is me, who, and how I am. I have no plea. No excuse. No urgent request. It’s me and I come because I was asked. And because I know there seems to be more here at the front of this church, filled with strangers, for me than in the world I closed the door on at 11. I don’t have the answers and maybe neither does this preacher, but this is most sense I have made in an hour since I can remember. Oh, and I have conflict, I have doubt. That’s why it took six verses for me to leave my spot at the end of the pew. The spot I chose in case I needed to leave without commotion. I figure the folks can start singing verses over again if it helps me or anyone else avoid the door without addressing the void in our lives. I took several steps before my heart signaled my brain that I was really walking. Now I can’t go back. Oh yes, there’s conflict. But this walk is less conflict than the internal conflicts that play out each night while I should be sleeping in heavenly peace.
I come. I am poor. I have nothing to offer. Maybe even less. I am out on a limb here. What happens next? I get to the front, completely in tears. Feeling about as small as the person I have been. Then the preacher welcomes me and another puts their arm around me, just because. It’s genuine, and it feels right. The preacher says God will receive me, welcome me, relieve me, if I believe. I believe something very real is happening here, because I wouldn’t have walked to the front of a classroom to write on the blackboard among friends, but here I am in front of strangers singing at me. Yes, maybe its God’s love, because, today, in this moment, I can’t find any barriers. The people around me, the pew in front of me, the sense that I was more calm, cooler, than the rest; those were barriers just to name a few, but here I am. So, just as I am, I come. Just plain old me. I come. I pray. I believe. Just as I am at noon. I feel better already.
As I watched that walk time and time again, I wanted to walk with them. I wanted to hold their hand. I wanted to wipe their tears. I wanted to comfort them with a hug, or with my arm around them for support. There’s strength in numbers even if that number is just two. EVERY time. I wanted them to know that everything would be alright. I wanted that feeling to never end. The feelings, the emotions, the fearlessness of some, the song, the presence of God in our midst, all of it. I never wanted it to end. There were always several reasons why, but mostly it was the powerful sermon and the song. Those words. Simple. True. Powerful. Just as I am.
1. Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
2. Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind, yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
6. Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.