Sharper Focus – The middle

by Kelly Pontsler, Major

I’m curious to know if anyone has ever conducted research about where people sit in church. I mean, no two seats are the same, right? Left side, right side, front or back of the room? The view is different, obviously, but then so is the meaning attached to any choice of location.

Who sits in the back row? People who want to sneak out early or are there just because mom says so. Who sits in the front row? No one that I know! Why is that? Personally, I find myself drifting more and more to the middle these days.

Now, I will be honest enough to admit that (like most of you) I’m not a fan of getting stuck in the center of a really long row of seats, especially when it’s a long pew and we’re all squished in together. But I’ve noticed that my seat choosing is slowly leaving the fringes and drifting toward the center of the congregation. What is it about the middle?

Still imprinted in my mind are vivid images of the 2005 European Youth Congress, where I shared in the leadership of 850 young adults from all over Europe. For several warm summer days, we took the city of Prague by storm. Each day brought the opportunity to discover God’s Word and understand our place in God’s work. The worship and fellowship were joyful and energetic and (even as a not-so-very young adult) I had a blast! It was all great, but what impacted me most was the prayer.

The entire event, from start to finish, was covered and surrounded in prayer. We had a large contingent of prayer warriors onsite who, as a team, literally stood guard around us and beside us, praying without ceasing for us. And as each meeting closed we all went to prayer. There is something extraordinary about the sight of 850 young people willingly and fervently standing up and bowing down in prayer, and in more than a dozen languages lifting up to God their passionate pleas, their hopes and desires, their dreams and cares.

As they prayed, I felt myself drawn into the center of the room. As the worship team led us, I walked amongst the groups of two and three, coming up alongside of this one or that one, pausing to pray for them and with them. It was intense. It was phenomenal! And God broke into that Congress hall and into the lives of those young people in incredible ways. I experienced it from the middle.

I hadn’t thought about that in some time, until this last weekend. Our divisional women’s retreat was a great event. Some 400 women from central California gathered together in Monterey for worship and study and fellowship! On Saturday evening I managed to get into the meeting room a bit earlier than usual and got to the best seat in the house: on the aisle, right in the center of the room! The setting and circumstances couldn’t have been any more different, but there I was again, enjoying a time of focused worship and passionate prayer right from the middle. I will confess that at times I stopped singing just to listen, just to absorb the sound of God’s people in worship and prayer. Fervent pleas, hopes and desires, dreams and cares all lifted up to our heavenly Father. It was amazing!

What is it that draws me to the middle? I think it’s the heartbeat. Just like a small child will lean in to her father’s chest and hear the steady pounding pulse of his heart, stepping into the middle is to lean in close enough to sense the pulse of God’s heart. It is both calming and energizing, reassuring and exciting. It’s a place of encountering and enlightening. It’s a place where focus is restored and life stuff begins to make sense. It all happens for me, somewhere in the middle.

How are things these days? Need some new perspective? Can I offer a small piece of advice? Take a risk next time you’re in church, try a new seat…somewhere in the middle. God will meet you there—I guarantee.

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