Mark and I enjoy stories of humble beginnings and discover them all over the country in many of the tours we take and people we meet. Such inspiring stories give hope to and embolden the generations that follow to “go ahead and take that leap of faith” because great things can happen, especially when our leaps of faith are toward the glory of the Lord. When we walked into the foyer of the Westside congregation in Irving, Texas for the first time, we were chatting with some of the other members before Bible class started and had to smile when we learned that this congregation had a humble beginning, having first met in 1953 at a laundromat called Washateria.
At the time of our visit, this congregation had long ago outgrown not only the laundromat but several buildings since 1953, and they attribute their exciting spiritual and numerical growth to their commitment to stand uncompromisingly for truth and their willingness to oppose any teachings that are not Biblical. Their website explains this well:
“Our aim is to practice Christianity only as revealed in the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Colossians 3:17). Our desire is to teach others to respect Christ’s authority so that they too will submit and become followers of Christ Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). Our prayer is that we will do these things in a spirit of boldness and humility so that all will give God the glory for everything that we do (1 Peter 3:15, Ephesians 3:21). We recognize that much of what is passed off today as “Christianity” is neither Christ-centered nor pleasing to God. The church has been reduced, in many places, to little more than a social club, political action committee, or welfare society. Yet the Lord has given a blueprint for the church (2 Timothy 1:13) and Christians who take His Lordship seriously will abide by this pattern. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). At Westside we intend to understand the pattern for New Testament Christianity and then abide by it.
In truth, far too many churches are interested in appealing to people, giving people whatever they want to entice them to attend, and growing larger in size. The agenda of “big numbers” has taken precedence over doing as Jesus instructs through the New Testament. At Westside, pleasing Him is more important than pleasing people. If you are looking for a group of Christians serious about studying the Bible and doing as it teaches then you will find a home at Westside.”
Many Christians from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex have done just that, and today enjoy the unity, peace, outstanding leadership, and Biblical teaching in this thriving congregation that is always on the lookout for fresh ways to teach ancient truths. If you visit their website www.justchristians.com, you will discover 17 years of archived sermons from 55 speakers, podcasts on a wide array of topics from “Smart Phones and Smart Disciples”, to “Teaching Children To Worship” to “You can be a digital missionary” and perhaps even an event or two such as their Winter Singing or Vacation Bible School. At the time of our visit, this congregation was engaged in a Bible reading program together exploring the writings of the Apostle Paul, and many of the podcasts are a deeper dig into what the congregation is presently reading together.
Though we missed meeting the preacher, Mark Roberts who was out of town, I had a great conversation with several of my sisters-in-Christ including Joni Brown and Melinda Miller who shared their own stories of how they’d both found their way out of denominationalism as well as a heartwarming story about what some of the members had done to keep their closeness during the height of the pandemic. It’s a story that shows there’s plenty of love in congregations who intentionally “pay close attention” to their teaching (1 Timothy 4:16), because part of preaching pure doctrine is of course to “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:14)
It all started when one of their widows was having a rough time, so a small request went out to see who would like to donate a few items to fill a gift basket for her. So many thoughtful items were donated, including homemade goodies and cash, that soon there was enough to create gift baskets complete with loving notes not only for everyone at Westside who had lost a spouse but also for the congregation’s honored elders, brave healthcare workers, and first responders, hard-working educators, teachers, and college students. But since little acts of love can be contagious, the more baskets that went out, the more donations kept coming in, until eventually the basket making “Sunshine Gals!” (and a few good men :D) had created and delivered a “Sunshine Basket’ to every single member! Everyone was feeling the love!
There’s certainly a lot of volunteer spirit going on in this tight-knit church family, including the brother who volunteered to fill in for Mark Roberts to teach on an invaluable topic: improving our prayer lives. In Brother Dean Aulerich Jr.’s class we talked about the importance of daily committing time entirely alone with our Heavenly Father, free of interruptions and distractions so that we can completely pour our hearts out to Him, just as Jesus did (Mark 1:35; Luke 9:18) when He went up on a mountain (Matthew 14:23) and withdrew into the wilderness (Luke 5:16) to pray.
Dean also encouraged us to enter into prayer with a clear perspective of just how incredibly blessed we are for having been given “life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25) and “every spiritual blessing” in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We talked about having a clear perspective around just how very desperate we are at all times for His divine providence. After all, the Apostle Peter is not the only one Satan would like to “sift like wheat”. You and I are on his hitlist too. What a comfort to know that Christ “is at the right hand of God”, interceding for us” (Romans 8:34), and He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
When we petition God, we must of course do so with the submissive attitude of Christ when He prayed in Matthew chapter 26:39 “...My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will”, being careful not to simply mouth those words but to deeply desire that God's will to be done. And why wouldn't we want God’s will to be done? He is the only one with a perfect, omniscient vision outside of the confines of time and space and is thus the only One who is able to truly know what is best for our overall wellbeing. And since He is full of mercy, He can protect us from all the unforeseen consequences of the requests for which we, in our ignorance, are inclined to pray. When instead we pray “Thy will be done” we are asking God to protect us from situations that would not be good for the overall wellbeing of our eternal soul, and express our trust in the goodness of God in relation to all that is beyond our knowledge and control.
Dean also reminded us that God wants us to approach His throne with boldness (Hebrews 4:14) and complete confidence, fulling convinced “... that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us, and if we know that He hears us whatever we ask we know that we have.” (John 5:14). Much of that confidence is rooted in the fact that in Jesus we have a High Priest, who not only intercedes for us (Romans 8:34), He sympathizes with our weaknesses and in our times of need will thus be merciful and gracious to we His children (Hebrews 4:14).
Of course others are as in need of God’s mercies as we are, so Dean’s last suggestion in how to improve our prayer lives was to “get outside of ourselves” by also lifting others up in prayer, and letting them know “I’ve been praying for you” . The Apostle Paul often told others he was praying for them, and beyond that, though an apostle, was humble enough to request the prayers of others. We’d do well to do the same.
I’d like to conclude this entry with a few practical ideas that have immeasurably enriched my own daily prayer life and is likely to do the same for some of my readers. One of the most transformative habits I’ve discovered is to read the Scriptures until I come to something that convicts or concerns me, or fills my heart with gratitude and praise. At that point I pause, pray briefly from the heart, and then open my eyes and continue to read again. There’s still plenty to pray about after my Bible study, but “read, pause, pray” has made my time communing with God more intimate and conversational than it was when I would only pray after I had completed all my reading. In addition, I benefited greatly by keeping an electronic prayer journal that interfaces between my phone and laptop [a downloaded phone app called “Journey”, though Googles Docs would work just as well) Every day I copy and paste a blank template containing about 20 writing prompts that include:
Scripture reading: [Listening to God, one way or another is a must every single day. Where was my reading from today?]
Praise: [What today did I notice in or outside of my Bible reading that is filling my heart with praise for who God is or what He’s done!]
Thank you God for: [What are the blessings that are special to this day? For years I wrote down five --- a daily practice that taught my mind to be optimistic as it searched all day for my “top five”].
Confession: Where do I feel most convicted or vulnerable today?]
Intercession: [Who most needs my prayers most today?]
Casted care: [What is most weighing my heart down today?]
My prayer, journaling and Bible study time encompasses at least an hour every day, but when it occurred to me that with my approach, all at once I was listening to God, learning, confessing, interceding, renewing, thanking, worshipping, praying, remembering, planning, rejoicing, anticipating, and growing, it became obvious to me why I find this hour or two so beautiful and so worthy of weeding the nonessentials to make the space: I simply don’t have time NOT to express the heartfelt words that our Heavenly Father tells us in Revelation 5:8 are so sweet to Him that they are as golden bowls full of incense --- a fragrant aroma. How beautiful!
Westside church of Christ
2320 Imperial Drive Irving, TX