This is what God's kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there's always room for more." ~Rachel Held Evans
Do you ever have those days where nothing seems to go right? Maybe something happens at the beginning of the day that sets everything off course. I recall one such morning during my college years. It started as a normal Sunday. All week, I looked forward to church.
Sunday is one of my favorite days of the week—worship, verbal encouragement from the sermon, and fellowship with amazing people. It always lifts my spirits during a difficult week, and it reminds me of what and Who I’m living for.
That morning, the hours preceding church were shambolic. It started by sleeping through my alarm and waking up an hour and a half later. I rushed to the bathroom to get ready for the day (it takes me quite a while). Then, I walked into my brother’s room and asked if he wanted to attend church together. While waiting for Josh’s half-awake mumble of a reply, I began petting our dog until a horrendous odor filled the air. I felt a sticky, hard substance on Moxy.
I gagged upon realizing she had rolled in animal feces outside. My plan to recruit the family for church was derailed as I now had to bathe my stinky dog. To make matters even worse, Moxy shook with vigor during her bath and got droplets filled with feces in my dolled-up hair. I was livid.
By the time I finished, it was 10:00 AM (the time we should have been leaving), and I hadn’t even eaten breakfast or gotten dressed. I gave up on attending church; late, smelly, and alone did not seem like an acceptable combination for walking into the service. Disappointed and stinky, I began to make breakfast.
Then, to my surprise, I heard a yell from upstairs. It was my dad: “Mikayla! Get ready, we’re going to church!”
No one in my family planned on attending that morning. Josh laid unconscious in bed and my mom had work to complete. I hadn’t heard from my dad at the time but assumed it was a “no.” Thankfully, I was wrong, because he bounded down the stairs with childlike enthusiasm and pushed me out the door (after I got dressed and shoved a bowl of oatmeal in my face).
To give you some background, I hate being late. When there’s an important event—church, work, or class—I like to arrive at least ten minutes early. That morning, we arrived ten minutes late. That may not seem like a whole lot to most people, but for me, it was upsetting. Being late makes me feel like I don’t belong in the place that I’m going, like I didn’t care enough to arrive on time and thus don’t deserve to be there. There were plenty of people who arrived on time—even early—so what was I even doing there?
This vaguely reminded me of a parable Jesus told in which a landowner journeyed out to find workers for his vineyard. He began his search at 9 AM and found some individuals. He set off again at noon and more people agreed to come and work. The landowner continued this until he had people working from the morning until the day’s end.
When he approached his laborers with their wages, they were all surprised to receive the same amount of money. The people who showed up in the morning earned the same as those who came for the last ten minutes of the workday! The early birds felt a little peeved, to say the least.
They thought they deserved more because they had worked harder and longer. But, the landowner countered by stating that he did not act unfairly, because he had the right to do what he wanted with the money.
He wished to give everyone the same reward.
After my whole morning went off track, I felt a little embarrassed to walk into church. Then, I was met with the most beautiful surprise. As my father and I ascended the stairs up to the narthex of the building, one of the greeters rested his eyes upon us, smiled wide, handed us our worship folders, and uttered the most invitational words: “Perfect timing, friends! We’ve been waiting for you.”
The greeter would have felt more than a little awkward if I started balling in front of him, but I couldn’t deny that tears began to well in my eyes. Having riddled myself with feelings of unworthiness, his words pierced my soul right when I needed them most. Somehow, I was welcome. At that moment, I felt the pull of Jesus inviting me into a life enveloped in His grace. This opened my eyes to another realization.
In this world, we all have vastly different experiences. We come from a boatload of differing backgrounds and upbringings. That being said, it’s reasonable to assume we’re not all at the same point in faith. Some of us have known Jesus for years, some have just met Him, and others have no idea Who He is.
For those who come to accept Jesus as Savior, we end up finding Him at different times. Maybe it’s at the beginning, middle, or end of life. But, similar to the gracious landowner in the aforementioned parable, our rewards are the same. God doesn’t ask us to be on time because, more often than not, we take a couple of detours on our way to Him.
He just asks us to show up.
We are all invited to do life with God, no matter what time we arrive. When we show up to life with Him, any timing is perfect, because Jesus has always been the endgame.
Sometimes, we don’t want to approach God because we don’t feel worthy. We wait to show up until we look our best with lives in perfect order. In the meantime, we inflict ourselves with feelings of inadequacy and shame. However, He accepts us no matter what condition we’re in and asks us to sit at His table.
I look forward to the day when we all—the people who have patiently waited all their lives for Jesus and the ones who have only met Him in their final breaths—become reunited in heaven to share the glory of God. I imagine Jesus Himself standing at the golden gates, ushering His children in with a welcoming smile on His face.
He pats their backs, stops them before crossing the threshold of eternity with a twinkle in His eye, and utters these words:
“Perfect timing, friends. I’ve been waiting for you.”