I learned something new on Saturday night – something unexpected and humbling. I stink. Yes, I stink.
On Saturday night I found myself sitting in the chapel at UGM (Union Gospel Mission). I was there to support and observe as my husband and a group of youth from our church led worship before the evening meal was served to the area’s homeless. I came prepared to bless and encourage the men and women who walked through the door, but was unprepared to BE the one who was ministered to.
As men and women filed in to the chapel I quickly became aware of their stench, and I struggled to cope with the aromas assailing my nostrils while smiling and being as “welcoming” as possible. The obvious presence of alcohol, smoke, body odor and other unidentifiable scents filled my head and overwhelmed me, but I plastered on my smile and did my “Christian duty” regardless… all the while thinking in my head "they stink!"
As the service began and the songs of praise and worship filled the chapel, I found a seat towards the back and surveyed the room. They were quiet, some listening, others reading a newspaper or staring blanking at the walls. Men and women, young and old, they had come not for God but for food. I was struck in that moment at how out of place I must have seemed to these people. Dressed comfortably in clothes that were clean, hair well-kept and face washed, I sat and sang with the worship band songs of God’s love and grace… and it hit me. They’re not the ones who stink. I am.
Would I have given these people a second glance if I’d passed them on the street? Was not my thoughts and disgust about their stench more odorous than their uncleanliness? And what about the “whys” of why we were there? Why were we there and even taking pictures of the event, if not to go back to the comfort of our own clean church and report on what we did for God?
It struck me in that moment just how distasteful and unclean my heart and attitude was at that moment in God’s eyes. These were HIS people; the people Jesus ate and communed with when He was on this earth. And I was – in that moment - just as lost and unclean and in need of a Saviour as they were. I was no better than them! If anything, my own stench was offending them AND God.
I spent the rest of our time there being the one who was ministered to. I took more time that night to shake hands with, talk with, and silently pray for these people whom God loved. And after I was overwhelmed by the beauty of their aroma to God, it was with a heavy heart and reality of my own stench that I went home more thankful for God’s love and grace -- a grace I clearly didn’t deserve -- than ever before.
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. Just as I am, poor, wretched and blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind. Yet all I need in Thee to find, O Lamb of God I come. I come. ~Charlotte Elliot, 1789-1871