How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! - Psalm 133:1
It's been utterly exhausting not having a church home these past few months. I began to wonder why I'm feeling the absence so badly when so many others seem either completely unaffected or are passionately against church fellowship.
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20
Part of it is completely emotional. It feels good to belong. Simply having a place to go where people know me and I know them satisfies a deeply human urge to exist as a social being. At its best, a church fellowship is a family. A place where you feel at home and nurtured and loved. Who wouldn't love that?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” - John 14:1-4
Part of it is mutually therapeutic. I stopped thinking a church was supposed to be my own personal Eden, a perfected oasis that serves as a needed escape from the cares and trials of the world. I think that mindset is what leads to great disappointment. We come to church, perhaps bruised by the world, seeking a place of idyllic sanctuary. It should not be surprising that church is full of imperfections, comprised of people who are, well, human. But so often when church fails to live up to the a standard to which no other human institution is held, it often hurts those who went to the church hurting and in need.
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30
A more serviceable metaphor for me is to think of a church community as a hospital. I come there sick and can receive treatments and rehabilitative services, and should feel driven to give treatment to others and help them to rehabilitate as well. The treatments and rehabilitation won't always feel good, but sometimes the only way to get better is to swallow that bitter pill that I know is for my own good. There are plenty of times I make a thousand excuses not to go to the doctor, even when I am in pain or know that something is wrong. There are times when either I simply don't want to know, think I can tough it out and live with it because I've gotten used to it, or the lack of routine "check-ups" mean that something I haven't noticed goes undiscovered and unremedied. But treatments sometimes hurt, needles or surgery never feel good. And it often takes more time to fully heal than we would like. Just as this is the reality of how things work in the medical world, I've found it can be even more true in the spiritual and emotional worlds. If I want to be healed, it is always better to go to the hospital, the only place where I can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. - Hebrews 12:7-13
And, alternatively, giving treatment and therapy can sometimes seem even more difficult. We all know a wounded animal will lash out when it is hurt, even against those who may be trying to help. It can be hard to remember the same thing can occur with people who are hurting. Often we want the help to be one-way and painless. And having to heal others sometimes, is a responsibility and potential danger that is the absolute last thing I would ever want to do at times...Until I remember that Christ, and through him others, have done it countless times for me. Its the difference between being merely a mere recipient of society's benefits, as opposed to a full-fledged participating member.
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” - Acts 20:35
Part of it is pure challenge. Our church family is the chosen community where we can covenant with one another to love one another as Christ loves us, no matter how much it hurts. It can be transformative and healing to receive the unconditional love Jesus gives us. Giving it, is an entirely different matter. And no matter how messed up we were and badly we behaved when Christ found us and gave us that love, we are not as strong as him. It can seem impossible to extend even ourselves, much less others, the love he gave us. The road we walk to follow Christ is difficult. Not an effortless skip and a jump to paradise. Growth is almost always hard. But it is rewarding, delivering a fuller and fuller communion with God at ever step. In a church community we have an opportunity to do that growing to which being a disciple of Christ commits us.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. - I John 4:20
It is always easier to love than to be loved, but without learning how to and actively practicing love, we miss out on the fullness of joy that is a big part of the reason we follow Christ. Learning to love, even when its difficult, even when its excruciating, is the only path to loving myself truly being loved. It is the key to truly giving our self to God. And that's where the joy, peace, and communal love are found.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. - I Corinthians 13
I embrace, value and need the emotional, therapeutic challenge that is true church fellowship.