By Mandy Smith
The old Sunday school song goes, “Since Jesus came within and cleansed my soul from sin, I’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.” But very few Christians could honestly say they feel happy all the time. While we may retain an undisturbed, deep joy, it’s normal for any Christian to have moments of spiritual high and spiritual low, to feel close to God and far from God at various times, to have times of great faith and times of great doubt.
One helpful practice that allows us to survive the darker times is to overlook our doubts and feelings and soldier on, regardless. We tell ourselves all is not as it seems, that we are the winners, although we seem to be the losers. We remind ourselves that what we believe is true, even if we’re not sure we believe. We call this endurance, perseverance, and long-suffering.
A second practice, which we could add to the first, and which is often overlooked, is to turn to the traditions of our faith—a kind of practical perseverance. While self-talk is helpful to keep us faithful, could we also find some reassurance in the familiar routines of our Christian life?
When the people of Israel fled from captivity in Egypt, they did not yet have a temple or homeland. They were tied together by their common ancestry but had not yet established themselves as a nation. And so God didn’t wait long to create the weekly observance of the Sabbath, a practice that made them unique (Exodus 20:8-11; Nehemiah 9:13, 14). They may have been a ragtag bunch, wandering through the wilderness, but they were defined by their tradition. God understood his people need regular routines to remind them who they are, to draw them together and to himself.
And so Jesus created this regular feast to be celebrated “as often as we meet together.” Like those runaway slaves of ancient times, we may feel homeless, but this bread and cup are our constant in the midst of a wilderness. Although we wander in a dry land, we are bound to each other, to Christ, and to thousands of believers who have joined this celebration over the centuries. This tiny meal is able to sustain us through wanderings and droughts and to provide us hope of the comfort and bounty to come.
Mandy Smith, originally from Australia, serves as pastor at University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio (www.universitychristianchurch.net). She is the author of Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship (Standard Publishing) and of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (IVP, slated for release in October).