By Susan Lawrence
Encouragement for anyone who sometimes finds church a troubling place.
If we insist on avoiding the messiness, we may miss the greatest blessing.
Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. Do this even more as you see the day coming. If we decide to go on sinning after we have learned the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:24-26*).
Encouraging each other brings warm feelings, and so does helping each other to show love and do good. Of course, we want our churches to be filled with encouragement, love, and good deeds. We always anticipate meeting together, because who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of encouraging, loving do-gooders?
• “It’s such an oppressive place. Can’t you feel it? I can hardly worship because there’s a heavy unhappiness in our church.”
• “I really want to stay here, but if some changes aren’t made before long, I don’t think I can handle it any longer. Seriously. The leaders just need to get a grip on things or get out of the way.”
• “I’m not leaving the church . . . just this church. I’m not getting fed. It’s not really my style. I don’t feel I’m being used well here, and I want to give my best to God. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want me to stay here.”
But look again at that passage from Hebrews. There’s not a single reference to I, me, or mine. Encouraging each other requires each other. Helping each other requires each other. Showing love and doing good deeds require each other. Meeting together? Yes, together requires more than yourself.
Together or Alongside?
Meeting together isn’t about fulfilling a weekly requirement to attend a worship service. It’s about worshipping . . . and the object of that worship is God, not you. When you make it about yourself—your schedule, comfort, preference, availability, experience, feelings—worship of God is eclipsed by worship of self.
You might be with others in the same place at the same time, but you’re not really meeting together; you’re meeting alongside. Meeting together requires like-mindedness. Not uniformity, but unity. When we come together focused on God, we share the core of our hearts, and we honor God as individuals with the unity of togetherness.
We often focus on the method of meeting together. If the method isn’t polished, we don’t feel the need to stay. If the method isn’t what we prefer, we don’t feel the need to stay. And perhaps we’re not supposed to stay in every church situation, but God doesn’t intend for us to excuse ourselves from meeting together because of the messiness of meeting together. In fact, the messiness is often the greatest blessing of meeting together.
Finding the Blessing in the Mess
When we deal with conflict in biblical ways, we don’t let the ease of peacemaking replace the effort of peacemaking. We don’t walk away because of our assumptions or comfort. We don’t avoid topics or people because we’re concerned about conflict. We embrace conflict—as long as it honors God. We acknowledge the togetherness of God’s people is messy, but we’d rather wrestle through the muck and mire with them than anyone else.
“So when you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with that person, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).
When we search God’s Word for solutions, we wrestle with what we want to believe and what God says is truth. We trust him to sift through our lives and challenge us to continually be molded by his truth. We set aside our assumptions and preferences and let him lay a firm foundation on which we can stand. We honor him when we walk together through the process of searching for solutions and guidance and get closer to him every step of the way.
“God’s word is alive and working and is sharper than a double-edged sword. It cuts all the way into us, where the soul and the spirit are joined, to the center of our joints and bones. And it judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts” (Hebrews 4:12).
When we build trust even where trust has been broken, we rely on God’s trustworthiness over our own or others’. We don’t focus on the offense but on the healing. We don’t retaliate; we reconcile. We’re vigilant not to let bitterness take root, because we know it will soon take over our lives.
We may not be comfortable becoming vulnerable with certain people, but we can certainly become vulnerable in God’s provision of restoration. We might never fully return to a relationship with an individual, but we grow into a deeper relationship with God because of our willingness to fully yield to him. We learn, experience, and embrace trust, not because of who others are and who we are, but because of who God is.
“Everything he does is good and fair; all his orders can be trusted” (Psalm 111:7).
When we put ourselves aside to listen to others, we accept our position in God’s will. He created us, and he knows us intimately—each and every one of us. He knows what we need and when we need it. We don’t know it all or understand a significant portion of it all, yet we have so much to say and share. We want to share what we know. We want to help others. We want to soothe, affirm, and fix. But only God knows what the best response is and whether or not we even need to use words. Togetherness is about humility in every relationship.
“When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
When we sacrifice what we think is ours and live with what is God’s, we stop claiming limitations to our time, our money, our energy, relationships, schedules, and our ministries and accept the only reason we have any of these things is because God has given them to us. We hold our hands open and invite, not just tolerate, God giving and taking away as he knows is best for all of us as we do life together.
“I was naked when I was born, and I will be naked when I die. The Lord gave these things to me, and he has taken them away. Praise the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Together, seek God’s truth and live out his will. Meeting together is messy, but God does both togetherness and messiness exceptionally well.
*All Scripture quotations are from the New Century Version.
Susan Lawrence serves local and national ministries as a ministry consultant, speaker, and author. She serves at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church. Connect with her at PurePurpose.org.