Quiet times, with music in the background and a good book to read, are the ‘sweet spot’ of life for me. But, the frequent days without much human interaction that came with my recent retirement has made me know, anew, how important it is to converse, to do life with other people. Those days that pass without the sound of a human voice is a little like living in a house without a heating system, functional but cold. I need the warmth of words. How about you?
COVID brought times of extended isolation to most of us. We were working from home, limited in our gatherings for worship, perhaps even avoiding extended family. As a result of this, depression increased. Suicide rates ticked up. General unhappiness grew. People did not do well coping with life – job loss, financial difficulty, and/or the uncertainty that came with the virus. In part this is because we were not standing around talking before work, or sharing a cup of coffee in the church foyer, celebrating family birthday parties, or having those casual conversations in the grocery store.
Without realizing it, we are therapists to one another, processing life, making sense of the senseless when we gripe and gossip and give thanks. Like the newly retired Jerry, many had taken for granted the warmth of human interaction, only missing it when it was gone.
God created us to need people. Christians are part of a great community called “The Church” which He designed. The Holy Spirit inspired these words – “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body … As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, NIV) Our connection is not just to meet some psychological need, though it does.
We are called together to complete one another,
to become – together – what we cannot be alone.
One of the tragedies of the American practice of Christianity is the devaluing of ‘’church.” Millions of professed Christians have abandoned worship gathering, denigrated spiritual leadership, and attempted a “Jesus and Me” faith. I think understand some of the reasons! The Church has been scandalized by greedy pastors and lecherous priests. What passes for ‘worship’ services are often a hastily thrown together conglomeration of songs, announcements, and “talks” that replace the Word with stories.
Gatherings that are shaped as a performance instead of a divine encounter may fill our heart but our spirit will hunger still. A misplaced focus on the congregation rather than on the Mystery and Majesty of God leaves us spiritually hungry, even if we cannot articulate why. Yes, I who has spent his lifetime as a church professional get why some have walked away from church, if not from faith.
But, despite the scandal, paucity of worship, and even some of those people in the pew
we would admit we do not like all at that much,
God desires that we connect, that we make our gathering together a priority,
exercising faith and praying that in the act of corporate worship
the Holy Spirit will do something to us and through us in this living Body of Christ.
We resist the clear direction of God at great cost to ourselves. Hear the directive- “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)
Oh, I know that just being ‘in church’ is no guarantee of spiritual development or maturity. Many congregations include a person who has been in the 3rd row virtually every Sunday for 50 years who is still mean, full of rage, and critical – but he is our brother. When we love him, obedient to Christ’s word, we grow in grace. But, there is a joy, too, that is found in standing next to that person who came to Christ from a world different from ours who adds a dimension to our humanity as well as our faith.
It is not just a psychological or sociological issue, either. There is the mystery of faith, the supernatural work of God that happens when we habitually present ourselves to Him in intentional worship with others. And yes, there is this – when we take the Cup and Bread of the Holy Meal, focused on the mystery of the Presence of Christ in them, we are connected spirit to spirit and with His people from the ages. Together we confess our sin, realize anew His grace, and renew our hope in an unmerited salvation. Christ commands this celebration of Him and our connection to others in the Body. We are poorer if we ignore His words.
Let’s prioritize worship with others, not just out of duty or grim discipline, but with delight in God’s command. Instead of going to ‘get something,’ let’s pray to gather to take our heart, mind, soul, and body to God: “Here I am, Lord, to declare Your worth.” Let’s be the Body, loving others, learning the joy of shared faith.
Here is a word from the Word. “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . . we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4: 2-5, 15-16, NLT)
Come people of the Risen King
Who delight to bring Him praise
Come all and tune your hearts to sing
To the Morning Star of grace
From the shifting shadows of the earth
We will lift our eyes to Him
Where steady arms of mercy reach
To gather children in
Rejoice rejoice let ev’ry tongue rejoice
One heart one voice
O Church of Christ rejoice
Come those whose joy is morning sun
And those weeping through the night
Come those who tell of battles won
And those struggling in the fight
For His perfect love will never change
And His mercies never cease
But follow us through all our days
With the certain hope of peace
Come young and old from ev’ry land
Men and women of the faith
Come those with full or empty hands
Find the riches of His grace
Over all the world His people sing
Shore to shore we hear them call
The truth that cries through ev’ry age
Our God is all in all
Keith Getty | Kristyn Getty | Stuart Townend
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