“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”
– Is 42.3
Four and a half years ago my life fell apart. Everything I had ever worked for was gone. Jobless. I was alone. Homeless. Literally half-way around the world from my home and community. I had spent twenty years of education planning for a specific career and life which I was fortunate enough to spend four and a half years practicing, but then it all came to a screeching halt; completely outside of my control.
I was raised in a Christian home and attended Church and youth group regularly, learning the personal spiritual disciplines of the faith. When I was in High School my family began attending a church that focused on the love of God as His major attribute. Yes, “God is love” and it is indeed a wonderful truth to know and cling to concerning His character and relationship to us (1 John 4.7).
I learned in theory and through the teaching of the Bible how the Church was commanded to take care of one another in our moments of struggle and need. As a naive teenager I watched as we fed the poor through a food pantry, clothed them at the local mission, embraced our friends and their families when teenagers were killed in car accidents and threw lavish events to invite the neighborhood to hear about Jesus. These people clearly had a variety of needs and we were doing our best to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” (1 Cor 12). And even though I loved my friends at Church, even though I loved God, I was never truly desperate for them, or for Him.
Studying science and music at a liberal arts university broadened my perspective to the blossoming narcissism that we now know as millennialism. This worldview was in stark contrast to the strong work ethic and independence I had learned at home, but the Spiritual and emotional needs of my generation and our world become more real and my understanding of how we need to love one another and serve each other – specifically as Christians – deepened…to some extent.
Grad school was a whirlwind of excitement which led me to my dream job. It was becoming a reality. I attended a vibrant Church who loved me and their immediate community and had a heart for the world – the likes of such I have not seen since. Then I moved half-way around the world to live on a tropical island working as a tour guide trekking through the jungle amongst Muslim and animistic people. I maintained my relationship to that Church, having no local one abroad, and they cared for me and I cared for them in a “long distance relationship”.
Then the bottom dropped out. Then came the day that I needed God to survive. Then came the day that I needed the Church. And in that day the Church truly exemplified the love that God is towards me. Those old adages became my reality: I saw that the love from the community I had in the church was real. What was most real, however, was the fact that they did not stand beside me blindly. They were concerned first and foremost with my Spiritual well being. I did not handle myself perfectly through those days, and neither did they, but there was full grace for sins confessed and together we came before the throne of God.
For weeks on end I needed only to survive. I spent sleepless hours in the Bible and prayer, listening to sermons and learning to trust God when nothing made sense. Church leadership and friends checked in on me. They held my hands. They prayed with me. They counseled me. They cried with me. They hung out with me.
However, I still needed a job. I still needed to get back on my feet. The elders, the Church body and my parents were my strength as I searched and found work half-way across the country. Just months after the shock of my world ending, I packed up and moved 1,100 miles away. I did not want to move so far, as the Church was the only thing I had at the time, and I floundered a while in search of my new community. I was so raw and broken, in fact, that I had none of the normal pleasantries polished. I often wonder what those poor unfortunate souls who crossed my path in those days thought of me.
When I finally found that new body, the transition was smooth. My new church picked up where my old church left off. It looked different, as I did not have the history with them, but they learned my story and paired me with a mentor who had walked this path before. God used this new season to rebuild and restore a broken and crushed heart, and to establish a faith that understands from experience that He is indeed sovereign in every situation and works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8.28).
In those days I was the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick. But God is always faithful and will never break the bruised reed and will fan the flame anew as long as the spark remains (Is 42.3).
This, friends, is why God gives us the body. Scripture teaches us that true religion is to care for the widow and orphan (James 1.27). But we also learn that God has given each believer special gifts, abilities and measures of faith – and those are all for the service of one another (1 Cor 12). Yes, we are commanded to love the world and to care for the lost, but we are given one another the body first. We need one another to push one another on to holiness, to meet one another’s needs, to support one another when the bottom falls out.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
– Gal 6.9-10
We, as believers, are guaranteed suffering. It is, in fact, through suffering and trials that our faith is purified and refined. This is why we must be open and vulnerable to our faith community, so that those who have gone before us can encourage us on the path. So that those who are walking the same path will be encouraged to keep going, and those who come behind us can follow our examples. God is faithful and will always be present, and sometimes we need one another to push us on and remind us of those truths we have read so many times.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
– Rom 5.3-5
God loves His church, and He has given it to us as a gift to carry, encourage and love one another through this journey we call life. Find a Church. Love your Church. Build strong and real community. Push one another on to holiness. Carry each other through the difficult seasons. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn. And in this way you are serving Jesus (Matt 25).
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
– Rom 12.15