How God Used the Church to Save Me.

“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

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One thing all Christians should stop saying

 

I am guilty.  If you are a Christian, have spent any time in a church, or have even just had a friend go through a rough patch in life, you are probably guilty too.  It flows off the tongue so easily, but then taking action is so difficult.  When someone is in the midst of deep pain, we are looking for a way to comfort and console him.  We often feel awkward and without an answer to the problem of evil and suffering, so instead of simply listening and grieving with him, we throw out the empty phrase,

 

“I’ll be praying for you.”

 

We said it.  We sound spiritual, we feel as though we have offered a bit of comfort and have given ourselves a graceful exit from the conversation or situation.  We walk away, relieved to no longer be in the presence of the unanswerable and even though we feel badly for the person it slips out of our thoughts while we go on with our busy lives.

 

I was in college.  I had a friend who was going through a hard time, and I told her I would be praying for her.  I walked away and her heartache did not cross my mind again until I saw her a few days later.  When I saw her face I instantly remembered our conversation and I wanted so badly to ask her about any progress and to affirm that I had indeed been praying for her, but the reality was that she and her problem had not crossed my mind.  Even keeping a prayer journal with a list of “prayer requests” had not drawn me to prayer; none more deep than “God help so-and-so”.  I decided then and there that I no longer will make that empty promise.  Instead, when the pleasantry sought to roll off my tongue, I would snatch it up and say, “May I pray for you right now?”

 

Six years later I moved overseas.  I knew – academically – the importance of prayer, I had heard sermons, read testimonies and seen God radically changing and healing people, but prayer was not my default.  I spent a year in language school and I became friends with a couple who was about two months ahead of me in the program.  They are from England and they have a faith the likes of which I have rarely seen.  Finding solace in speaking English, we would get together fairly regularly just to be able to speak without having to utilize every mental faculty and enjoy the company of close-culture friends.  The first time they came to my house, we sat and talked, laughed and had a great evening reflecting on the things that we had been learning and experiencing.  Suddenly, in the middle of dinner, and in response to a small topic – one that was not a pressing need but just light conversation – they said, “Let’s pray”.

 

That felt weird.

 

Why?  Because prayer, to me, was when I woke up, before meals, during my quiet time, before bed, and at prayer meetings and church.  And, of course, on the occasion that I ran into someone who was going through a tough time and I had vowed to pray for them on the spot so as to not lie to them with the empty comfort that I would pray for them when in fact I would not.

 

But then we proceeded to have a lighthearted time of prayer where we laughed – mid prayer – and also lifted up these people amongst whom we lived and with whom we could not communicate.  It was inexplicably refreshing.

 

I was inspired.  I wanted to be like them.  Nearly every time we hung out that type of random, unplanned and encouraging prayer happened.  Never by my initiation, however.  They have a spirituality in which they turn to God – not just in their time of need and distress, but when they are happy, encouraged, thankful, hungry, tired, excited – anything!  They want to interact with God in all things.  And they know that God wants to interact with them in all things.  He is not just a cosmic problem solver.  He is a loving father.

 

“Pray without ceasing.”

 

 – 1 Thess 5.17

 

Praying without ceasing necessarily means you are not asking all of the time.  It is reflecting on and enjoying God for who He is.  It is thanking Him for His provisions, for His faithfulness, for salvation, etc.  It is confessing sin to Him.  It is remembering and interacting with Him as a real and vibrant being.  Children are dependent.  They need their parents to survive, and they ask (sometimes aggravatingly) for what they want and think that they need.  But they also play, cuddle, learn from and are disciplined by their parents.  Do you ever play with God?  Enjoy His company?

 

“…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

 

– 1 Thess 5.18

 

God hears our prayers.  He loves us as His children.  So let us turn to Him.

 

I love the Lord, because He hears
My voice and my supplications.
Because He has inclined His ear to me,
Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.

 

– Ps 116.1-2

 

And when we encounter a friend, a fellow Christian, a stranger who is in their time of need, let us remember that we are to:

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

 

– Rom 12.15

 

If someone is hurting, take a moment and pray right there.  Stop lying to people.  And if you truly do pray for someone when they are not around, send them an email or give them a call to check in on them and let them know that you are praying for them.  We feel isolated, alone and uncared for most when we are hurting.  Bringing someone before God is the ultimate blessing to bestow upon someone, and letting him know it has been done or doing it in his presence is dynamic and encouraging.  You do not have to have the reason or an answer to their suffering.  Most people are not looking for an answer.  Just do as God instructs us:  cry with those who cry.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Pray in all things.  Love and enjoy God, and help others to do the same.

 

Prayer

Prayer (Photo credit: Boofalo Blues)