"If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." Ecclesiastes 4:10 NIV
Over the past year and a half, I have been slowly integrating into my local church. Reluctantly taking one small step after another as the Father has called. All along He has reassured me, I am safe here. Despite His instruction, it has taken me this long to let down my guard because I have had experiences that have left me with distrust in people and the church establishment. Time and time again, this church body has proven to be kind, welcoming, understanding, and patient. Each encounter has chipped away the giant wall surrounding my heart.
Moving me forward were the hopes that I would discover a community of believers that resemble those mentioned in Acts 4. Luke describes a community that had one heart and soul, who had everything in common so that no one had need. In a world where loneliness and self-reliance run rampant, this is a salve for the soul. When I look at this description, I think not only of the physical and material needs a community may have, but spiritual and emotional as well.
As much as we love to convince ourselves that we do not need anyone, it’s just not true. We were created to live and work alongside others, connected in heart and mind. Paul used the illustration of a body and all of its parts in 1 Corinthians 12. If you think the odds of accomplishing this culture are unlikely, I don’t blame you. After all, many churches probably don’t fit this description. When people gather together, it is a breeding ground for hurt feelings, misunderstanding, offense and more. People are complicated and messy.
I understand why some may be cautious, but unity is not accomplished by the lack of challenges, disagreements or differences. Unity is accomplished by Love. In John 13 Jesus tells the disciples, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." If we abide by the Spirit and love by the Spirit’s power, this whole unity thing becomes plausible. I would even dare say, probable.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the annual women’s beach retreat for the first time. I was told this is where ladies often meet new friends, experience renewal, and hear God speak. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. At the very least I would enjoy some beach time and get to know the ladies better. I did, the weekend was so much fun.
What I wasn’t expecting, is that along with a weekend full of laughter and sand-covered feet, I experienced a sisterhood that my soul had been craving for so long. Every woman there came with their own struggle looking to experience God and know they aren’t alone. We shared real and sometimes vulnerable moments that bonded us. When I realized that no one there was pretending, good friends became more like family.
On the last day of the retreat, the whole group of women gathered on the beach for prayer. We all stood facing the silver cloud-filtered sunrise. Light glimmered off the rolling waves reflecting iridescent color before crashing into salty foam at our feet. I spotted a friend whom I had not encountered all weekend and decided to say hello. We are knee-deep in the waves talking about the events of the weekend. I could barely keep my footing as the sand sank beneath my feet and the waves pummeled into my legs. The force dragged me back and forth and my friend reached out her hand to support me. I said, “I've got it”, but then I didn’t.
The moment I locked arms with my friend, the accumulated experience of the weekend flooded my mind and I heard the Lord say, “This is what church is.” We lived life together, shared belongings and food, served and supported one another. The experience was well summed up in the act of linking arms, and becoming stronger together. I knew at that moment, this was where I belong.
In Paul’s letter to the Roman believers, he urged, “ Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” This is the best description of the relationship between believers. We all know brothers do not always like each other. In fact, the hallmark trait of siblings is that they fight. But there is also no other love like it, you know each other deeply. No matter your differences, you work it out because love conquers all. Tiana introduced me to a brilliant quote that illustrates our unity so well...
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine
This is what church is. People who belong to Christ, committing themselves to His way of loving above all else. The natural outcome is people committed to one another, living this messy life together. The church is a family.
Remember to prioritize firsthand Bible reading every day, only the Word has the power to transform. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV