In 2002, a few months after my sister Martha and her husband, Jim, died in an accident, a friend invited me to a “Growing Through Grief” workshop at our church. I reluctantly agreed to attend the first session but had no intention of going back. To my surprise, I discovered a caring community of people trying to come to grips with a significant loss in their lives by seeking the help of God and others. It drew me back week after week as I worked toward acceptance and peace through the process of sharing our grief together.
Like the sudden loss of a loved one or friend, the death of Stephen, a dynamic witness for Jesus, brought shock and sorrow to those in the early church (Acts 7:57–60). In the face of persecution, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (8:2). These men of faith did two things together: They buried Stephen, an act of finality and loss. And they mourned deeply for him, a shared expression of their sorrow.
As followers of Jesus, we need not mourn our losses alone. In sincerity and love we can reach out to others who are hurting, and in humility we can accept the concern of those who stand beside us.
As we grieve together, we can grow in understanding and in the peace that is ours through Jesus Christ, who knows our deepest sorrow.
“Community” is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives, says Henri Nouwen. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond (Eph. 3:9–10).
In some ways the church has sadly failed in this assignment. Still, church is the one place I visit that brings together generations: infants still held in their mothers’ arms, children who squirm and giggle at all the wrong times, responsible adults who know how to act appropriately at all times and those who may drift asleep if the preacher drones on too long.
If we want the community experience God is offering to us, we have reason to seek a congregation of people “not like us.”
While Nicholas Taylor was boarding a train in Perth, Australia, his leg became wedged in the gap between the platform and a commuter car. When safety officials could not free him, they coordinated the efforts of nearly 50 passengers who lined up and, on the count of three, pushed against the train. Working in unison, they shifted the weight just enough to free Taylor’s leg.
The apostle Paul recognized the power of Christians working together in many of his letters to the early churches. He urged the Roman believers to accept each other the way Christ had accepted them and said, “[May God] give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6).
Unity with other believers enables us to broadcast God’s greatness and also helps us to endure persecution. Knowing that the Philippians would pay a price for their faith, Paul encouraged them to strive “together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you” (Phil. 1:27-28).
Satan loves to divide and conquer, but his efforts fail when, with God’s help, we “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
A young Japanese man had a problem—he was afraid of leaving his house. To avoid other people, he slept through the day and stayed up all night watching TV. He was a hikikomori or a modern-day hermit. The problem began when he stopped going to school because of poor grades. The longer he remained apart from society, the more he felt like a social misfit. Eventually he broke off all communication with his friends and family. He was helped on his journey to recovery, though, by visiting a youth club in Tokyo known as an ibasho—a safe place where broken people could start reintroducing themselves to society.
What if we thought of the church as an ibasho—and far more? Without a doubt, we are a community of broken people. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth he described their former way of life as anti-social, harmful, and dangerous to themselves and others (1 Cor. 6:9–10). But in Jesus they were being transformed and made whole. And Paul encouraged these rescued people to love one another, to be patient and kind, not to be jealous or proud or rude (13:4-7).
The church is to be an ibasho where all of us, no matter what struggles or brokenness we face, can know and experience God’s love. May the hurting world experience the compassion of Christ from all who follow Him.
When we come across a list of names in the Bible, we might be tempted to skip over it. But we can find treasures there, such as in the list of the twelve apostles whom Jesus called to serve in His name. Many are familiar—Simon whom Jesus called Peter, the rock. Brothers James and John, fishermen. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. But we could easily overlook that Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot must once have been archrivals.
Matthew collected taxes for Rome, and therefore, in the eyes of his fellow Jews, collaborated with the enemy. Tax collectors were despised for their corrupt practices and for requiring the Jewish people to give money to an authority other than God. On the other hand, before Jesus’s call, Simon the Zealot was devoted to a group of Jewish nationalists who hated Rome and sought to overturn it, often through aggressive and violent means.
Although Matthew and Simon held opposing political beliefs, the gospels don’t document them bickering or fighting about them. They must have had at least some success in leaving their previous allegiances behind as they followed Christ.
When we too fix our eyes on Jesus, the God who became Man, we can find increasing unity with our fellow believers through the bond of the Holy Spirit.
While standing in line for a popular attraction at Disneyland, I noticed that most people were talking and smiling instead of complaining about the long wait. It made me ponder what made waiting in that line an enjoyable experience. The key seemed to be that very few people were there by themselves. Instead, friends, families, groups, and couples were sharing the experience, which was far different than standing in line alone.
The Christian life is meant to be lived in company with others, not alone. Hebrews 10:19–25 urges us to live in community with other followers of Jesus. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings . . . . Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together” (vv. 22–25). In community we reassure and reinforce each other, “encouraging one another” (v. 25).
Even our most difficult days can become a meaningful part of our journey of faith when others share them with us. Don’t face life alone. Let us travel together.
My friend’s words stung. Trying to sleep, I battled to stop mulling over her pointed comments about my strong opinions. As I lay there, I asked for God’s wisdom and peace. Several weeks later, still concerned about the matter, I prayed, “I hurt, Lord, but show me where I need to change. Show me where she’s right.”
My friend had acted as God’s sandpaper in my life. My feelings felt rubbed raw, but I sensed that how I responded would lead to the building of my character—or not. My choice was to submit to the smoothing process, confessing my pride and stubborn stance. I sensed that my bumps and imperfections didn’t glorify the Lord.
King Solomon knew that life in community could be difficult, a theme he addressed in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 27, we see his wisdom applied to relationships. He likens the sharp words between friends as iron sharpening iron: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (v. 17), shaving off the rough edges in each other’s behavior. The process may bring about wounds, such as the hurt I felt from my friend’s words (see v. 6), but ultimately the Lord can use these words to help and encourage us to make needed changes in our attitude and behavior.
How might the Lord be smoothing out your rough edges for His glory?
Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” With that in mind, I read an online article describing “The Top 8 Deadliest Prisons in the World.” In one of these prisons every prisoner is held in solitary confinement.
We are intended to live and relate in relationships and community, not in isolation. This is what makes solitary confinement such a harsh punishment.
Isolation is the agony Christ suffered when His eternal relationship with the Father was broken on the cross. We hear this in His cry captured in Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” As He suffered and died under the burden of our sins, Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated, cut off from His relationship with the Father. Yet His suffering in isolation secured for us the promise of the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Christ endured the agony and abandonment of the cross for us so that we would never be alone or abandoned by our God. Ever.
A man was boarding a train in Perth, Australia, when he slipped and his leg got caught in the gap between the train carriage and the station platform. Dozens of passengers quickly came to his rescue. They used their sheer might to tilt the train away from the platform, and the trapped man was freed! The train service’s spokesman, David Hynes, said in an interview, “Everyone sort of pitched in. It was people power that saved someone from possibly quite serious injury.”
In Ephesians 4, we read that people power is God’s plan for building up His family. He has given each of us a special gift of His grace (v. 7) for the specific purpose that “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (v. 16).
Every person has a job to do in God’s family; there are no spectators. In God’s family we weep and laugh together. We bear each other’s burdens. We pray for and encourage one another. We challenge and help each other to turn from sin. Show us, Father, our part in helping Your family today.