When my husband and I were still a “young couple,” we used to laugh over an imagined scenario at our church:
“What ever happened to that young couple with all the boys?”
“Haven’t you heard? They divorced – someone said that they just grew apart, that they didn’t know each other anymore.”
“No! They were here at church all the time! How could something like that have happened?”
Truly, it’s not funny, but we laughed because we knew that even though our church family loved us, if we had said, “Yes,” to all the ministry opportunities that were pressed upon us, it wouldn’t be long before this was our fate. Fortunately, we were able to remember their love for us as we made decisions to become the guardians of our own margins and boundaries.
For many people, the church has a reputation to overcome. It’s hard to trust The Body when you’ve been burned by its members. For various reasons, believers are staying home on Sunday mornings, and the experts say that only 20% of Americans attend church regularly. Certainly, anyone who has done time in the pew can find a reason to gripe: lack of appreciation; not liking the pastor/the music/the sermons/the color of the carpet; unsatisfying or turbulent relationships. All of this should be no surprise to us, for even the healthiest, most vibrant fellowships are populated with . . . well, sinners. There’s really no one else to come to church!
[Please note: I’m not talking about cases of spiritual abuse in which people who have no business being in ministry use their position to take advantage of others in order to meet their own needs. I’m referring to interpersonal conflict, disagreements of style and method, and the misunderstandings that often lead to grudges.]
Even if you feel as if you have been burned by the body of Christ, the church is still God’s means of providing fellowship and spiritual food for His flock. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a single man whose life was cut short by a Nazi noose while he was still in his thirties, managed to capture the essence of fellowship in the body of Christ with these words:
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself . . .”
To me, this “speaking God’s Word” to one another is the way we stay on the path, the way we persevere in the life of faith. In his book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer referenced Psalm 133, an anthem that celebrates unity and community, and, in the psalm, two metaphors emerge:
1. Oil: a sign of God’s presence and a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
“Life together” for Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant that the believer is anointed by the Spirit to speak truth into the life of another because “Christ in his own heart” provides stability, making him a “bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
When I am allowing God to work in me, the oil of the Spirit lubricates my rusty, crusty, and complaining relational joints. He keeps me from throwing sparks, and He smooths the places where my ideas rub roughly against another’s.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments,” (Psalm 133:1,2)
To be honest, my stain pre-treating, laundry-doing, 21st century heart quails at the mention of all that oil running onto Aaron’s robes, but for the sojourner, traveling to Jerusalem and singing Psalm 133 on the barren and dusty Judean roads, the song would have carried a message of refreshment and relief. Likewise, the work of the Spirit in those who believingly follow Jesus in my church community provides renewal and refreshment for me. Sharing the way God’s Word is changing them, testifying to the evidence of His active presence in their circumstances, they are precious oil, for even during times when God seems silent in my own world, I am encouraged by His “very present help” in their lives.
2. Dew: a symbol of refreshment and blessing
Mount Hermon, with an altitude of over 9,000 feet, would have seen some dewy mornings, much to the envy of those living in barren, dry Jerusalem.
It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing— Life forevermore. (Psalm 133:3)
In the same way, I am refreshed and renewed by the enthusiasm and spiritual hunger of the women in my Sunday school class. From my “forever young” octogenarian to the twenty-somethings with their passion for outreach, each week their love for learning God’s Word and their compassionate impulses fuel my flagging spirit.
“How can I send help to that family who lost everything in the flooding?”
“Can we put together a special encouragement package for our pastor’s wife? I’ll bring the basket!”
Oh, honey, yes! Bring the basket!
Bring on the dew!
Let the oil of the Spirit run, and let this delightful community of faith flourish under His renewal, His strengthening, and His encouragement!
Image credit: Many thanks to Jen Ferguson.
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