(“Letters to My Church” devotional series. More information in the Table of Contents.)
It’s cold. It’s cold in my house, it’s cold in my car, and pretty much everywhere I go.
I tried wearing gloves when I walked the dog yesterday. I tried again today when I drove to work. Yet my fingertips felt more cold than before! Why? Because rather than get warmth from one another, each finger is segregated into its own compartment, left to garner heat on its own.
Now take that principle and apply it to our Christian journey. When we stand alone and segregate ourselves from fellow pilgrims along the Way, we are left to generate heat and passion for God on our own, and it rarely works.
There is a story from the days of coal fires, where a pastor went to visit a congregant in his home. They sat in the drawing room, warming themselves by the fire, and the pastor mentioned that he had not seen the man for a couple of months.
The man replied, “Well, Reverend, I’ve been very busy. Things have been hectic at work…” and he went on to give several reasons why he had been away from church.
After the man stopped talking, he and the pastor sat in silence for a minute. Then the pastor took the tongs and grabbed one of the burning coals from the fire and put it on the stone tile in front of the fire. The single coal burned hot and bright, but slowly began to fade until it stopped glowing altogether.
Then the pastor again took the tongs and picked up the cold piece of coal and put it back in the fire with rest. Again, is started to glow and burn.
The two sat in silence for another minute, and the man quietly said, “I’ll be in church this Sunday.”
This story aptly illustrates the power of gathering with other people who love the Lord, and the precariousness of not. Passion for the Lord and fortitude to continue the journey are generated much better in community than by ourselves.
The church is not perfect. The church is full of broken people, hypocritical people, rude people, and annoying people. I am one of them. So are you. Even so, when we surround ourselves with people who want to worship, hear, and follow Jesus, it has a tendency to rub off on us in a positive way.
There may be times – even appropriate times – to take a break. I have done so myself after being tremendously hurt by a church. I fell into God’s arms and asked for his help and grace. But if my break stretches into months or even years away, it’s no longer a healthy break – instead it becomes an unhealthy escape from God’s command to gather with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25) in spite of the fact that fellow believers sometimes hurt us.
Where are you at with Christian community right now? Too busy? Too hurt? Too annoyed? Too spiritually flat to care? It is a hard truth that Lone Ranger followers of Jesus do not grow – in fact, at best we tend to stagnate; at worst we grow cold.
Don’t be a Lone Ranger.