For almost 15 years I have spent most of my days working as a Christ-centered counsellor. I was not yet 30 years old when I began, and to make matters worse I also looked about 5 years younger than I was - and when it comes to looking like you can offer wise counsel, youth is not an asset! I offered what I knew from my experience, but ultimately I offered people God’s word which led them to Jesus. In my years of helping people, I have met many people who were skeptical that there was any value in coming for help and ultimately put off doing something that would actually be good for them. I think this same thing happens to many people when it comes to experiencing community.
We know that community is important, especially Christian community; in Genesis, God declares that it was not good for man to be alone, and the writer of Hebrews urges his readers not to forsake the gathering of the brethren. Not because God was or is keeping attendance, but because we can't survive in this world without community.
Our problem is typically not with the idea of community; our problem is that all too often we have experienced "bad" community instead of a "good" grace-filled community.
If you had to confess all of your struggles, would you choose to confess to strangers that you would never have to see again, or to your church community who you'll see every week? I have asked people this, and the overwhelming answer has been without any hesitation - the group of strangers. Most people explain they’d no longer feel safe in their churches if people there knew their struggles, and that they’d be afraid of what their pastor would say or think if they knew. That answer breaks my heart! How can it be that a place supposedly founded on the love and grace of a Saviour, that loved us so much that while we were sinners He died for us, has become an unsafe place for people with struggles?
In John 13:34 we read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The word Jesus uses for love here is the specific Greek word, "agape." This is not a sentimental love. Instead, it is doing what is in the best interests of another, even at my expense. It means laying down my life.
Hopefully, at this point, you realize how IMPOSSIBLE this is for us to do alone. Only God can do this; God is love; God is agape. Maybe this command to agape cannot be translated with just one word. Perhaps we can begin to understand what it means to love by understanding what a community of grace and love looks like, and few people have defined it as well as John Lynch has; so rather than me trying to reword it, let me just quote John from his book, On My Worst Day. John invites us to imagine a place, a community of believers where we are:
Drawing out each other’s new natures instead of comparing behaviours.
Moving closer to each other when we fail, gaining permission to protect one another.
Creating environments of grace where it is safe not to hide.
Enjoying the intimate and unguarded closeness of a God that is already pleased with us.
Reaching others with a gospel of hope that is, for today, much more than a pathway to get to heaven.
Living with heartfelt obedience instead of religious compliance.
Giving our life away as a response of love not as an effort to assuage our shame.
Breaking the ought code that is ruining our kids for intimacy with Jesus.
Taking off the moralistic filter of God’s word that believes He condemns us.
Believing that we are adored on our worst day so that we are freed to take off the mask.
Resting in the absolute reality that a shame-free story has already been purchased for us.
And I would add one more:
Where the group is defined by their love – protection, support and care for one another, not by their political affiliation or how polite and proper they behave in public.
One of the most humbling statements that you will ever make to another is “I need you.” Not in the sense that you are a source of life, only God is, but since God lives in you, I need to know and experience God through you because there are times when I am overcome and undone by our enemy to the point that I am struggling to hear God directly. Together, we stand a chance of rejecting the lies of our enemy and will once again be able to see the truth of who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us.
We are called to love, and you cannot love
without first being part of a community.
Are you beginning to see, not just the importance, but the necessity of having a community of grace, a community of people who we can be open, transparent, honest with? This is not a suggestion by the way, this is a requirement for life and survival in this world. And to be clear, I'm not talking about a Facebook community! We need real community, and real community will always mean the risk of being hurt because others will fail to love you perfectly all the time.
This community of grace is something that you will have to fight for, you will have to nurture it as it grows, and then you will have to protect it by not letting the busyness of life steal it away. So, seek people out and share life with one another; both the good times and bad times.
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 24-25