“God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68:6
I don’t remember the moment when I first read Psalm 68:6, but it was some time within my first year of surrendering my life to Christ. Over the first few years of my walk with God, I took this verse like a promise; that the Lord would someday set my lonely self in a family. As I grew in Christ and in His Word over the years, I came to understand that the promise was not only for my hope of a family of my own, although He richly provided that, too; it was for the larger family of God found within the local church.
You see, the church really is a family. The language used to describe the church in the New Testament is always familial or communal in origin; the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the brothers and sisters in Christ, etc. You and I, if we confess Jesus as Lord and King, we are meant to belong to each other as members of one another – as family. Sometimes, that works out in resplendent joy, like all the best parts of belonging to a family. There’s warmth, and laughter, and encouragement; security, and comfort, and love. At other times however, like in an earthly family, it can look like strain and difficulty and heartbreak and hurt; offending one another, forgetting to take the trash out, pulling each other’s hair, demanding our own way. Over the years, the temptation to let love grow cold can make itself known. But can I encourage you, reader?
Don’t let it.
In every season, the family of God is to be marked by love – the love of our Father, and our love for each other – and love never fails.
Do you know why we need to be reminded to love one another, to forgive each other, to bear with one another’s burdens?
Because we need it.
People are messy. You and I are messy. People behave in unloving ways. We behave unlovingly. People need forgiveness. We need forgiveness. Without the divine imperative to forgive and love, this world would be a cold and lonely place. And without our operating in the “family dynamic” of grace and love that God intends, our world will be a cold a lonely place.
Perhaps there have been times you’ve wrestled with the commitment to community. Perhaps you’ve been hurt or suffered real harm from someone in the church at one point or another. Perhaps you’ve found yourself wandering down increasingly darkening roads, thickets choking out any room for companions, feeling unknown and utterly alone. Who hasn’t wondered if “cut and run” is the way to go. After all, life is so much cleaner when it’s just our own selves to deal with. We know our own ways, and if we don’t have to worry about coming into contact with each other in meaningful ways, we don’t need to suffer the mess when that contact leads to sparks. Proverbs 14:14 touched on this thinking thousands of years ago. I don’t say this to minimize the real pain and suffering that can come from living in community – but a life where we allow our love to grow cold, where we allow our hearts to harden rather than soften with the balm of God’s grace – that life is no life at all.
The thing is, in the family of God, there really is no opting-out; the local church really is God’s “plan A”, and that means that you and I are part of it. You are loved, and you are needed, and the brothers and sisters around you – they’re loved and needed too. You have specific giftings that are meant to bless your brothers and sisters, just by your showing up and being you. Just by coming “home” at the end of the day or week, you’re enriching and blessing the lives of others. And they have gifts hand-picked by God to enrich and bless you. The body of Christ just isn’t the same without you, no more than your body would be without an arm or an ear or a spleen.
Perhaps we can come to the proverbial dinner table knowing that some days, everyone will have had a great day, the sun will be shining, the Wegman’s parking lot had a spot just for you, and the dog didn’t pee on the floor. Hallelujah, ice-cream for everyone.
But can we also settle in our hearts that some days will be hard, people will be people, there will be real offenses to be dealt with and there will be real forgiveness that will need to be exchanged – and we still come to the dinner table anyway? Even on the hard days, commitment to community, the family of God, is worth fighting for.
And when we ask the Father’s help and actively pursue loving each other well – with love, and grace, and patience, and humility, and forgiveness (and maybe a little ice cream) – what could be better? What better testimony to a dark and lonely world than the steadfast light of Christ shining through our hearts?
Be encouraged, family. The Church is God’s idea, hand-picked by God for you to be blessed by and to be a blessing to. We all need each other, and He knows what He’s doing.