I went to church yesterday. That isn’t unusual; I go to church every Sunday. But yesterday, I saw the church at work, and I saw God at work in the church.
At this stage in my life, I am itinerant. My husband’s work moves him from place to place, and we set up temporary dwelling wherever he is located. We also maintain our permanent home, and I still work several days a month there. So, I travel back and forth — a lot. This means that while we have a home church, I am often a visitor in other churches. Since my husband’s work schedule requires work on Sunday, I often visit alone.
Normally, I don’t mind this too much. I love church, and the music and the Word feed my soul. Church is the stabilizing point in weeks that have me moving from place to place. Sometimes though, church is hard. Sometimes I have to motivate my introverted self to enter a congregation where I know no one and where I have no earthly connections.
Yesterday was one of those days. I didn’t sleep well, and I didn’t feel well. The day was damp and gray. I almost convinced myself to stay at the apartment. But God nudged, and I went. Thank God I went.
When I slipped into the church five minutes late, I knew something was different. The crowd seemed larger than normal, and the mood was somber. The associate pastor was talking about someone’s death. I didn’t see the pastor – did something happen to him? I heard a woman’s name – was it the pastor’s wife? Listening closely, I realized that the church body was reeling from the aftershock of a horrific automobile accident that had claimed a life and left multiple church members severely injured. There were people in three different hospitals, and the prognosis was not good for several of them. The church was mourning.
We sang of the hope of Christ. We read scripture that focused on the foundation and comfort of God’s love. I heard the Church proclaim faith in the face of suffering and hope in sorrow’s night. Then the pastor, whom I finally saw, asked us to pray.
He had us to gather in small groups to pray as he led us. This was uncomfortable, because I didn’t know anyone to join with, but the couple beside me just pulled me right into their group. We prayed. I didn’t personally know the people that we prayed for, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. God drew me into the fellowship of His people and into the fellowship of their suffering, and God drew us all into His heart.
As I have continued to pray for those involved in the accident and for those who will be ministering to them in the days, weeks, and years to come, I have thanked God for His church —
- for the fellowship of believers;
- for the opportunity to lift my voice in proclamation of faith and grace and hope and joy;
- for the sense of family and belonging, even when I am alone;
- for the support system that is hardwired into His church;
- for a time to pull apart from focus on this life to focus on Him;
- for the certainty that this life is not all there is;
- for community and common heart among people who do not know each other;
- for grace that brings us, with all of our faults and attitudes and failures, and plops us right in the middle of family;
- for God’s Holy Spirit, Who draws us together;
- for a body of believers who, unknowingly in their grief, helped minister to my discouraged heart.
I often hear the instruction in Hebrews 10 used to require church attendance, and I do think it applies, but when read in context, we see His purpose was for us to support each other to stand in the difficulties of life. God knew that life would be hard, that we would face sorrow and questions and trial. So, He placed us in the family of His church for encouragement and support.
Church is hard. Sometimes we think we just can’t open ourselves up or stretch ourselves to join in, but the glory of church is not just what we get from it. The wonder is that we can join with others to encourage them and worship our Creator.
Thank God for church!
Hebrews 10: 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.