My wife and I are going through a challenging season.
(Thankfully, not with each other. By God's grace, we're doing well!)
Out of a desire to protect the guilty , I'll withhold the details. I'll just say the circumstances have been pretty rough, and we're leaning into Jesus one day at a time.
And I know we're not alone. In fact, our kids' pediatrician told us that up to 50% of Americans right now are clinically depressed, so I bet many of you can identify with this still-hard season we're in.
But let me ask you a question: when you're going through a really hard time, how do you handle it? (Reflect on that for a moment.)
When New Insights Aren't Enough
When we're new to our faith, it can feel like we're visiting Disneyland for the first time. Jesus, bible stories, the intimacy we feel with God, and nearly everything else can seem almost magical.
After becoming a Christian my freshman year in college, I felt like I was on top of the world, and even 8 AM hard-core science labs couldn't bring me down.
Sometimes, even after we've walked with Jesus for a time, switching to a church with more biblical depth, or enrolling in some kind of biblical or theological training can lead to a similar effect. I still remember, for example, being 'wowed' that first semester in seminary when our professors opened the treasures of God's word to us in brand-new ways.
But at some point, the buzz wears off. Bible stories aren't new and fresh any more. We've connected the different parts of scripture into a cohesive whole. And we've heard what the 'big' pastors and teachers in our particular tradition think on key topics.
And while those realities are inevitable, and a sign of maturity, the author of Ecclesiastes was right: there really is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
What do we do when we face tough circumstances, and there's (probably) nothing new to say? When God is calling us to walk the long, hard road of obedience with no promise of improved circumstances? When we've done 'the right things', and our situation still hasn't changed?
The Missing Ingredient: Biblical Community
Spoiler alert: this isn't a complete answer to the above set of questions. That would require an entire book. And maybe more.
Instead, I'm going to share something we - at least I - often overlook when the waters get choppy. Something that doesn't come to us top of mind when we're looking for answers and solutions.
It's the simple encouragement of biblical community. And by 'biblical community', I mean vulnerable, transparent connection with at least one other Christian.
The bible is filled with verses on the power of relating to other Christians:
- Community leads to encouragement - 'And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV)
- Community is a lab for love and other foundation Christian virtues - 'Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.' (Colossians 3:12-14)
- Community offers encouragement during hard times - 'A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.' (Proverbs 17:17)
Obviously, I'm just scratching the surface here. There are roughly 100 'one another' verses in the New Testament, for example, with about half giving specific instructions for our life together as a community. Clearly we're not meant to do life alone.
And if you look at the various purposes for the 'one another' verses in the New Testament, it breaks down something like this:
- about 1/3 are about love (1 Peter 1:22)
- about 1/3 are about unity (Romans 15:7)
- about 15% are about humility and deference to other Christians (Romans 12:10)
- the other 20% are miscellaneous, and include things like speaking the truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25) and offering encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25)
So, I'm not arguing that the sole purpose for biblical community is encouragement. That's way too simplistic.
The Encouragement Of Biblical Community: What We Often Need The Most
... I am saying that, when life gets difficult, it's easy to overlook how much we simply need others' presence. When we suffer and struggle, we often pull away from others to lick our wounds.
To be clear, we need God's presence the most. Note how, in Psalm 23 for example, God our shepherd provides for and protects us even when our circumstances don't change. When I 'walk through the valley of the shadow of death', it's the fact that 'you are with me' that matters most. (Psalm 23:4)
But other Christians can incarnate God's presence to us in a way we can tangibly receive. After all, Paul says, 'You (plural) are the body of Christ and individually members of it.' (1 Corinthians 12:27) So when life is dark, pursuing meaningful interaction with other believers is often the way God mediates his presence to us.
Earlier today, my wife and I had a Zoom call with good friends of ours. Like us, they're going through a tough season under roughly similar circumstances.
We talked, cried, laughed and prayed for over two hours. And I'm 99% certain we didn't share any new advice or insights with one another.
Not that it would have been wrong to do that. It's just that, in our situations, we already know what God is calling us to do: love the people who are making life challenging, and wait patiently for God to act.
The simple gift of sharing our struggles with people who understand, care enough to listen and empathize, and then pray together was a precious and rare gift.
Sometimes, when we know what to do, but are too weary or discouraged to persevere, we don't need a new insight or new information. We just need the gift of biblical community.
- Think of a situation where you 'know the right answer', but have little reason to think it will change in the near future.
- Have you shared about if openly with another Christian(s)? If not, what's held you back? If you have, how did it go?
- Who can you connect with about what you're facing? When would you like to do it?
- Leave some time to talk to God together (pray) about your situation. After all, God is the one who can ultimately meet you in, and change, your situation!
I get it: it's not like just getting together with other believers to share and pray will fix things. But, if we take the bible and our own experience to heart, meaningful, vulnerable connection with other Christians is often just what we need to weather a harder season.