Monday afternoon I was in Mardel bookstore searching for some material for the children’s ministry at our church. As I walked through the kids section, I saw a book I had given my prodigal younger brother for Christmas in a previous year and tears filled my eyes. Two years after his departure and I still get caught off guard with the pain of that reality.
Monday night I was at FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and heard something about a great event being put on by another church in town, and for a moment envy and jealousy crept into my heart, threatening to briefly harden my heart towards this other church instead of rejoicing with those who rejoice.
In the span of just a few hours, I was confronted with my suffering and my sin. My external pain and internal temptations.
Some of you may be thinking what I think from time to time, “Nathan, shut up, you’re constantly talking about these things on this blog.” My fear is our churches are full of people thinking the same thing about each other, “Can you just stop talking about the same things all the time? We get it. Sin, sin, sin. Suffering, suffering, suffering.” And while there are a plethora of commands of how we’re supposed to treat each other, we appear sometimes to not really want to obey these commands at all. Let’s look at some below.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. – Romans 12:15
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2
What I am not advocating for is all of us sitting around together in our Sunday School classes, going in a circle and sharing our deepest current sins and struggles with absolutely no follow up (This happened to me at a D-Now when I was in Junior High. It wasn’t helpful.)
What I am advocating for is for us to be willing to have those type of conversations with some of our fellow believers.
Talking about these things is not always done in a beneficial way. Opening up about sins for the sake of tearing down facades of perfectionism and walls of great lives is not enough. I once sat in a Men’s Group in college where all we did was rate our temptation towards certain sins on a scale of 1 to 10. After that we prayed together, acknowledged we’re all battling temptation, and then never talked about it again. This does basically nothing. It’s borderline enabling, because it tells people that everyone fights sin so don’t beat yourself up too much.
Confession without daily walking in wisdom and love through sin is dangerous and incomplete.
We need to be people who daily fight for each other. Yes, daily. To get there, we have to acknowledge that all of us fight sin and fight suffering. Every one of us. Every day.
I have yet to meet someone who is physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally 100% every day. So even on my most joyous and hopeful days, I’m struggling in a sin-ravaged world.
Now that I’ve rambled, let me get to the part of the blog I really want to focus on.
To get to what I’ve described above, we have to move toward each other.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, someone is not going to randomly start opening up about their sins and struggles at church out of nowhere (if they do, that’s likely a cry for help that we must follow up on and be a source of hope and freedom for that person).
Why do we need to move toward one another?
Because we’re human. And we’d rather not open up about these things.
But Christ came to us.
John 1:14 says that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. He set up shop on our block. We in our flesh would never go to God, so He came to us in grace and love.
We can model this in this way. Move towards someone today. Move past the mega-annoying ‘how are you doing’ question that only leads to a ‘good’ response. Push past that into real questions about their lives. Seek to humbly listen, learn, and love. Don’t come with answers, come with questions. Don’t come with selfish motives, come with a desire to love someone in your church as Christ would.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19
This will inevitably be insanely awkward at first. Last year I met with two great young men every week for lunch, and for months it seemed to be all conversations about Fortnite and sports. It took a while for us all to collectively push past those surface conversations into deep intentional ones. In some of my discipleship relationships today I’m still in the awkward stage. To be vulnerable and open about these matters in our lives, we need to trust that the other person cares enough to pray, call out, convict, and follow up.
Guess what. Doing this, this moving towards someone else thing, is uncomfortable. It takes effort because it’s not what we’re naturally prone to do. Yet Christ stepped out of glory to meet us here on earth. You and I can get out of our comfort zone in order to become covenant communities of believers who are actually for each other in the grimy and gritty days we live in.
I would challenge you to not simply like and share this post, but rather to implement it. Pick one person this semester or season to have this type of relationship with (outside your spouse). Pick one person that you weekly, if not daily, reach out to in the midst of our own personal sins and struggles. Don’t just confess. Walk through sin. When it comes to walking through sin with another, I mean that when someone confesses sin to me, I’m going to text and call and message and make sure that they are aware of my prayers and of my Scripture-based encouragement as they go through the fight. Don’t just break down in tears about difficulties in your life, pray through it.
If we as the Church would do this, we would see our churches come alive.
Move towards another person today.