A Hard Part of Fellowship


One of the things most of us hope for when we are part of a church body is the sense of community, of belonging, or of being in fellowship one with another.

When I am speaking of fellowship, I am not really speaking of getting together over food and fun even though that may often happen. I am speaking more about a community bound together in mutual support, companionship, and friendship stemming from shared values and beliefs.

Because life on this earth is messy, experiencing this type of fellowship can often include some ruts or rocks along the way since we all continue to bear the taint of our sin natures even though redeemed. I think we all can struggle with that from time to time, or one degree to another.

What makes this fellowship and community so difficult?

I am sure we can all come up with lists or have some opinions about it, but as I have been reading in my time with the Lord today, I think He points us back to the “big rock” principle He lays down for us.

How do I love my brother or sister, my neighbor?

At the outset, I think none of us do this as well as we would like or might even pride ourselves on doing. I certainly don’t! Yet repeatedly from Old Testament to New Testament each of us is called to do so.

One place I bumped into it today was in Leviticus 19:17:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor lest you incur sin because of him.”

Leviticus 19:17 (ESV)

I can quickly say that I don’t hate someone, but as I delve more deeply into the principles under the verse, I discover it includes a responsibility to God to respect my brother or sister. That adds a dimension I may not first think about when reading a verse such as this.

Respecting someone means having a feeling of deep admiration for someone, holding that person in regard or esteem, acting with deference toward or in civility with the person. This sounds a lot like godly love to me.

That fits with the two commandments upon which everything else depends on first loving God and then loving our neighbor. We all “know” that. Loving God first is what bends our hearts toward loving our neighbor. Only when we do the first can we hope to attempt the second since it is a reflex to the reality of loving God.

I feel like it can be easy to get stuck because even when we seek to put self to death, it keeps sticking its head up out of the ground repeatedly. That keeps me from loving my brother or sister very well, but what I might fail to recognize is that I might not love God or be in rich fellowship with Him. If that has slipped, then I will mess up in loving anyone else because it will invariably be about me in some way or another.

I think these are some of the sticking points that are a hard part of fellowship, but there is something else. When things get messy for whatever reason and our hearts cause our actions and motives to be less than loving, too often someone does not come alongside us in respect and love to help us recognize what is hindering fellowship with God or others.

That requires a lot more from us. It is easier to be judgmental, to cut off the person, to confront without love, or to become bitter. Because that is the case and this community of believers may have more than just one or two of us during this sort of challenge, fellowship is hard.

We will hurt each other. That’s a given even though it is generally not intentional. Prayerfully, we will seek to forgive in the midst of our own hurt or pain.

We demonstrate how well we love when we bump into Ephesians 4:15:

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)

Most of us know that verse but living it out is another story. Think about it. It means I speak the truth versus my opinion or perspective. I share my honest feeling as a feeling, but not as a fact. It also means I share whatever I am sharing in love while not diminishing the issue.

It is also how I help myself and others grow up in Him and in maturity by being open to them when they (out of love) seek to help me not fail or do poorly. It also means I face my fear and gain courage to speak to them in that way, not from a one up position but from an equally level position.

We need more lessons and practice in loving no matter what our age or season of life, no matter what our position or gender.

If we submit to Him and allow His love to permeate our own hearts, I think fellowship will become less difficult and the community will look more like Him.

I love what C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity:

 “God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body. Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God, is the whole Christian community, waiting on Him together.”

C.S. Lewis

Tortoise or Hare?

Photo by Pixabay

Most of us are familiar with the Aesop’s Fable 226 known to us as The Tortoise and the Hare. The hare in the fable makes fun of the tortoise for being so slow. In response to the taunts the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare thinks this is the funniest thing ever since there is no way that a slow-moving tortoise can ever win a race against a hare. So, the hare accepts with no question he will win.

The hare takes off like a shot and soon disappears ahead of the slow-moving tortoise but decides he has plenty of time to grab a nap along the route. While he snoozes, the tortoise reaches and passes the hare. When the hare awakens and sees the tortoise is ahead of him, he leaps up and dashes for the finish line. It is too late, and the tortoise wins that race.

We all know the moral of this story – you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly. Of course, we can all recall times when we have been racing to finish a project or do something else only to discover in our horror that we missed a key component, and our efforts fail.

The problem for us can sometimes be that we live life all the time at the pace of the hare. Our days quickly go from one thing on our agenda to another with very little (if any) gap time left in between. We may have once used planners to help us track it all. Now most of us use our phones, tablets, and Siri to keep us on that schedule. We may tell ourselves that tomorrow or next week will be different but often the pace continues much the same and research points to this as a cause of erosion to our health on every level.

Much of what we do are good things but doing them all is not good for us.

Photo by Lachlan Ross from Pexels

We can even be judgmental about others who are seeming to laze through life as we look at when we can escape to the beach for a vacation to recoup from our own hectic pace. We start to go through life on automatic and may not even recognize the things we are missing along the way – the crocuses that pop up in our lawn that we planted years ago, the color of the sky just before the sun dips below the horizon, the expression on the face of a family member or friend, the nudge from the Holy Spirit to call that person that comes to mind, and so many other things as well. And even the pandemic did not slow everyone down and those who were required to slow their pace were often at a loss about what to do now or how to live life.

Such a pace erodes our quietness before the Lord and mutes the Holy Spirit’s voice and the guidance He offers.

By now you may have determined that is not what you are like or you may feel defensive because it is stuff for your kids, your church, or any number of other good and important causes. I know both of those reactions because I have had them as well at different times. I thought the years I was teaching full-time while a housewife and mom while going to graduate school was bad and when that pace finished things would finally slow down, but I changed careers and life never did slow down and yet it wasn’t life that was setting the pace, I was.

Little by little I began to take back my life and bring my busy life (I hated to have someone tell me that I was so busy.) into subjection so that it was rich with good things but not a pace that was robbing me of the joy of living or noticing life around me. As I did there was evidence in my physical life of the benefits of the change – I started sleeping better, weight was not as much of an issue because I was eating better and cortisol levels were not as high due to less stress, and I had serendipitous moments that made my heart smile.

Photo by Pixabay

I had one of those serendipitous moments a few days ago that still makes my heart smile even more than usual. It was as if the Lord saw a perfect opportunity to have a teaching moment and I was the pupil. And it all happened on a morning when I decided to drive to my favorite walking path to get in some good exercise before digging into the tasks for the day. As I pulled my car into the parking area and turned off the key I caught a glimpse of an older woman walking slowly with a walker toward where two portions of the trail come together. It was only a glimpse and I didn’t think much about it as I got out of the car, retied my shoes, and took a sip of water from my water bottle. My mind was elsewhere.

I started out slowly but quickly got up to peak speed to get the best cardio from the walk. In doing so I became aware of that the woman with the walker and she was now a bit ahead of me on the path. I noticed and realized I would soon pass her and hoped to move ahead of another small group of walkers as well, but the Lord had a different plan. As I approached the woman with the walker, I had the distinct impression I was to tell her that she was doing a great job. It was clear the movement was painful for her and that might be encouraging so as I reached the point at her side I said, “Great job!” She looked at me and smiled and said she needed that encouragement and right then the Holy Spirit made clear that I was not to rush along at the good pace because this woman was part of his plan for my day, and I was part of hers.

As I stopped and listened, the women shared that she was only allowed to walk 20 minutes on orders from her physical therapist, so she set a timer for 10 minutes one way and knew it was a pace of the same length back. A complete hip replacement was ahead of her in about a month, but she was also recovering from the most recent of a series of back surgeries that also kept her in pain. She lived in another county and was now staying with relatives so she could be on one floor and near the hospital and therapy sessions. No question now that I knew I was just to listen. As she continued to talk, she mentioned how much she talked with God about all this, and I shared my husband had pain with back issues as well. At that point she asked my first name and his and said she would be praying for us and shared her own first name.

We spent about 10 minutes talking – enough so that she was bending her leg with the bad hip and the timer on her phone was going off. I told her that I didn’t want her pain to get worse by standing there and she brushed it aside and said she would head back in a moment. She thanked me for listening and confirmed my first name again. I told her I would be praying for her and she said she would be praying for me.

If I had been operating as a hare, I can assure you that I would not have heard the gentle whisper to stop or I would have justified why I needed to keep on my own schedule. The lesson was clear and the rest of the walk my heart was smiling and my spirit was soaring as I prayed for Barb – a stranger the Lord wanted me to notice on that day.

What I wonder is how many times I have been the hare and missed what the Lord wanted me to notice or be. After all, we never see Him rushing as we read about his ministry on earth. He noticed people and things along the way – the fig tree, a man up in a tree, and more. I want to be more like that!

“Sometimes the nothing moments are everything.”

Kristy Woodson Harvey in Under the Southern Sky
Photo by Rob Blair