When I interact with candidates in my role as the Candidate Recruiter and Developer for The Alliance, I always ask if they are practicing community. I use the word “practicing” because it is an important spiritual discipline that must be an ongoing part of our lives as believers.
When I was growing up in a North American evangelical church, the only spiritual disciplines I was taught were the importance of reading my Bible and praying. I have since learned that spiritual disciplines encompass much more than this—practicing community is one of them.
As women, we can foster community in our churches. COVID-19 quarantining showed us that there are creative ways to ensure community continues. Many women found ways to stay connected to one other.
At ClayHouse Alliance Church in Colorado Springs, Bridgett Webster—a young mom and wife who leads the women’s ministry—found excellent, free studies ladies could do using Zoom. She organized groups around times that worked for at-home moms and for those who were still working outside the home. I facilitated one study that began at 6:30 a.m.
When COVID closed the Good Samaritan Haitian Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Marie Laverdure, the pastor’s wife and women’s ministry leader, began early morning meetings on Zoom so the women in her church could encourage and pray for each other. Her leadership kept community going for women who desperately needed it during fearful, uncertain times.
In her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook*, Adele Calhoun notes, “Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic and loving ways that encourage growth in Christ. They engage in transparent relationships that cultivate, celebrate, and make evident Christ’s love for all the world.”
When we practice community, our desire, she adds, is “to express and reflect the self-donating love of the Trinity by investing in and journeying with others.” Community is a way we grow in our faith and show the world what love looks like. It is vital to our lives as believers.
Adele asks several questions to encourage us to think about our practice of community.
- What is appealing or unappealing to you about being an independent operator?
- What kind of connection does Christ want you to have with Christian brothers and sisters?
- How does the life you are leading reflect the value Christ puts on belonging to the family of God?
- When has the Body of Christ nurtured you and sustained you? What was it like for you?
Let’s allow these questions to help spur us on to practicing community in our own lives, our churches, and our Alliance women’s groups.
*Calhoun, A. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, revised. IVP Books, 2015.
New Every Morning
When I awoke this morning and opened the window shades, I was met with a glorious sight. The sky was blue, the sunrise was creating a warm glow of yellow and salmon, and freshly-fallen snow was glittering on the trees. I was met with a new day, fresh and full of promise. Immediately the phrase, “the sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning,” came to mind and I was drawn to my piano to worship. What a privilege it is to be met by God in the morning – even before my first cup of coffee! Scriptures began to flow in my mind: “When I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:18b); “His compassions never fail; they are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22b-23a); “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2)
My morning continued. I received a Facebook message, asking if I was available for a phone call. After the phone call, coffee & toast, I carried out my morning routine of Bible reading and journaling. I knew today was the day I needed to write this reflection and had something in mind. While vacuuming the kitchen floor, however, my thoughts were led in a different direction. I thought back to my February 1 reflection about how God brings people together to function as a body and thought, “What body part am I called to be?” We long to know how we fit into a larger whole. We find comfort in knowing our role. On the other hand, we don’t want to be pigeonholed, limited to doing the same thing. “If I’m part of a body, what does this look like?”
That’s when the Spirit gently whispered, “Don’t put yourself in a box. I have something new for you every morning.” More Scripture flowed into my remembrance: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17b); “Keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25b); “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) I began to realize that walking in obedience and living in community with the Body of Christ is not a life of being pigeonholed into one role. Rather, I have the privilege of asking God each day, “What body part do You need me to be?”
As the Body of Christ, we share one Spirit and are connected to one head, Christ, but all the other roles are interchangeable. On some occasions, I may be called to be the liver, filtering out what is toxic in the body. At other times, I may be the muscle, bearing another’s burden, or the tendon, keeping two members of the body connected. Perhaps at moments, I will be the ear, hearing a message that is needed for the body, or the feet, putting into action the message that was received. At times, I may be the soul, the part of the body that absorbs life experiences and brings perspective.
What an adventure! This “keeping in step” life is not monotonous. I will never be the expert in any area, the definitive “kneecap” for the body at all times and in all circumstances. Rather, I remain humble before the Father, asking, “What would you have me be today?” and realizing that, through Him and His strength, I can do everything He asks of me. Even what is unfamiliar. His mercies are, indeed, new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.
Soul Searching Adventure Found Here?
I recently saw an advertisement for a “women only soul-searching trip to the Himalayan mountains.” Yup, you read that right, a women-only soul-searching trip to the Himalayas. I was confused. Why would a woman sign up for this? It is very expensive. You travel with complete strangers. AND, apparently riding a bus through the mountains somehow qualifies as a spiritual experience.
As I thought about it though, I realized this advertisement highlights what many women are looking for.
There is safety in familiar relationships. Women understand the things that all women experience – biological things, relational things, even sin things. We want to feel secure in our relationships, so we often seek people similar to us because similar is familiar and familiar is safe.
Women want a deeper meaning. Everyone wants to matter. Women especially. Women want to know why they are here, what their purpose is, and how to make sense of this world. So, we look for meaning in our family roles, our workplaces, and our volunteering. We find identity in what we do because it is easier than knowing who we are.
“Trip to the Himalayan Mountains”
Women want something more. Let’s face it, for many women life can be mundane. We go through the same motions of the same routine day after day after day. We yearn for excitement and beautiful places that will inspire us and motivate us to do more.
Not many of us will sign up for a women’s only soul-searching trip to the Himalayan mountains, but I think many of us search for these same things: relationships, purpose, and something more. And in Jesus, these are truly found.
True Safety in Relationship
The best, most life-giving, never-let-you-down relationship you’ll ever have is with Jesus. As Tozer said, “Jesus Christ knows the worst about you, nonetheless, He is the One who loves you the most.” Nothing will ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:39).
And the love of God also gives us the Church – not to give us perfect friends, but to give us people who love each other, practice grace, carry burdens, and listen to each other. When our first relationship is Jesus, we’re free to give love and grace to others – even when they let us down. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
The only thing that brings meaning to this broken world is God. By knowing the good news of the gospel we see a patient Holy God, a rebellious people, a rescue mission to redeem people, and a grand battle ending with God being worshipped by all nations. (2 Peter 3:9) Knowing this gives us the ultimate purpose: to love the world and preach the gospel. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We long for the day there will be no more tears, when all the injustice and hurt is gone. This day is coming, and in it, we will be worshiping at the feet of our King Jesus. The beautiful thing is, in the meantime, we get glimpses of what is yet to come here on this earth. The beauty of a new life. The glories of nature. The joy of seeing lives redeemed. The satisfaction of love.
A life with Jesus may not take you on a soul-searching trip in the Himalayas, but He will bring so much more.
Can These Bones Live?
Imagine yourself in this scenario:
The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:1-2)
What would you be thinking? Probably something like: This place is depressing. What a wasteland. If the bones could talk, they would agree, saying, “Our hope is gone; we are cut off.” (v.11)
This scene reminds me of a similar scenario described by the apostle Paul: You were separate from Christ…without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12) Separate. Disconnected. Without hope. Sit here for a moment. Sit in the valley of dry bones. Absorb the profound heaviness of hopelessness. This is the reality of human existence without Christ.
But the Spirit of the LORD is present, proclaiming, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life…Then you will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6) Only God can bring life to the lifeless. Only God can redeem what seems hopeless.
Notice the first step in this redemptive process: the bones came together. (v.7) What was disconnected, God connected. Are you feeling disconnected? Invite God into your reality. Ask Him to provide connecting points in your life. We are created for community. (Genesis 2:18) God brings people together to function as a body. (1 Corinthians 12) The statements, “I do not belong” and “I don’t need you” have no validity in God’s purview. (1 Corinthians 12:15-16,21) Cooperate with God. Do not isolate. Find community.
The redemptive process continues; bones come together, tendons and flesh appear. But there was no breath in them. (Ezekiel 37:7-8) Please don’t miss this: human community has no true life without the active work of the Spirit of God. We can network and connect ourselves with God-honoring intentions, but without the work of the Spirit, we are left with the “empty way of life” handed down to us by our ancestors. (1 Peter 1:18) Busyness, connectedness, and purpose are not enough. We need the Spirit. Hear the word of the Sovereign LORD: “I will put my Spirit in you (not only individually, but also collectively) and you will live.” (Ezekiel 37:14)
Today you may be asking: “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3) Perhaps you find yourself in a desert place. Perhaps you feel disconnected. Perhaps you are connected but are experiencing no life that is truly life. Sit here. Know that God is present. Admit your need. Listen for God’s response. Do what He instructs. And watch God redeem your hopeless situation.