We all go through hard times, some being worse than others. One thing we all need during those times is stability.
One particular time, for me, was more devastating than any other before or since. I felt like every natural thing I’d built my life on was coming apart, and that its foundation was crumbling. At that point, all I could rely on was God.
It would have been easy to back away from church right then, to draw into myself and give in to the pain and fear. Instead, I did two very important things. I kept one (ONLY one!) very close, mature friend up on what was going on so that I had her prayers, encouragement, wisdom and support, and I stayed active in church. When many others would have run away from the church, I ran to it.
My problems didn’t disappear when I walked through those doors, but as I served Him in my appointed ministry, and as I soaked in the sermon, I found true peace. I seriously understood the Psalmist’s words, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.” In truth, church services, during that time, always ended too early for me.
Different denominations use different words, but we call the room where we worship the sanctuary, and that’s what it was for me – in every sense. I found sanctuary there, protection, refuge, comfort, peace…stability.
I learned many things during those horror-filled months, and this is one of them. The church, if you are truly an active part of it, offers stability in unstable times.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]
Psalm 84:10a (AMP)
I’m over fifty, and I turned my life over to God when I was twelve. I’ve had some truly joyous days in those years, and I’ve had days so devastating that I would never wish them on my worst human enemy. (The devil is a different story!) One thing I can say from experience is that Psalm 84:10 speaks truth…great truth.
In earlier years, church attendance was an act of discipline. I made myself get up on Sunday mornings and forced myself to ignore weariness on Wednesday evenings. Eventually, though I began to see a pattern.
Any time I truly entered into a service, taking an active part in it rather than merely letting it happen around me, I came away energized – no matter how tired I’d been when I arrived. Any time I’ve gone to church and consciously set aside my worries, fears, or pain, spending time focusing on God instead of me and my issues, I have come away with more peace, clearer vision, and often even supernatural release from even crippling pain.
I speak of emotional pain, but the same applies to physical pain. For years, I suffered from three-day, hormone-induced migraines that hit every fourteen days. Day one I usually spent in bed, sure I was going to die. On day two, I knew I was going to live, but wanted to die. By day three, the pain was still devastating, but so much lessened in comparison that I could push through it. During this time, I was first in the band and then in the choir, yet I missed very few services.
By then, I truly understood the importance of, and many of the reasons for, God’s command to assemble together (Hebrews 10:25) and simply (though not always easily) refused to let my body dictate my actions. And God honored my choices.
In the band, I played small percussion. Percussion and migraines obviously don’t mix; neither do singing and migraines. Even so, almost without fail, as soon as praise and worship began I would be totally pain free and I would stay free from pain until I stepped down and sat in my pew. Sometimes the pain stayed away and sometimes, usually, it only eased up, but continually God reminded me that He had called me to serve in the music ministry and as long as I stayed right with Him He would make me able.
So… Today there is no “I don’t feel like going to church.” Or, perhaps I should rephrase. There are days when my body would rather not go to church. I, though, have realized that I always benefit from being in service. I want to be there on the good days, when all is right with my world, but I especially want to be there – desperately want to be there – when fear, doubt, pain, or heartache are hounding me, because it is there that I find solace and strength. It IS better to spend one day in His house than a thousand anywhere else!
And as strongly as I feel this now, oh how I look forward to Heaven!
…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
“…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” states it so clearly.
I was told once, by an avid fisherman, “I can get as close to God on the lake as I can in church.” That may well be; who am I to declare him mistaken? But he cannot get as close to the assembly on the lake as he can in church, because the church is where we come to assemble ourselves together.
…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.
How much this shames us. The writer of Hebrews spoke to those Christians and reminded them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together as was the manner of some. If the statistics are true, this verse would need to be reworded slightly for today’s American church. It would need to read, “…as is the manner of most!” A large percentage of the American population professes to be Christian, but where are these people when the rest of the body comes together for worship? Why are they forsaking the assembly? Could it be that they have never truly read this verse?
God creates nothing without purpose and the local church serves His purposes greatly. As long as we continue to forsake this assembly we refuse to grow up and become all He has called us to be (Eph 4:14-16).
…but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24 elaborates on the exhortation; we are to exhort one another to love and good works. And we are to do it “so much more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Day, of course, refers to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it doesn’t take either an expert on Bible prophecy or a student of world events to see that the Day is most definitely approaching. Indeed, it approaches so quickly that I find myself rushing to get done all He has called me to do so that I will leave no unfinished work behind me.
Oh, that we would stop playing around with the time He has given us, but that we would, instead, devote our days to preparing ourselves and others for the reality that is eternity!
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Christ’s body, like our bodies, consists of many parts, and God created each part to serve a purpose; I Corinthians discusses this at length. A friend once told me that she had discovered what part she was – Christ’s nose hair. She said it laughingly, but a brief anatomy study reveals that, in a way, she was right. Nose hair acts as a filter, preventing that which is unacceptable from entering the body. This woman has tremendous discernment and walks in spiritual authority at a level beyond that to which most Christians would aspire. When demons have been known to tremble in your presence, you do help to protect the body from unwanted entry.
Each of us is called by God to serve a unique purpose, to fill a position in His body – in the local church. I Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” There are many parts – many of us, the individuals who make up the body of Christ – and each part is both uniquely necessary and necessarily unique. Just as God did not create the human body with nothing but eyes, tongues and hands, He did not create the body of Christ with only pastors, choir members and ushers. No, the body of Christ (and each local church body) is made up of many parts, many people. Us.
But it is not enough to acknowledge that we are each a part of the body. No, we must also discover which part of the body we are. Note, I do not say we must decide which part we are. No indeed, for I Cor 12:18 states clearly that, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (emphasis mine) God has a unique plan for each one of us and it is our responsibility to seek Him and find out what that plan is. If we presume to decide for ourselves what function we will fill in the body of Christ, we make a gross mistake. Just as an elbow does not have the option of deciding it would rather be a hand, we do not have the option of changing our God-given assignments.
Over the years, I have repeatedly witnessed the results of this very thing, people attempting to choose their own assignments rather than seeking God’s direction. The music ministry is typical; many people join the choir not because God has called them to that position, but because it is where they want to be. Fortunately, most of these misplaced members eventually realize they have put themselves into the wrong position and, hopefully, move on to the place of God’s calling. How much easier would church life have been on them if they had gone straight to God for their assignments instead of telling Him where they had chosen to place themselves? Indeed, how much better would it have been on the choir and music ministry if they had not put themselves where they were not called to be…and how much easier on the ministry that had anxiously awaited their arrival? An elbow that tried to be a hand would create a multitude of problems; one who is called to be an usher, yet tries to be a nursery worker, can do the same.
Yes, it is imperative that each of us, as members of the body of Christ in general and our local church bodies in particular, find out where God has called us to fit in and GET THERE. My place, for 28 years, was in the music ministry. I served wherever the head of my ministry asked me to serve, from choir loft to church office, and I will dare say that I filled my spot well. I have, in the past, likened myself to a ball bearing, the part that makes everything run smoothly while remaining, itself, unseen. Looking at my reference verse, I suppose I would say that I fell into the, “held together by every supporting ligament” category because ligaments are absolutely necessary for the proper running of the body, supporting everything from their unseen position. Interestingly enough, it occurs to me that they are also nurtured and sheltered there, protected by all the visible things that cover them.
Had I ever wanted to be one of those visible parts? Of course! I have an ego and fight pride like everyone else. Like many who love to sing and end up joining a church choir, I had my moments of wanting to be a front line member (one of those few who are on the main stage), but the main platform was not my called position. Understanding this, I chose to put down the flesh whenever it would raise this topic. Interestingly enough, long after I conquered my flesh in this area, God arranged for me to fill in as a front line member for one service. Had I cherished any lingering thoughts of the main platform they would have been squashed flat that night. Everyone said I did well enough, but like an elbow trying to be a hand I felt grossly out of place. Dear God, never again…please.
Today I am on staff at the church, so my position has changed dramatically. No longer in the music ministry, I run our coffee shop and Info Table instead, but I am still a supporting ligament, still just doing my best to keep things moving smoothly and with excellence. I love being where God has called me to be!
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:14 begins, “Then we will no longer be infants…” and verse 15 says, “…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This whole passage, Eph 4:14-16, talks about us maturing, growing up and refusing to remain babies. Any pastor will tell you sadly that there are too many spiritual babies in the body of Christ, too many spiritual babies in his church. Verse 16 reveals one of the great evidences, an obvious indicator of whether one is a mature or immature (baby) Christian.
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.
According to this Scripture, the growth, the maturity, the building up in love comes as each part does its work. Not only must each part of the body of Christ and, obviously, the local church body, work (which is a rare enough thing in most churches), but each must do its work – not that of another part (someone else’s work). Each of us is a part of the whole body and every one of us has God-given work assignments. Only when we walk in submission to Him and do the works that He assigns do we really grow and build ourselves up in love. Furthermore, only when we each do our own work does the body grow and build itself up in love. When we fail, the body fails; if I, as a supporting ligament, choose not to do my assigned work, all that I support is hindered, handicapped and slowed in its growth.
When you put a bumper sticker on your car, people associate you with whatever that bumper sticker represents. Did you cut them off in traffic? They’re probably disparaging your preferred university. Even worse if you’re a Christian, when they see you behaving badly while driving a car that labels you as a Christian or a member of a certain church, they are quite possibly using your behavior as an excuse to judge God and your church.
You think I’m kidding? I know someone who will not put one of her church’s bumper stickers on her car because she’s heard, too many times, “Those ______ drivers are some of the worst on the road!” She doesn’t want to risk her driving reflecting badly on her church, so she won’t advertise where she goes.
I think of this sort of thing often as I pray the Lord’s Prayer. I wear the label “Christian” and, whether or not anyone around me sees that label (And they do!), I know there is a multitude of other witnesses both angelic and demonic that do. Even more so, God does. God’s name is holy, and my desire is to always, even in the privacy of my own thoughts, reflect His holiness, not giving the devil or man any reason at all to judge God poorly based on ME.
As I pray “hallowed be Thy name,” I renew my commitment to keep His name holy, to do nothing to sully or stain it. I remind myself that every little thing I do and don’t do DOES matter, and that even a moment of giving in to the flesh can have a terribly negative impact on people around me, putting a wedge between them and my God and, yes, between them and my church if they know where I go. What if my church is the one God has been calling them to and my actions make them turn away? God has said in His Word that He holds me accountable for such things!
I’m human, and I fight my battles with flesh in all its forms just like every other human does. I fail Him and the people around me all too often, but when I realize I have I hit my knees, repent, and get back up even more determined to get it right the next time.
I do it because His name is holy and I am well aware that I have a responsibility, that my part as a Christian is to always do my best to respect His holiness.
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Under his direction
These first three words are the key. We must submit to Him as part of His body, completely under His direction. If we won’t be under HIS direction, totally submitted to HIM, why do we call ourselves Christians? To be called a Christian is to be called Christ Like, and Jesus Christ was so completely submitted to His heavenly father that He willingly took the unimaginably horrendous path to the cross.
So, as we are under His direction…
the whole body
The whole body, every part of it, is “fitted together perfectly.”
is fitted together
This phrase is in the passive voice, which shows that it isn’t the body that is doing the fitting together. The “fitting together” is being done to the body by God. (I Corinthians 12:18, KJV But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.)
When we are under His direction, allowing Him to fit us together—letting Him put us where He wants us instead of insisting on putting ourselves where we want to be—we will be fitted together perfectly.
as each part does
Every part of the body has work to do. If a part of the human body refuses to work, the whole body suffers. The same is true of Christ’s body. We are not just here to be. We are here to do. (Ephesians 2:10, KJV, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.)
its own special work
God gives each of us work to do and we can either do that work or not do it. If we choose to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do it well or poorly. If we choose not to do our work, we are free to choose whether to do nothing or to do someone else’s work instead.
We’ve a world of choices and only one is acceptable—to do that special work that God has set aside specifically for us. To do anything else is to fail Him, the body, and ourselves.
This even holds true when we decide to do ‘extra’ work. While being faithful to our own special work, we might still have enough time that we choose to go help another part of the body as well. This can be a wonderful thing, but if we move against His direction, stepping out on our own accord, the whole body will suffer.
This is not to say a man cannot be active in more than one ministry. If God directs him to serve in multiple areas, God will also orchestrate his service. If, however, he chooses to serve in multiple ministries against God’s direction, he is asking for trouble to visit not only him, but every ministry he touches.
We each have our own special work to do and He expects us to do it and do it with excellence!
it helps the other parts grow
What a gift! Can anything greater be said of a man than that he helps others grow? No. Here is a promise, a result, worth working toward!
And, to consider this from the other side, if this member of Christ’s body chooses not to be under His direction, not to fit in his assigned spot perfectly, not to do the special work God has assigned specifically to him, then he will inevitably hinder the other parts in their growth.
How much better it is to do what we know to do and do it in the way God intends!
so that the whole body is healthy
This is one third of what should be our goal, and is God’s goal, for the body of Christ—that we as the body be healthy and growing and full of love.
Unfortunately, though many individual churches are healthy, this cannot be said of the church as a whole, at least not here in the United States. Many churches have experienced splits and too often church members are not surprised when they learn of other members’ immorality. One can also find church buildings for sale in this nation that are available for purchase not because the churches have grown too large for them, but rather because they’ve died.
Obviously, if the church as a whole is not healthy, it is also not growing. I was somewhat surprised at one point, though I wasn’t too very shocked, to hear my pastor say in a sermon that the church in the U.S. has not grown since the 1970s. If this is true, something is obviously wrong.
and full of love
This, perhaps, is the saddest thing of all. God is love; you would think that His church would necessarily be full of love, but in how many churches will you find no gossip, no murmuring, no backbiting, no complaining… If a church is truly full of love, there is no room for these things.
So we, the body, fail the test. We are not fitted together perfectly, with each part doing its own special work. Why?
Because too many of us have never learned the difference between being a volunteer and being a called out, chosen one—the difference between one who casually offers, “I’ll do it,” knowing he has the option of quitting later, and the one who answers the call of his Lord, fully prepared to do anything and everything he is told to do. If the church is to be healthy, to grow and to be full of love, we as individuals must grow up first, moving beyond “I’m only a volunteer!” and into “I am a called out child of God who will fulfill my destiny!”
Jesus often used illustrations a gardener could easily understand. In looking at volunteers it seems particularly appropriate to follow His example. So let’s imagine the life of a certain volunteer plant.
There was once a volunteer plant. Like all volunteer plants, it popped up in an unexpected location. Some animal carried a seed into a side yard and dropped it, and there it grew. When the gardener found it, he had to make some decisions.
Should he move it to the garden where it could grow as he’d intended and receive all the right care? No, the plant had set its roots firmly right where it was; it would not be shifted to a more appropriate location.
Would it be best for him to cut this plant down so that it would not hinder the growth of the plants he had selected specifically for this area? He did not like this idea at all, for it was a nice enough plant and there was some hope that it would bear decent fruit even here, where it wasn’t supposed to be.
So the gardener chose not to cut it down, but to watch and ensure that it did not too greatly hinder the growth of the plants around it. If it proved too much of a danger, if the fruit it might one day produce seemed not to be enough to outweigh the damage it could cause, he would remove it.
So it remained where it had planted itself, though the gardener was never fully happy and kept a cautious eye on it always. He watched as it grew. He watched as it flowered. He watched as it produced fruit. He watched as it died.
The gardener had managed to minimize the damage this volunteer plant did to its companions. He had also harvested the fruit it produced, though this fruit was disappointing when compared to the fruit of similar plants that flourished in the other part of his garden. The gardener was sad as he disposed of its dead remains and considered what this plant could have been, what fruit it would have produced and how much better off both sections of his yard would have been, if it had only put its roots down where it belonged.
The gardener, of course, is God. The volunteer plant is the Christian who is a mere volunteer, one who does not understand the call of God, one who chooses where he will go and how he will serve instead of letting God plant him in the proper spot and serving as God calls him.
A mere volunteer goes where he wishes to go, offers only such assistance as he is inclined to offer, and remains only as long as he wants to stay. He may choose to plant himself in the very place God would have put him, but if his heart is not right or if his chosen place of service is not what God has planned for him, there will be problems. He may be of some benefit in this area where he chooses to plant himself, but he will never be all God wants him to be.
The Christian who plants himself in a location other than the one God has chosen for him will have, and cause, special problems because he is not where God wants him to be—in that place set aside for him where he can do the special work God has already prepared for him to do. (Ephesians 4:16, KJV, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.) He cannot help this alternate location as well as one who is called to it, and it is entirely possible that his presence will eventually prove harmful—to himself, to those around him, perhaps to both. He may manage to live the entirety of his days in this one, wrong spot and he may be happy, but he will never be fulfilled because he will never become all God has ordained him to be. Worse, the body will never be all it is supposed to be, because he is out of place.
When you consider plants, there is really only one difference between a volunteer plant and a weed. The volunteer plant is a cultured plant, one that is designed to serve a purpose. God obviously doesn’t want weeds in His garden. He also doesn’t want His cultivated plants putting their roots down in places not of His choosing.
A volunteer, according to the dictionary, is one who enters into an activity of his own free will. A mere volunteer not only enters of his own free will, but retains the right to free will, the right to say, “You can’t expect me to do that; I’m only a volunteer!” He will work only as hard as he pleases, do only the jobs he chooses to do and stay only as long as it suits him. He persists in thinking that it’s all about him, when in reality it’s all about HIM.