A Christmas eve email conversation between a friend and me…
My friend wrote: “Our group grew out of our need to share our battered hearts with one another. As we met - little more than a 'spiritual visit' week after week - we were free to share the deeper work that God was doing in our lives, free to share our pain, our joys, our prayers, our 'half-baked' understandings of the Bible. We wondered if we were doing enough to change the world - perhaps not, we thought - but we knew that God was changing us. We experienced our wounded souls - and those of a few others - being turned to new sweetness; in some, we saw great sadness turned to abiding joy and a victorious life. It worked. God worked among us despite our simplicity. Maybe because of it.”
I answered: I have a question. I think we’ve all had periods of that kind of fellowship. But do you notice that sometimes there seems to be long dry periods? What causes that? Is it “our fault?” It seems to me like we can’t “make” those times happen. I mean, I think that’s what “churches” try to do with their worship teams and programs and all… try to “make” fellowship happen. Okay, so if WE ourselves can’t make it happen … but it definitely does happen sometimes – and in those times we do know it is from God! … does that mean that it’s “okay” if we aren’t in that state of fellowship all the time? Or not? What about “abiding joy and victorious life?” It seems to me that while I personally am aware of God’s presence pretty continually, and have joy in that, personally; at the same time it seems like that “continuous, abiding” joy doesn’t always stretch to include fellowship with others. When I write that, even think that, I feel guilty, like it must be “my fault” or whatever…
Maybe I’m just looking for fellowship “in my image” (in the way I imagine it should be)… and in doing that am missing out on the fellowship that is right there in front of me, but I am blind to because I’m looking for what I want…. I do love the coffee times and such with all my new brothers and sisters I’ve met through the street ministry… and chatting with the “church” people when they drop into the “church office” … and stopping by to have coffee with my friends at their places… and stuff like that… But too often it seems pretty “shallow” to me… like we spend a lot of time “talking about the weather” and “having fun” together… but we aren’t “sharing our battered hearts with one another” very often… and we’re not “into the word” very much… and we pray for/with each other so very little.. and of course I long for real fellowship with my husband… and my children…
My friend wrote: " ‘In those days, Mary arose with haste and went into the hill country to a city of Judah and she came into the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth’
And I responded: Yes, that is the thing. I feel like way, way too often we end up talking ABOUT Him but not focusing on Him. I find it easier to focus on Him when I am alone; it is easier to hear His voice… it seems like we distract each other… maybe it’s just our old “human” urge to “be at the center” ourselves, especially when we have an audience of other humans eh… But it seems oh so clear that He intends us to be TOGETHER with Him…. So why is it so hard?
My friend wrote: “To return to the house in the hills of Judea, please notice what they brought with them to the visit with all the 'right ingredients for a true church meeting: - They brought the Life of God inside them, supernaturally planted there by God Himself - They brought an understanding of what God was doing with them. - They offered their expressions of thankfulness for this inner work. - They came with hearts full of praise which overflowed into prophecy. - They uttered no religious 'lingo'; just simple words of praise and insight. - They brought a knowledge of Scripture. Mary quoted from 17 passages in her wonderful song of praise. She was 'praying in the language of Scripture’, an ancient practice which enhances any meeting. - They came with a willingness to express all of the above because the 'air was free' of religion, the environment safe and the environment full of the deepest love there is in humankind: mother-love.
And I replied: Maybe I am just being ridiculous, or self-centered, or something… but it seems to me, over and over, that we are NOT free “to express” … maybe “religion/ tradition/ whatever” is really engrained… I do find there is more freedom, myself, in a group that is just women… when there are men, it does feel like, mostly, women should be “seen and not heard” … and it seems like most people really DO WANT a “leader” (and I mean a human leader: somehow it seems like – dare I even say it – it seems like maybe they feel Jesus can’t quite be trusted… or that He only works through “holy men” … or that, I don’t know, maybe the way things were done in the New Testament “worked then, but things are different now” … or that, of course, we need to depend on people who are “qualified” with a piece of official paper to prove it… or maybe we really don’t feel safe (because we’ve been hurt / have hurt each other / so many times before)… or maybe we really still don’t trust, don’t know, don’t understand, don’t have real assurance, that JESUS LOVES US… and so we don’t… can’t… love each other….
My friend wrote: “I believe that if we could learn from these two humble women, meet as we should with Jesus truly at the center, if we could be as free as they were to share the fullness of the Divine Life within, we would do more for the kingdom than by all the formalized and sanitized meetings we have ever attended. Once more, we should learn to meet like this.”
And I asked: Yes we should. How? Why is it so hard? Why is it so easy to get side tracked? What do we do about people (a lot of them…) in our midst who (very sincerely and piously and sure they are right) attack our freedom? Oh! Paul talked about that in Galatians, didn’t he! “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” …. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? …. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough…” … For you were called to freedom, brethren… through love serve one another… walk by the Spirit… not under the Law…” … Paul ordered the churches to put out those who would teach “another gospel” … It seems so harsh… so “unloving” … but I wonder…. What do you think?
My friend also wrote: “Our little group was so simple but it was profound in one way: we concluded that the center of all our fellowship must be Jesus Himself. All our activities declared this to us. We have never since been satisfied with any gatherings - be they visits or larger gatherings - which settle for anything less that Jesus in the center, teaching the assembled few, never happy with one man sharing his theology. We were spoiled for anything less than Jesus ministering to us all through us all. His Spirit has replaced his physical presence, times have changed but the reality is still the same.”
And I replied: I have to say this… that is how I feel… “spoiled for anything less than Jesus ministering to us all through us all!” But it seems so hard to find others who feel the same….
My friend also wrote: “Recently, a fellowship much like the one I described at the top, met in our home for a weekend retreat. I was graciously invited. Within minutes, I experienced the same 'spark' I described above, the 'spark of recognition' between John and Jesus. It happened to us; I found myself sharing with near strangers at a level that surprised me. These brothers have also met for some time in an attempt to allow Jesus to be the center of each gathering. It seems to work for them as well.”
And I wondered: You said, “these brothers” … do you think it is easier for men to meet like this together, and for women to meet like this together (separately from the other gender)? Is it supposed to be that way? (Some people think so, don’t they…). What about the “family”??? Why do we seem to “function” better divided by gender and age and such? Isn’t that the way of the world? Oh dear…