A Scattered Church
Well, here we are on day one of this separation. I imagine most of you, like us, feel strange right now. A bit discombobulated. We’re supposed to be together now. The worship team would be singing everyone in, Erik would be keeping us on the edge of seats with his wit, and wondering if he would make one of his epic announcement gaffes, we would be blessed by Rick’s always insightful and challenging Communion messages, and we would indeed commune, together with God. Then you would all be spellbound listening to every word of the sermon God put on my heart to share with you (the pastor’s dream!), and afterward we would bask in the warmth of sweet fellowship, that love that Westview shares like no other, truly a place to belong. Instead I’ve been working on the website updates, praying for all of you, missing you all, missing Sunday Bible Class, missing the worship team, missing praying with George before service. When we are separated, the love is only more evident by the missing.
It made me think of those saints that James, Peter and John wrote to, whom they no doubt missed, but were urged by the Spirit to encourage, exhort and instruct so that they would flourish despite their circumstances. We study those messages, and we wonder, what would it be like to suddenly be cut off from our lifeline, His church body? We talk about churches in hostile regimes where they are not allowed to meet, and we feel bad for them, but we’ve never really experienced anything like it.
Never until now. And this, beloved, is nothing like what those precious saints experienced, uprooted from their homes, their communities, and thrust into a sometimes very hostile environment with no support base. Ours is a temporary, self-inflicted separation, for all of our good, for the good of our whole nation. Theirs was imposed and permanent. So we can’t fully relate still. But though our separation is temporary and we will yet again meet and thrive in God’s blessings (especially the freedoms we have in this wonderful country), we can, and, I am convinced by the Scriptures, should learn from it.
James makes this crystal clear to us in chapter one.
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [c]trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [d]endurance. 4 And let [e]endurance have its perfect [f]result, so that you may be [g]perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and [h]without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a [i]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James acknowledges their difficult circumstances, the trials of separation, but reminds them that a loving, generous God will redeem them, and they will gain endurance from them. And if they follow His direction, they will also gain wisdom. That is why God allows such trials in our lives. Endurance and wisdom. We need both, don’t we? So here we are, our worship routines disrupted, our study routines disrupted, our fellowship routines disrupted, even our prayer routines disrupted. And it is a trial. Those routines have served us well in our walks with Christ. Those scattered believers that James wrote to, his own flock, his very church family, had been cut off the same way. But God has a good purpose in every trial.
So he says to consider it all joy — not the experience but the result, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance. And if we let it happen, if we don’t do something to prevent it, we will become more and more mature, complete, and lacking in nothing we need in our pursuit, service and walk with God.
And how could we prevent it? By not gaining the wisdom He intends through each trial. By moving on too soon, before we’ve acquired that wisdom. By quenching the Spirit before we’ve gained that wisdom. By brushing off the trial and rushing back to life as normal. By giving up because we haven’t received it fast enough. By trying but not able to figure it out, and so giving up. Ultimately, by not asking Him for it. Look how firm this promise is, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
If we aren’t finding the wisdom God has associated with each trial, we are told to ask, not each other, not Google, not anyone or anything but God. Ask God and He will give it to us. And not just to check a box – there! I asked God and still don’t know! But ask in faith, without doubting. How can we not doubt? By believing that He will give it to us generously and without reproach. By believing what He said. That’s faith.
What’s the problem with doubting? Doubting comes from two bad things: double-mindedness and unstableness. We’re double-minded because we ask in case maybe that will work, but at the very same time not sure it will. We are unstable because we’re dealing with our trials by looking all over the place — maybe this will help, maybe that will help — moving from one thing to the other. Only with faithful confidence that God will keep His Word and provide the wisdom we need can we count on receiving it.
So for us, we are in the midst of a trial. It’s a trial that others have endured to a much more dire degree, to be sure, and have found their way to learn and grow. We know empirically that God will indeed give us all more endurance through this. And if we go about it right, it will also bring wisdom that will help equip us to be more mature, more complete, to have less and less lacking in what we need to know to bring our best for God in every circumstance.
One lesson I thought of right away was to have better understanding for those who are separated from the flock. Shut-ins, sick people, or those required to work during church times, or even those sent far away on deployments, or people like us who must for a greater good, and people like those that James wrote to who have been forced away from each other and thrust into difficult circumstances. It also struck me to not take it for granted, but to reach out to my church family and encourage them and to be encouraged by them. Some of you have texted even while I’m writing this, and what a blessing it has been.
I’m sure there are many more lessons for me during this time, and I know it is a biblical fact that He has them for each of you too. I pray that you will follow this little exhortation and get all you can from this trial, and each of us will be even more equipped and ready to serve our Lord and one another.
Much love and affection in Christ. I miss you all!