Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

Over the first three parts of this series we have defined, admittedly in a simple way, why we should think of the Holy Spirit as a person and not an ‘it’ or a ‘blur’. But how does the Holy Spirit fit into the concept of the Godhead? That is the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

My first ever explanation of this seemingly strange relationship between the different persons of God, was when I was about 13 years old. Across the road from my home there lived an old Irish Catholic lady called Jenny. I became good friends with her grandson and so became good friends with this woman who had a gentle Irish lilt and a wise manner about her. In a way, she became another grandparent with whom I could share personal thoughts and ask questions.

I remember sitting around her small kitchen table one day with a cup of tea in my hand (yes, I used to drink the leafy stuff!) and I began to ask her about God and her faith. Eventually, the subject of the Trinity came up. She explained the trinity to me using an egg! She explained the egg has three parts:

  • The shell
  • The egg-white
  • The yolk

If you remove any of these parts, she said, it no longer can be called an egg. Each part has its function, its purpose, and is needed for an egg to be an egg. To expand this further: We don’t refer to an egg using these individual parts. We don’t go into a shop looking for or asking for, a yolk, some egg white, and a shell. We simply ask for an egg!

And so this analogy can be used to help us in describing the Godhead. God is three persons yet they are the one true God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can call upon each of them, pray to each one of them, thank each one of them, but ultimately we are still referring to God. Three different, yet the same persons each with a different function and purpose, but in perfect relationship with each other and that to think that, like the egg, one can be separate from the other is strange and unthinkable.

The ‘egg explanation’ has stayed with me all this time. Through all the years of searching and experimenting with other faiths, religions and what-not, this idea of God has stayed with me. There are many more questions to ask about how the Trinity works as a concept and as a divine reality. There are challenges to bring and other analogies to present. But the truth, which I have grown to accept, is that the Trinity is three persons in one divine being, flowing together, submitted to one another, and loving one another completely.

When we call on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance and direction. When we pray for the gifts of the Spirit such as healing, prophecy, tongues, interpretation and raising people from the dead, we are asking for the power of God Himself to come and be at one with us. When we ask Jesus into our lives and to be our Lord and Saviour, we are asking the Creator of the universe to be at one with us. When we pray, when we cry out to God the Father for help and comfort, He comes to us as the Holy Spirit to be at one with us.

It may be after reading this series that you desire to be filled afresh with the Almighty. It may be you have not been filled with the Holy Spirit, you haven’t yet been baptised in His Spirit. Right now, you have an opportunity to pray for this to happen. You have a choice to reject this deeper connection with His Spirit and to concentrate on the love of Jesus and to read divine Scripture, but I promise that if you take this step to be filled with the Holy Spirit, your walk with Him will take a more fulfilling direction and your maturity in Him will quicken.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

The Holy Spirit bears at least three characteristics of what makes a person a person: Intellect, Feeling, and Will.

Firstly, what does the Bible say about His intellect: For who knows a person’s thoughts except for their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11)

A ‘grey, oblong blur’ does not know the thoughts of God!

The Holy Spirit has access to the deep things of God that no human or entity has. Furthermore, He knows what’s in our thoughts: And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27) The Holy Spirit has full access to God and full access to me and you, there is nothing in our lives that he does not know. Nothing.

Secondly, what about His feelings: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30) The context of this verse is immorality and wrong language. When we are tempted to act and talk like the world that is outside of His Church, it grieves the Holy Spirit. For example, when we are tempted to Gossip, lie, and slander. Those of us that have this intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit immediately sense the presence of someone who is not pleased with what’s happening. It grieves Him. A ‘grey, oblong blur’ or a ‘symbol’ does not grieve.

Finally, the Holy Spirit also has a will: All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each one, just as He determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11) Out of His will, He does many personal acts:

  • He speaks – Acts 13:2 initiates ministry of Paul and Barnabas: While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
  • He testifies – John 15:26 bears witness to Jesus. He gives testimony about Jesus: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about me. (John 15:26)
  • He teaches – But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)
  • He convicts – When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8-11)
  • He intercedes for us – In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
  • He Guides and directs us – But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)

So we know and have read in Scripture, that He is a person with intellect, feeling, and will. These all give rise to the attributes of God, and because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we cannot help but develop these same attributes which are the Fruit of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

I did a bit of checking recently and came across a survey done in 2009 by the Barna Group (a research and resource group focused on the intersection of faith and culture). It was a wide-ranging and nationwide survey, admittedly across the USA, but one of the points of the study was most enlightening. They asked people to agree or disagree with was this statement: “The Holy Spirit is a symbol of God, but not a living entity.” 49% of Christians that responded agreed with this statement. They believed that the Holy Spirit is just a symbol of God’s power and authority.

Let’s see what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit as I think He is a pretty good place to start when you have any questions: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. – John 14:16 (NIV)

The above verse comes from the New International Version of the Bible, I checked other translations and got six different words used in place of ‘advocate’. I think the Amplified Translation helps sum up all the different words used: And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counsellor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby), that He may remain with you forever. – John 14:16 (Amplified)

Counsellor, helper, intercessor and advocate all suggest someone with whom you can have a personal relationship. A friend once gave me a definition of counsellor: “A counsellor is someone whom I confide in, whom I tell everything. In fact, a counsellor is someone I have to ‘let in’ if he’s going to help me. He is someone that I share my most deep secrets with.”

The word used above: ‘advocate’, simply means ‘someone who speaks for you.’ However to speak for you with honesty and integrity they need to know you, really know you, know how you would respond, how you would act, how you would think. An advocate would know you inside-out!

Jesus is clearly talking about the Holy Spirit in this verse, and He is referring to Him in all these different ways (English clearly isn’t up to translating the original language well enough, and that’s why we have so many different words in these various versions). It doesn’t read like Jesus is referring to an ‘it’ or an ‘oblong grey blur’, it reads like a person; someone who is so intimately involved with you that you can share everything about you with Him.

Jesus also uses the word ‘another’ in this verse which is used in two ways in the New Testament: ‘Another thing of a different kind’; ‘Another of the same kind’. In this instance, Jesus is saying the Holy Spirit is another of the same kind of counsellor.

The Holy Spirit then is just like Jesus, one who is called alongside to help.

 

Holy Spirit with Hands

“God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand, but the Holy Spirit is a grey, oblong blur!” (Quote, source unknown.)

 

At Freedom Church (the local church I lead) we spent a year talking about activating the gifts of the Spirit and living lives where the Fruit of the Spirit is there for all to see. We heard some beautiful messages over that year, but just over halfway through God sprang the thought on me that, even as Charismatic believers, did we have any real notion as to who or what the Holy Spirit is?

One thing I love doing is being able to remind myself why I believe what I believe and in doing that I try not to let my faith become too complicated. I’m a pragmatic individual, and if I spend too much time in the upper atmosphere of conceptual thinking I get quite breathless and start to lose consciousness! I can only have a short period in this kind of air, and then I quickly want to come back down to earth and start the ‘doing’ as well as the thinking (I wonder if anyone else like this? Maybe you could let me know!).

I’m of the opinion that when we start to think about the Holy Spirit, we can quickly get all, conceptual, ethereal, and mystical even! But the reality of the Holy Spirit is that He likes to do things not just think about things.

Now please reread the quote at the top of this article (go ahead, I’ll be right here when you get back). I’m of the opinion that a vast majority of Christians probably have little trouble relating to the Father and the Son because of the personal images involved and the reality of the risen Jesus. Even though we know that God is also Spirit we can have some issue with trying to associate the Spirit with personhood; that is He is a person of the Godhead just as much as the Father and the Son.

“For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

I heard a preacher once share on the ‘Peace of God’. He said that we can sometimes fall into the mental trap of giving God layers of authority within Himself – so for example: God the Father is at the top, Jesus is in the middle and the Holy Spirit lurks around at the bottom somewhere. I’m not sure there is any real truth in this!

There’s a story where a Sunday school teacher was trying to teach the children about the Holy Spirit, and she tried showing the reality of the Spirit by blowing on a piece of paper and letting it fly away. She said to the children that the Spirit is like the wind; very real in its effects, but invisible. At which point a 6-year-old blurted out, “I want the wind to be un-visible!” Often I think we also want Holy Spirit to be ‘un-visible’, but because He is not and we see His effects but have no personal images, we tend to let our minds think of Him in non-personal terms and even refer to Him as ‘It’. Here are some words that are used to describe the Holy Spirit in the Bible: Dove, wind, fire, water, oil. All good stuff, all very Biblical, but I make no wonder why sometimes He is thought of as a ‘grey, oblong blur!’

I encourage you to read: ‘Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God’ by Gordon Fee (Fee, G. D. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic). In it Fee paraphrases the creed like this, “We believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and we believe in Jesus Christ His Son, but we’re not so sure about the Holy Spirit!”

Our understanding of God comes through His Son. He has been fleshed out, as it were, at a point in our human history. Even if God the Father may seem distant or transcendental to some, we are not in the dark about His character as we see this through Christ.

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

Reading the above verses, I think they help us recognise that the Holy Spirit is not merely conceptual, but real and experiential. The Holy Spirit is also called in Scripture the Spirit of Jesus. Christ has also put a human face on the Spirit as well as the Father.

There’s an idea that I read about some years ago and I think it’s incredibly relevant to the Christmas season. The idea is this: The medium of the message is as important as the message itself.

Now, what do I mean by that?

A simple way of looking at it is like this: I am a communicator. I preach most Sundays, and I post online, through blogs and social media. I make simple videos like the one below. Every single one of those Sunday messages, posts and videos are, on the whole not, about me in any way, but they have a flavour of me within them. They wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for me, which suggests that as the medium of the messages that I am bringing, I am as important as the message. If I didn’t present a sermon, you wouldn’t hear the words, if I didn’t write the words down, you couldn’t read them.

I was thinking about this idea in terms of Christmas. Jesus came down amongst us as a baby – the God of the universe, who could have come in whatever form He wanted – chose to become one of us. Christ is a message of hope. He is very much the medium of the message, one that brings humanity the possibility of reconciliation and restoration with God and creation.

As much as He is hope and love in human form, He also brought a Good News message. We read about Jesus’s ministry in the Bible. He is out and about encouraging and challenging those He comes into contact with, ultimately telling people the Good News. But He does more than this, He is actually being the Good News. He shows us how to be a humble servant, and how to love and care for others.

So as we’re thinking about Christmas, let’s not forget the real ‘reason for the season’ which is Christ, not Santa, not presents, not any of that. Let’s remember who Jesus was and who He is and the message that He brought, realising that the two things are inseparable. He is both the medium and the message, which is one of hope, reconciliation, and restoration.

Have a really great Christmas, and I hope you get everything you want, just remember though that the thing that we need is always Jesus!

What do you think of when you read or hear the word ‘mission’, what images come to your mind?

You might imagine small huts in remote jungles of South America or see a row of African woman wearing colourful robes, lined up for a photo – kind of like the ones we see on the news when they show us stock images over a story about tribal Africa. Or maybe when you hear the word ‘missions’, you see yourself filling in another offerings envelope at church!

For some of us, the word mission mighty just suggest a place that’s geographically far away from where we call home. Now, I believe, to a degree, that this imagining might be based on ways of thinking from some decades ago; and the reality is that we’re now a bit more savvy to what mission actually is. Possibly though, I might not be too far off the mark when I think that some of us in the Church jump to those images I listed above in our minds when we talk about mission and believe that, in fact, missions are really just something for the missionaries.

But missions – maybe best thought of as ‘living on mission for God’ – is not only for the few who leave or sell all their possessions and move to a faraway land. According to God’s Word, missions is for every believer. We don’t need to work in a church or travel to another country to be a missionary. Every Christian can and should be a missionary, regardless of our vocation or our location; everyone everywhere needs to hear the Gospel, that is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

14 But how will people call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher (messenger)? 15 And how will they preach unless they are commissioned and sent [for that purpose]? Just as it is written and forever remains written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” – ROMANS 10:14-15 (AMP)

In this Chapter of Romans, Paul, the author of this book, has been explaining to his readers the basics of salvation.

He gives us answers to questions we all have at some point:

  • What is salvation? Salvation is a right relationship with God by grace through faith (Romans 10:4–8). 
  • Who is salvation for? It’s for whoever will believe Jesus died and rose again and will confess Him as their Lord (Romans 10:9–13).
  • How can salvation be shared? Someone has to go tell people about the Gospel (Romans 10: 14).

In verse 14 Paul turns his theological discussion into an appeal to his readers, that’s those reading his letter back then, to us reading now.

He asks a simple, but profound question: How are people going to believe the Gospel if they never hear it? To believe it, they have to have the opportunity to hear it, and someone has to take it to them. In verse 14, the Greek word, ‘kérussó’ which has been translated into “preacher” literally means a “herald,” a “proclaimer”, or as it says in the Amplified version I quoted from, a “messenger”.

No one can hear a message without a messenger sharing it. All of us who are Christian are called to proclaim the Good News that we’ve seen and heard – and experienced – for ourselves. That’s every one of us, no exceptions, no timeouts, no comebacks, and no excuses! Our primary purpose, as believers, is to share Jesus with the world so other people can get to know Him too.

In the movie, Forrest Gump, there is a scene where Forrest and his platoon are under severe attack in a heavy combat zone. In this scene, you are shown Forrest repeatedly risking his own safety to save the lives of his friends, especially his good friend, Bubba.  No one could ever call Forrest selfish. Throughout the movie, we see Gump just giving what he had. In this clip (which you can find HERE) he risks his life to help those he cares about.

This is a very powerful illustration of how serious our task is in reaching those who are lost, those that through sin are metaphorically injured and dying – if not literally so. But like Forrest does with Bubba and his platoon, we’ve just got to keep going back into the war zone, back to save the lost kids that God loves, despite the cost to ourselves.

This is God’s purpose for keeping each one of us on Earth and not taking us immediately to be with Him in Heaven once we become His. Our mission is to keep going back to find our Bubbas and to share Jesus with them so they might be rescued from sin and into a relationship with God. We all have been given a mission by God to advance His Kingdom and get back His lost children.

Most of us will never become a world-renowned evangelist. 98% of us will never be called to full-time – salary reliant – vocational church ministry. But we are all called, to share whatever it is we do have: be a witness of Jesus and to testify of our own experience with the living God, to proclaim what we know is true in order to do our part in rescuing a fallen world.

God’s mission comes back to primarily using the local church to find the lost and advance His Kingdom. It says in verse 15 of Romans 10 that no one will go and share unless they are sent to do so. So who does the sending?

The answer is that it’s us, the local church, the ground-level operatives who live right here among the natives. It’s our job to send one another, to train one another, to encourage one another to keep getting up and going back out there. And to help one another discover our gifts and our unique ways of proclaiming the Good News, the news that has meant life or death for every one of us who believe. When we do, we will find that the ancient prophet quoted in the verse from Romans was right: we indeed have beautiful feet when we are running with a beautiful message.

Ballet dancers clearly pay a high price to be the best at their art. I’ve watched some videos online where the dancer’s feet are so worn, beaten, and to be frank, the toes look wholly bent out of shape. Professional dancers, I read, often refuse to let other people see their feet outside of the dance studio. All that suffering and preparation so that they gain mastery of the art of movement is pretty cool. I’m not a ballet fan, but I admire and respect the lengths they go to which enable them to perform their craft to an amazing degree.

Here’s a thought, maybe professional dancers have an alternative standard of beautiful feet – the more worn, the more battered, the more honour they feel they have brought to their performance.

God paid the ultimate expense – the life of His only Son – in order to achieve the restoration of His lost children to Himself. I think that we should also be willing to get our feet “messy” (by going and sharing the Good News). Messy feet are truly beautiful by God’s standard.

I love the statement a ballet dancer says at the end of THIS clip, “Dance with your heart and your feet will follow.” If we choose to love the lost like God loves them and if we allow our heart for the broken to line up with God’s heart, then our feet will follow, and we will want to do all we can to bring them into His Kingdom. There is a cost to living with God’s mission placed above our own selfishness.

Many Christians around the world put their lives at risk just by owning a Bible. For those in closed countries, such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Sudan for example, to share the Gospel with a neighbour might mean punishment, imprisonment or even death. At times, I think, some of us in the UK Church can get a little stressed when we feel that doing anything to reach the lost might risk our convenience, our comfort, or our ‘busy’ schedules. Our challenge, together, is to embrace God’s mission over our own selfishness and put aside our fears and distractions.

When I have stepped out I have discovered that the reward of partnering with God is worth the cost. On a personal level, I’m not sure I do this enough, and I want to do more. I hope we all recognise the same challenge – we can all do more. A Christian life is not primarily about us; it’s about God’s mission and that is scary, but it is selfless.

If you’re a Christian, can I ask you to take a moment to think back to your own salvation story?

When did you hear about God’s unrelenting love for you and the cost He paid to get you back? What if no one had gone out of his or her way to share the Gospel with you? Invited you to a local church gathering, or a small group. How would you have known about Jesus and how He gave his life in order for you to find yours? What would your life be like now had you never heard and, therefore never had an opportunity to believe

In your life and mine, someone must have let go of their “me” to make room for God’s mission. Someone must have let go of their “me” to teach or invite you to that Christian foundation class such as Alpha or Christianity Explored. To serve at that youth or community event you were at, to welcome you into their home for dinner, to pray with you in a time of need – and that was the entrance of your encounter with God.

We’re surrounded by people who are living without God, today. As believers, it’s our responsibility, our privilege, our calling to pray for them to be saved, to share with them, to invite them to a local church gathering, and to tell them our own testimony of a real God who really loves us.

You don’t have to be a professional in order to tell someone what Jesus has done for you.

Ask God to open your eyes to see the people around you in life who need to know Him, who need the hope that can only be found in Him. Start practising sharing your testimony with anyone who will hear it. Begin praying for those in your own family, in your workplace, in your neighbourhood who you know need the gift of salvation. Pray for God to give you an opportunity to share Jesus with them in a real way.

Then, take it when it comes.

“Go on a mission trip. Walk next door.” – Evangelist J John (Twitter post, November 2016)

John Wesley was the founder of what became the Methodist denomination. Initially, this group was called the ‘Holy Club’. People, like Wesley, who formed this club had became frustrated with aspects of the Church of England and wanted to reform parts of it. This ‘Holy Club’ soon developed the nickname “Methodists” because they were very intentional and methodical about their passion for, and the way they did, evangelism and discipleship.

The key to Methodism’s early success in sharing the gospel effectively and winning people to Christ was small group community.  Wesley discovered through trial and error that the most efficient way to see unbelievers and new believers become effective Christians was to have them meet together weekly in a small group of fellow believers with whom they would real-life accountability.

“Christianity is not a religion for solitude and solitary. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion,” (The Journal of John Wesley)*.

Unfortunately, we live in a British culture that in someways champions individualism and this has to a degree infected the Church too. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters have an emphasised personal relationship with God to the point some think that community, walking together in life-to-life accountability and encouragement, is optional. But intentional Christian community, I believe, is a non-negotiable part of being a healthy and productive believer. 

If we look at church as a place to just show up on a Sunday morning, to make an appearance and check off a box on church attendance, then we’re actually missing real church. The Christian faith life requires connecting to others in authentic community, not a come-and-go weekly practice.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews ‭10:19-25)‬

In the previous verses of chapter 10, the writer of Hebrews has explained why the sacrifice Jesus made is enough for us to be cleansed and forgiven. Because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, no other offering now needs to be made. God has declared our “sins and lawless acts” He will “remember no more” it says in verse 17. From verse 19, the writer is saying, we have a new-found confidence to draw near to God without fear.

For the first time in human history, humans can approach God’s presence without fear of death, which is the natural response of someone unholy being in the presence of the Holy One.  We are now made holy, and we’re able to be in God’s presence; all of this is because we have been forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross. From that moment we now get to have unhindered community with God, being fully known by Him and fully forgiven.

Not only can we “draw near” to God it says, but we draw near to God together, in relationship with each other as “brothers and sisters” because of this new way of being in God’s family through Jesus’s sacrifice. We are created to reflect the heavenly community of God, which is family, expressed in His Church and a vehicle for Kingdom advance.

Talking of vehicles, let me illustrate something by using the analogy of drive-in cinemas or drive-in theatres as they call them in the States. Now I’ve only ever seen these, ironically, in movies and I’ve never seen one the UK, so I’m really guessing at what they’re like.

I bet they feel like a completely different experience than watching a movie in a traditional cinema. At the drive-in, it seems, you bring your own snacks, stay in your own car, and enjoy the film without even having to say “excuse me” to another person in order to get to your seat. You could probably show up to the movie in your pyjamas, and no one would have to know. You’ve got the comfort and convenience of a little privacy.

So what’s my point?

Maybe some Christians would love a drive-in option for church (or in fact TV or an online ‘Church’) – don’t touch anyone, don’t talk to anyone, just watch the show in your pyjamas. I know that for some people, this is better than nothing and getting up and getting out is hard – and we need to find ways of staying connected. But that scenario isn’t typical and for most of us, we can make it to a church service or a small group.

Some people avoid community because they just don’t realise how beneficial it is. And some people avoid church for the same reason. Many of us at some point will have been hurt by other people, probably, unfortunately, and disappointingly, even by people in the Church.

Maybe we don’t want to risk that disappointment, that rejection, that pain again. It’s easier to remain distant, aloof, unknown. There’s a false sense of safety in obscurity. Even if we connect with Church, if we’re that way inclined, we want to just slip in and slip out on a Sunday morning, keep to ourselves.

Maybe it’s not hurt caused by other people, but we’ve got a sense of shame that we forget we don’t need to keep hold of when we have a relationship with Jesus. Despite the ‘shame’, we keep up a ‘good’ appearance; nobody has to find out about our rubbish, and thinking from that perspective we don’t have to find out anyone else’s, either.

Real relationships can be messy because they are made up of real people, genuinely connecting. It’s tempting to avoid real relationships and be satisfied with the fake ones – just saying a casual hello during the welcome at a Sunday service once a week.

But that’s not community, that’s not Church, and so that’s not family.

Authentic relationships require knowing one another on a genuine level, and that includes, in the Christian context at least, having relationships with some trustworthy believers who know our personal issues and struggles (and vice versa). Encouraging each other to become more like Jesus in real-life situations, and choosing to see one another as God sees us: through the finished work of Jesus.

As we draw near to God together and give each other the grace God gives us, we’ll be able to experience real community by drawing “near to God with a sincere heart” as it says in verse 22 and that’s the only way life change will happen.

In light of our newfound freedom, through Jesus’s blood, to be fully known, fully loved, and fully forgiven by God, we, as believers, have a responsibility: to help each other do this thing called life.

Because God is faithful to keep His promises to us, we must hold fast to our hope without wavering as it says in verse 23. Because God is faithful to love us, we mustn’t give up in loving each other. Jumping the ship of our relationships at the first sign of trouble, challenge or even a simple difference of opinion.

Not only should we choose to feel affection for one another, which is challenging enough, but we must also “think of ways to motivate one another” the New Living Translation of these verses suggests. We should absolutely, intentionally plot and plan and “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” write the translators of the New American Standard version of the Bible of the same verse 24! Ultimately doing all this to live our lives faithfully for Christ.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers not to be duped into “giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”. He’s warning us to not get sucked into that deceptive habit – and missing Church and church groups can become a habit – but to set a pattern instead of “encouraging one another,” as we realise how much we need each other to really walk our lives of faith.

The devil, it tells us in Scripture, is like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Check out this clip before reading on: Lions v Zebras!

The voiceover guys in the video said, the “first rule of the safari” is this: “always stay with the group!” The same rule, I think, applies to believers. If we become isolated, we weaken ourselves, and we become more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. If we chose to isolate ourselves, not only will we be missing out on the encouragement that comes from doing life together, but we’ll very likely be robbing someone else of the support we could offer them.

We might choose to isolate ourselves for a number of reasons. Perhaps we are tempted to stay away from the church, to avoid accountability and true community because of the mess of real relationships.

Or perhaps our reason or, maybe we can even call it an “excuse”, starts off innocently enough. We might just want to spend a family day at home, to get a few things done. But it can, and here I want to emphasise it’s only a possibility (albeit a strong one) it can quickly landslide into a dangerous “habit.”. Not just of skipping out on a Sunday morning service or small group, but of altogether avoiding that iron-sharpening-iron kind of relationships that bring holiness, change, and victory into our daily lives (see Proverbs 27:17).

My experience over the last 11 years of leading a local church has shown me repeatedly as people step out of the routine of ‘doing church’, their faith walk decreases, and temptation takes over, leading them down a life path they may previously not have chosen. Not everyone admittedly, but enough to make me notice and be concerned when I see patterns develop.

But, there is good news, God is faithful, there is always a way back home. He understands that there’s a perseverance, a certain stick-to-it-ness, that is required to do life with humans. God has had his own barriers to real community with the human race. And yet, the good news tells us that His patient perseverance went to all lengths to annihilate those obstacles, at His high personal cost. Humanity has benefited immeasurably because of His enduring desire to draw near to us. If He had left us on our own, we’d likely have no hope for life on earth and much less for life in eternity.

If we leave one another on our own, if we settle for a superficial come-and-go church, we’ll be missing community and even more importantly, be missing the power of God through it.

Some of us might admit being attracted to the life of a desert monk – a person who just survives in isolation in some remote monastery, being holy all by their lonesome selves. And I’ll admit to you, I am tempted by this at times. I love my man-cave, and I like to 100% switch off from everything and everyone. But I recognise this is not how I should live my life, and I realise how much more vibrant it is when people are walking the same path with me.

Because, it’s relatively easy to be patient, loving, gentle, and kind when there are no other people around. When we’re on our own, or even with a small group that thinks exactly like us, our assessment of our personal holiness would probably skyrocket under such conditions.

But our Christlikeness would probably be quite limited.

Remember, God demonstrates community within Himself, between the Father, Son, and Spirit. How much more should we need community, spiritual family, to thrive? Our desire should always be to bring the culture of Heaven to Earth in a genuine and tangible way.

One of the ways in which we can help each other is by listening to the encouragement of not giving up in meeting together; we need each other! We’ve got to look for ways to encourage each other to keep pursuing righteousness, to keep running after our true inheritance as freed children of God, to spur one another on to live out real life, love, and good deeds.

We are truly better together.


*Wesley, John, and Elisabeth Jay. The journal of John Wesley: a selection. Oxford University Press, 1987