Sometimes church is uplifting, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes challenging. Today brought a mixture of all three. We sang some of my favourite songs, including kicking off the service with ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ to mark the start of advent. We also sang that classic hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’, and I couldn’t help but sing my lungs out until my voice started croaking.
The more challenging part of the service came in the message delivered today by pastor Michael Traynor. Michael was speaking about fellowship in the church, and the focus of the message was ‘deep fellowship’, an idea which took a bit of explaining. The scripture that was the focus of the message was Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which says this:
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
These verses from Ecclesiastes talk of warmth, help, and reward, as examples of some of the benefits we find in having a true friend to help us in life.
In the context of church life, we need people who we can share with on a deep level. We need people who we can connect with in a meaningful way and not just talk about the superficial stuff. Part of church life should be forging relationships that allow us to share not only the easy parts of our testimonies, but those parts which we keep hidden for fear of the judgment or perhaps disdain of others.
I think that so many of us have secrets that we feel we can’t talk about because we feel embarrassed or ashamed. And I count myself among that number. There are some things that I feel I want to share, but they are deeply personal, and to be perfectly honest, I’m afraid of how others would react if they heard what I had to say.
James 5:16 reads as follows: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There is an indication here that confession is a powerful tool that enables God to heal us, and I suppose this is a major function of the deep fellowship that our pastor was talking about today.
It takes time to build this kind of fellowship. I have only been attending my church for three months, and although I’ve met many wonderful people and made some great friends, there’s no one that I feel I can share my deepest secrets with at this time. But it is partly about commitment and effort, and I will be praying that in time God will enable me to forge those bonds, even if it’s just with one person, that will allow me to pour my heart out to a receptive and loving ear.
Of course, God knows us with a deep intimacy (“And even the very hairs on your head are numbered” Matthew 10:30) and it is perhaps easier to share things with Him, because we know that He is already aware of our deepest secrets. But in the realm of interpersonal dialogue, we need to nurture a deep level of fellowship and love our neighbour (Mark 12:31) enough for a profound trust to develop.
I was grateful for the challenge that pastor Michael blessed us with today. It has focused my prayers around the matter of deep fellowship, and in the coming months I will endeavour to grow closer to people in church so that we can share secrets and confess our sins together. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Perhaps, if we can share in this way, we might experience the love of God in a way that we hadn’t previously thought possible.