Things have been so busy for me and my family since our friends moved away and the church stopped meeting that in all honesty I’ve had a hard time processing the fact that they’re gone. We’re in a whirlwind of activity right now getting our house ready to sell, preparing to help launch a new business in the spring, and in general just trying to keep up with the kids. So in a lot of ways it really hasn’t hit me yet the way things have changed.
Even still, I miss the church. Though the full impact has yet to register within, I do feel the loss distinctly. It’s just that so much of the Christian life doesn’t make sense outside the context of a regular gathering of believers; there is that much value in a true church life. So at times, when I find myself with a spare moment (which isn’t that often), I will reminisce about our times together. For this post I decided to share about one of those times.
1 Corinthians 14:24,25 says that if all the members of the Body take turns prophesying in the meeting, and an unbeliever or outsider is present while this is going on, that that person will be convicted and called into account by the sharing of the saints. The secrets of his heart will be disclosed and he will fall on his face, so to speak, and worship God and declare that God is truly living in the church.
This is one of those verses that never made much sense to me during my tenure in formalized Christianity. Simply put, I never saw how this practice could apply to a traditional church service. First of all, there is no program in play here other than the simple “order” of the saints taking turns when they speak. That is the kind of order Paul admonished-“just don’t everyone all talk at the same time!” Secondly, the ministry is being handled by all the members present rather than by one or more professional “ministers.” This alone is revolutionary, and I need not point out how it rarely applies to a traditional church service of any stripe.
Anyway, I never really knew the meaning of this passage until I experienced it for myself, until I saw it in action. Then the scripture just lit right up! In this regard, I hold in my heart one very precious memory from my time with the church in Portsmouth. It was during a Sunday gathering. I was neither an unbeliever nor an outsider at this meeting, but the experience of which Paul spoke to the Corinthians was to be mine at this particular gathering. My week leading up to the meeting had been a rough one, as I was going through some things personally that were draining the life right out of me. Very real, very difficult stuff, to me at least.
I came to the meeting just like I did to any other, aside from the fact that I had a lot weighing on my mind. Actually, I take that back. As I recollect it was bad enough that I came with plans to share my burden with the church. But as things turned out I never got the chance, not in the way I thought at least. Once we’d all sat down in the living room the others began to share. One by one the ministry went. I can’t recall much of the content other than a whole lot was being said about the love of God.
Anyway, as I sat there listening something just came over me. Tears welled up in my eyes. Nothing being said was at all specific to my trial at the time, but that didn’t matter. In a way I can’t adequately explain with words, I saw Christ being revealed as I listened to the brothers and sisters sharing. It was powerful. All the pressure from the burden in my heart was like a great big logjam, but as I beheld Christ through the functioning of His Body it was like a mighty river came bursting through the channels of my heart, forcing it all to the surface and clearing it away. I’m not the kind of person who is given to open displays of emotion, but in that moment there was nothing I could do to hold back the tears. Finally one of the brothers looked my way and said, “Josh, I just have to pray for you.” He came over and put his arm around me and prayed. I can’t tell you a word he said but I can tell you what it meant to me. I was touching Christ, and Christ was touching me.
This is one moment among many which I will not soon forget. Hopefully the story of its memory is as much a blessing to you as it is to me. If nothing else, it helped me understand the fourteenth chapter of Corinthians in a way I never did, or could, before.