Anybody who knows me would call me a social butterfly. They might even joke that I go to church mainly for the coffee and fellowship. Well, they wouldn’t be far off. I so enjoy studying God’s word, singing rich worship songs, and hearing a gospel-centered sermon on Sunday morning. But I also enjoy gathering and talking with other believers, encouraging one another in the Lord. Isn’t that what draws most of us to a church—the people who welcome us and walk alongside us on the journey of faith?
Anything but Normal
Then came a pandemic, and as you know, things have changed drastically for churches and congregations across the country. COVID-19 hit, and we were left trying to figure out how to make Sundays normal when they are anything but normal.
When the pandemic first arrived, my church met virtually. It was novel and cool for the first couple of weeks, but before long the newness of the experience wore off. For the last few months, we have been worshipping together through a limited outdoor and indoor service. Most people wear masks and leave quickly. Between the wind, the heat, and tired kids, it is hard to stay present during the service. My mind wants to wander to my to-do list or to the problems in my life that I think I can solve (instead of listening to the sermon and hearing from the God who holds all things together). I struggled with these things before COVID, but they feel especially prevalent now.
Fellowship is the most difficult, because in order to hold services we must remain physically distant. Most people go home right away after the service. Conversation is hard. It is hard to know what to talk about except the “thing” that made fellowshipping hard in the first place. And no one actually wants to talk about the “thing” that is on our minds all the time. I am weary, and some Sundays I really don’t want to go. I would rather push against the hard than embrace it.
Encouragement When Church Feels Hard
The early church definitely knew something about hard. Between family divisions (Mark 10:29), disputes among church members (1 Cor. 6:5-6), and various forms of persecution and suffering(Acts 8:3, Heb.13:3), the believers of the early church definitely had reason to stop going. But this is exactly why Paul felt called and inspired by the Spirit to write and encourage the early churches in his letters….
On this day he looked more like a man than a boy. The gore of war had spattered and stained his person. Adrenaline laced fingers intwined themselves in the trophy’s scalp – a bodiless head swinging slack-jawed before the king’s throne.
David presented the head of the giant to King Saul. The king grunted his approval. The palace court humbled itself into silence. No warrior had been found to stand for Israel against the blasphemous enemy – none but a young shepherd with his sling shot and an unwavering faith in Yahweh.
From the corner of the room, King Saul’s son, Jonathan, watched and listened.
“Whose son are you, young man?” the king inquired.
Bowing his head, David replied, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
At that moment Jonathan’s heart swelled with affection. A love that only the power of Yahweh could provide burned within the young prince. Jonathan saw beyond the simple clothing and the country accent. He saw a brother in the Lord and a friendship that would endure for a lifetime.
If David could slay a seasoned warrior with a smooth river rock, what could he do with the proper equipment?
Pulling the young shepherd aside, Jonathan began to disrobe the finery he was born into. The opportunity to outfit a new hero would not be lost to the prince. Jonathan saw potential. He would play his part in shooting this champion to stardom!
Over David’s rough, wool tunic a royal robe was draped, and a fine belt was strapped. David’s heroic heart was protected by princely armor. A well-balanced sword and a finely strung bow completed the arsenal in the shepherd’s hands.
Jonathan gave David a royal outfitting. He gave his beloved friend power, protection, and a new identity.
David was a more than a man when he hit the return road home. He was a celebrity.
From every city, clogging every road, women surged forward with instruments and voice. Colorful skirts twirled in delight. Eyes sparkled with victory. Bracelets jingled on dainty wrists to the beat of the tambourines.
The contagious smiles reenergized David on this day that was for him. This day the women celebrated and sang:
Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.
The Blessing of Godly Friendships
God unites people together for all sorts of reasons. He places encouragers to lift us up when we’ve hit a low point. He rallies champions when we’ve lost the power to fight another minute. He brings admonishers and counselors to guide us through sticky decisions. He gifts us lovers and friends to sweeten our days with laughter and joy.
Godly friends are easily identified by their actions…