TLimS Week 6: Isaiah 40
I'm excited this week to move on to a new topic--one that I have recently had some interesting conversations about and that has shaped my experience and relationship with God for many years. After discussing how God provides for our needs and wants, I want to now talk about how God also provides for our spiritual needs.
I don't know why, but early on in my spiritual walk, I always knew that I had to depend on God alone for Him to teach me (spiritually). I think maybe this was because in high school, I was so busy on the weekends with debate and school that about 50% of the time (or more) I couldn't attend youth group on Friday nights and even church on Sunday morning [I traveled out of town almost every other week junior and senior year]. Because I often missed out on church activities, I couldn't rely on church, my pastor, or other people telling me what to do and teaching me spiritual things. Instead, the only thing I could rely on, was God Himself [I couldn't rely on myself either because I was such a young Christian and really didn't know what I was doing].
Many mornings in my high school career, I would drive to Leland at 7 am (a solid hour before school started). I sat in my car in the parking lot reading and spending time with God. I would pray to God and ask Him to teach me something new through reading the Word or other Christian books that seemed interesting from Bereans Bookstore. These were some of the most formative spiritual moments in my young Christian life.
When I went to college in Berkeley, one of the first things I realized was how many Christian organizations and churches existed in the area. On Cal Day and Calapalooza, all the Christian fellowships and neighboring churches were out on campus, tabling and sharing about their organization--if I didn't know any better, I would say Berkeley was a Christian campus! Unlike my experience in San Jose, where I pretty much only had one church to choose from, in Berkeley, I had (what felt like) a million possible choices of where to go for my spiritual food! It was a bit overwhelming!
I heard about these intense stories where some students would go "church hopping" to look for the perfect church and sometimes, the "church hopping" period would last a whole year!! Honestly, part of me couldn't believe it. After all, in high school, my "church" was more often than not, me waking up early in the mornings, Bible in hand, some other book or devotional in the car seat next to me, just meeting with God on my own in a parking lot.
Even though I didn't really understand it, "church hopping" definitely seemed to make sense. I mean, isn't the point of choosing a church to choose one that will provide for you spiritually? Isn't this the most responsible thing to help foster mature growth in our spiritual walks? And isn't spiritual growth a good thing? So logically, finding the "right church for you," or a church that you feel like helps you grow seems like a God-encouraged process, right?
I began to look up this weird "church hopping" phenomenon. Was there Biblical evidence for this practice? What does one look for in a church when one goes "church hopping," and what guidelines does the Bible provide for this practice? In other words: how do we choose the church we belong to?
After some research, I quickly found out that back in biblical times, people didn't have ANY choice about church! They pretty much just went to the church that was closest to them. So church was more or less just the people they got stuck with, whether they liked it or not. It was really a lot like family... you don't choose your family, you're born into one.
But now, in the modern era, when we have so much choice when it comes to what church to go to, how do we decide? We're not born into a church any more... what do we do?
To answer this question, I started investigating and reading about the purpose of church, especially what our role is in the body of Christ (aka church). I thought I would find tons of passages about how the church was supposed to provide for the spiritual growth of its members. But instead, I literally could not find a single passage that affirms that belief. Instead, all I found was stuff saying that the purpose of church was 1) to be part of the body of Christ and so to be able to be used by God, and 2) to serve one another. In other words, church is all about us, either as individuals or as a group, serving other people, both in the church and outside of it!
So what does that mean when we choose a church? When choosing a church, we tend to think, "What can this church do for me?" Or perhaps, "What is this church NOT doing for me?" But instead, according to Paul's letters, we should be always thinking, "How can I serve this church?" I don't mean serve by doing and leading things--being part of a church isn't equivalent to getting a new job. But I think what Paul means is how can I serve this church by being me? How do my spiritual gifts fit among this body of Christ? If we can imagine ourselves being a part of this body, then we should go ahead and choose to stay at this church.
I truly believe that every person in a church is meant to serve in some way. I want to emphasize that I don't mean serve by doing and leading, but just by showing up, encouraging other people, listening to others, loving others within the church. Instead of always thinking about how the church is failing at providing for my spiritual needs, to instead think of how I can encourage and love others in the church. That is the true purpose of church--it provides a place for us to pour OUT and to bless others with how God has blessed us (while God pours in to us... see below).
I bring up this very specific issue as a way to talk about the larger situation: where does our spiritual fulfillment come from? Does it come from church? From other people? From books? I absolutely believe that God is the primary provider for our spiritual growth. That through Him and Him alone, we get everything we need spiritually. Yes, God uses awesome churches and incredible theologians to do His work. Yes, God uses friendly communities and in-depth hermeneutics for His glory and our benefit. But at the end of the day, we can trust that God will always provide for us spiritually, if we seek Him and put our hope in Him.
I wholeheartedly believe Isaiah 40 is meant to be taken literally: "...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." God provides us the spiritual fuel we need for our lives, for our growth, for our relationship with Him.
This is significant to me because it provides freedom for our churches, our pastors, and our spiritual mentors and friends. I will not rely on these communities and people for my spiritual food. Instead, I will rely on God and trust He will provide. I think sometimes people put so much pressure on our modern day churches, wanting bible studies to be incredible and vibrant and life-giving, and wanting every Sunday service to blow our minds. These are GREAT things, but not when the people in the church are DEPENDENT on them or feel like they need these things to experience God--you only need God to experience God!
Depend on God for your spiritual growth, and He will bless you and grow you in immeasurable and unexpected ways.