One evening, years after we were married, Michael and I had a heated argument as we were getting ready to go to a friend’s house for dinner. We had misinterpreted each other’s intentions and said words that were hurtful and pain-provoking. I was reduced to tears and he to silence.
Great! I thought. The last thing I want to do feeling like this is be with other people. I silently ran through a list of reasons we could possibly cancel, but they sounded too feeble so I resigned myself to the evening.
During the entire drive to our host’s home we sat in silence, except for Michael’s asking, “Are you not going to speak to me all night?” To which I cleverly replied, “Are you not going to speak to me all night?”
I started thinking about the couple we were going to visit. Bob and Sally Anderson were one of the first Christian couples Michael and I had befriended after we were married. We had a lot in common, including our children. Their daughter, Kristen, and our son, Christopher, were born about the same time and had become good friends. We loved being with them because they were solid in their relationship as well as their faith, and we knew there weren’t going to be any weird surprises in store for us.
From the moment we arrived at their home I felt the tension between Michael and me dissipate. Throughout the evening our hearts softened, and by the time we went home we were laughing.
It was as if the goodness of the Lord in the Anderson family had rubbed off on us and we were strengthened by it.
This kind of thing happened so many times that when Pastor Jack exhorted us to “be in fellowship with other believers” and waved his hand across the congregation as if to get his sheep moving, I understood the need for it.
More Than Just Friendship
The word fellowship sounded strange and “churchy” when I first heard it. It reminded me of tea and cookies after a missionary meeting or a potluck dinner in the church basement.
I’ve since discovered it’s much more than just coffee hour. The dictionary definition is “companionship, a friendly association, mutual sharing, a group of people with the same interests.” In the biblical sense, it’s even more than that.
“Fellowship has to do with a mutuality in all parts of your life,” Pastor Jack taught us. “You bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. You pray for one another, you love one another, you help one another when there is material need, you weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s growing in an association with people who are moving in the same pathway you are and sharing with each other in your times of victory or need or your times of trial or triumph. It’s growing in relationship.”
Fellowship is instrumental in shaping us.
The Bible says that we become like those we spend time with and good friends sharpen one another just as iron sharpens iron (Prov.27:17).
This is reason enough to spend time with other believers, but there is even more to it.
Inside the Church
First and most basic of all, it is very important that you find a church home and spend time with that body of believers in Church. I certainly understand if you have been hurt or burned out by a church, but please hear me out. No two churches are alike. Each has its own personality. Some are great, some good, and some not quite what you hoped they’d be. Somewhere there is a church that is right for you, and you need to ask God to help you find it.
Contrary to what some people think, the church doesn’t have to have a fancy building. You can find a good church wherever a body of believers meet with a pastoral leader who is also submitted to other pastoral leadership. They must believe the Bible is the Word of God and offer good, solid teaching from it.
The next important indication of a good church is that you sense the love of God there and you receive it in abundance from the people. Some churches make an outgoing display of love, yet others who are more reserved may be just as genuine. If you pick up feelings of pride, competition, selfishness, self-righteousness, or coldness, determine whether that is the overall atmosphere or an isolated case. Remember that in any church you could find someone to exemplify these traits. Ask yourself if you generally feel love and acceptance there. You also need to be aware that you can’t go into a church and demand that people love and care for you. You can communicate your needs, but you can’t dictate how others should relate to you.
If you go to a church that doesn’t believe in being born again or being baptized, you need to find a church that does. If the pastor can’t bring himself to talk about the Holy Spirit working in power in your life and the members of the congregation don’t praise and worship the Lord, you haven’t found the right place yet. God can’t work as powerfully in a church that limits Him and doesn’t practice certain basic steps of obedience.
Continue to look until you’ve found a solid church you can call home.
If you are in a church where you’re miserable, get out. It’s hard to receive God’s love and life from a church you detest. This is not license to “church hop” whenever the pressure to grow is on, but don’t fall for the “Now we gotcha!” trap either. Leave any church that tries to control your every breath.
Ask God to lead you to the right place. When you find it, make a commitment to stay and watch yourself grow. Go as often as you can. If once a week feels like a major commitment, start there. If once a week is easy, then go to midweek services also. Once you accept Jesus, you have eternal life whether you ever go to church or not, but I’m talking about living in the fullness of all God has for you. I’m talking about expelling the pain from deep within and living in love, peace, and joy. I’m talking about doing God’s will. Certain visitations of God’s power happen only in the midst of such gatherings of believers. Make it a point to be a part of that.
Outside the Church
There is also strength in being with believers outside the church. When you make friends with people who follow the Lord, there is a strong bond of love that makes other relationships seem shallow. Such friendships are the most fulfilling and healing. They can also be the most frustrating because we expect Christians to be perfect when in reality only Christ is perfect.
It’s helpful to think of all fellowship with believers as beneficial: the pleasant encounters are healing and the unpleasant ones are stretching. When you run across believers who stretch you more than you feel you can handle, don’t turn away from God. Remember, He is still perfect and good even if some of His children aren’t. God always loves and respects you, even if a few of His offspring don’t. I know that nothing hurts worse than a wound inflicted by a brother or sister in the Lord. Having been wounded many times like that myself, I am forced to remember that we will be imperfect until we go to be with Jesus. So we need to be merciful to those who “stretch” us and forgive quickly. Besides, we are probably stretching others ourselves.
The Bible says we should “not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), but this doesn’t mean you have to avoid them. It just means that your closest relationships, the ones that deeply touch and change your life, need to be with believers. Ask yourself, Am I a godly influence in the lives of my unbelieving friends? If so, then consider the relationship good. However, if they influence you away from God and His ways, then cut off the relationships immediately.
If your spouse is not a Christian, don’t let his or her negative response to Jesus keep you from receiving the Lord’s restoration for you. Check around for a Christian prayer group, Bible study, or a group with similar interests. I know someone who joined a Christian arts and crafts group and found great healing.
Start somewhere. Make a phone call to another believer and ask for prayer. Meet someone for lunch and talk about what the Lord has done in your life. Open up and extend yourself in some way. You may feel you don’t have anything to share, but if you have the Lord, He’s all you need.
If our first goal in any relationship is our own fulfillment, we will ultimately be let down or disappointed. As painful as it is, we have to give up that desire and lay it at Jesus’ feet. However, there may be times when we have done all we can do in a relationship and it is still filled with problems. As hard as we try to make things good, a certain person may always leave you feeling depressed, angry, insecure, frightened, or hurt. When that happens, it is best to let the friendship go and give it to God to restore or remove as He sees fit.
Fellowship is a step of obedience that expands our hearts, bridges gaps, and breaks down walls. It encourages, fulfills, and balances our lives. All of this is necessary for spiritual well-being and a fruitful life in the will of God.
Lord, I acknowledge my need for other people. I ask You to lead me to relationships whereby I might grow in You and Your will might be fulfilled in me. Show me what steps to take to see that come about.
Tools of Truth
Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another. — Hebrews 10:24-25
Practice hospitality. — Romans 12:13 NIV
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. — 2 Corinthians 6:14
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. — 1 John 1:7
Excerpted with permission from Praying God’s Will for Your Life by Stormie Omartian, copyright Stormie Omartian.
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We need the fellowship of other believers in our lives! Do you have a church home? Church family? If not, start today! Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily