What is church like? Recently in our Sunday service, we used some verses from Romans 12 to help us confess our sins:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. (Romans 12: 9-13)
This is what God wants our church family to look like. So it seemed appropriate that we should use these verses to say sorry to God and repent of the ways we’re not like this at all. Two things stood out to me the most: verse 10, ‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.’ Since becoming a mum, I’m sort of learning how to do this better inside my home. I am devoted to my children, and most of the time I think I do put their needs above my own. As parents we make sacrifices for our children – it’s part of the package. But a lot of the time, I’m so busy thinking about what my children are up to now and what shopping I need to get and I must remember to pick up that prescription and I need to remind Mike to fix that lamp and wow is that the time and I need a cuppa… that I don’t have the time or the capacity to look outside of my immediate family and see who else is out there. Or do I?
When I read that verse, can I just focus on the needs of my husband and children? Honouring them above myself is enough to be getting on with, surely? Well that brings me on to the other verse that stood out to me: verse 13, ‘Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.’ Is anyone in my church family in need? Of course. In fact, the more I get to know them the more I understand their needs.
God uses the church to bless us in so many ways, and I learnt a new one recently. As we carry each other’s burdens and share in each other’s sorrows, it sometimes helps to put our own problems into perspective. A friend in my church is trying to come off strong painkillers because they make her very tired, but as she began reducing her dose, the pain was too much so she had to revert to the high dose. She has to choose between pain and tiredness, and so she chooses tiredness. We are praying for healing for her, but in the meantime she is facing the possibility that she’ll have to take these drugs for the rest of her life. As I prayed for her and shared in her sorrows, I was humbled. I hate being tired – it gives me a knot in the pit of my stomach and I feel so sorry for myself. But why am I tired? It’s because I have three beautiful children, who are bloomin’ hard work all day and who often wake me up in the night. What a lovely reason to feel like a zombie! And one day I expect my children will stop waking me in the night and I’ll be trying to drag them out of bed in the morning, and I won’t have to change their nappies anymore, and they might even do a bit of cleaning and cooking for me. So as I thought about my friend’s predicament, it did make me thankful that my tiredness is probably temporary, and is a bi-product of the blessing of being a mother. However, if I hadn’t listened to her and prayed for her, I would never have realised any of this. I’d be feeling just as sorry for myself, and I wouldn’t be supporting my friend at all.
I hope you have a church family that is loving and supportive, I really do. Because if we’re all putting each other first, then nobody will be neglected:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4.
Imagine what church would look like if we really lived this out! If I could forget myself and look to others, then I would be imitating Christ. And what about my children? If all they see is me putting them first and ignoring everyone else, they’ll happily carry on thinking that the world revolves around them (an attitude they were born with). But how wonderful it would be if they saw their parents putting others first: if we said ‘no’ to certain treats so that we could give money to some friends who need it more; if we invited a lonely pensioner to join us on our family day out. This would show our children that we’re following a Saviour and Lord who didn’t look to his own needs, but who threw down his rights and looked up to Calgary.
Of course, sometimes we will feel like we’re so swamped that we can’t possibly listen to someone sharing their troubles, let alone help anybody. But here are two suggestions if that’s the case:
- Could we do less at home in order to have the time and energy to serve the church family better? We all have different capacities, so some of us can bake our daily bread, make our children’s clothes, host a Film Night once a fortnight for the youth group and feed a different elderly person each night of the week. But some of us can’t, and so sometimes I need to accept that yes, while it might be nice if I could reupholster that chair, it’s better if I just stick a throw on it and go and visit my sick friend in hospital. Or maybe we need to get a shop-bought birthday cake this time so that I can help out a friend who’s just given birth.
- Could the church family help you so that you can help them? It’s good if our church family knows that we’re not actually machines, and sometimes we are frazzled and need HELP! Perhaps someone could hold your baby for you on a Sunday morning so that you can keep tabs on your toddler and be less exhausted by the end of the service. Maybe you need to organise a babysitter once a week so that you can go for a walk and a chat with your husband, and then feel more able to counsel a friend. Little things that help you might enable you to help others.
I need to focus more on how I can honour my church family, rather than all of the reasons I’m too busy/tired/preoccupied to do so. As a family, we (the Brookses) are in a great position to bless people in the church. For example, we could have someone round after church for lunch, since another mouth to feed probably won’t make much difference. Or I could siphon off some dinner and pop it round to an elderly lady’s flat so she doesn’t have to cook for herself tonight. We could commit to pray as a family each Monday morning for someone at church who’s lost their job. The kids could make cards to send to the church’s mission partners in Rwanda. I probably can’t do all of these things, but I can pray that God would give me opportunities and help me to rejoice in them. I don’t want to be self-centred and ungrateful; I want to lead my children on the path to self-forgetfulness and contentment.