Spiritual Community

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The church is a community of people on a journey to God. Wherever there is a supernatural togetherness and Spirit-directed movement, there is the church–a spiritual community…

    When dreams are shattered and life is just terrible, we immediately try to get help. Nothing matters more! It is not our habit to wait on a hidden God to somehow work out a masterful plan to bring glory to Himself. We prefer a different version of waiting. We follow biblical principles or seek counseling to get our kids straightened out, to make our emotions more pleasant, to cause our relationships to be more satisfying. What we really want is a better life. Many voices in the church, perhaps most of them, speak to that desire: Here’s what to do, here’s the seminar to attend, here’s the counselor to see, here are the principles to follow, here are the rules to keep, here are the biblically exegeted promises to claim. Only a few voices direct us to worship, or call us to a new level of trust. Only a few invite us to experience spiritual conversations in a spiritual community. Yet you can hear your own heart crying, “It’s the LORD I want. In the LORD I take refuge. I don’t want to run to a mountain of relief. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, higher than all my troubles, that lifts me into the presence of God. Everything else is secondary!” That cry from your heart is your longing to be part of a true church, to participate in spiritual community, to engage in spiritual conversations of worship with God and of co-journeying with others. You yearn for a safe place, a community of friends who are hungry for God, who know what it means to sense the Spirit moving within them as they speak with you. You long for brothers and sisters who are intent not on figuring out how to improve your life, but on being with you wherever your journey leads. You want to know and be known in conversations that aren’t really about you or anyone else but Christ…

We need a safe place for weary pilgrims. We need to dive into the unmanageable, messy world of relationships, to admit our failure to identify our tensions, to explore our shortcomings. We need to become the answer to our Lord’s prayer, that we become one the way He and the Father are one….

A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Only then can the power of connecting do its job. Only then can community be used of God to restore our souls.

When we turn our chairs to face each other, the first thing we see is a terrible fact: We’re all struggling. Beneath the surface of every personality–even the one that seems most “together”–a spiritual battle is raging that will only be won with the help of community….

In a spiritual community, people reach deep places in each other’s hearts that are not often or easily reached. They discover places beneath the awkwardness of wanting to embrace and cry and share opinions. They openly express love and reveal fear, even though they feel so unaccustomed to that level of intimacy. When members of a spiritual community reach a sacred place of vulnerability and authenticity, something is released. Something good beings to happen. An appetite for holy things is stirred. For just a moment, the longing to know God becomes intense, stronger than all other passions, worth whatever price must be paid for it. Spiritual togetherness, what I call “connecting,” creates movement: Togetherness in Christ encourages movement toward Christ…

Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.

A spiritual community, a church, is full of broken people who turn their chairs toward each other because they know they cannot make it alone. These broken people journey together with their wounds and worries and washouts visible, but are able to see beyond the brokenness to something alive and good, something whole. Each of us is wounded. For every one of us, ruthless honesty about what is happening inside of us will lead to brokenness. In a spiritual community, people don’t merely talk about woundedness and brokenness. They leave their comfort zones and expose the specifics, not to everyone, but to at least one other person. It’s terrifying to do so. It seems so weak, so unnecessary, so morbid and self-criticizing. Worse, in many eyes, to admit brokenness means to admit a poor relationship with God. We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are. But we’ve all been wounded. We’ve all failed. Rejection has brought out depths of anger we didn’t know were in us. We’ve sobbed over unkindness and resolved to never let anyone treat us like that again. Our souls have withered under the heat of someone’s disdain. Criticism has made us feel worthless, and we’ve either backed away from involvement or taken life on with defensive arrogance. We protect our wounds with all the fierceness of a lioness watching over her cubs. And because it is nearly impossible to see who we are as separate from those wounds, we think we are protecting our SELVES when in fact we are preserving our WOUNDS…

We are not our problems. We are not our wounds. We are not our sins. We are persons of radical worth and unrevealed beauty. If we face ourselves fully, we will be broken by what we see, by the selfishness and fear and rage and lust that cover our spiritual beauty like tarnish on silver. But the silver is there. Something brilliant and intact gleams through the stain of our brokenness…

Brokenness is the realization that life is too much for us, not just because there is too much pain but also because we’re too selfish. Brokenness is realizing He is all we have. Hope is realizing He is all we need. Joy is realizing He is all we want…

We need spiritual friends, broken people who will provide safety for us to be broken, caring people who want us to live and believe we can live well, giving people who pour the life they have received from God into us, people of vision who see the Spirit shaping us into the image of Christ. Without them, we settle for so much less…

Community is a place of pain, of the death of ego. In community, we are sacrificing independence and the pseudo-security of being closed up. We can only live this pain if we are certain that for us being in community is our response to a call from God. If we do not have this certitude, then we won’t be able to stay in community…

The resolve to look after oneself (call that REBELLION) breaks fellowship with God and others and involves a violation of our created nature to be givers (disconnection from self). Worse, it cuts us off from the resources we need to live that are poured into us from God and others, resources that are only poured into us when we are openly and vulnerably and trustingly connected…

When Jean Vanier states that community is the place where ego dies, I understand him to mean that “our determination to fully trust no one” must die and an eager willingness to receive what is best from others and to give what is best from within ourselves must take its place. That only happens when people feel loved, safe enough to face their dependency, trusting enough to enjoy what someone else gives, and courageous enough to offer who they truly are to another…

When I believe that you believe I am a good man, I don’t tend toward arrogance or presumption. I rest. And in my rest, I am more able to face my Diabolical Self and to then discover and celebrate my Celestial Self. What do we believe about each other, not only when we’re on our best behavior, but when we’re irritating and demanding?...

   I know of little else so powerful as confessing wretched failure and having a friend look on you with great delight…

The more I see my sin in the presence of a spiritual community, the more I see Christ and celebrate Him and long to know Him and be like Him. The safety necessary to own my badness comes when someone believes that I am in Christ and that He is in me. Then anything can be faced without fear of being discarded…

Not many people feel celebrated. At the root of what we call psychological disorder is the opposite of feeling celebrated: feeling unwanted, despised, the project of people who will discard us if we don’t turn out as they want. A relationship that offers celebration heals the soul by releasing the passion to worship in the one who is celebrated and knows why. There is no safe place to connect to our own sin and shame than in a community that celebrates the gift of purity–a gift that nothing can soil. In that spiritual community, people have no secrets.”

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About TJ

In 2015 my family moved from a small village in mid-Michigan to five beautifully forested acres in Northern Michigan. We love the lakes and rivers, the forests, and the billions of stars we can see in the night sky, as well as the many cultural and historical activities in our area. We also love that the deer and wild turkeys come right up to our house. This is where our hearts are! I have multiple cats (five the last time I counted), and a sweet introverted dog who rarely barks and who deeply loves the six adorable ducks and nine chickens that have become part of our family. I enjoy reading, studying, writing, and learning new things. I also enjoy walking my dog, cuddling my cats, and gardening. I love nature. The world fascinates me.

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