A friend sent me a text message with a prayer, and it was a prayer for our church; for all the brothers and sisters we have in Christ because we are part of a church family. It's made me think.
I read somewhere a long time ago that no matter where in the world you are or what faith, if any, you have, or what sort of culture you live in, the one thing that all mankind have in common is the need to belong. Everyone is searching for belonging - a place where they belong. I don't know if this is true; it strikes me that there might be genuine loners out there, but I don't know. If a cleverer person than me has come to that conclusion then I'm happy to go with that. What I do know for sure on this subject is that I have always wanted to belong. I've always wanted to be the one who has a place, not on the outside looking in, but a niche where I am able to relax being me - not forever trying to be nicer, wittier, more interesting, more attractive - and secure in the knowledge that I am worthwhile, and that for no other reason than that I am me, I have a place. A reason to be. To be accepted. Welcomed. Valued.
So I've been looking for a place to belong. And here I find myself part of a church family where this is exactly the case. I have been adopted into a new family and I find that I have brothers and sisters all around me that for years I never knew about, but we gather on a Sunday morning and we worship you together and we talk and we share and we laugh and we cry and we plan and we bicker and we apologise and we hug and we share a sign of peace and we stand side by side to take the bread and wine and we come together in worship of the One True God.
I'm not expressing this particularly well. Lord, but I want to thank you that you have given us to each other. I want to thank you that you have led me to a place where I am finally accepted, valued, welcomed. I belong with my family; the family of the church. We meet in your name and you are amongst us and that makes us different.
I know that we are far from perfect. I know that we don't always make you proud in the way that we relate to one another; we fail to notice each other, we fight amongst ourselves, we act selfishly where we should put others first. That's something different - I'll think about that another day, because for now I'm just marvelling at the generosity that you show us in surrounding us with other people who love you so that we don't have to do this on our own. We are never alone. Just like the time I was in A&E feeling sorry for myself, you were there with me already, certainly, but you sent a special friend from the family of the church, my sister in Christ, to sit down next to me and represent you because I needed a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. And a lift home.
We need to do better. We need to pray for each other so much more, and not just arrow prayers so that we don't break a promise when we assure someone that they we will pray. We need to be closer, more perceptive, more trustworthy. We need to be more responsible, more accountable, more approachable, more welcoming. More inward looking and more outward looking. All of that and so much more I'm sure. But isn't it marvellous that we are a family? That we can be a body, each of us unique and special? A place to belong?
Charles Spurgeon said:
"It is here, among the household of his faith, he deigns to let me say it with sacred reverence to unbend himself, and hold familiar intercourse with those round about him whom he hath adopted into his family. He may be a consuming fire abroad, but when he comes into his own house he is all mercy, mildness and love. Abroad he does great works of power; but at home in his own house he does great works of grace".
Grace indeed. It has to be your grace that changes us so that we fit together better than a couple of hundred disparate people might normally fit together. It's more than a common purpose; it's the love of one family member for another. I write this with people from church going through my mind one after the other and we are all so different! We are all so very different, and yet we are all in the same family. And the family resemblance is that you are at work in each one of us. Not turning us into clones, so that we all think and act the same way, for that isn't your plan, but to make us each as good as we can possibly be. To be the full-colour, fully-functional version of ourselves. And we each have a job to do that even together, the rest cannot. We each have value, worth. We each belong.
And you come amongst us and just occasionally, we feel you and we praise you and there it is again, the glimpse of Heaven. The door opens a crack and the light and the music stream out. You talk to us, teach us, correct us, laugh with us and cry for us, but you are always there. We are your people.
It's a wonderful thing that you have done for me. I am constantly amazed by you, Lord God. If I did a word count in this blog I wonder how many times the word 'Amazed' comes up? I should use a thesaurus more I think. But you amaze me. You leave me open mouthed and on my knees when I see a little bit of your vast incomprehensible love; the way that you look after us so completely - not one of our needs goes unmet. You've thought it through to the last detail, haven't you? You see what we need and you provide it for us. We need you, we need each other, and at our best in each other we find you all over again.
Thankyou that we belong. Thankyou that I've found a place I belong. Thankyou that all the individuals in our church - and the wider church too - thankyou that we all belong. Thankyou that no matter where we're from, our background, education, job, outlook, language, we all fit together as a family. Thankyou that you have given us all something unique. We are chosen. Even if we never got picked first for the netball team (there it is again, that chip on my shoulder), we are chosen for team much more important.
I don't really care how often I use the word 'Amazed'. It fits.