20pluscommunitydigestion

There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

“test to see” you are in the community

What makes a community a community? There are plenty of gatherings in the world, plenty of gatherings you’re a part of–loose associations, casual friendships. But what distinguishes a community in Christ from say, some other community–apart from the obvious distinction of the object of that community’s faith and hope?

Acts 2 mentions several concrete things that set the early church community apart from its surrounding networks of communities. But the thought occurred to me this morning that one way to gauge the vibrancy of a community is whether or not they are praying for one another on more than just the platitudinal level.

I think it’s not too much to say that what indicates significantly whether you are truly part of the community to which you are attached is this: are there any people in that community you take the responsibility of praying for regularly? To pray for a few on a regular basis reveals a kind of knowledge of those others you don’t have with most other acquaintances. You know them enough to know how they’re in need of prayer. If you pray for no one, you can only ask yourself if you really know anyone beyond the superficial level. Secondly, to pray for a few regularly means you grasp the necessity of prayer, that what you and your small band of brothers or sisters face is not mere “flesh and blood but the spiritual powers” that would seek to steal your joy, siphon your courage, or entangle you in sin. And finally, to pray for a few regularly is itself and expression of love. If you love them, you will pray for them.

All to ask, for whom among us are you praying regularly, and beyond the generic level? Let’s be clear, your prayers for a few do not represent a litmus-test for acceptance into the community. They, instead, reflect a grasp of what it means to be in community. To serve my wife and be sensitive to her needs do not make me married–they are not the means by which I become married. They are rather an indication of my grasp of what it means to be married. If I would live in accordance with my identity as a married man, then I will serve and be sensitive to my wife. If I would live in accordance of what it means to be in community, then, for at least a few within that community, I will know them well enough to know how to pray for them; I will grasp the significance of the struggles here on earth and thus know the necessity of prayer; and I will love them so much that I will appeal to the God of Heaven to give them sweet succor and deep discipline, things which He gives uniquely.

So let’s say your answer to my question is, “well, actually, no, Patrick. There are no people in our class or church for whom I pray regularly.” Shall you hang your head in shame and decide that you are no longer fit to gather. I say no (though let the sense of remorse you might feel for the absence of prayer for even a few move you, not toward despair, but toward repentance–knowing that God, in His kindness, leads us to such moments of remorse, and delights to see us move past that into richer obedience). Should you then obtain a church directory and start going down the A-names today, and the B’s tomorrow and praying for them? I certainly wouldn’t stop you, but I have another idea that may have more effectualness: get to know a few in our community. Move toward them. Come to know them. The community of faith is supposed to be the context in which we are freest to express our truest selves because we do so with people with the same identity: more depraved and more cherished than we know. If you believe you’re all shot through with darkness, condemnation has no place among people of like need. If you believe you’re more loved by God than you could possibly imagine, compassion is called for because of what the compassion God has shown us.

So if you would discover what it’s like to pray for a few regularly–to know them, to know their struggle, to love them–you must move toward them first. You must not be content merely to kick back with them, though that will surely be an integral part of coming to know them.

This church, Acts 20:28 says, is the people which God “obtained with the blood of His own Son.” Will you not afford some proportional respect for a few for whom God spilt the blood of His Son by coming so to know them that you can’t help but want to pray for them?

Needing to hear this (and follow this), as much as I wanted to share it,

Patrick

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