Years ago we were in a gathering of saints where Christ blossomed in a totally unexpected way. His presence was for sure not connected to any human planning or human leadership. This group met in an old school building. That morning everything went wrong. People were standing outside on a cold, damp morning and waited for the janitor to show up with the key ― forty minutes late. Then, once inside, it was discovered that no one had a key to open the storage room that contained the chairs, songbooks, and other items necessary to set up for the meeting. Getting the room opened took another fifteen minutes. Needless to say, by then most brothers and sisters had become edgy and frustrated.
But there was also a deeply emotional dimension to this particular get-together. A cloud of sorrow and confusion hung over their heads because that past Tuesday a car had gone through a stop sign, T-boned the car of a family in this body, and killed the pregnant wife and her baby.
The chairs were set up in circles and people took their seats. The uneasy silence was broken by a simple prayer asking for Jesus’ help. Despite the emotional chemistry going on among everyone in the room, it was in such a gathering as this that the Lord Jesus flowed freely through the saints! It was absolutely amazing. The singing was charged. The believers began to express Christ from their hearts with love and tears.
Then the bereaved husband stood up from his seat and opened his heart to those around him. Given the fresh wounds that had just come upon him, his words were incredibly appropriate, penetrating and moving. He spoke of Job’s losses and his own in a beautiful way that exalted Jesus Christ. Such candor on his part could only happen in a community where deepening relationships existed.
The family we came with had to leave before the meeting was fully over. When we got into the Volkswagen bus and the engine started, I realized I was numb, but in the best sense. Words would be hard to find to express what had just happened when those saints came together. We had just experienced an unbelievable manifestation of Christ through His body – yet everything on the human level had gone very much awry.
Using this story as a spring board, I want to share a few of many perspectives that are vital in considering how we express Christ together.
Be careful not to put much stock in the physical elements that surround our getting together in Christ. It’s not about planning, picking the right song, or anything else on the human level. I am not saying that all planning is wrong. The issue must be that we wish for Christ to lead by His Spirit. It is just too easy to rely on doing things in a certain way – the way we did things last week, and the week before. The Spirit is wind, not concrete.
While not a pleasant thought, we must embrace the reality that community life is enhanced as Christ is glorified through our trials. In the tragedy that occurred in the group we visited, Jesus was vibrantly expressed through the husband, and through the community as they came alongside him. One of the marks of ekklesia-life in this age is to participate in the sufferings of Christ. Suffering precedes glory.
Christ’s expression comes to settings where people pursue Him, not human agendas, whether overt or covert. What a blessing to have people come together who are willing to shelve their preferences and opinions, and be satisfied with Jesus Christ alone. Nothing kills the flow of the Lord like individuals wearing their convictions and agendas on their sleeve.
Christ manifests Himself among humble people. “God resists the proud.” Nothing grieves the Spirit more than pride. There is no telling what the Lord can do in a group of people who are “low to the ground,” not in the sense of groveling, but in the sense that they know well their need of Jesus and His followers. As Thomas Dubay put it beautifully, “In order to listen to others we need to be humble, small in our own estimation. Finding the solution to a math problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue.”
Christ is expressed most pointedly when we enter into the burdens of others. In the story above, this group was faced with coming alongside the husband for an extended period of caring. Paul said in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” If our New Testament was burned up, and only this verse was left, we would have more than enough for Christ to work through us for the rest of our days. Paul also said, “Do good to everyone, especially the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). When the Son of Man comes in glory, He will say to those who fed, clothed and visited others, “You did it to Me.”
Because Christ is in each believer, the assumption is that they, as Paul put it, have a manifestation of the Spirit for benefit of the ekklesia. The most oft-repeated promise in the New Testament is that the Spirit in Christ’s people will result in rivers of living water springing up within them. The Son having returned to the Father, it is now God’s will for Christ to be expressed on earth through the ekklesia.
We know painfully well that there are obstacles and challenges to Christ being expressed through people like us. We can all be like porcupines. What, therefore, is our hope? Well, as I have often said, we must find hope in the sure promise of Jesus:
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:11-12)
As Christ’s body on earth, we must never forget that our key posture is that of a branch abiding in the Vine. If His living water is impeded, it is not a new or better method or formula we need, or a prophecy conference, but rather to ask ourselves, “Are we abiding in Jesus our Vine?” We must not forget that without Him we can do nothing. Fruitfulness only results from us resting in Him.
― Jon Zens, March, 2015
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