Over the last few months I have been liberated by a new and exciting realisation about what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
It all began over a year ago with my friend Dan, an old friend from high school who I now go to church with. In May last year, Dan took on the Live Below the Line challenge, living on $2 a day for a whole week, or the Australian version of the global poverty line. While most participants used their $2 a day to cover food costs, Dan in his typical way took it to the extreme and used his $2 a day for food and housing. He slept rough for a whole week at Central Station.
When the challenge was over Dan came back home with a new friend – a homeless man who was becoming Dan’s new housemate. We were all pretty shocked! I mean, it’s really important to help people who are homeless and struggling with mental illness and addiction, but opening your house to that kind of person indefinitely is pretty dangerous. We warned him about the difficult future he was facing but he went ahead and did it anyway.
Of course I was confronted by the situation. There was suddenly a homeless man with mental illness thrust into our church community. But surprisingly the thing that confronted me even more was how I responded to Dan’s decision in the first place. The feelings came through wave after wave:
1. It started with shock and almost anger.
How could Dan do something so reckless? Even in the best case scenario he would end up burnt out and at worst… well, anything could happen!
2. The next thing I knew I was supressing the negative feelings.
Isn’t Dan just doing what Jesus has called us to do? It’s a noble thing and I should be celebrating it!
3. I slipped quickly into guilt.
If Dan is doing what Jesus told us to do and I’m not doing it too, where does that leave me?
4. I circled back into negative feelings: anger mixed in with a little bit of sad as I tried to justify my own inaction.
But he’s being so silly! If I did something like that I would completely destory myself! I can’t open my house to a homeless person, not now!
I didn’t realise it at first, but I was subconciously playing my godliness off against Dan’s – and coming out the loser. Fortunately for me, Dan’s friend hung around for long enough for me to stop the spiral and work out what was going on. Week after week he would come to church and our whole community had to learn how to be with him and include him. Maybe I couldn’t open up my home, but I could sit with him in church, have conversations with him and try and be friends with him too. As this process went on I came to this realisation:
It’s OK that Dan has done this because he has different gifts to me. My job is not to try and exactly imitate others in how they serves God, it is to complement my brothers and sisters with whatever gifts I have.
I was suddenly freed from the destructive thought-circle I was stuck in and I realised that I could actually encourage Dan instead cutting him down in my imagination. I could hang out with his friend to give Dan some respite; I could touch base with Dan when I saw him to see how he was going. At the same time, I could keep doing the things that I feel convicted about, following my passions, but doing all this within the wider context of my brothers and sisters and the things that they are doing. Over those months, I realised a little more about what it means to
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing other in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through God the Father in him.”
Praise the Lord! Now I understand more about this freedom that the bible keeps talking about!
Over the last year I have been reminded about this over and over again. When I get uncomfortable because my friends with a stronger social justice bent are passionate about issues that only make me a little lukewarm, it’s not necessarily something I need to be ashamed of. I don’t have to shut down the issue in my mind and ignore it to preserve my sanity. Even though I don’t quite understand why they get so worked up, I should try fan their flame as much as I can and empower them to work for God’s glory as much as I am able.
When I feel guilty about not wanting to go overseas to a dangerous country as a missionary, I remember that I am part of a church – a body – and it is not my responsibility alone. The Holy Spirit gives us all different gifts and my place for now is to pray fervently and support people who are ready to take that step.
When I get grumpy because I disagree with people’s attitudes about how to “do” church, I’m helpfully reminded that we are all part of the same body and it’s probably a good thing that they see things differently to me. It means that maybe they can connect with different kinds of people who I would never have been able to engage with properly.
Thank the Lord that he brings us into a community! I pray that we all keep remembering it as we live day to day serving alongside each other.
For we are the body of Christ;
His Spirit is with us.