Sin and Struggle in the Context of Community
Obviously, this word has been a huge buzzword for a couple of decades now in the Christian church. Still, there’s a reason for that: The Christian life was not meant to be lived in isolation. Rather, God has called us (more on that in a minute) and equipped us to live and love and serve for His glory in the body of Christ. As we discover how He’s wired us and use those gifts for the good of others, it pulls us out of self-absorption and isolation.
And while I know from experience that not everyone experiences the sense of community quickly or easily, I also believe that when we commit to doing life with a group of other believers (be it in a local church or perhaps a para-church community), it gives us a chance to know others, to be known, and to share our weaknesses and struggles in a safe environment — all of which are key to growing spiritually and finding freedom from the shackles of sin.
The idea of calling, as I hinted at above, involves developing an understanding of the specific contribution that God has equipped each of us to make. When we commit to a specific community, it gives us a context to discover what we’re wired to do best. For example, I’ve participated in any number of ministry initiatives in several different churches over the years, and gradually I’ve learned where I can make the best contribution to a given effort. With the singles ministries I was involved in before getting married, I spent quite a bit of time teaching and facilitating small groups, and I’ve consistently gotten feedback that God has used me in that arena. But you don’t want me administrating details for, say, an annual retreat, as that’s not something I’m going to excel at.
When we seek to discern our calling and giftedness, then serve others out of that calling, it affords a sense of purpose, direction and fulfillment that’s critical if we’re to grow in our relationship with God. I grappled with plenty of loneliness and unmet desires during my single years, but giving myself to the ministries that God had called me to yielded a deep sense of forward progress in my life, even if I still struggled deeply in some areas.
This area could be seen as a subset of calling, I suppose, as God gives some people a deeply compassionate heart for those who are vulnerable and in need. That said, there’s something about serving those in need (alongside others in our community) that expands our hearts and serves to take our eyes off ourselves, regardless of whether caring service is our primary spiritual gift. In our church, for example, we’ve regularly been involved in a variety of caring and service-oriented outreaches, from serving soup at the local homeless shelter, to helping with a ministry that houses single mothers in dire straits, among other things. Caring can also encompass mission trips (both domestically and internationally) in which the primary focus is on meeting basic physical needs as we share the love of Christ. In all of these things, our perspective on who God is and how He’s at work in the world—and in our own lives—is enlarged.
Finally, regular participation in worship with other believers refreshes and restores our souls. A worship service gives us a chance to pour out our hearts to God, to confess, and to receive His grace in the moment through songs, prayer, the sacrament of communion and through teaching from the pulpit. Many times in my life I’ve struggled to find the motivation to make it to church each week. But rarely, if ever, have I gotten done worshipping with my friends in church and thought, Well, that was a complete waste of time. The discipline of participating in worship resets and reshapes my perspective on God, on myself, on others and on the things that I struggle with.
Each of these areas, then, plays an important role in our ongoing spiritual growth and in dealing with sinful struggles. They take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on serving and loving God and other people, both those in the body of Christ and those who don’t know Him. And as that happens, we’re gifted with a renewed sense of hope and possibility that our lives matter, that our relationships matter, that God is at work, and that our battles with sin do not have to have the final word.