Organized religion can be a tough gig. More often than not, we see a lot of profession of faith or of religious principle followed by little action or by hypocrisy. Well, here’s today’s beautiful words that I hope I’ll manage to follow through on…
A common problem among various congregations is that people stop coming to meetings for one reason or another (offended by someone, made a mistake and felt too guilty/embarrassed to return, fell away long ago and afraid of judgments, etc.).
- Do we miss those that have stopped attending?
- Do they know that we miss them?
- What are we doing to make sure they know that?
In every country I’ve served in, I’ve visited with members who stopped attending church meetings and didn’t feel like anybody cared. “If the members really loved me as much as they claimed, they’d notice I wasn’t there and say something, wouldn’t they?”
We often do notice when people aren’t there. We ask our spouse or our friends “Did you see brother So-and-so?” Sometimes we even resolve to make a phone call or drop by to see how brother or sister So-and-so is doing. Then we get in our cars, go home, get distracted by the rest of life, and fail to make that phone call or visit. We may even repeat this cycle the next Sunday, feeling a greater drive. “I was going to call brother So-and-so last week and I forgot. I’ll make sure to do it once I get home today.” And the cycle repeats until we forget altogether who we were going to call.
It’s possible I turn to James too often on this kind of thing, but let’s look at James 2:15-16.
15 If a brother or asister be naked, and destitute of daily bfood, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye agive them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
In speaking to all members of the early Christian church, James pointed out the silliness of our actions even in the modern era. Faced with people that need food or clothing, do we clothe them or feed them? We say some pretty words, say “see you Sunday,” and pray for God to rain help on the poor and needy while failing to help the poor and needy standing right before us.
Focusing on our brothers and sisters that feel isolated or unwanted, we say “welcome” or “let me know if I can do anything for you” without providing any follow through. It’s exactly what James is talking about. “Be warmed” or “be filled.” So what? If we don’t take action, the need goes unfulfilled. Praying for those in need is good. But sometimes God calls upon us to be the answer to the prayer, not just the person praying.
This is the part where, in a typical sunday school lesson one of us would mention that sometimes what’s most important to people is to know that we’re willing to help, not that we smother them with our well wishes, or that one of us points out that sometimes just smiling and saying hello makes a huge difference. There are times these points are true, but let’s not be satisfied with ourselves too easily. A chorus of “hello” rings empty if there’s no notes to follow the promising introduction. “Let me know if you need anything” feels cheap if we aren’t willing to develop sufficient trust with people that they feel comfortable sharing their needs with us. When we’ve developed trust, we’ll stop speaking in Hallmark cards and start providing real help, because those we’re helping will direct our action to their real needs. When we have trust, we can follow the guidance of the holy spirit without fearing we’ll offend.
Jesus didn’t teach us to be nice to people, he taught us to love them. When we love people, we listen to them and to the spirit and we follow through.
We’re not going to do so perfectly. We’re going to mess up, and sometimes badly. But the Lord will help us as we strive to learn to do it right. He’ll help us learn to develop trusting relationships with those around us so we can actually bless each other like he’s called us to do.