I gave a birthday encouragement to one of my favorite churches not long ago. They were celebrating 24 years of being salt and light in a very difficult place in which they have been looked at with suspicion and mistrust. They have kept the faith, they have remained true to their calling, and they have done it with a joy that only the Lord can give.
As I finished my commendation of their faithfulness, I ended with some advice that I really believe came to me in a spirit of prayer and reflection. I exhorted them to do one simple thing: take the long view. This is what came to my mind as I thought about their church facing yet another year of difficulties and striving, another year of Covid lockdowns and sickness, and another year of rejection from the community and world in general. In the midst of all that temporal hardship and strain, taking the long view is really the only lens that can possibly make sense, and that can maintain their joy and peace.
We can get so caught up in what is happening here and now in our churches: how many seats are empty or full, how much money we collected in the offering, how many people tuned in to our online service, or how smooth or rough we had it with all this technology that seems to have taken precedence over every other aspect of a service. Very few of us can keep up with the pace this world is going. We are left with our heads spinning and a feeling of deep frustration and even despair. This temporal world has outrun us and outdone us at the end of the day.
In the midst of admitting how desperate and depressing this has been for many of us, it will do us good to go back to the basics. For us to really, truly listen and embrace the words of the apostle Paul who tells us to “...fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”* In other words, take the long view. The very, very long view.
And what would that view look like I wonder? As I prayed, a very practical exercise came to my mind. What if we were to assess ourselves with eternal qualities first and the temporal ones only as secondarily important? For example, what if a church, small group, or even an individual member were to ask themselves these questions every time they meet:
Were the Father, Son, and Spirit worshipped?
Was the gospel preached?
Were people loved and cared for?
Were sincere thanksgiving, requests, and prayers offered to the Lord?
Did we have fellowship and joy in the Spirit?
I started to picture a church or group in which every time they met, leadership were to gather around each other in a spirit of unity and truth and seriously reflect on each of these questions. Upon that reflection, would some new element of prayer be added? Would new forms of creative worship spring forth? Would our preaching get a course correction to always include the story of the cross and resurrection? Would some hypocrisy be found out and abandoned? Would more time be made just for laughter and fun? I wonder, I really do...what will it take for us all to seriously hold on to the long, eternal view and return to the ancient foundations of our faith?
It’s not that we will abandon modernizing our churches, being relevant and understanding the times, and using
social media and technology in the very best ways possible. Those things are all well and good, and God uses them powerfully. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to flex and flow with these crazy seasons the world is in. But we must put those things in the right place, which in my opinion is well down the list of importance. And not only that, but all of those efforts at keeping pace with the world must flow from how they fit in with the long view of loving God and loving people. If it’s an obsession with camera angles and which thumbnail to use, we might just want to pause and ask ourselves if we’ve lost sight of what is truly important.
Don’t be fooled, friends: as everyone around us clamors for something new, we have only the most ancient to offer. But we know the Ancient of Days is who they are searching for, and when they find true expressions of Him on earth in our midst, they will come to the light we have among us. Let us fan those flames and build upon the eternal, ancient foundations, and we will surely find the eternal reward each of us sincerely seeks.
*2 Corinthians 4:18