One of the things that greatly pains my heart is to see people who do not know God as deeply and powerfully and wonderfully as I think they should. (I know, right? Like I'm the authority on anything.) It's just that I see people trapped in some of the same heart that for so many years burdened and imprisoned me, and the way God pours His grace out on my life, I ache to see others still stuck.
And I do my best to live Jesus for this world when I get the chance. (Recently, I have done less than my best in this regard, but I promise to do better.) I want to show people the God that loves them and the only way I know how to do that is through the God who loves me, and a big part of that love is church.
Thus, it pains me more when I see someone burdened, suffering, and stuck and yet I catch a glimpse of that heart in them that is searching, too, and they are still so adamant and obstinate on the issue of church. It was here very recently that someone I love very much, who does not attend church much to my heart's discontent, informed me that their relationship with God was none of my business and that they don't have to find God in the same way that I did and they don't have to experience Him in the same way that I do and that they don't have to go to church to love God.
Truth. Truth. Truth. And...not quite.
I don't believe you can love God without being in His church. I'm not talking about the physical church, though that is certainly one convenient way to connect. I'm talking about fellowship. I'm talking about connection. I'm talking about making it a priority to get together with other people who love God and to do whatever it is that love leads you to do - worship, fellowship, pray, sing, talk, preach, serve, drink coffee, eat donuts, knit, quilt, hunt. Whatever it is.
Because I think it's possible to love what God you know, but you don't know God until you've seen Him working in community. You don't know God until you see Him somewhere besides your own life. You don't know God until you see that He is so much bigger than the God of your imagination and stretches so far beyond your little world and until you see the tender care, the mercies, the grace, and the absolute Love He has for all of creation. Until you see that, I don't think you're seeing God. And you can't love what you don't know.
Although if you knew it, you'd love that, too.
The truth is that the God you know when you don't know Him outside of your own heart is nothing more than a reflection of what you'd want Him to be or, in some cases, a reflection of your own good. I know people who say they don't have to be in His church to see Him working, then turn around and talk about some good deed they did that surprisingly met the needs of someone else. Needs they didn't know existed. That's a nice sentiment, but there's a really fine line there between you and God because when you claim you're seeing God, what you're also saying is that you're seeing Him in the good thing that you did. That blurs the line.
I have known people who have said the church will corrupt them, that they couldn't stand with all the hypocrisy and infighting and even outfighting in the church. That it would tarnish their view of God. But what if in that church, you saw the way God really loved? Then you could look in the mirror and when you see the same hypocrisy (and it's there. Trust me.) and infighting and outfighting, you will remember the people God's put around you and the way He loves them, and you will know better this God that loves you.
Now, I love God. Most of the time, I even like Him. And one of the things that makes God so absolutely incredible, beautiful, and worthy of the heart that I give Him - as flawed and broken and burdened and torn as it is - is that my God is so much bigger than just me.
I think that's what makes Him God. I think that's what makes Him worth loving. That He's bigger than me...and yet chooses to be small enough to live in my heart. And I just don't think you can get that until you see Him working hugely in all the other little hearts around you. I don't think you know God until you see Him in community.
That's why we need the church.