When I was in the first grade I was on my very first sports team… a Tee-ball team. I started mid-season and soon found myself going to afternoon practices and Saturday games. I honestly don’t remember much about my one season as a Tee-ball player except for the practice where I was called in from the outfield to play shortstop. I was terrified. Very few balls got past the pitching mound in Tee-ball, but when they did they went straight to the short stop. The pressure was on. The first batter stepped into the box, lined up the bat, and ripped the ball off the tee right toward me… and straight into my left eye. While there was no permanent damage to the eye, I did leave the field with a black eye, cracked cheek bone and a severely diminished desire to ever play tee-ball, baseball, softball, or anything where a ball and a bat are required.
I finished the season, but it wasn’t easy. I did not want to practice, I did not want to go to games… but my parents wanted me to learn something about being part of a team – even when it’s tough. The rest of the season I had a pretty constant fear of the ball coming my way, but I still had fun with the other players, and I did take away some pretty important lessons about dedication and perseverance… lessons that have served me well as I have encountered much deeper struggles.
There are times when being a believer in Jesus is not easy. There are times when being part of a church is tough. We may get discouraged or frustrated, get distracted by other diversions in our lives, begin to feel disconnected and as though we really do not fit the “mold.” We may disagree with other believers, or even have conflicts. The temptation we face is to check out. Give up. Not go to practice. Not go to the games. Do something else instead. Take up a hobby that conveniently keeps us from gathering with other believers on Sunday. Convince ourselves our “good works” are enough to keep us close to the Lord and that we really do not need others.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
As we kick off the first few weeks of 2015, I pray this verse would remind us how important it is to make weekly gatherings with other believers a priority. We are strongest when we are together, encouraging one another through difficulties, challenging each other to serve, and calling each other to a deeper devotion to the Lord. It’s not always the simplest thing to do, or the most fun, but if we claim to be a follower of Jesus there will not be a time when we will look back and say, “I should have spent less time worshipping the Creator of the universe with others who, at least ideally, feel the same way.” There will not be a time when we look back and say, “I really should have studied the Word of the One who gives everything life and movement and purpose LESS often…” There will not be a time when we will look back and tell ourselves we should have shown less grace to others, been less encouraging, been more judgmental, been more self-absorbed, less gracious, and looked out of our own interests more often. So, here’s my one challenge: if you call yourself a follower of Jesus make that a priority in relationship with other people. Find a church, go to the church, get involved, and grow…