It happens at some point for most parents, that harrowing moment when a child presumed to be safe and sound is not where he or she is expected to be. A mother will turn and see an empty place where a daughter should have been. A father will “count heads” and come up one son short. Worry sets in, panic is unleashed, and all the fear that one’s imagination can conjure up is set ablaze.
It even happened to Mary and Joseph, the mother and step-father of Jesus our Lord, as they were returning home from their annual visit to Jerusalem for the Passover (see Luke 2:41-49). Thinking that Jesus was with others in their group of travelers, they went a whole day before realizing that He just was not with them. They did not actually find Him until three whole days had passed, after searching for Him throughout the city and discovering that He had been at the Temple the whole time. It is clear that they were terrified that they had lost Him.
Families are like that. They are endowed with a sense of interconnectedness and responsibility for one another that leaves members feeling incomplete and even wounded when one or more of their family is missing.
Even when children grow up and become adults, the connectedness and need for one another does not cease, but just becomes more abstract and complex as they learn to still be a family even if and when miles and circumstances separate them from other family members and prevent them from physical closeness.
Of course, evil in the forms of selfish attitudes, bitterness, and unforgiveness can tear and even destroy the fragile fabric that binds us to one another. But we are nonetheless wired in such a way as to be pained by such voids that are formed when a loved one goes missing.
This is true of the Family of God as well. If you are brought into a relationship with God by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ, then you are like the lost sheep of which Jesus spoke in Luke 15:3-7. You are brought not only into a “fold”, but also a “family in which no one else can possibly take your place. You are of unique worth and purpose to the One Who has saved you and placed you in His family.
In other words, if you are not in daily fellowship with Jesus, then there is an empty place, so to speak, in Jesus’ heart. The absence of your fellowship wounds Him. Not only that, but there is a vacuum created in the Family of God as well.
The Father has created you and me to be dependent upon each other. Correspondingly, He has gifted us so that we complement one another as we both individually and corporately walk with Him through life. If you give up attending a Bible-teaching and Holy Spirit-led church, then you are forfeiting the blessings of support and encouragement that God gives to His children through the Church. Worse yet is the fact that the biggest and best revelations of God at work in your life are always in the context of His Body, meant to be a blessing to all His Children and not just for individual Believers. Demonstrations of God at work in the world are vital to those who are lost around us. Our obedience to Christ in our fellowship with each other gives testimony to the fact that we do indeed belong to Him. Our love for one another is the biggest and best means we have to validate the truth of what we share in the Gospel of Christ.
“As I have loved you,” said Jesus, “you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 14:34b-35 ESV).
Basically, this means that the fruitful sharing of the Gospel is intimately tied to our relating to each other as family. If we truly share the heart of Christ, then we deeply desire to proclaim the Gospel to the world around us so that the hope that we have in the Son of God can be realized in the experience of those who do not yet know Him. And if we truly share the heart of Christ and long to see the “one lost sheep” come into the fold and family of God, then we desire the fellowship of His people.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many… God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose… that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 24b, 25-27 ESV).
If you have been missing from the fellowship of your church family, then make it your priority to return so that both you and they may be more deeply blessed by God and that the pain and hurt created by your absence might be healed by the hand of God.
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)