This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Ryan Beardsley shares his reflections on Chapters 13 and 14. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
I don’t feel like I learn new things too often. Spiritual “a-ha” moments seem to come only once every few years. Maybe it’s that I drill down deep into the one thing I’m learning, or maybe it’s that I’m a bit slower than the average bear. Probably the latter. But that’s just the way life has worked so far for me as a Christian.
Since I came to Christ as a teenager there have been several big things God has taught me. Initially the big thing was simply the reality that Jesus is worth following. It took me years to grapple with the explosive implications of that truth. In my early twenties the Doctrines of Grace (or Calvinism) gave me a new grasp of God’s sovereign grace and goodness. Later it was gospel-centricity - the idea that the gospel isn’t just good news that converts non-believers, it’s also power for the already converted - that God used deeply in my life.
Why am I sharing this little auto-biographical photo album? Because the next big thing I learned from Scripture is essentially what Chapter 13 and 14 in David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace begin to deal with, the importance of the church.
Learning to Love the Church
Now I am by nature an introvert. I don’t, how do I say . . . like people. I’m joking. I do like people. In fact, I love people. But I’m energized by time alone. If I wasn’t confronted with this new thing, the truth that Christians need the church, I would be the guy spending Sunday mornings by himself in the wilderness somewhere. I would find quite legitimate reasons to not attend church, have my private devotions, listen to podcasts of super-preachers, and come up with some spiel about nature being my sanctuary. You know the guy. But I can’t do that. Why? Because I realize I was made for what the Bible calls “fellowship.”
Mathis points out that this “fellowship” is:
“an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives.”
In fact, Mathis goes on to state that participating in the local gathering of the church on Sunday mornings is the most important of all the spiritual disciplines. He writes,
“Corporate worship is the single most important means of grace and our greatest weapon in the fight for joy . . .”
So much for rugged individualism in the Christian life. That just isn’t the way God intends it to be.
The Formative Power of Corporate Worship
Participating in corporate worship operates as a channel of God’s grace in our lives, in part because it helps us cultivate the habit of accepting another’s leading. In our consumeristic age we don’t have much tolerance for services that lack production excellence and entertainment value. But God is doing something in our flawed services. He’s forming in us the practice of looking to him and not the preacher, to the risen Christ and not the worship leader. It’s hard to not be in control. But God is teaching us, like squirrelly children, how to be still and listen - because he loves us. He has something to say, again and again, and he wants us to hear it together.
He wants us together. That’s called community. And he doesn’t just want us together on Sunday mornings. This community should be woven into the fabric of our lives.
Community in the Mess
Community however, can be messy. Blaise Pascal once wrote that human beings are the glory and the garbage of the universe. New Covenant community created and sustained by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit can indeed be glorious. But until the Day of Glory, it also reeks from time to time of the garbage of sin. But God is in the garbage. He is in the mess. He is in the conflict and differing preferences and cultural idiosyncrasies. And he is using it all to purify his bride. God is teaching us.
And Mathis shows us that one of the things that God is teaching us is the importance of listening. Yeah, listening. Mathis views listening as a vital and often overlooked aspect of robust fellowship.
“There will be days when the most important ministry we do is square our shoulders to some hurting person, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and hear his pain all the way to the bottom.”
I want to be a better listener. I want others to feel helped when I listen to them rather than feeling like they weren’t heard and were merely being fixed or side-stepped. What if Summit Christian Fellowship was filled with Christians who became skilled in the ministry of listening? And what if they became skilled in the ministry of listening because they were learning to love the beauty of Christ’s bride, the church?
May it be so.
I don’t know what that big new thing you are learning right now is, or if you even have one; but could I suggest you consider making the centrality and necessity of fellowship in the church your new thing? Look for it on the pages of your open Bible. I think you will find it there alongside the promised presence of God. Enjoy.
Ryan was born and raised in Puyallup before heading off to Minneapolis and Chicago for seminary. His journey has brought him full circle back to Pierce County and he is excited to serve as a part of the body at Summit Christian. In addition to his passion for Jesus and the Word of God, Ryan loves his wife Kelly and daughter Lucy, has a man-crush on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, and once in a while enjoys subjecting himself to Karl Bogrand's crossfit bootcamp.
Study and Reflection Questions:
1. Read Hebrews 3:12-13 and refer back to the section "Be the Means for Your Brother." Why is the instruction of Heb. 3:12-13 especially relevant for the community as a whole rather than just the weak, struggling brother?
2. Go to the section "Making Fellowship Official." What is needed to transform a "community regular" into a covenant member? What significance can you see in covenant membership for deepening life within community?
3. Complete or rewrite the following statements to make them true for yourself:
a.) I have often thought about intentionally working on the discipline of listening.
b.) Before reading this, I heard about the process of becoming a better listener from...
c.) Some things I have previously learned about becoming a better listener are...
4. Bonhoeffer said, "Anyone who things that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet [by listening] will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies." (See the section "Good Listening Reflects Our Relationship with God")
a.) Circle the statement (or add a statement) that best describes your reaction to someone who really needs you to listen:
- My face reveals stress, and I think, "Hurry up! I'm extremely busy!"
- I roll my eyes, tap my fingers, look at the time, and think, "Why me?"
b.) How does good listening reflect your relationship with God?
5. Write out a short prayer asking God for his mercy. Ask him to make you a better listener by first and foremost tuning your heart to listen more carefully to his words of life and grace.
1. Complete the statement that best represents your reaction to the claim that corporate worship is the single most important means of God's grace:
- I agree because...
- I disagree because...
2. Describe "the secret of worship" (see section "The Secret of Joy: Self-Forgetfulness") and how this secret should affect your perspective when gathering this weekend, and every weekend, in corporate worship.
3. What are some thing you can do to prepare your mind and heart for worship before the corporate worship on Sunday morning? What can you do the night before or the morning of to be ready for this means of grace?
4. Imagine a friend has expressed to you his disillusionment with corporate worship. He was beginning to think he didn't really need to be "in church" each weekend. He argued that it would be more beneficial just to listen to sermons online and have friendships with fellow Christians throughout the week. How would you encourage him toward the importance of corporate worship in the Christian life?