“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
The Pastor & His Friend
I once heard a story of an old pastor in England. He had labored faithfully in a small town, and pastored a church there for many years. Though the church never grew to be very large, he was loved by all his parishioners, and had a reputation for being kind and gentle, and a faithful and wise friend. Through the years, he became close friends with a man in his church. They had both experienced the hardship of losing their wives, and each had been there for the other, with a comforting word of Scripture, or just a shoulder to cry on. They both took a keen interest in learning the Scriptures, and would often talk into the wee hours of the morning discussing matters of theology over tea.
One Sunday, the pastor was surprised to see an empty seat in the pew where his friend always sat. As soon as the sermon was over, he rushed to his friend’s home to make sure nothing was wrong. He knocked on the door, and a few moments later it opened—but just barely enough to see inside. His friend peered around the door into the pastor’s eyes. “I noticed you weren’t at church this morning; I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” the pastor said. The man’s eyes shifted downward, and he simply mumbled, “I’ve had a rough weekend. I’ll be fine.” Then he closed the door. Stunned, and a little hurt, the pastor walked home, puzzled by the unusual encounter.
The following Sunday, the pastor looked out as he began his sermon, and again, his friend’s place was empty. Again, he visited his friend’s home, but this time, the door didn’t open. Through the window, the pastor could see his friend sitting in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace—a place they had often sat together. He appeared sad; the pastor couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t open the door to his friend, or why he was choosing to shut himself in, but out of respect for his privacy, he went on his way.
For the next 6 weeks, the man’s seat would remain empty. The pastor was heartbroken and at a loss for words; what had happened to his friend? Why was he shutting him out? He decided to try to visit him again. He knocked on the door, and to his surprise, his friend opened it and gestured for him to come in. They walked over to the fireplace and sat where they had sat so many times before. Neither one knew what to say, so for quite some time, they simply sat in silence, staring at the fire. After a long while, the pastor stood up and walked over to the fireplace. Using the tongs, he reached into the pile of hot embers glowing at the heart of the fire. He pulled out a single ember, glowing red-hot and place it on the stone hearth. His friend watched, wondering what he was doing, but still said nothing. Both men stared at the ember as it began to fade from glowing red to a dull black. When it had cooled enough, the pastor stooped down and picked it up with his hand. He held it for moment, then threw it back into the fire. Almost immediately, it began to burn red-hot again. Turning to his friend, the pastor simply quoted Hebrews 10:24-25. The man smiled up at the pastor with tears in his eyes and softly responded, “I’ll see you Sunday.”
In modern culture, gathering together as believers has become an “add-on” to our lives; little more than a box to check. What about you? What kind of value do you ascribe to meeting together with God’s people, allowing them to challenge you and build you up, stirring you up to love and good works, and encouraging you? The Apostle Paul describes the Church as a body of many members (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12), each one needing the other to function as God intended. When we neglect to meet together with other believers, or simply treat it as an “add-on” to make ourselves feel better rather than a priority and a privilege, we are pulling away from the very thing that God created to help us! Without the encouragement and accountability of taking your place in the God-designed body of Christ, your spiritual life will diminish and cool like an ember removed from the fire. Don’t neglect to gather together with God’s people. Find your place. Stir someone up to love and good works. Encourage someone!
I’ll see you Sunday. ;)
God, what a beautiful thing is your Church! You loved it, you gave yourself for it, and you saw fit to place me in it to play a part in your wonderful story of redemption. Thank you, Father. Help me to love the Church as you do. Help me to see the beauty in the flawed, messy, wonderful people that you have chosen to be your Church. May I never become like that lonely ember, cold and dying on my own. Help me to stir others up to love and to good works, rather than stirring up quarreling or complaining. Help me to encourage, rather than tear down. I love you, Father, and I love your Church. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.