For ten months this former project housing building has been my home. Ninteen interns packed into very small apartments. It's tight quarters, but we make do. We're all up in each other's space (and business) all the time. Some days we're overwhelmed with love for one another and some days we want to be left the heck alone. But everyday we learn to live with less stuff and more grace for each other. And everyday we receive the gifts that each person brings to our group.
Community = A group of people living together in one place, especially one practicing common ownership. I like to think of it as common unity. We share everything: food, space, daily activities, life. And our shared experience is what unifies us.
I'd never really had a stellar experience while living in community before I came to Provision International. In college, finding like-minded people to build community with had proven to be a struggle. Instead of working harder to find community, my American independence kicked in and I opted for doing my own thing most of the time. In this season of life, there is no choice but to engage in community. It's been a crash course in "Community 101" - unlike anything I learned at college. We do everything together and we need each other to survive the life we live. From long hours to the spiritual fatigue, from feeling the sacrifice we've made to be here to feelings of homesickness. I need community because no one can understand what I experience daily more than these guys. We're like soldiers gone off to war who will forever be bonded to their troop because of the experiences they survived together.
Lately, I've been realizing what a gift community is. Without it I would feel so very alone in this experience and I would be incomplete. As Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, within the church we are all different parts of one body - we need each other to function properly. I need my friend Christine to see things I can't in the Spirit. I need Gareth to lend a helping hand to fix things when they're broken. I need Courtney's smile to encourage my heart with joy when I feel sad. I need Sarah's ear when I'm songwriting and feel stuck in a rut. And the list goes on and on. Without my eighteen friends, I would be one lonely heart without the necessary body parts to help me function.
We were clearly built for community. We were made to need each other and we were made to need God. The two are inextricably linked and function simultaneously. In the Bible, John records a prayer of Jesus that makes this very clear: "I pray also for those who will believe in me ... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one - I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17: 21-23
Community pleases the Lord. Psalm 133:1 says,"How good an pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!" Why? Not just because we fulfill each other's needs, but because our unity with our brothers and sisters points to our unity with God so that the world will see Him through us. And true unity hinges on the most foundational biblical pricipal of all: LOVE. Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13: 35. There is not greater test of brotherly love than life in community. It certainly ain't easy and requires dying to self daily, but there is no greater proof of brotherly love than life in community done well.
What does that even look like? Well, I think it looks a lot like Ephesians 4: 2-5 "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." It's a tall order for sure, but one worth aiming for.
So....what does community look like to you? Wherever you are, whatever your life is like, there are various ways to live out community in your own context. You certainly don't have to live in the same apartment complex and work for the same organization like my friends and I to experience life within community. If I may, I challenge you to ask the Lord what community He's calling you to and how you can actively engage - goodness knows, it takes a personal choice and some elbow grease in the context of our independence minded society but the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice.
I'd like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who have been community to me through the seasons of my life - friends, family, church families, neighbors and schoolmates. Thanks for unifying your life with mine, for sacrificing time and energy for me, for sharing yourself with me, and most of all for showing me love. You have made my life rich and blessed. And a special THANK YOU to my Provision International fam who has helped me discover new depth, meaning and the necessity of Christian community. I couldn't have survived this year without you guys! I love you all.
I leave ya'll with this....
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."