Gather-as-the-Church

Early this morning I had a conversation with some friends, and one of them just kept saying, “Really, all you have to do is just show up.” Just show up was the phrase we kept coming back to. Then this is popped up from exactly a year ago … perhaps it’s timely for us all.

~

I’ll admit, it began as an irritation.

Why are we the ones ALWAYS here? Of course, the pastor’s family has to show up at church, right? Of course the Bible study leader has to show up. Of course the retreat speaker has to show up.

After 17 years leading Bible studies and small groups, I get what it’s like to be the one who has to show up. And I’ve always counted that a blessing. The reality is, whenever we just show up we are blessed. We only benefit. I’m grateful for all these years where leadership has forced me to be consistent, because I know my tendency to be hit-and-miss.

But this year, something began aching in my heart. I always knew it was there. After years leading small groups, you know the attrition rate by heart:

Usually by the end of the study half the participants … aren’t participating.

But it becomes heightened, more clearly seen, in something small like a church plant. Although this thing certainly isn’t “ours,” there is a very real sense that our very hearts and souls are poured out into this little ragtag band of believers called Renew. Paul clearly had this same burdened heart for all those he invested in for the sake of the Kingdom.

And so the inconsistency, the attrition, the hit-and-miss … is keenly felt. 

And yet, my optimism constantly reminds me: God uses exactly who’s there for just the right purpose. He can move mightily no matter who comes and who doesn’t. 

And this is true. Of course God is so powerfully and gloriously sovereign, He can work gloriously with two people or two-thousand people.

And yet.

(Now my heart’s doing this crazy-thumping thing because I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend a bunch of people right now.)

I poured out my heart to God about this recently, sharing honestly with Him how hard and lonely it is to be the one always showing up. Do you know what I heard crystal clear in my heart?

“How do you think I feel?”

Tears flowed as I realized how we have hurt the heart of God

I believe the heart of God is deeply grieved that we have made him last priority in our lives. That we have made spiritual matters of least importance. That we put more thought into the state of our financial portfolio than the state of our souls. That we put soccer schedules ahead of Sunday morning worship. That we have financial needs and yet blatantly ignore God’s clear commands on giving to Him first. That we neglect morning prayers and time in the sacred Scriptures because we really “need some sleep.”

I’m not talking about legalism, I’m talking about LOVE.

I believe the heart of God is broken because He waits and waits and waits and waits, for us to just show up. Like a husband who plans a date with His wife every Friday night, who reserves a table for 2 and sits alone in the candlelight, waiting, waiting, waiting for His beloved bride to show up.Like a husband who plans a date with his wife, reserves a candlelit table for two, and waits ...… Click To Tweet

But she never does. She needed sleep. Something came up. A friend stopped by.

He sits there, alone, waiting for us to just show up

I read a story recently of a family in the 60s, in Communist Russia. They loved Jesus. Every weekend, they would walk 30 miles to get to the nearest church, then walk 30 miles home, traveling all night long Sunday night, to be ready for work Monday morning.

This undoes me. Oh God, forgive us. We know nothing of carrying our cross, we know nothing of commitment.

We know nothing of true love. 

Again, this isn’t a message of condemnation, it is a PLEA that the people of God would know the heart of God, that He does not come last. Matthew says that as the end nears,

“The love of many will grow cold.” (24:12)

Please: Do not let your love grow cold. He waits for you.

Just show up.

{Thank you for reading.}

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  • Jen Stanbro

    Beautiful. Brought tears…and sweet moments of repentance, and gratitude for His tremendous, steadfast longsuffering and gushing love…I love You, Jesus! Here I am, Lord. <3
    Thank you, Kari. Beautiful and timely.

  • Melissa Mancia

    The Lord leads us to what He desires our hearts to hear. Oh man, so good Kari! I too, was moved to tears, the lip quivering kind! Thank you for these beautiful words that needed to be heard! The Lord totally used you to whisper to my heart just how amazing He is! I’m so thankful that we serve a gracious God that longs for us, waits for us, and extends grace to “so often my foolish heart.”