Im sat with a Starbucks cup in hand, the cream of my caramel hot chocolate gently beginning to caress the outside of my mug as it overflows and gently warms my fingers. The smell flirts with my senses as I go for another gulp and I’m now desperately trying to hide the fact I’ve now nose planted the cream full on. The awkward moment lasts a second as I expertly lick away the offending bit of cream – as you can tell I’ve still not quite perfected the art of drinking a hot drink through the cream mountain. But in truth this experience isn’t about me combating my drinking insecurities or maintaining my love of hot drinks, no matter how great the drink it doesn’t satisfy my being here. For what I’m after is the community that is facilitated by the simple venture to a Starbucks on a sunny afternoon.
For me there aren’t many things quite like the experience of sharing life with other people. As I sit and listen to the guy opposite a story emerges, like a painter painting on a blank canvas the fuller picture comes slightly more into view with every second I listen. As we share our dreams and our failures we stop to ponder the stories that we have painted so far, almost unaware that what we are describing is that in itself, a story. As we part our separate ways I’m left with a subtle smile on my face and an ever increasing thought echoes around my head – how glad I am God created us to be in community.
The journey of faith has almost become deeply personal, not by means of us being personal with God, but by how we integrate those journeys with other people. All too often we think that we can live it by ourselves, dismissing the need for others as a sign of weakness. Yet God never intended us to walk as lone rangers in the battle of faith and ive definitely learnt it is a battle. As I reflect on my own story I’m buoyed by the stories I hear from my fellow Christians. For in the storytelling I’ve learnt that encouragement and peace flow from those relationships I hold so dear. For every story I hear the same message comes back. God is faithful, God is the best option and his love never ends. These aren’t fairy tales either, for the stories I share and hear are laced with pain, confusion, hurt and doubt, of heartbreak, loss of life and personal insecurities. Yet still God has the victory and they are lifted by moments of joy, overcoming and the ability to cope in every situation because of a God who loves and sustains.
This is why I love community, because in those moments where life seems too much, where pain is all I see and I feel overwhelmed by life’s wind and waves there are people there who have shared the same stories but God has pulled them through. I can think of a few moments in my life where that has been the case and I’ve begrudgingly gone to some wise couples house and shared a meal. In my moment of weakness they share their journeys of hope and pain and proclaim that God is good through it all, he will see you through. In the same way when joy abounds and hope bursts through the same community celebrates together as one, celebrating the goodness of God. I remember Cycling the South Downs way and reaching a point where I felt I could no longer continue, the pain and the rain seemed too much. We passed an older man and as he shared his stories on the trail we were encouraged to hear that he had been through far worse in his journey and yet he had still completed his trek. It’s the same in the journey of faith. I often doubt God can pull me through the current situation or that I have the strength to overcome a difficulty – yet the stories of the people around me tell that through every hardship God sustains and pulls us through. Community brings hope even in the darkest of days.
Maybe that’s why we leave the safety of our beds and houses on a Sunday morning, or stay up later in the evening to meet with our fellow Christians. For when we gather together to sing songs, listen to the bible and share bacon sandwiches we are meeting as individuals with our own stories, hopes and fears, meeting together as one family in one big story, Gods story. For in his story we all have a part to play and we are all united in the truth that we are saved by God and that we are called to be in relationship with him as individuals and as a family. As we remind each other of that and share each others pain and joy as we seek to live out the story he has destined for us we can rejoice that we do not face this battle alone, but in the company of loving brothers and sisters. For ever story is significant and has a message to bring, from the lowest and to the greatest. Jesus preached to the masses but focused on the individuals. How often I think my story is a failure and is insignificant. Yet as I grow up and live alongside fellow Christians I’ve learnt that no-ones story is unimportant in the kingdom and to God. For every story brings a unique experience with its own wisdom and power to shape not just the storyteller, but the community that exists around them.