persevere (v.) – to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.
Remember in Finding Nemo, when Dory taught us what to do when life got you down? She sang, “Just Keep Swimming”. The implication is there are moments when the circumstances and situations you experience will want to discourage you from moving forward. But when those moments are upon you, the answer is to keep pressing ahead towards what is coming on the other side. Dory’s optimism that something better is waiting for you should encourage you to keep going.
This has been on my mind lately as I have thought about the faith journey my family and I have traveled through planting Reconcile Church. There have been a lot of moments where we have encountered intense difficulty and opposition. If I am being honest, this has been the most difficult thing we have ever done.
Over the past few weeks, there have been high profile stories of Christian leaders who have denounced their faith in Christ. If you listen to their stories, it’s not so much Jesus as it is His people….the church. Story after story of how their disillusionment of the church has led them to feel the need to “leave” the faith because it feels like “just another religion” or “not defining myself as Christian anymore.”
The painful part for me is that I understand exactly where they are coming from.
Do you know where I have experienced some of the deepest hurt in my life? Where have I felt the pain of betrayal, discouragement, and bitterness?
The more sobering part is that I keep having conversations with people in my city who share much of the same story. Stories of how they felt abandoned by those that were supposed to care for them. How the one place that should have been a shelter or safe haven, often felt like walking into a combat zone where all eyes, sneers, and words were pointed at them. They have experienced a deep church hurt that has left them with no desire for God, or His people.
My heart breaks two-fold. One, because I know without a doubt that God’s desire is that we would all intimately know how much He loves us and desires for us to know Him. And two, the place that is the source of all of that hurt and pain is actually where God chooses to demonstrate the first.
God tells us that it is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” What this means is that God’s people will be the demonstration throughout the universe of how majestic and beautiful He is. He is taking a group of people who are so diverse, so needy, and so broken and weaving them together through His grace, love, and mercy. That when they are woven together in such a way to love each other radically and care for their neighbors sacrificially, all of heaven and earth will be moved to proclaim how awesome a God we have.
This is where I think back to Dory’s song and how it encourages me to keep pressing forward with God’s people. The moments I am overwhelmed by the hurt I have felt by the words and actions of my brothers and sisters, God reminds me that is exactly the place where I am called to show forgiveness.
When I see the failings so clearly of the church’s inability to show compassion and mercy to those who desperately need to feel it, I am reminded by God that there was a time I too lacked the ability to be those things. This is where He reminds me of His grace that never runs dry…..a grace that constantly pursues no matter how many times it is needed.
The moments I am distraught at the church’s inability to love those “outside” the walls unconditionally and selflessly, I remember that isn’t a true reflection of the One who has demonstrated over and over His ability to love me that way.
I realize He is calling me to all of these things because He has demonstrated them faithfully to me over and over in my own life. It is His desire that I would reciprocate what I experience from Him every day.
My hope is that if you are reading this out there and you are wanting to give up (or have already) on God and His people, you will be encouraged to keep pressing ahead. I invite you to join me in fighting for love when we are tempted to walk away. We will be disappointed, and frustrated, and wounded along the way but the reward that awaits us on the other side…..the joy, the peace, and the love that we will experience will be absolutely worth the fight.