Leaning In [To Community]

In my last post, I shared with both myself and you, my friends, the importance of leaning into Jesus. It’s vital that we learn to listen to the voice of Jesus and go to Him for our ultimate security because He’s good, He loves us and He is the only one who is never going to let us down.

And although Jesus is the only place we can go to for our true identity, He has given us a gift that makes walking with Him so incredibly joyful and rewarding.

It’s this little thing called community.

So what is community? Well, it’s really just living life with people who love you and love Jesus. In Acts 2:42-47, the early church teaches us how to live in community saying,

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Community is people-oriented. It’s messy and it’s funny and it’s life-giving. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve experienced besides a one-on-one relationship with the Living God.

While leaning into Jesus is most important, we cannot diminish the fact that we need to lean into community too.  The fact is, we’re not going to make it through this life as well if we don’t allow ourselves to be a part of the body of Christ. Jesus never asked us to do this alone. Even though he went off by himself to spend time with the Father (see Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35), He never shied away from community. Jesus spent his entire ministry pouring himself into his twelve disciples as well as anyone who came his way. Jesus was relational, first with God and then with people; therefore, we should be relational, with God and then with his people.

I live a life in community ultimately because I want to do what I see my Father doing.

I just want to look more like Him.

And so I have to allow myself to enter into community. Which can be tricky. Because community requires something I’m really not good at: vulnerability.

For so long I have wanted nothing more than to be perfect, to have it all together, to be the girl everyone admires and respects. But the truth is, I’m never going to be perfect. Because I struggle with this little thing called sin. And it’s ugly and messy and when I live in community with people I love, it’s very difficult to hide.

But here’s what I’ve learned: They still love me in spite of my sin.

WHAT?!

My. Friends. Still. Love. Me. In. Spite. Of. The. Fact. That. I’m. Not. Perfect.

Even if I’m dealing with some really hard stuff? Even when I get bitter or jealous or when I say something that hurts they’re feelings (because surprise! I’m not always super nice)?

Even then.

And sometimes it leaves me breathless because how could these people ever love me if they knew that I wasn’t as great or nice or fun or as whatever as the image I project?

But then I remember: They love me because they see Jesus in me. They see the potential. They see who I am becoming.

And they call that out of me.

I’ve always had really sweet friends. But before college, I felt like I was just trying to keep up. Trying to people please, trying to do all the right things and all the “good” things because all my friends were. I was trying to be as holy and nice and smart as my friends, which just left me feeling spent and resenting them because for some silly reason I actually thought they were perfect. And it killed me.

Seriously, I felt so much less alive before I let that go. Before I just let me friends actually love me and started loving them instead of trying to compete with them.

And you wanna know what changed that for me?

Jesus and community.

When I got to college I knew I wanted to find a church to be involved in, a place that I would be able to look back in four years and say, “Wow, God, you really did something in my life. I’m not who I was four years ago.”

And it took me a little while, but eventually the Lord blessed me with the sweetest family I could ever have the honor of walking with here in Knoxville.

I found a place that loved me, that encouraged me, that really saw me.

And it changed everything.

I’m not at all saying my community is the end-all-be-all. We’re just a group of imperfect people trying to follow Jesus and navigate this crazy life together. But man, it is SWEET. And people’s lives are being transformed. People are meeting the real Jesus. Getting free. Becoming alive.

All because we choose to press in to the hard places.

We choose to share our sin with one another, to ask for forgiveness and repent when it is needed. We allow ourselves to be teachable. We encourage one another to get in the Presence of God and see what He has to say before we seek the opinions of our friends for advice on a difficult situation. We share the good things we see in one another, we laugh and have fun and go on crazy adventures and celebrate birthdays and speak truth into each other’s lives.

And we also go out and meet the lost. The hurting. The broken.

I think so many of us are just waiting. Waiting for someone to notice us. To actually see us.

And so many of us don’t really know who we are. We’re lost and we’re looking in a lot of places that seem like they’re fulfilling, but are leaving us thirsty and alone when we lay our head on our pillow at night. And that’s miserable.

That’s not life.

Life is knowing who we are (not having it all figured out, but knowing we belong to the family of God and that we are created and loved by Jesus. That we are free from the bondage of sin and our lives have purpose). And I can attest to the fact that life is a lot easier when there are people walking beside you, reminding you of who you are and where you are going when you start to forget and always pointing you to Jesus, on really good days and really hard ones too.

This past year and a half of living in true community with my lifegroup (my small group/college ministry/family group) and even other friends who just really love Jesus has radically changed my life. It’s taught me how to love people and how to actually let others love me too. It’s taught me how to listen to God about my season and who I am and also to listen to what God is saying about other people. I’ve been challenged, I’ve laughed and cried, served and been served, encouraged and been encouraged, the list goes on. And the sweetest thing is that it’s just beginning. This community will grow and change, seasons will come and go, but Jesus will always be the focus. And even when it’s my season to go, I know there will be more community waiting in the next place. Because it’s always around us. We just have to be brave and seek it out.

If you don’t have people in your life that encourage you and point you to Jesus, my prayer for you is that you would first press into God and then go and seek it out. I feel like a lot of times I just want God to plop all these great gifts into my lap without having to work for them. But if we’re ever going to do this community thing, it requires getting to know people who are sometimes incredibly different from you, people who may be nothing like the friends you already have. And it requires being vulnerable, allowing people to actually know who you are and where you’ve been in life.

While I can’t promise it’ll be easy, or even really fun at first, or that your community will look anything at all like mine, I can promise that God is good. And He LOVES you. A lot. And the Bible says that God is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children (you and me). The Bible also says that if we ask for anything in Jesus’ Name we will get it (but don’t take that as God is going to give you billions of dollars and a perfect body- that’s not who He is).

So what you can do if you’re lacking community is you can pray. Start praying that God would bring people into your life who love Him and love you. Pray that God would give you chances to engage in a group of believers who do what the Bible says and who love people well.

And then you have to risk. Life isn’t going to happen as you sit alone in your room. Get plugged into a church. If you’re a student, find a college ministry you enjoy, or find an older believer to disciple you (meet with you and walk through life and faith together). Choose to surround yourself with people who are loving and forgiving, but who are also willing to challenge you and point you back to Jesus. I know it’s scary and uncomfortable and it won’t feel good for a while but consistency brings blessing. If you church hop or don’t even try to invest in one place, community is never going to form because you aren’t allowing yourself to really get known. Staying and investing in one group is going to bring blessing. So listen to God, let yourself risk and then grown and help others grow.

I know living life closely with people is never easy. I’m still pushed and challenged to go deeper all the time. And it feels a little like walking out in front of people without clothes on. Which no one ever wants. But what I really, really want is to be seen. To be known. I want growth, and therefore I press in. I allow myself to be uncomfortable to the sake of knowing Jesus deeper. It’s hard, but it is so so good.

So I challenge you to go and try this community thing. Be brave, press and watch your life get radically impacted by what Jesus does.

Love you guys.

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I could literally post photos for days, but here’s just a taste. These photos are of community in all different areas: my lifegroup, my adpi/byx friends, sweet friendships I’ve had for years, friendships that cross the borders of both states and continents, old friendships, new friendships. But here’s the sweetest thing: each friendship is centered on Jesus. And that, my friends is community.

Also, two of these photos belong to my friend Jeff Jones who does a way better job of capturing really sweet moments than I could ever do with my iphone camera. If you ever need someone to capture your special days and moments, he’s your guy. Check out his stuff at http://jeffjonesphoto.com/

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