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Strength in Numbers

Christian community provides protection from spiritual attack and sluggishness—even for introverts.

I'm an introvert in the classic sense: I feel most energized after being alone. Spending time with others often leaves me exhausted. At times, I'd like to hide from everyone—even my closest Christian friends. I've dreamt of moving to a town where no one knows me, or permanently church hopping!

But I know it's not good for me to stay isolated. Oodles have been written about the negative effects of being alone too long—it takes a toll on body and mind. So it should be no surprise that isolation can hurt our souls too. Here are five reasons why every Christian needs to be in community.

1. You will encounter spiritual warfare.

During my second semester in seminary, I constantly felt tempted to overeat, oversleep, and to dwell on random lusty thoughts. I started experiencing emotional bursts of anxiety, fear, and depression that had no apparent cause. My dreams were plagued with such vivid horrifying images that I'd wake either shaking with fright or feeling disgusted and dirty.

At first, I attributed the mental tug-of-war to stress and fatigue. And I didn't tell anyone about my struggles because I was ashamed, thinking, I'm in seminary … I'm training to be a church leader … I can't be this weak!

I figured I must have inadvertently done something to bring on the dark thoughts, but I couldn't identify the source of my problem. I doubted the authenticity of my faith, and then felt too ashamed to pray. I considered leaving school.

Thankfully, I had a wise accountability partner who, recognizing this might be spiritual warfare, prayed and fasted with me. I felt deeply loved to see her sacrifice personal comforts—especially food!—to fight alongside me.

I've since met many Christians who have experienced similar mental attacks. It's really no surprise. If we're dedicated to building God's kingdom, we will face attack because Satan doesn't want us to succeed. Close relationships with other believers can provide: accountability; confirmation that spiritual warfare is happening; prayer and biblical wisdom; a loving push when we feel frozen with fear and shame.

2. You may face serious trials.

Tierra's parked car was destroyed when two arsonists set it on fire—a racially motivated hate crime.

Grace was evacuated from her family's home because of area fires and flooding—for the fifth time that year.

Scripture tells us that God works out all our circumstances, including trials, for our good (James 1:2-4; Romans 8:28). Some believers, like my friends Tierra and Grace, get to see that truth up close.

Christian friends rallied around Tierra. One bought her new eyeglasses, as her old ones had burned inside the car. Some offered her rides, while others searched for a reliable vehicle. A collection was taken, enabling Tierra to buy a car that was much better than the destroyed auto had been.

Grace got an offer to bunk with a friend who lived close to her college. The two later became roommates, which cut Grace's commute time by more than an hour and helped her become more active in building Christian community at her school.

When we're in community, we give and receive physical, emotional, and spiritual support. We rejoice together and ache together. By participating in one another's lives, we can regularly observe that God is at work—and often witness his amazing provision, which prepares us to rely on God during our own times of trials.

3. God uses others to grow your faith.

"Your sight in that eye is permanently gone." The ophthalmologist went on to explain there weren't any treatments. I accepted his diagnosis and prayed that God would help me adjust to the loss of sight in my left eye.

But my friend Yvonne asked God to restore my eyesight. I'd never considered praying for healing, but her words made me realize that the Creator of my eye was more than capable of fixing it. As soon as I began to pray in this new way, I was amazed by thoughts of God's great power. I felt deep peace at the idea that I could ask God to meet a physical need because I recognized—and believed—he could do it if he chose.

In community, we have the opportunity to push one another toward spiritual growth. Because Yvonne was bold, I learned to be bolder with my prayers and my faith became stronger. More important, I knew God better because I more fully understood the extent of his power.

(This newfound confidence would have been satisfying enough for me, yet God had other plans for his glory and the edification of my church. A couple weeks after Yvonne prayed, I testified to our congregation that God had restored my eyesight. It has been stable for four years now.)

The good words of Christian friends have moved me to act, repent, and get rid of wrongheaded belief. When we're not in community, we're missing out on much God wants to teach us.

4. Building the kingdom of God is a community effort.

Before he became a believer, Tymme Reitz was one of the most sought after dancers in the secular music industry. He'd performed with artists such as Madonna, Missy Elliot, and the Backstreet Boys.

So on joining a Christian dance group, he assumed he'd glorify God as a principal dancer. He was shocked when the group's director explained his role in the performance: "Stand here, behind the curtain. See this CD player? When I cue you, I want you to push the 'play' button."

Setting aside his pride, Tymme did as he was instructed. As the music began to play and the dancers took the stage, it hit him that this humble job was crucial: If he didn't push the button, the performance would never begin.

Tymme's story reminds me that every person and every gift is essential for kingdom building. We need one another to do what God has called us to do. All gifts are designed for community: Preachers and teachers need someone to teach; exhorters need someone to encourage; servants need someone to serve. Outside of community, even my greatest talent is useless.

5. We need one another to obey Scripture's directives on community.

Throughout the New Testament, more than 40 "one another" statements instruct on what Christian community should look like (e.g. "Love one another," Romans 13:8; "Submit to one another," Ephesians 5:21; "Teach and counsel each other," Colossians. 3:16; "Offer hospitality to one another," 1 Peter 4:9, NIV).

The persecuted church exemplifies this biblical picture of community, observe the authors of The Privilege of Persecution, largely because the realities of extreme poverty and political persecution cause Christians in these countries to work together as a matter of survival.

But it's a different situation for Western churches, where circumstances usually don't force believers to commit to one home church. It's easy to pick up and leave if something or someone displeases us. "Here's the dilemma for the American church: In order to really practice the 'one anothers,' you have to be with one another. You have to be together in situations that you can't escape," the authors explain.

Affluence and freedom don't excuse the Western church from the biblical instruction to live in community. Neither does being an introvert. I know that the root of my retreating is a sinful, selfish attitude: I want to retain control over my time and energy.

God has blessed me with friends who call me back into Christian community. Yes, it can be exhausting at times. But I know these faithful friends move me toward a deeper holiness by helping me to become an obedient servant—and that's something I can't do alone.

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Holly Vicente Robaina
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Community; Relationships; Spiritual Friendships; Struggles
Today's Christian Woman, July/August , 2011
Posted July 1, 2011

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