January 24, 2014

An Appetite for Community

Have you ever been hungry? I mean with pit-of-your-stomach growling somewhat akin to that of a rabies-ridden mongrel hungry?

A few weeks ago, my husband and I spoke about hunger in our small group at church. Only it wasn't about food hunger but a hunger for community - the kind of authentic, biblical community you can only get from the closest of believing friends. 

In the past, I enjoyed this type of community time and time again. But those times have begun to feel "not so recent." The Lord blessed me with two very intense settings that greatly fostered biblical community: North Greenville University and Snowbird Wilderness OutfittersThe former being a college - a Christian campus that built community by having a network of hall chaplains, numerous dorm Bible studies, and close-knit professor/student relationships. The latter being a Christian youth camp and retreat center that fostered community through the staff's living together, experiencing small group Bible and prayer time together, and entertaining open and honest feedback in highly accountable relationships with one another. And though I have experienced seasons of true community within local church bodies, the college and camp settings exceeded by far.


Isn't that sad? I mean, don't get me wrong...being a part of such vibrant communities for Christ was amazing. But I haven't lived in either one of those settings for almost a decade now! Shouldn't I be experiencing authentic biblical community with people on the daily - wherever I am? Especially in the local church?

Now, this is not a slam on my home church...or on any I have attended in the past...but when we were discussing this topic in our small group a few weeks ago, I realized that we all had similar stories. Times "way back when" in which we had close friendships, accountability, and spiritual growth in the Word like none other. Why do these experiences remain "misty water-colored memories"? 

As a noun, hunger means "a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat." The verb is not far from it: "to have a strong desire or craving for."

After probing these definitions, I've come to think that a hunger for community is much the same - generally coming in two-step fashion:
1) We have discomfort or weakness because we have a lack of community.
2) We develop a corresponding desire or craving (a.k.a. appetite) to fill that lack.  

Then why do we go for months - nay, years - without the proper "food" for our hunger? Why do we float through our church lives barely scratching the surface of friendships that the Lord could use for much, much more?

It seems like we've lost our hunger for close fellowship with believing friends. And how does one lose hunger for something? It all comes down to appetite. Our appetites (or desires) have changed, and we no longer hunger for what we once did.

Appetite is defined as "a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need." All people are created for community - both the lost and the saved. But those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are given a new nature (see Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). Part of that new nature is a longing not just for any old workaday friendships, but for the kind of friendships that can help one grow and flourish in Christ.

This is one reason we have local church bodies. As Paul said, we should not "[neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [encourage] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25, ESV).

Of course, my husband and I are able to bring biblical community to one another. We are best friends, and we are living for Christ in "one flesh." But for you ladies out there, you know and can testify to the special sweetness that comes from having other woman intricately take part in your life (i.e. studying with, praying with, holding accountable, and just "being" with). Guys...I am not one. But my husband has recently shared this same longing, so I imagine close guy friendships in the Lord are desired by men as well. And desire is the essence of appetite.

We hunger not, because we desire not.


Over the past year or so, the Lord has blessed me with a new dear friend. She has a similar length of marriage to mine, a similar passion for ministry, similar convictions and theology, etc. And God is now filling my hunger for the type of close community I was speaking about through my relationship with her. In fact, when I left her house the other day, I found myself singing praise songs to God on the way home - blessing His name for uniting me with another woman who is walking such a similar path. Only God could connect two such people! 


Because my hunger for community is consistently being filled and nourished, I now have more of an appetite for it. I think I simply had not "tasted" of the fruit of close (and in close proximity!) friendships in so long that I no longer desired to pursue new ones. It's like when you go without a certain food for so long that you barely remember the taste...but then once you try it again, you realize you love it and can't get enough of it! 


While thinking about this subject, I was reminded of an old song by the band Watermark (Nathan and Christy Nockels). There is quite possibly no better way I could sum up powerful, godly community but to quote the lyrics from this precious tune.
_______________

"More Than You'll Ever Know" (Watermark, 2000)


Something brought you to my mind today

I thought about the funny ways you make me laugh
And yet I feel like it's okay to cry with you
Something about just being with you
When I leave I feel like I've been near God
And that's the way it ought to be...

'Cause you've been more than a friend to me

You fight off my enemies
'Cause You've spoken the Truth over my life
And you'll never know what it means to me
Just to know you've been on your knees for me
Oh, you've blessed my life
More than you'll ever know

You had faith when I had none

You prayed God would bring me a brand new song
When I didn't think I could find the strength to sing
And all the while I been hoping that I'll
Do the kind of praying for you that you've done for me
And that's the way it ought to be...


'Cause you've been more than a friend to me
You fight off my enemies
'Cause You've spoken the Truth over my life
And you'll never know what it means to me
Just to know you've been on your knees for me
Oh you've blessed my life
More than you'll ever know

You've carried me

You've taken upon a burden
That wasn't your own
May the blessing return to you a hundredfold
_______________

Do you have an appetite for community? Is the desire  even there anymore?


We have to be intentional about pursuing these sorts of relationships. But if we will pursue the "food" of close, godly friendships, God will grow our appetites and satisfy our hunger.

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