“We Gather Together” . . . Or Do We?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV

Scripture tells us to continue to meet together. Actually, I prefer the translation “gather together.” Maybe that’s because “meeting” brings to mind agendas and protocols and voting–and minutes. But I admit I’m biased on that. My view of meeting is colored by my having, at various times, been secretary of three different groups.

Regardless of the word you choose–meeting together or gathering together–for Christians those are to be times of encouraging one another. Of spurring one another to love and to action. And those sound like things we can all use.

We all need encouragement at some time or other. Even the apostle Paul needed encouragement. He wrote this to the believers in Rome: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12, NIV).

The Greek word used here for encouraging is parakaleo, and it includes the concept of meeting together. It actually means to call someone to one’s side for some purpose (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). That may work out to be what we typically think of as encouragement. But parakaleo can also be translated in other ways. We may need comfort. Or consoling. Or even exhortation. Each of these may be part of our times together. (A friend recently parakaleo-ed me to exhort me to get back to writing my blog posts.)

And we all likely also need someone to spur us on to live the holy life God calls us to live. We need at times to be stimulated. To be provoked. To have our hearts and minds and consciences poked to remind us that God calls us to be holy. To be different. To have agape love. And to do good, worthwhile deeds.

So as we meet together we can be encouraged by each other’s faith. We can encourage each other. And we can spur each other on to live out our faith. Does that imply that when we neglect meeting with other Christians we rob them–and ourselves–of these things?

Let me share with you two stories that, I believe, show the value of meeting together.

This first story comes from an experience our family had in central Nigeria. It happened on an outing to the local wildlife park that we often visited. It was a great outing for all of us. This particular visit took place when our oldest son, Chris, was three, and his little brother, Michael was an infant. In true Nigerian fashion, I had Michael tied on my back using a swath of cloth. We visited a number of animals that day and then decided to drive up the hill to visit the lion enclosure. We’d never yet seen any lions there, but we figured we’d try again.

The lion enclosure was a large plot of land surrounded only by a chain link fence. We got out of our van and walked over to get a closer look. Believe it or not, this time we saw not one lion, but two! They were resting under a tree maybe twenty feet back from the fence.

We watched them. They watched us. After a while, Larry and I decided it was time to go. I mean, you can only look at resting lions for so long before getting bored. (The lions looked pretty bored too.) Michael was on my back, so he had no choice but to go with us. But Chris, in typical young-child fashion, refused to leave.

I bet many of you parents have found yourself in a similar situation. So what do you do? You say, “Okay. We’re going.” And you head off, right? The child usually–eventually–follows. We were unprepared for what happened this time though.

As soon as we’d turned away, as soon as little, three-year-old Chris was standing there all alone, the lion pounced. We didn’t see it, but we certainly heard him as he forcefully hit the chain link fence. We whirled around and saw that lion standing there right up next to the fence, eying our son. I could almost see him salivating. I have never, before or since, been so thankful for a fence. With rapidly beating hearts, we snatched Chris up and headed to the van. You can be sure he was ready to leave this time. (In fact, it was a long time until he was again ready to go see the lions.)

Does that remind you of any Bible verse? This one popped into my mind later: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NIV). Well, lions don’t always roar; they sometimes sneak up quietly and then pounce. And Satan may attack that way too. Silently. Surreptitiously. That’s why Peter also told his readers to remain alert. But lions also tend to attack the one who is alone. And I believe, Satan, like that lion, is more likely to attack when you’re isolated from others.

The second story I want to share with you is one taken from a Facebook post attributed to Tammie Johnson. I can’t vouch for its veracity, but it brings to life a great spiritual truth.

“A member of the church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.

“The pastor made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone then he sat back in his chair, still silent.

“The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead.

“Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The pastor glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

“As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, ‘Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I will be back in church next Sunday.”

Need I say any more?

So, what does meeting together with other Christians mean for you? Is it helpful? How? Can we—should we–be meeting together outside of the times we spend together on Sunday mornings or at Wednesday night prayer meetings? I’d love for you to share in the comments below your thoughts on the matter so that we can be “mutually encouraged” by each other’s experiences.

Soul Refreshers for your week:

  • Share with other readers here your thoughts and experiences on ways to meet together, ways that promote encouragement and spurring one another on to live the Christian life.
  • Take some time apart from your regular times at church to meet together with other believers.
  • In your times with other Christians, consider how you might encourage, comfort, or exhort them. Think and pray about how you might “spur [them] to love and good deeds.”

2 comments

  1. There was a time in my life when I stopped going to the fellowship of believers for about a year, I felt that I did not have anything to contribute nor was I realizing any benefit from attending the fellowship. In fact, attending the fellowship caused me to feel even lonelier and more isolated. My wife and I would send our high school and college aged kids off to the fellowship but we stayed home. The issue was our own and yet it was complicated by the interpersonal dynamics of that particular church. We started looking for a different church and eventually found one where there was a sense of belonging , where we were encouraged and built up, and where we could. in small ways, contribute.

    1. It can certainly be difficult when the fellowship we belong to doesn’t seem to be building us up. We’re confronted with a question that is so difficult to answer: Do I stay and try to make a difference or do I try to find another local body of Christ where I can make a difference and receive the encouragement needed. I’m glad you found someplace where you and others could be mutually encouraged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.