A few weeks ago Sam kicked off our Philippians series looking at Joy. He talked about the way our culture points us to different places for joy; relationships, our looks and our possessions. Sam reminded us that these things are fleeting, and that we can only find true joy in Jesus – even in the incredibly dark times, there is a glimmer of hope when we know Him. Sam went on to talk about the joy we find in partnering together as a church as we see the gospel advancing, but something he said prior to this caught my attention – that joy is not faking it, it is not pretending everything is okay and that it is alright to be honest. It is possible for us to feel two emotions at once – we can feel sorrow and also joy because there is always a glimmer of hope when we know God.
But, it isn’t easy to be honest when we’re struggling, to be real. Especially in church. Why is that? And what does it even mean to be ‘real’ anyway?
One of the definitions the dictionary gives for the word ‘real’ is this, ‘not imitation or artificial; genuine, true’. I wonder how many of us are truly able to be ourselves in church rather than imitating what we think we should present as, what we assume others expect us to be. The truth is that life isn’t easy, and God puts us in community to help each other. We are told in Thessalonians to encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak. We are told in Romans – let Love be genuine, love one another with brotherly affection. We are told in 1 Corinthians that love is patient and kind.
We have all received messages from in and outside the church, which make us feel we should present a certain way. We say we are fine when we aren’t because we are too proud to admit when we are struggling. We don’t reach out when we are lonely because we are scared to appear vulnerable. We are crushed by the continual boasting on social media via ‘perfect’ photographs of ‘perfect’ lives, which our own never seem to live up to.
What if church was a place we could be genuine, and be sure we would be met with love, kindness, patience, help? The truth is, that whenever I have been vulnerable in church I have always been met with what I have described. When things have been so hard that I haven’t been able to be anything but real, I have been met with love. Being real makes others realise it is also okay to be real too. Being real gives people around you the opportunity to bless you. Being real breaks down the barriers we put up in church that make us all feel like we are the only one who is lonely, the only one who is struggling. Being real smashes down walls and allows us to love one another and carry one another. To point each other again to the hope that only Jesus offers us. We must be more real in church and we must love each other in the way Jesus commanded us to do. Growth comes when we make ourselves uncomfortable, when we admit our vulnerability and let people who love us speak into our lives. Growth comes when we show genuine love to those who reveal to us their struggles. We must love one another well and remind each other of the hope we have in Jesus.