4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 4-7 ESV)
In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he commends him for sharing his faith with fellow Christian by teaching them doctrine to build up their faith. I assume that they gathered on a regular basis so they can catch up with each other, to share praises and thanksgiving for what God has done, and to offer prayers for those who need encouragement, and for others, the Lord’s power to intervene. There is something special about being in fellowship with friends of faith who genuinely care about your well-being. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20), and that our Father will give us “another Helper,” the “Spirit of truth” to be with us forever (John 14:16-17). And we also learned that we “are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells” in us for those who accept and believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:16). Bearing all that in mind, it never crossed my mind that we are having a physical encounter with our Lord all the time. Whether we congregate inside a church or meet in small groups, we should never think of these as regular social events, but instead rendezvous with God himself.
In the Old Testament, Moses was the only person allowed to climb up Mount Sinai to speak with God; everyone else was forbidden because they would have to be executed (Exodus 19). Fast forward into the New Testament, God decides to send Jesus down to be born as a baby, to grow up and live among us. This showed how much he desires to be with us, and for many reasons, we still we do not set aside a special time for him. There is discipline of reading scripture for learning, a discipline of prayer to converse with God, and a discipline of corporate worship to strengthen our faith together as a family. Perhaps the problem is that we call these activities disciplines and treat them like a list of spiritual chores that fall in rank with other “important” priorities. Often, I hear people say that they need to make time for God and that they could always do better spiritually; even I am guilty of doing that! But as I read, pray, and share with others on a regular basis, I find myself slowly understanding the importance of these disciplines.
I firmly believe that we are in the presence of God whenever we read his word, pray to him, and worship together as the Church. I want you to pause and let that sink in for a little bit. Understand how incredible it is to meet God in what we thought were just ordinary religious activities! We don’t need someone else to speak to the Lord on our behalf. We have full and direct access to him all the time! In fact, Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to approach God “with confidence” so “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” I am convicted as I write these words because this personal discovery was made very clear to me today. I heard it before, but somehow my eyes have just now been opened to this reality; and yes, I will admit that I am a very slow learner on certain things.
God has always been with me even when I was too busy to notice him. I always thought he was in a far-off distant place when in fact he is living inside of me (and other Christians) and is also all around me. There is nothing trivial about Bible reading, praying, and corporate worship. It just never occurred to me how close God really is to me whenever I do any of those things. And when I am not doing those things, he still sticks around! I don’t say this because I am anyone special. Everybody can have this experience; it just takes a small amount of faith to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). So take heart and be encouraged! He is closer to you than you can ever imagine.