October 20, 2014

One Small Part

Devotion for the Week...

Have you ever noticed how one little physical irritation can affect more than just the body part that hurts? Every now and then the oil glands in my right eye get blocked, which means the tears that should lubricate the eye don't have the right oil-to-water balance. It doesn't hurt, exactly, it just feels like I have an eyelash in my eye that I can't remove. Applying a hot compress a couple of times a day unblocks the glands again, but it takes two or three days to work. So, for two or three days, I constantly feel like there's an eyelash stuck in my eye. It's very minor compared to the physical issues so many others deal with, and yet I find that even such a little thing can affect my mood for the entire day.

The apostle Paul had obviously dealt with something similar at some point in his life. In chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians he compares the church to a body, pointing out how each member of the church is important just as each body part is important, but each person has a different role to play, just as each part of the body serves a different purpose. Then he says of the church, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Just as an irritation in my eye makes all of me irritated even though my eye is such a small part of my body, so the church as a whole should be affected by what happens to individual members. The church can be grouped in two different ways. First there is the local church, which is the group of people who attend a particular church. Then there is the global church, which is every Christian in the entire world.

The concept of "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it" is similar to "carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). In the local church, this happens when someone dies and the church members rally around those who are grieving by bringing food, or when someone receives a grim diagnosis and the church members pray and offer assistance wherever needed. Do we know our fellow church members well enough to know when they are suffering? Do we step outside of our own busyness and our own concerns enough to see the needs of those around us?

Globally, there are millions of Christians who are affected by poverty, drought and war. Do we suffer with them? Most of us have enough money to pay for food and shelter. There is abundant food available in our grocery stores and farmer's markets. There are no armies fighting in our streets, threatening to take our children and turn them into soldiers or slaves. We can't relate to those who suffer under the weight of that fear. It's easy for us to become complacent, to be content with what we have and to focus only on ourselves. But that isn't what the Bible teaches.

How can we help to bear the burdens of those who live so far away in conditions so unlike our own that we can't really even imagine living like that? Some people will go physically to those far away places to help feed children, to help build schools, to help in whatever ways possible to better the lives of others. Most of us, though, will stay where we are, but that doesn't mean we can't help.

We can help financially.  Paul wrote, "And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people" (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). In order to evaluate whether or not we are truly serving the Lord's people as the Macedonian churches did, we need to ask ourselves if we are giving 'as much as we are able, and even beyond our ability'. That is a tough question, isn't it? It is one that can only be answered individually, and requires an honest evaluation of our priorities.

Having said that, sometimes money is easy to give. Not only because we have more than we need at a particular moment, but also because giving money is rather simple. It doesn't require much effort or engagement on our part. Giving of our time is much more difficult. Taking the time to pray fervently for those who suffer around the world requires an intentional effort. It means we give up time spent doing other things to petition God on behalf of those whose needs we can't meet ourselves. It means we stop knowing about poverty and war on a surface level and allow ourselves to go deeper, to learn more about what is needed and about what is being done. When we allow ourselves to care deeply enough about those needs that we become passionate about relieving that suffering, then we will sacrifice our time and pray more. And yes, we will probably give more too.

I have to admit that, as I have been writing this devotion, I have found it challenging me. I feel that I am focused on my own life and not as engaged as I could be in the lives of others, both near and far. Please don't ever think that because I write these devotions I feel I have it all figured out. God often speaks to me through my own words, just as I hope He speaks to you. 

Individually we are each only one small part of the church, but we are connected to all the other parts. Do our lives reveal that connection?

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