True Spirituality is Physical: A Personal Word of Exhortation and Encouragement to the People of Bridgeway Church3
There is a lot that I could say to encourage you in this season of uncertainty and extraordinary stress. Perhaps I will at a later time. But my heart is burdened right now with this “thing” that many are calling “virtual church.” Let me be as clear and to the point as I can. There is no such thing as “virtual church.” There are sermons and announcements that we can provide for you by means of modern technology. But these are no substitute for “church” in the truly biblical sense of the term. Here is why.
Whereas much, if not most, of what we do in our corporate gatherings is spiritual in nature, church is also quite physical. In less than optimal times, in extraordinary seasons in the life of our entire world, we make do with the best we can to instruct and encourage and edify you. But what we are doing by means of the internet and various forms of social media is not a good substitute for church. It is a necessary substitute, but not a good one.
My fear is that some of you will grow so accustomed to simply turning on your computer or your phone or your TV to listen to worship and to be instructed by sermons that when this Coronavirus pandemic is behind us, you will continue in that vein, and fail to show up physically as the assembly of God’s people. And that would be a disaster.
There simply is no substitute for engaging with other Christians face to face. I can’t begin to explain to you how important our physical presence with each other truly is. Social distancing is a necessary evil for the time being. But in any other situation it is simply evil.
It brings me to tears when I think of missing out on seeing you face to face and hugging you and shaking your hand and hearing your voices. I’m truly heartbroken that I can’t feel the hugs of little children as they throw their arms around my legs and say, “I love you, Pastor Sam!” I feel empty inside in not seeing hundreds of raised hands in our auditorium, expressing their love for and their surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. I can’t bear the thought of going much longer without hearing you sing and watching as you pray for one another. I ache for the opportunity not simply to pray for you, but to anoint you with oil and place my hands on your head or shoulders or back.
I miss terribly the busyness of the Café as we mingle before and after a service. I miss feeling the touch of a bulletin in my hand and the smell of coffee and the sound of laughter and the sight of many greeting one another in the love of the Lord. I miss watching as a new believer is baptized. I miss beyond what words can express sharing Communion with you each month as we partake of the cup and the bread.
It weighs heavily on my heart that when I preach I can’t see the reaction in your faces as the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to behold wonderful things in God’s Word (Psalm 119:18). I miss the sound of instruments playing to the glory of God. I miss our dancers and those who celebrate with banners and those who kneel and those who remain seated.
There is an extraordinary, special, life-changing powerful presence of God among God’s people when they engage in corporate worship. I love worshiping in my office and in my car, but nothing compares with worshipping together with you. Our physical proximity, as we sing with one voice and one heart, brings an anointing presence of God that cannot easily be experienced anywhere else.
I will never again take for granted our corporate gatherings. I will never take for granted the opportunity to be in God’s presence and yours simultaneously. I will never again treat Sunday mornings or any other time when we assemble as if it were optional. I hope and pray you feel the same way. It seems that it took this forced isolation to awaken me to the glory, beauty, and life-changing power of God’s people in joyful assembly.
You see, true spirituality is genuinely and inescapably physical. God made us that way.
So please avail yourself of every resource that we provide over the internet and social media. Call one another on the phone. Do some Face time with your community group. Make use of Zoom and Skype and every possible means of staying connected.
But my primary prayer is that the absence of “social intimacy” (the opposite of social distancing) and the emptiness in your heart that comes from being physically separated from one another will create in you such a hunger for our corporate gathering and our C-group and D-group meetings that when this pandemic is behind us you will quite literally run to assemble with one another once again.
People often ask me why at times God seems to withdraw his sensible presence. In other words, why is it that there are certain seasons in life when we can’t feel God’s nearness? He seems distant. His love is reduced to only a word. The answer is that we all too often take God’s goodness and nearness and love for granted. He then will make it feel as if he is far from us precisely to create in our hearts an unrelenting desperation for his nearness. It is sad to say, but often times we don’t fully appreciate God’s grace and love and mercy and the salvation and joy he provides until we enter those seasons in life when it all feels so far from us.
I strongly suspect that one thing God is doing among his people during this pandemic, and by “people” I mean the universal church of Jesus Christ globally, is weaning us off our idols, be they sports or money or other physical comforts, so that we would be compelled to rely on him and be ever more grateful for all that we have from him through Jesus Christ.
It is the truly thirsty person who most enjoys a cold glass of water. It is the person who has fasted for a week who more greatly appreciates a steak and baked potato, or whatever vegetables and fruit you vegetarians enjoy!
How thirsty for God are you? How hungry for the nearness of Jesus and the Spirit are you today? How desperate are you for the physical presence and blessings of being in social proximity to other believers?
My level of pain and need right now are incredibly deep. It grows with ever-increasing intensity every day that I have to stay home and suffer from not being with you in the worship of our great God. That is why next to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ I most look forward to that day when we gather together once again. Of course, who knows; maybe Jesus will come back before that happens. If he does, I will be the last to complain!