What would you say to your 20-year-old self?
Imagine that you can pop into a time machine and visit yourself at 20 years old. For some of you that’s in the future, for others it’s been a while. You get one minute in front of your 20-year-old self to pass on some life wisdom. What would you say? What life-giving wisdom would you pass on?
That’s what drove a long-term study done by Harvard University as for more than 70 years they followed students to find out what makes for a happier life and perceived success.
After more than 70 years, following the full life span of these men and women from college all the way through to the end of life, here’s their conclusion, from the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant. When he was asked what they learned, here’s their conclusion:
“The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
It turns out that the people who developed strong personal relationships turned out to be healthier, happier, and lived longer. The present director of the study, Robert Waldinger, adds his sense of what they learned, that…
“The good life is built with good relationships.”
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Continuing our new series on the New Testament vision for why church, we come this week to the tremendous value of fellowship with others who share your faith and pursue what matters most.
I want to convince you of this week’s message title, which is that “You Need Others to Not Just Survive But Thrive.” To get there, I’m going to lay out four reasons why it’s crucial to have a church family around you, four ways that connecting in fellowship can make all the difference between merely surviving and thriving. If you like to take notes, here’s the first, the first reason…
- To not just survive but thrive, I need others to walk with me.
The New Testament consistently describes being a Christian as our walk. The apostle Paul, for example, writing to the church in Colosse, urges…
“As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
I met someone from South Carolina this week and he talked about how southerners use “y’all” and “all y’all,” and how they make sense. “Y’all” is more than one person, and “All y’all” addresses a whole group at once.
What Paul writes here is plural like that. He’s writing not to individuals, but to the church together. And the Greek grammatical form he uses is in the plural. So if Paul had lived down south, he would have written,
“As y’all have received Christ Jesus the Lord, all y’all walk in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
The only way worth following Jesus is following him with fellow Christians. That’s what he urges.
Are you walking the Jesus road? With whom?
When I was in West Africa, the question Burkinabe Christians ask is not, “Are you a Christian?” The question they ask is, “Do you walk the Jesus road?” That’s Paul’s question to the church, are all y’all walking the Jesus road? Who’s walking with you as you follow Jesus?
Walking with Jesus is a team sport. You have things to add to my walk, and I have things to add to yours. And none of us is as strong as all of us.
My brother Brian discovered this when training as a long-distance runner. He has run marathons, biathlons, even 24-hour running races. One of his favorite memories was running with another athlete who eventually made it onto the United States Olympics bobsled team. Running with Jeff made Brian a better runner than had he attempted the race on his own. So it is in the Christian walk.
Max Lucado says it like this: “Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks.”
He’s right. Christ distributes courage through community, and he dissipates doubts through fellowship. Having others from the church walk with you is God’s answer to loneliness.
So who is walking with you lately? Who can you grab today to catch up or to plan a phone time or an unrushed drink outside Starbucks? Take the risk, and make sure you walk with others who share your faith.
- To not just survive but thrive, I need others to work with me.
Writing to the church in Galatia, Paul urges…
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Long ago, God had already put in place his good plan for the world. And his plan includes you, as a member of his church! The local church is key to God’s plan for blessing the world, beginning with the people in our own homes and families, our neighborhood and our city. You have a part to play in that. And when we get a better return on our work when all of us play a part.
The best way to get a handle on what you uniquely bring to the church is the acronym SHAPE. You have a God-given SHAPE, SHAPE standing for your:
- Spiritual gifts
- Your Heart, that is the things that you’re passionate about
- Your Abilities
- Your Personality
- And your Experiences
Those together make you uniquely you. They shape how you can carry out the good works that God has prepared for you to accomplish.
To say what Paul does in another way, God’s remedy for fatigue is fellowship. In fellowship, you get to work with fellow Christians on the things that matter most. So find a need here at church and jump in, contribute your SHAPE to the good works God has called us to here.
Do all you can to push each other to the top.
The high school ministry Young Life gives us a great picture of this. At each summer camp they hold in Colorado, four hundred students climb the more-than-12,000 foot summit of Mount Chrysolite. On one of those trips, somewhere around the four thousand foot level, a student named Matthew felt like calling it quits. In the language of Galatians 6, he was weary. Anyone you know weary these days? I’ll bet most of you have times when you feel weary.
Here’s what happened on that long hike. The other students coaxed Matthew, they begged him, and ultimately they negotiated a plan with him: thirty steps of walking, followed by sixty seconds of resting–together. Just that. Doable. Finally, they made it to within a thousand feet of the peak. But the last stretch of the trail was especially steep.
Matthew still felt like quitting, but he didn’t want to be a quitter. So he let two guys come beside him, each taking an arm. Another pushed from behind. They did everything they could to get Matthew past the tree line and to the awesome view at the top.
And when they made it to the summit, they heard applause. Four hundred campers on the crest of Mount Chrysolite gave Matthew a standing ovation. And as those who worked with Matthew slumped down to rest, a thought came to mind: There it is, a perfect picture of my plan. Do all you can to push each other to the top.
Friends, that’s what we need to do for one another. Do all you can to push each other to the top. Don’t give up in doing good, because it will reap a harvest, it will be worth it if you don’t give up.
Who are you working with these days? What ministry team are you on here? As we’re relaunching in-person worship services, we need teams for welcoming people at the front door, teams for teaching our kids, teammates to add to our worship ministry, and as the virus quiets down we will look for teammates to host small groups where fellowship and discipleship can deepen.
To not just survive but thrive, you need others to walk with you, and you need others to work with you in the good works God has planned for you according to your unique SHAPE. Third…
- To not just survive but thrive, I need others to watch out for me.
Ancient Israel’s king Solomon observes in his diary titled Ecclesiastes…
“Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves…
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.”
Ecclesiastes 4:12, 10
One of the best-kept secrets of our day is how widespread loneliness is—and not always where you’d expect to hear it from.
- Joss Whedon, director of the Avengers movies and winner of Academy and Emmy awards, admits that for him, “Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.”
- The brilliant theoretical physicist Albert Einstein wrote, “It is strange to be known so universally, and yet to be so lonely.”
- Actress Anne Hathaway confessed, “Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.”
Who has your back? Whose back do you have?
You need to have people in your life who watch out for you. You need friends who have your back, who warn you when you’re getting whacky, and who win you back when you fall for temptation. We all do.
The hero in American mythology is the solo pioneer who braves the elements on their own and makes a new life for themselves in the Wild West. The truth is actually a lot closer to what Solomon noted long ago.
Check this out, true story. When European settlers came to North America, the idea that captured their imagination was being “self-reliant.” The pioneer, with axe and rifle in hand, became the idolized national hero.
And in the early settlers’ days, the government gave away land portions to anyone who would homestead. So people headed west from crowded cities back East in search of their own land. Their first job was to build a basic cabin to live in, and most families built them right smack-dab in the middle of their land.
But that custom changed quickly. Here’s why: their isolation did strange things to them. Photographers who went out to record frontier life came back with photographs of weird men, wild-eyed women, and haunted-looking children. Because all their work was done alone, on their own, away from others.
And so before long most families learned to move their houses from the middle of their large plot of land to a corner where they could live near three other families who likewise moved to the corners of their property. Then with four families living together, nearby one another, sharing life’s joys and sorrows, abundance and want, all of them had a better chance of making it.
That’s never been more needed than today. You need others to not just survive but thrive. You need friends who have your back, who watch out for you. Fellowship is God’s remedy for discouragement and defeat.
Who are your storm home friends?
Lee Eclov has a great story about this from growing up in the tiny town of Britton, South Dakota. Britton is like Fishers used to be back in the day, with less than 2,000 people and lots of farmland. What Britton is most known for is its bitter winters.
The average low temp in January is one, and their record low in January was 44 below zero.
Historically the real danger has come from blizzards that can develop quickly and cause the country roads to become impassable.
So when Lee was a kid, the local school district came up with a creative solution for keeping kids safe when a blizzard hit on a school day.
On those days when it wasn’t safe to bus the kids home, each farm kid had a family in town who was prepared to take them in—and so that’s where the school bus would take them. Their parents would know they were fed and safe in their neighbor’s house.
One day in recent years when Lee was back home visiting Britton and the country church where he grew up, one of his former neighbors, Roger Johnson, mentioned that Lee’s family home had been his storm home. “That’s what we called them,” he explained: storm homes. Lee’s little green house on 7th Street was Roger’s refuge when a bad storm blew in.
Who are your storm home friends? I urge you to invest in friendships here in the church. Become a storm home friend to someone else, and cultivate some storm home friends who will be there for you. This is God’s good plan for why church—that in God’s family, you can foster friendships where you watch out for one another.
You need others to walk with you, to work with you, to watch out for you. And finally…
- To not just survive but thrive, I need others to witness with me.
I believe we’re well-positioned as a church on this point. Consider what Jesus said about our witness together:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The greatest witness we have as Christians is together, people from all kinds of different backgrounds supernaturally united by the Holy Spirit around Christ who has brought us together. This is one of the major themes of the New Testament, the remarkable witness that in Christ, people who otherwise would not interact become the family of God, become brothers and sisters in Christ.
In a time marked by enemy-making and sharp divisions, this is a golden opportunity for us as a local church to be markedly different from the culture around us. And this is what Jesus prayed for—that we would be one even as he and the Father are one, so that the world will believe that the Father sent him. Jesus’ prayer was that our unity would be the powerful basis for our witness.
You have a key role to play in that. When a conversation begins heading into enemy-making territory, you can choose to either graciously bow out, graciously bring up the common ground we can agree on, or graciously change the subject. The Holy Spirit is well able to guide you to which is best in the moment.
What tune are you playing? What part are you playing?
Think of the local church like an orchestra, each one playing a different part, and yet each part contributing to playing one beautiful tune together. And for the church, our tune must always sing about what unites us in Jesus. That has always been, and it today, a powerful witness. It’s a team effort. It takes all of us, you included.
I love the true story of the woman who accidentally threw out her wedding rings after cooking one Sunday night. She had taken the set off while cooking, and only realized they were missing the next morning after the garbage truck had already taken their trash.
She would not be deterred from searching for those wedding bands. It took hours and several people combing by hand through literally tons of trash, but eventually they found Colleen Dyckman’s rings.
How do you think she felt? Well I can tell you, she not only was moved to tears that day, but she followed that day with repeated visits to the landfill team with homemade brownies, cookies, and pizza to celebrate with them and thank them.
Listen: Who do you know who, like those wedding rings, is spiritually lost and loved, you love them? That person is why we are here—to reach them. Together, to present a united and winsome witness about Jesus Christ who came to seek and save the lost. And we do that in large measure by how well we demonstrate love in an era marked by division.
Why we’re in the Y
This is a key reason we’re in the YMCA. When you invite friends, you can explain that we want to be in this community center because it’s a normal place to be. They can come as they are, without any expectations of what they ought to look like coming to a church.
There it is, friends: four reasons why it’s crucial to have a church family around you. To not just survive but thrive, you need others to walk with you, work alongside you, watch out for you, and witness with you. We really do need each other. And God has given us the local church for precisely these purposes, to help you fulfill the good purposes God has for you.
This is what we’re called to, and what a privilege it is! Would you pray with me right now as we commit to being this kind of church for one another and for those who join us? Let’s pray.
Lord God, we thank and praise you for creating the church, where we can find friends to walk with, work with, watch out for, and witness with. Fulfill your good purposes among us, we pray, for our encouragement and for your glory. Add to our number those who would benefit from connecting with us and in turn would contribute to the good work you are doing among us.
I pray also for those who are listening who are lonely, who are stressed, who need better friends. I pray you would connect them with us and us with them, that they may not just survive but thrive.
And for any who haven’t yet asked you to be their Savior and Friend, I ask that you grant them enough faith to call on you and find in Christ the truest Friend we can ever find. In his great name we pray. Amen!
I’m so glad you joined us this week for yChurch online! We talk about church online as the front door, and we’re glad you’re here. We’d also love to invite you into the living room, which is church in person: that’s 9:30 Sunday morning in the Fishers YMCA.
yChurch’s ministry is possible through the generosity of those who are blessed by it, so if that includes you, we invite you to give at y-church.com/giving. We so appreciate the opportunity to be here for you and your family and friends. God bless you this week and make you a blessing!