A few days ago when I was urging you to get involved in a local God-glorifying, gospel-believing church if you aren't already, one of the things I forgot to tell you about church, is that church can break your heart.
My church lost a very dear friend yesterday. Paula was hospitable and funny and talented and wise, and she loved her family (so do we), and she loved her friends. She loved visiting suziebeezieland, and enjoyed all you creative ladies. For Paula, people were where it was at. When she talked to you, she looked at your face and used your name, and when she asked you a question, she listened to the answer.
Most of all, Paula loved God. She was vulnerable about her own struggles in life because she knew this glorified God's grace and work in her life. (One of the many things she said that has stuck with me for a long time was on the subject of why she was active in Moms in Touch. She said, "I know my own limitations as a parent, and I need as many Godly women as possible praying for my kids.")
If you met Paula at the bus stop, or in the vegetable section of the grocery store, or at the hairdressers, or anywhere, she probably told you about Jesus, and then invited you over for tea and knitting, and made you a friend. And she would sew or knit you neat things. And she would pray for you, all the time, even though she was the one who was so very ill for so long.
Scotty Smith recently posted A Prayer About Friends Finishing Well in the Gospel (excerpted below in italics), which I have thought about this week as I've prayed for Paula in the hospital, and now as I mourn her death.
Paula finished well in the Gospel. She did not allow her disappointments, pain, and the harsh difficulties in her life to knock her off the path. She used these things to testify to God's lovingkindness and goodness.
And so even though church can break your heart, we wouldn't want it any other way. We rejoice in being part of this body of Christ, where such love is even possible:
I’m so very grateful for the friends you’ve woven into my life. Being an introvert, the journey of investing my heart in long term relationships has required, and still requires the work of the gospel in my heart—a grace work you’ve been faithful to provide.
I’ve already gripped the handle of a couple of friend’s caskets and [my friends will] do the same for me one day. More than ever, I want us to finish well together in the gospel. What does that look like and what will it require, Jesus?
My temptation is to treat my easiest friendships like a broken-in pair of Birkenstocks—I just enjoy these relationships without much thought or effort. It’s a great gift to have a few friends who can finish each other’s sentences, endure one another’s jokes, appreciate each other’s quirks and accept one another’s weaknesses. Surely, this is a gospel-gift.
Yet, Jesus, we’re still foolish [people]—capable of acting out in very destructive ways, prone to wander, easy targets for temptation. Sin is exceedingly deceitful. With all of my heart, I believe in the “final perseverance of the saints,” but I equally believe that it’s the saints who will finally persevere. Your Word is very clear—continuance in the gospel is a sign of being rooted in the gospel. That doesn’t scare me, but it does humble me.
Help us know how to hold each other accountable for believing the gospel. Help us to take each other’s heart-struggles seriously. Don’t let us confuse flattery with encouragement. Help us never to minimize nor marginalize the hardening power of sin. Help us know how to preach the gospel to our own hearts daily and to each all the time, until Today gives way to the Day.
So very Amen, I pray, in your all glorious name.