"Where two or three of you gather together in my Name, there I am with you." Matthew 18:20
Bottom line: I want to know Jesus; to love Him and to be loved by Him.
I want to experience His presence in my life, being fully awake to His movement in my heart. I want to respond with prompt obedience borne from solid assurance of His desires for me. I want to remain in step with Him as He leads, and I want to commune with Him as I would a friend. I want to understand how to abide in Him and to remain in Him, as He instructed in John 15.
I want what I do in my day-to-day life and how I do those things to be earmarked by the presence of God. “We are,” after all, “the aroma of Christ” in this world (2 Cor. 2:15). Something about how we engage in this world should be like incense smoldering in a censor – as we move, we fill the space with fragrance. To those who are being saved, we are the reminder of the Life Source, Jesus Christ. To those who are perishing, we wreak of death. For this reason, what we do and say matters. It matters a lot.
Because it matters, and because I am utterly flawed, I depend on the empowerment, wisdom, design, and direction of Jesus. Being an introvert, I am prone to solitude. Wait. I lied: I am not prone to solitude; I NEED solitude. However, the downside of this is that I can find myself not just preferring solitude, but starting to resist community. I forget that this is not how God intended for me to survive (or much less, thrive).
There is something unique and powerful about gathering together. Mental health professionals have known for a while that recovery and emotional growth happens more readily through simply being with people who are also working towards health. God has taught us since the beginning that “it is not good for man to be alone”. God made Eve as a support and helper, not because Adam was male, but because Adam was alone. It isn’t good for any of us to be alone.
There is something about being with another human that stirs a force that we desperately need and cannot manufacture alone: Presence. Together, we are present to other people and they are present to us. We are seen and we see simultaneously. Being seen and seeing others places us in a unique position of realizing our own personhood reflected back to us via another’s responses and reactions to our existence. Validation of simply being alive…human…a person.
Our very design has the capacity to experience and mimic what we see in another. Science is playing catch-up to the Creator: only within the last century have we been able to articulate and trace the function of Mirror Neurons within the brain. These Mirror Neurons are responsible for the same brain responses when we execute a task as well as when we watch another person execute a task. More recently, scientists have found that mirror neurons can be activated as well by simply hearing about another person’s experience. When Melissa tells me a story, my brain is reacting in the same way it would react if I were actually engaging in the events myself. Literally, my brain is providing the mechanism to become a sort of witness to her life.
This cannot happen in seclusion.
The need for togetherness is literally built into our original hard drive. For example: a baby’s cry causes the mother's brain to release oxytocin into the nervous system, fine-tuning her auditory senses, producing the sensation of urgency, causing a mother to respond to her child (even when exhausted). This also explains why a group of mothers chatting at the park, can assess whose toddler is crying out of an entire playground of shouting toddlers. (Even to the point of being able to discern whether it’s a “real” cry or not!)
Presence, at the very least, is the realization of existence. At its best, being fully present with others encapsulates many components, such as: being available, willingness to see another person, permission to allow another person to be who they are, patience to allow time and space occur as it has always occurred (without our expectation and delusions of control), and allowing who we are to simply show up and be the witness. It also means that we know who we are, where we are emotionally and mentally, what we believe, and whether we are capable of remaining within our own personhood – open and curious, as well as clear in our own framework of thinking and believing. Being together does not always means actively responding. It just means we are in the same space and therefore witnessing others while they are witnessing us. Presence is simply showing up and being there.
This togetherness and all that being together brings, may be one of the most valuable, yet least appreciated forms of God’s common grace offered to mankind. Gathering within these healthy constructs is powerful on a human level by design: in seeing and being seen; and in developing empathy, sympathy, and self-assurance. In other words: being together facilitates the gifts inherent in developing understanding. And in many ways, developing understanding supports peace of mind – even when facing the uncontrollable chaos that accompanies the fact that we are living in this world. This is a beautiful common grace that God offers to all humankind, for our collective health. Through gathering together, we experience a part of who God is in His own personhood: The Trinity,3 individual natures cohesively functioning together in 1 completely perfect wholeness. All of humanity is allowed to experience a facet of His personhood, because we have been made in His image as human beings.
For Believers, God offers even more than this common grace. He offers to show up as well – to be “in [our] midst” and to attend to our needs (Matthew 18:19).
Gathering together in our common understanding of our identity and purpose in Christ allows us to experience even more of who God is. God’s presence offers direction, peace, healing, help (and whatever else we could need). Abiding with Him, in purposeful togetherness, provides life-giving, spirit-reviving hope and assurance. We see and have been seen by a Father who loves us and promises to take care of us. Not only this, but the working of the Lord in our individual life is seen by others while we see the work of God in another person’s life.
God turns towards us, hearing us, answering us, encouraging us, caring for us. What a beautiful thought: God not only sees us. He responds to us, because He loves us.
(Selah. Just think about that! He doesn’t have to, but He does, because He is a good and generous and kind God.)
We are mutually encouraged, as well as equally empowered to accomplish God’s work in the world. We realize we are a part of a larger work, and we are not alone. We sense and engage in the same objective: spreading the fragrance of Christ to the world. Most comforting: we gain more of Christ – more understanding of Him and His works, and more connection to who He really is.