Over the past month I have been reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and the whole book is full of deep spiritual insights, but there is one quote in particular that has struck me and dwelled in my mind day in and day out:
“Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew everyday more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory. Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry. I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were–of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts. I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest–how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such things had faces and voices.”
This quote gives me chills. What a precious view into the inner personal life of a Christian suffering! I hear or read stories all the time about saints who have gone before us, who have suffered and died for the faith. And I know they were faithful to the end. But what sustained them? And what did that sustaining look like on a day-to-day level? Its hard for me to imagine or comprehend growing up in Middle class America where I want for nothing. So just as Corrie, I believe Scripture, I know the promises of Scripture, but there are types of persecution, types of suffering that I have not experienced the reality of. It is when these persecutions and sufferings are experienced that promises of Scripture come alive to us (for those of you who don’t know, Corrie Ten Boom was placed in a concentration camp in WW2 for hiding Jews in her home). These promises become our lifeline, and we know Jesus in a whole new way.
I’m not saying that we all need to experience this kind of suffering, and furthermore I honestly don’t want to. But what I want even more than that, is to know God. My first thought when I read the quote above was I want to know God that deeply. I want to know Jesus at that level. I want to enjoy Him more than anything on this earth. I believe, according to Scripture, that the natural outflow of obedience will be suffering/persecution. It won’t always look like being thrown into a concentration camp, but it could. My question is, how can I teach my heart to enjoy Jesus more? Because when the time comes to suffer, in whatever form it may take, I want to walk into it unafraid, fearless, knowing that I have built my house on the solid rock of obedience, knowing that I am loved perfectly by God. I want my inner personal life with the Lord to reflect those things before that time comes. Before Corrie and her family were arrested, Corrie and her sister Betsie had lived lives as single women whose hearts were seeking to be fully devoted to Jesus. So the question is, how?
Corrie takes a lot of time in the first half of the book explaining her family and expounding on her different experiences with them. Her Father read the Scriptures to his children diligently, her mother served the poor in their community selflessly, and together they taught their children how to view all things through the lens of the gospel. In fact, when one day Corrie and her Father witnessed some of the Gestapo, loading Jewish families into trucks no doubt to be taken to a concentration camp, she was shocked to see her Father looking on the Germans with compassion. Her Father’s comment was;
“I pity the Germans, Corrie. They have touched the apple of God’s eye.”
This was a family that knew love, and cultivated Christian community well. Another man who experienced deep Christian community before WW2 started was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He says in his book Life Together,
“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be take from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed.”
He saw the value in Christian community, because we can be sure the time of loneliness or exile is coming. Through being a part of and cultivating a Christian community that focused on prayer, study of the Word, and worship, he walked into the path of suffering with faith, and ultimately was executed for working underground against the Nazis. I think of the apostles, who modeled community for us.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Act 2:42-47 NASB
Biblical community not only prepares us for suffering, but many missions movements have come out of simple prayer meetings or small Bible studies. This community, if we have it, should be the center of our life. The precious memories that Corrie has of reading Scripture and loving Scripture with her family obviously made a huge impact later on in that concentration camp. This is something I have realized before, but now I am really starting to see. In American culture, by making salvation and sanctification an individual experience, and by emphasizing so much the individual spiritual life, we are missing out on the joy and fruit that comes from living life together as believers. Faith should be a family event! Our faith should be a magnetic one, drawing others in. This is not something I do well. As “introverts” (which I’m convinced only exist in America), we would much rather our faith be only our own. But Scripture says that simply isn’t possible.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” – 1Co 12:13-21 NASB
I know I’m brushing broad strokes and making generalizations here about American culture, but I know that at least where I live, this type of community is hard to find. I get too zoomed in on my own failures, my own problems, and isolate myself, or I don’t believe the Lord will work through other people to edify and strengthen me, when in His Word He has promised that He will. I let my pride keep me from being fully known by others. I see my self-focus robbing me of times meditating on the Scriptures with my friends, or taking time to pray for each other. I see myself fighting tooth and nail to be hospitable, because by nature I love my time alone.
I think there is a good balance, a sustainable balance. I can’t deny the fact that I am naturally an introvert. The Lord made us all in diverse ways, out of His creativity. But on the whole, I want to see Christian culture change. I want to see my own heart change. To where we would without hesitation extend our extra room to strangers. Where we would be more focused on what the man next to us needs, considering them more significant than ourselves. Where we would be more concerned with the sanctification of the people around us than our own. Where we would throw off all our ideas of entitlement, and lay down our time and money for others. Community is hard, because it humbles us. It forces us to apply the gospel into the places of our lives where it hurts the most, and it forces us to view others according to the gospel, even when they fail us. However, for all these reasons community is a treasure, a value of the utmost importance. It digs in deep to the garden of our hearts, and plucks out the weeds, the snares that so easily entangle.
Corrie and her family hid a large group of Jews in their home and were arrested for their sakes, to keep them safe. They never looked back. Though she was tempted to do so, she never had regrets about that. That is the attitude of Christ. He has never had second thoughts or regrets of laying down His life for us. Though I don’t understand it fully yet, the relationship between community and suffering is a close one. Perhaps we would be granted the honor of suffering together for the gospel. Lord, give me a heart that longs to see others grow, and that seeks to grow with others.
A Song of Ascents, of David.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever. – Psalm 133