Normally when we think of going the distance, we cite the usual suspects: prayer, scripture, the moral life, and others. And they are correct to cite, but not correct enough, because they all depend on self-discipline.
Self-discipline is good in itself, but focusing on these “usual suspects” individualises the faith, and diminishes the value of the community of God’s church. It’s in community where we gain longevity, because it’s in community that Christ is more fully realised, known and expressed than in private. Together we are not only better, but we are God’s people, and his church.
The Usual Suspects
Prayer is axiomatic (taken for granted) to sustain vitality and viability in relationship with God. Prayer needs to be regular and employing the various tools of prayer: private, public, using Psalms, NT prayers of Ephesians and Colossians, the Lord’s Prayer (where “I” and “me” are not mentioned once), speaking in known and unknown tongues, etc.
Jesus invited private prayer, but not to the exclusion of public/gathered prayer.
He was teaching us to see reward in relationship, and not in public accolade for long winded fancy prayers. The early church practised both – but we read more of gathered prayer rather than private prayer, although we can take private prayer for granted. You won’t go the distance without prayer. And it is one of the first things to suffer when ‘moral/ethical dissonance’ creep in.
A love for God’s word is vital. A private devotion to and immersion in God’s word is a lifeline; food for our true hunger. No other book compares.
A consistent practise of reading, studying and meditating on God’s word is the only thing that actually challenges and changes the church (as it is preached).
Food not sermon material. We aren’t meant to be merely good orators, communicators, relevant and appealing. Hitler was all those things, so are most dictators and heretics. What we preach/minister matters more than the delivery platform. Only reading/listening to what others have discovered is to rob ourselves.
The church was formulated by the apostle’s teaching – it was something they did together – not apart. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
More was discovered and regulated by doing the process together. We always, and thereby erroneously, read this as the solo practise of prayer and scripture. It wasn’t.
This is vital as well for longevity. Some have forgotten this and incurred much pain and loss. Much of Paul’s instruction whilst starting in theology ends in application for lifestyle. Love will always show itself in moral and ethical apparel. Grace is a deterrent from sin, not a way around it, nor a minimisation of it. Your morality matters, your ethics matter.
These are private matters, but they have public impact.
And time isn’t enough to mention more of the usual suspects: generosity, witness, etc… These all matter, as personal commitments, but they don’t and can’t matter enough.
What we have individualised:
Baptism is not a private matter. Baptism is not just baptism into Christ’s death, as personal benefit (although it certainly includes this). It is also and equally baptism into Christ’s church – the new saving community (which is why it is so serious for people like Hindus and Muslims coming to faith is Jesus, as baptism disavows their community).
The Lords Supper
This is not meant to merely be a personal reflection of Christ’s death and its application to your present circumstance in the private domain of your heart. It is firstly a community celebration (an actual meal), that has saving significance and proclaims the Lords death until he comes again.
An inconvenient truth
Longevity in the faith and ministry has as much to do with who are your people, your community, as it does with a private devotion.
My salvation has as much to do with God’s church as it does with my individual commitment. I’m simply not that good, but God’s church is. My salvation depends as much on my community as it does on my personal commitment.
We grow as we connect, as we stay connected. We wither as we disconnect.
Side note, here’s how you disconnect: you get offended and fail to forgive. Going to another church won’t change a thing – it will only delay the inevitable. Repentance, forgiveness, love – the Jesus stuff. I don’t stay in God’s church, in community, because I like everyone or what everyone does or says – I stay in because I won’t make it otherwise (and I’m hardly dumb, uncommitted or undisciplined).
The church is the “saving community.” You aren’t a saving community. It is both pride and bad theology to suggest we all stand alone. Our Reformation reaction has cost us.
Church is a community that meets – not meetings that add community as an after-thought.
Salvation takes on many aspects in God’s church. As an example, the apostle John states, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Light, community, cleansing. Together, not alone.
This is the reason I’m still in Christ, in his church, in community – because it isn’t up to me. I worry about those who disconnect and say absurd, unbiblical things, such as, “I have a personal, private walk with Jesus.” You may do, but it isn’t the Jesus of scripture, tradition or history they appeal to. All the very best with that.
Longevity is found in community.