“Know that showing up is half the battle.”
I lifted weights five days a week this summer with my little brother—his senior season of basketball provided the motivation to get stronger. The above quote was posted on the front door of the gym, and for the three months we spent working out at 6:30am, it was true. The hardest part, easily, was just getting there. Never did we show up and decide not to work out. And the workout itself was always pretty enjoyable—we were there together, and afterwards our bodies felt good and refreshed.
The only barrier that my brother and I truly experienced in working out was the mornings when sleep was just too hard to overcome, and so we didn’t show up. Our presence at the gym was crucial to us getting stronger.
Here is the thing about presence: we all know and agree that it is at least half the battle, yet we all struggle to show up in some area(s) of our life. Knowledge isn’t enough. Discipline is required … the discipline of presence.
I have been thinking a lot the past few months about the discipline of presence as it pertains to our growth in community. Presence commits us to a particular people. It helps clarify our purpose with these people. It provides the opportunity to be stretched and for the Holy Spirit to work. Presence is essential; we cannot grow without it. A lack of presence is in fact the primary barrier to growth for so many people. It is debilitating, personally and corporately.
On one level, just showing up seems like the easy part, but our lives would say otherwise. This is where discipline comes in. Here are some elements of the discipline of presence:
It Requires Perspective
No one small group, corporate worship service, prayer night, or any sort of community gathering is really all that great. It takes six months, a year, sometimes longer to notice real growth and transformation in a community. Less than you think and expect happens in one night, but more than you think and expect happens over the course of a year. However, only faithfulness over time can give you that kind of perspective.
A lot less happens in one night than you think, but there are those nights when the Spirit is moving mightily. Someone in the small group has a major break-through with the gospel. The sermon and music are in perfect harmony and beautifully moving form. Someone gets a text in the middle of a prayer gathering that a non-believer – for whom the group has been praying for over a year – has been brought to saving faith in Jesus (this actually happened in a prayer gathering I was at). These nights are not the norm, but they do happen, and they shape a community like memories shape a family. Miss too many gatherings like this and pretty soon you won’t be a part of the life of the community because you won’t be shaped in the same way and by the same story.
It Requires Faith
I like the word presence because when it comes to community, you can often show up without being truly present. Presence entails a level of engagement—being there with my whole self (not just physically). You will not always feel like showing up, and you certainly will not always feel like being present. If you always had the right desires and feelings, you would have little reason to use your faith. The answer isn’t to just put on a smile and change your feelings. Rather, we must walk by faith, letting God’s faithfulness to us speak louder than our feelings or circumstances. And we show up ready to engage, trusting that God will use our presence despite how we feel.
It Requires Sacrifice
Presence in community means that we are saying “yes” to one thing, while saying “no” to many others. It means that often I must sacrifice my own desires and comforts. We all want control over how we spend our time and/or with whom we spend it. The discipline of presence helps us repent of our selfish desires and turn in faith to Jesus, trusting that our deepest desires are fulfilled in submission to Him.
It is not just the selfish desires, though. Sometimes our “good” desires must be laid down if we want to grow in a community. There are all kinds of desires we have that aren’t necessarily sinful and lots of things calling for our time that are not selfish pursuits. However, if we are going to live on mission with a church family (which is every Christians’ calling), we must often sacrifice and say “no” to many good things. We make personal sacrifice for the overall good of the community. We commit ourselves to a group of people; we walk in covenant with God alongside them; for better or for worse.
It is in this kind of sacrifice that the gospel becomes sweeter to us. It is in this kind of showing up that God’s presence looms larger in our lives. As for us, the nearness of God is our good.