Thirsting for Life
Statistics would probably reveal I’ve spent more time in nursing homes, rehabs, and hospitals than the average under-forty. It’s not the kind of scene we tend to congregate in, my peers and I. There’s an inherent discomfort about visiting places that exist for the inevitable suffering, struggling, and expiring of humankind that puts a lot of people off. Hopelessness hangs in the scent of industrial disinfectant blended with notes of various bodily fluids. It permeates your clothes, your hair; and when you get home to your cushy sofa surrounded by objects reflecting your memories and individuality, where you have your choice of anything to eat and watch and do, the disparity between qualities of life strikes a chord. After a couple of hours visiting a hospice patient, all you really want to do is live. To experience the world and leave a lasting mark for the better on it. There’s nothing like death to wake your thirst for life.
So why, when sitting in church among the cup bearers of living water, do I often feel much the same as I do in a nursing home? That same sense of just hanging on and keeping comfortable until the end lingers in the atmosphere. Granted, the Quaker tradition in which I’ve been raised tends toward a quieter, simpler, more internalized approach to life, but it’s the vibrant, powerful life of our limitless God nonetheless. If we’re tapping into that divine presence, shouldn’t it burst forth in our lives? In our worship? In our teaching? Shouldn’t that living water gush out into our communities, attracting the spiritually dry?
Sunday after Sunday, denomination to denomination, I hear comments about how nice it would be to grow. To reach out. To attract the surrounding community. Then conversation turns to convenience. Instead of stepping boldly out in Jesus’ name, we tend to prioritize inwardly, focusing on our own comfort and needs. That isn’t extending life; that’s end of life planning. If we don’t actively claim Christ’s promise of abundant life in our daily routines, how can we expect anyone else to join a languishing body? We undermine our own witness with the ultra-sanitized stink of shallow grace when the real deal is wild and uncharted. What are we inviting non-believers to: a hospice to dull the ache of conscience, or the wellspring of eternal life?
Studying the early Church in scripture, I see what could almost be described as a party. People from all walks mixing and mingling, sharing food, discussing difficult issues, having fun, fighting injustice, helping one another, taking their joy to the streets, and opening themselves unreservedly in such a way that their numbers increased daily (Acts 2:42-47). Passion and vitality characterized what I argue was the Church’s brightest era. My heart thirsts for that kind of consistent momentum in a church community. How much more must those who have never been extended that invitation to eternal, abundant life thirst for it?
This isn’t to say passion always manifests in outward exuberance, nor should it. There’s as much power behind quietly driven diligence as behind zealous effusion. The common denominator, however, is action. Otherwise, both are meaningless. Faith without works is dead, as James 2 makes perfectly clear.
We must start with truthful evaluation of ourselves as individuals and congregations. What might change for the better if we honestly confessed our dryness? What would it look like for our meetings to shake the stench of death and claim life for ourselves and our neighborhoods? How can we attract despondent hearts to a better quality of spiritual life? I haven’t got any pat answers. There’s no 12-step program for guaranteed revival. But I do know I want to live. I want to call other souls to life, not just existence. I want a thriving, passionate body of Christ. I’m thirsty for more. How about you?