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Even in the midst of difficult challenges, busy schedules and awkward moments, God wants us to enjoy our time on earth. He promised His joy would be our strength (Neh. 8:10); He personally participates in our lives, eager to see us face each day with grace and confidence, holding us up when the hard places on our journey threaten our ability to stand. The good news of Christ is that God has not left us alone.
Neither has He left us to figure out life on our own. Scripture provides signposts for the journey, helping us live active and balanced lives in Christ, keeping us from falling along the way and enabling us to partake of the feast of life as He intended.
Just as the four basic food groups help us live a healthy physical life, so the four spiritual food groups God has defined produce an energetic, balanced faith that help us live a vibrant spiritual life.
We need solitude with God to restore and direct us. From that comes a natural outflow of compassionate service to others. Community—challenging, supportive relationship with other believers—sustains and encourages us on the road. Contemplation renews our minds so we will live effectively. If we don't keep our spiritual equilibrium by spending solitary time with God, if we slide past the joy of serving others, if we avoid grabbing someone's arm for stability or if we fail to consider each step we take, we will fall.
Several years ago, I visited some old college friends. While they prepared dinner, I followed their three children into the family room. Three-year-old Rachel showed no interest in the Disney cartoon her siblings chose to watch. She found another fascinating source of amusement: my face.
For 15 minutes, Rachel knelt on my lap and searched every part of my face. Her tiny hands pushed part of my cheek or jaw into strange shapes, and she giggled until it was time to try another shape. When this became dull, she traced my eyebrows and forehead with her index finger and giggled again. Nothing distracted her. Rachel was intent on studying my face.
That day, Rachel showed me what our relationship with God should look like. We need to learn to "get into God's face," tracing His eyebrows and squeezing His cheeks until we know what He looks like. We must not allow our attention to be diverted; instead we need to intensely gaze into the face of God.
To be balanced Christians, we must seek solitude with God. Jesus often retreated to "lonely places," and we too must protect our "alone" time, when we can be still and know God. Too often we stay in overdrive and eventually burn out. But in solitude, we learn the value of waiting on God while resting in His presence.
Soon after Dorothy Day (1897-1980), co-founder of The Catholic Worker, first encountered Christ's love, she decided to spend her life among homeless men and women, caring for the poor through soup kitchens. Her legacy of service to those on the fringes of society can be seen today in countless communities across the country. Through her intimate relationship with God, Day developed an attitude of service and nurtured it in her lifestyle.
Service kept Day from a life of self-pity and despair during difficult times, and service helps us keep our spiritual balance by causing us to look upward and then outward. When we care for the needs of others and share God's love with them, we stand firmly in the place we've been called to, our feet anchored in the hope we've discovered in Christ.
When God takes up residence in our hearts, He longs to express His compassion outwardly through us. We don't all have to live among the urban poor like Day did, but we can serve as the Father tells us to. He will direct us by His Spirit to those activities that He has preordained for us to do (Eph. 2:10).
If service is the fruit of our fellowship with God, then community is its backdrop. Serving apart from the fellowship and encouragement of other Christians can cause us to burn out and do little good for God's kingdom. On the other hand, if we stay in a place of solitude, withdrawn from the presence and support of others, we can be overcome by the paralyzing ache of isolation and loneliness. We need people to spur us on in our faith and to help us maintain our balance on the road to abundant living.
The word community is derived from the Latin communitas, which means "fellowship." To understand the importance of community for a balanced, vibrant life, we need to examine other words with the same root: communion, communication, commune, commute. All these words imply a joining together.
When we partake of the communion elements, we symbolically join our hearts with God's; when we communicate with friends or family, we join our speaking and listening with another's; when we think of a commune, we think of people who have forsaken the ways of the world to join their lives together. And when we commute from the suburbs to the city, we join the two "worlds" together.
Community is a coming together—but not coexistence without interaction. When sprinters are lined up for a race in a track meet, they are not in community with one another. But if the runners embrace and congratulate one another at the end of the event, then something that looks like community begins.
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