As someone who has lived in a few different places, and been a part of a few different local churches in this world, I find there is a common thread in each of Paul’s letters that always brings up memories.
Paul so affectionately ends his letters to brothers and sisters in the faith that he loves. You can almost accuse Paul of having FOMO. The phrase: “I wish I could be with you” is a staple. This is not just a turn of phrase. Paul has served so many, seeing many born to new life. For a time he watched them grow like newborns into children, then was called away.
“3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Paul is not just writing a book on theology, but a letter to those he has bled with, preached with, battled in the spiritual realm with. He is writing to people he acted as a spiritual parent and brother to.
There are times in my life when I am hit with the emotions of missing friends, brothers and sisters of the faith. At times it is because I am aware of their hardships, and sometimes I want to rejoice in person with them. Sometimes it is just memories of good times together and I wish to be together. The sentiment in Paul’s letter gives me great comfort. At times I hear a voice telling me to abandon ship and just go back to another place. I read the letters of Paul and know his heart and conviction to continue where God has him despite the desire to go back.
There is such peace in surrendering where you are. The voice telling you to pack up and leave is at times deafening.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
I have a few friends who have had wandering years. It is a time in life when they are free to serve the Lord, travel, move from community to community as an encouragement. What’s left at the end of that season is a plethora of friendships, loved ones, and communities to which you feel you belong, without knowing where your home is.
There is a benefit and a struggle in this. You feel a pull so many different ways, while also understanding better than most that this world is not our home. There is always a connection with those people. We serve and love the same God, we have the same Holy Spirit within us, and we have experiences shared.
There are good things that come from spending time in many communities, but also opportunity for the enemy. Satan wants to steal us away from what God is inviting us into in the here and now. He would love for us to be always on social media or phone calls, catching up with people and not attentive to what he has for us in the moment and place in which we are called.
On the other hand, the benefit of counsel outside of your setting is so valuable. Sometimes the people close to you have blinders in discernment and a discerning voice of encouragement is needed. That is what we see in Paul’s letters. He is close to the people but also removed from the situation. He is not drawn into the politics or the fears of fallout. He, in surrender, can clearly articulate the heart of God for the community. Paul also can’t make anything happen. He is not there. He has to release what he writes and trust God in the follow through.
If you are one of these people who know a life of wandering, you know the short moments together have such incredible value. Such life, rest, and courage comes from these moments. To have someone free to celebrate with and bring correction in fleeting moments often propels me into something good.
A lot of my “wake up calls” or most rapid development has been a result of a short period of time with someone not in my setting. It is not that everything changes from that conversation, but they don’t have blinders that come from everyday life together. We have a tendency to excuse things due to circumstances or context. A voice from the outside isn’t as focused on those things and can remind us of the call of God without the noise.
That is how I read Paul’s letters. They are in large part a reminder of what they have already been taught with some new revelation thrown in. Often the messages we have been told don’t translate into life change and we need to be encouraged to be continually transformed into the image of Christ.
I love my friends at a distance and am so thankful for the places God has placed me. But I, like Paul, never want to be led by FOMO. I want to be obedient to where God has called me while always attentive to the need of encouragement and edification of my brothers and sisters that I love and am no longer in community with.
May my fellow wanderers find comfort this day in the same conviction Paul had.