Ever watched a campfire? The logs and timbers in the fire dance with magic as they burn together. But when an ember rolls away from the fire, it quickly burns out. It can’t sustain its warmth or its fire. People are a lot like that. Together in community we gather warmth from each other, the fire of optimism burns brightly. But separated and alone from the group we turn hollow and cold, dying on the inside.
Hope is encouraged in community; despair often comes in isolation.
Early believers who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus or were just one generation away from Jesus were under persecution. They were being attacked and assaulted. They were becoming discouraged, filled with despair. The fire was beginning to go out. A letter began to circulate offering words of strength and support. One of its instructions for keeping hope alive was to fellowship with hope-filled believers. Here’s what the letter said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. . . . Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:23,25 NIV). In other words, if you want hope to burn brightly stay in the fire of community, around people who love you and support you and care for you. When you are cold you can draw heat and energy from them, and when they are in despair they can draw encouragement from you. This idea is not new; it’s as old as Solomon is. He wrote, “If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11 NIV).
The settlers of the North American western frontier learned this truth the hard way. When the challenge to “Go west, young man” came many staked their rights and built their houses in the middle of their homestead (often miles from the nearest family). They wanted to survey all of their land and say with pride, “As far as I can see that is mine.” But in time, isolation proved to be a far cry from ideal. When photographers returned from those lonely houses, they showed pictures of wild-eyed women, stooped, gaunt, prematurely old men, and haunted-looking children. Isolation proved difficult.
As time went on, settlers benefited by building their homes nearer each other, in the corner of their property rather than in the center. Four families could survive much easier if they loosened their grip on independence and came together.
Pulling closer together keeps hope alive; existing far apart is certain demise.
The Christian faith is a hope-filled faith because of the God of hope and the people of hope. God is the source of all hope. And his people are the purveyors of that hope. The church is the epitome of community, where people can come in from the cold brutality of life and get warm. Without the church we are like the ember separated from the fire. We grow cold, despair overtakes us, and we lose hope. Hope grows as we attach ourselves to a Christian fellowship group for caring and supportive help.