It’s a familiar scene. Two families, a few college students, and an elderly couple are spread across the couches in the living room. I ask, “Is there anything we can pray for one another?”
One student timidly shares about troubles at home between his parents. An older member mentions the sudden death of an old high school friend. Another person shares about woes in searching for a job. After prayer, the small group disperses, and a member pulls me aside to ask for specific prayer for a struggling marriage.
Bear Each Other’s Burdens
People turn to their churches when they are dealing with difficulties, struggles, and sins. In my experience, I find people are often quick to share what’s troubling them, sometimes even non-churchgoing people.
It is our duty and privilege as fellow believers to help one another carry the heavy loads we call life: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We are not meant to struggle alone in quiet isolation.
When it comes to the local church, your burdens are our burdens. From the beginning, God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) — and it is terrible to feel that loneliness, like there is no one to weep with you or carry your grief.
If you feel alone in your sorrow and struggles, hear the remarkable invitation of 1 Peter 5:7: “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” And part of casting our anxieties on Christ is sharing them with his body, the church, so that through his church Christ himself can care for you.
Sorrow Overload in the Body
I have found that for most of my church life, when brothers and sisters have opened up with one another in small groups or for Sunday school prayer requests, the stories shared have weighed heavily in the sorrow category.
And for pastors, the burdens of the church can be particularly heavy. Imagine listening week after week to every sad story in fifty or a hundred people’s lives, in addition to your own trials and failures. Sometimes the weight of these burdens has led me to skip prayer requests before a Sunday discipleship class because my heart couldn’t bear any more sorrow before the worship service.
I’m not trying to garner pity for pastors or to dissuade Christians from sharing grief. When pastors bear these burdens, they are not victims — they are like Paul, who expressed his emotional and spiritual pains when he opined that “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
My point is that what pastors experience acutely can become the experience of the church in general — a kind of sorrow overload. When everyone is mainly (or only) sharing burdens, how will the church bear up underneath the cripplingly heavy load?
Share Your Joys
Fellowship in the body of Christ is a two-sided coin. When failure and sorrow come, your partners in the gospel are there to share it with you. And we must not forget the flip side. When joy and celebration come, your partners should share it with you too. Inasmuch as you need your brothers and sisters to share your experiences of devastating loss or crippling guilt, your brothers and sisters also need to share your experiences of gospel-wrought victory and joy.
Often it seems that for every ten lepers in the church crying, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!” we get only one strong story of joyful deliverance (Luke 17:13, 17). Why is it that we are so quick to share prayer requests, but so slow to go back and report with joy when the Lord has answered?
Perhaps we’re overcautious to not add to the burden of those in pain, or unsure we know how to boast in the Lord without boasting in self. But have we forgotten the first half of Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”? The church has a responsibility to care for you in your sorrows, but you have a responsibility to let the church share in your joys.
The best victories are those that we share with brothers and sisters.
Steward the Gift of Joy
God did not design us to keep joy to ourselves. He means for our joys to be shared. Don’t be selfish with good news. The Lord Jesus is indeed working in your life so that you can pray the words of Psalm 9:1, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” But that is not enough. We fulfill our Christian duty by laying logs on the fire of the church’s worship: “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds” (Psalm 75:1).
This is the beauty of life in the church. The joy in one believer’s life can be the balm in the midst of deep personal struggles in another’s. It may be that one of your brothers or sisters desperately needs the joy God is pouring into your life. The gifts you receive are not only for you, but for serving one another (1 Peter 4:10). This begins by letting others share in the gift of joy when God gives it to you.
Whether it’s victory over some long-term sin, an end to a crisis, or a huge answer to earnest prayer, let the church share in your joy. Let us exalt his name together (Psalm 34:3).