Messy and Muddy

Bailey and Jenny in Relay

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

I love this picture of my two oldest daughters. It was taken at a recent kids outreach that our church hosted at a local park. If you knew their personalities, you would know that both are perfectly captured in this photo.

Both love competition, are eager to get muddy and messy, and love playing with the other.
Bailey’s wild hair is regularly matched by Jenny’s wild facial expressions.
Bailey’s intensity is regularly matched by Jenny’s off-the-wall silliness.
Bailey’s grip on Jenny’s neck is regularly matched by Jenny’s grip on Bailey’s face.

But even as I look and laugh at this photo, I am reminded of what it means to be faithful in genuine church fellowship. Paul’s words in Galatians 6:2 do not anticipate that church fellowship will be an easy thing. The command to “bear one another’s burdens” implies difficulty. Real fellowship among Christian brothers and sisters sometimes gets pretty muddy and messy.

Being faithful within a local church is not about staying nice and neat. It’s not about being served in ways tailored to all our specific desires. It is easy to get into this mode of thinking for two reasons: 1. In our natural flesh, we are selfish. Our human default is to seek comfortable situations that meet our wants. 2. We are surrounded by churches in our culture that seek to grow by tailoring ministries around lost sensibilities. The subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, message that such churches communicate is that church is all about being clean and comfy.

So if we are not on our guard, we will easily adopt the mentality that church is about being served and being comfortable.

But in contrast, Paul commands us to be burden bearers. And it is right that he should appeal to the “law of Christ” because Jesus models the same disposition: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

The incarnation of the Son of God is the perfect example of a willingness to get messy and muddy for the sake of others, and his cross is the ultimate example of burden bearing.

Yes, Jesus took my burden I could no longer bear.
Yes, Jesus took my burden in answer to my prayer.
My anxious fears subsided my spirit was made strong.
For Jesus took my burden and left me with a song.

If that was the disposition of the King of the universe, who are we to think that our interactions among God’s people are supposed to be easy and clean?

The fact is that we all have messy burdens and being a part of the church is really about helping each other cross the finish line no matter how muddy things get. In real church fellowship, sometimes a face gets grabbed and our tongues stick out as we bear burdens together. But that’s real family, and we all know that real family is what we really need.

Besides, where is the victory without the challenge? Where is the delight without the fight? Hot baths are so much sweeter to the tough mudder. In the same way, God knows that the rewards of burden bearing far outweigh the benefits of easy Christianity. So he is growing a community called the church where the messy help the muddy follow after the one who makes us ultimately clean.

When I was crushed with sorrow I bowed in deep despair.
My load of grief and heartache seemed more than I could bear.
Twas then I heard a whisper: You to the Lord belong.
Then Jesus took my burden and left me with a song.

– Hymn lyrics from “Jesus Took My Burden” by Johnson Oatman