Many of you have probably heard an old African proverb quoted before: if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. I have discovered the truth of this proverb at many different points in life, none as poignant as this last weekend when I ran a marathon for the first time in my life. Before I began running, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d finish the marathon—I had an 85% certainty I’d finish, but wasn’t sure if I’d do it within the time limit. What I found was a pleasant surprise. When you run with other people around you, there is a quantitative “lift” in how the community of people around you produces better results. This phenomenon is reproduced in many other areas of life—there is a notable difference when a group of people commit themselves to a common goal. Together they can go farther than any individual one of them was capable of.
This holds true for our spiritual development, too. If we find ourselves stuck in destructive patterns of sin, we have Paul’s words to remind us of the importance of our spiritual community: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ
(Galatians 6:2). Turns out, we are unable to help ourselves in the face of our sins—why do you think recovery groups have a first step of admitting that we cannot help ourselves? The solution is not trying harder, but trusting others. As those more mature in their faith journey come alongside us, we are able to learn new patterns of behavior and thought, resulting in transformed behavior. We are able to go far by going together. But this is not just a matter of solving problematic behavior. This lesson is also one we need to incorporate in the more positive events of life.
In the New Testament letter of James, we read this: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise (James 5:13). James goes on to talk about those who are sick calling for the elders and the need for confession. What we see, though, is that not only do we need to surround ourselves with a faith community for seemingly negative events like illness or suffering. We also have a responsibility to share our cheerfulness with those around us. Spiritual maturity means not keeping God’s goodness to ourselves so that we can benefit the faith journey of those who aren’t yet as secure in their faithfulness. To bring it back to the running analogy, I have been to multiple running events or triathlons where those athletes who are naturally more gifted (or just work a lot harder) come back after they’ve finished their race. They go back onto the course in order to motivate people who are still finishing. There’s an obligation that comes with spiritual maturity, and that is to bring others alongside as we go further.
If you’re not part of a community that’s deepening and maturing your faith, you’re already at a disadvantage. If you don’t have people around you to encourage you, you have already set growth limits. But, if you want to go far, you’re going to have to go together.