We knew the end was close.
My team and I pressed on, racing through mud, climbing walls, army-crawling beneath wires, swimming across a lake and jumping from platforms, trying not to fall into the water beneath us.
We were in the midst of an obstacle course race — unlike any race my teammates or I have ever participated in. This wasn’t a solo race where each runner tried to get a faster time or better pace than the other; it was a team effort. We either failed as a team or succeeded as a team. But we had to do it together, so we trained together.
The final obstacle was a mud pit. Because the finish line was just beyond it, I jumped in, wading through the mess until I reached the end. Elated, I threw up my hands and pointed to the sky in victory: the race was done! Around me my team danced, laughed and just had fun as we relished the joy of finishing what we started.
You might not be a runner or fan of obstacle courses, but the Bible does compare our time on earth to running a race for a reason. “I have fought the good fight,” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7. “I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (NLT).
I think that Paul used this analogy because he understood that this particular race, this Christian life, and its training are best accomplished in community. That’s why the church exists!
“Togetherness” means being close to another person or people. Of course, it’s not always possible to be literally shoulder-to-shoulder with all believers. We live separate lives, work at different jobs and worship at various churches.
So how can we live out the call of togetherness on earth? If so many things, often outside of our control, divide us, then what unites us?
Jesus supersedes our circumstances, and in him we share a spiritual family and a common joy with his church.
If Christ is our joy, then togetherness means uniting ourselves in God’s global mission to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NLT) — something that is beyond ourselves and our scope of vision. Togetherness means that even if we have never met them, we are connected to communities in Indonesia who hunger for Scripture in their own language. It means that we might not be physical relatives, but that men and women in Africa and Europe who are sharing the gospel are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because our goal is the same, our training and its results are similar. The same Holy Spirit cultivating fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in me is also cultivating it in them too. That is a beautiful image of true togetherness!
Jesus used Scripture to give us a bigger view of what togetherness could look like. Let’s explore a few of the ways we can be unified with other believers.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. — 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)
Like an Old West standoff, Andrea and I sat across from each waiting to see who would be the first to bring up the uncomfortable subject that needed to be discussed.
I had been going through a season of deep grief. Believing that those closest to me didn’t understand or fully care about the weight of my heartache, I had started to withdraw emotionally from my friends, including Andrea.
But Andrea wasn’t about to give up on me. In a simple, profound moment guided by the Holy Spirit, she said firmly: “Jess, we’re here for you. We’re not going anywhere.” Although my sorrow didn’t go away in that moment, as the truth of Andrea’s words sunk in, I could feel myself breathe again.
Almost two years later, I sat with Andrea in a doctor’s office, listening as the doctor explained treatment steps for her breast cancer. Andrea’s world was turned upside down and it was now my turn to remind her she didn’t have to face that alone.
Grief and sorrow come in many forms and in unexpected moments. Jesus understood this. Isaiah prophesized that Jesus would be a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, NLT). In the New Testament, Jesus wept for his friends (John 11:33) and poured his anguish before God (Luke 22:44).
Jesus knows what it feels like to grieve and comfort others; he has called us to do the same.
Practically, caring for people in grief sometimes looks like coffee and long conversations. Sometimes it means sitting with someone facing hard news at the doctor. It might just mean a silent presence of someone mourning the loss of a loved one. It might mean taking on a supporting role. It might even mean weeping with someone.
To be together with someone in grief doesn’t mean we need to alleviate their pain — it means we walk with the other person, distributing the weight of the burden.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! — Psalm 150:6a (NLT)
As I matured in my faith, I learned celebration was considered a spiritual discipline. Unsurprisingly, it quickly become my favorite!
But it wasn’t always that way. In seminary, my professor challenged me to incorporate celebration into my schedule. At the time, I was a task-oriented workaholic; finding time to celebrate with friends and family what God was doing in my life seemed impossible. My life was so busy that I couldn’t even pause to enjoy the very things God was giving me or doing around me.
God is the giver of good things (Matthew 7:11) and the one who answers prayer. He made the oceans we swim in and the mountains we climb. He made the people we have relationships with, and the ones we have yet to meet. God loves our joy and celebration — especially when we’re celebrating him and the things he’s doing around the world!
When I paused to celebrate, my joy was amplified because others were there to rejoice with me — many of whom had been praying with me along the way! Celebration teaches us to rejoice when God answers prayer and to relax in the present moment; it helps us find joy in small and momentous occasions in our lives while helping us keep a light heart when the journey feels long.
Ultimately, being together in celebration means that we rejoice in God — and all that he’s doing — together.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. — Hebrews 12:1a (NLT)
Imagine you're training to run a marathon: You’ve spent countless hours making sure you’re packed with the minimal gear necessary. Your shoes are light, your shorts and athletic shirt are breathable, and you’re only carrying a few energy bars on you.
Now imagine that right before the race begins, someone places a backpack filled with rocks on your shoulders and tells you that you have to finish the race while wearing the pack.
Sounds pretty difficult, right? Maybe even impossible!
Every Christian struggles with sin. But if we’re not intentional in acknowledging our sin and bringing it to Christ and others, it becomes just like that imaginary backpack — slowing us down in our race toward Christ.
The pursuit of holiness isn’t a passive one; it’s active. Because sin can easily trip us up, God designed us to live in community with one another — we were meant to pursue holiness through accountability with other believers.
At the age of 23, I began pursuing community. It didn’t take long for me to arrive face-to-face with some of my major faults! God lovingly paired me with three women who were vastly different from each another. In time, we were able to be transparent about where we struggled in our Christian lives.
It’s easier to point the finger at someone else’s faults than it is to walk with them as they begin the slow, but steady, journey toward sanctification. That’s why we are called to “bear” with one another (Ephesians 4:2).
Togetherness is a catalyst for godliness. Our characters and habits are transformed as we actively walk together toward Jesus.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. — 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NLT)
Being together in persecution doesn’t sound very appealing.
While working for The Jesus Film Project in 2016, I traveled to Nigeria where I was tasked with visiting local pastors and collecting stories about how God was working in their country. At the time, Nigeria was a dangerous place to live for believers because of religious persecution.
There I met a local believer named Chibundu.* I instantly developed a friendship with him and he quickly became one of my favorite parts of the trip.
A month after I returned to the United States, Chibundu was reported missing. He and a friend were traveling through Nigeria, but they never arrived at their destination. Their car was discovered on the side of the road, empty.
When I heard the news, I was devastated. My knees hit the floor in prayer, heart full of sorrow. Chibundu was never found, and his family was forced to conduct a funeral service without a body.
“Though this hurts us,” one local pastor explained to me and my colleagues, “this is part of the risk we take. Jesus is worth the risk. Having our people know Jesus is worth the risk. Chibundu’s family knows that.”
As the Nigerian community mourned the loss of their teammate, their focus — and mine — sharpened on the goal of helping everyone know Jesus. We will all experience some kind of trial or suffering because of our faith in Jesus (John 16:33). But God uses community to work in our grief, celebration and sanctification — and he uses it to work in our trials too.
The encouragement Paul gives us in 1 Peter 5:8-9 reminds us of this. The struggles you’re experiencing are felt by someone else around the world as well. Togetherness lives in the truth that God uses people in our lives to help strengthen us during those struggles.
* Name changed
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. — 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT)
If you’ve ever watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics, you probably have seen torch carriers. Their goal is to get the flame to the center of the ceremony. Different individuals are responsible for carrying the torch during a specific leg of the journey. Though each ceremony is different, there can be as many as 12,000 carriers per ceremony!
Believers who have come before us are all carriers of the torch of the gospel of Jesus. Their testimonies and faith have lit the way, showing us how God works through his people and how he interacts with and loves them.
You and the people around you who follow Christ are carriers of the gospel. There is a portion of the race that is yours to run in order for people to see the light of Jesus — people only you interact with and places God calls you to go. There is good news: This is not a mission that belongs to you alone!
Being together in faith means we encourage, love, and reprove each other in our pursuit of God and obedience to him. It means that we continue to cheer on those who are carrying the gospel to their communities through praying for them, encouraging them and equipping them in whatever ways we can.
This is just a small taste of what togetherness in Christ means. For you, the next step in pursuing togetherness might be to connect with a community where you can be transparent in your struggles. It might mean gathering with friends and celebrating the good things of God. Or it might mean summoning the courage to share the gospel with someone in your life. Perhaps God is asking you to join in praying for, encouraging and supporting missionaries overseas.
Whatever the pursuit of togetherness looks like, we’re all running this race together, and the finish line is just ahead. Let’s run well by always keeping our goal in sight, together.