“Are you here?” It’s all too common to have to ask this question of someone who is right there in plain sight. The problem is, they’re not really “here.” Most often, they’re face down in their phone (and no, it’s not just younger people). Sure, they could be distracted by something else, but it’s more and more common for people not to be present where they are.
This kind of disconnect seems to be growing. Even if families are gathered around the dinner table or riding together in the car, there’s no interaction because everybody is focused on their phone, a video game, or some other device. Husbands and wives grow apart, even though they’re sitting right next to each other, one lost in a show they’re binge-watching, the other lost in a “discussion” on social media. Companies are establishing phone-free zones at meetings because employees are too easily distracted by every beep and buzz from their phones.
Electronics disconnect happens in the church, too. It’s not just that people forget to silence their cellphones (and they do), but they answer their calls and texts and Tweets and more. Many preachers report that folks in the pews aren’t necessarily using their phones as electronic Bibles (as many claim) but for texting, email, web surfing, and even games. One preacher friend has said that his church had to set up a separate network because people’s usage during the service made it impossible to stream their worship service online. So even though folks are sitting in the pews, many really are not present.
The problem of presence affects healthy growth. The truth is, proximity isn’t presence, not in our families or in other relationships, certainly not in the church, especially not with God.
When evaluating our own spiritual health, many of us know that we need to be closer to God, closer to Christ. Where does that relationship with God begin? When we are united with Christ. In Romans 6:3-8 he gives us several descriptions; he says we were “baptized into Christ Jesus,” “baptized into his death,” “buried with him,” “united with him… in his death,” “united with him in his resurrection,” “crucified with him”; we “died with him” to “live with him.” We know that a healthy Christian life is when we are “in Christ”; yet we struggle being present with Christ.
This is nothing new. Remember the church in Laodicea? In Revelation 3:14-22, Jesus warned this church, who were supposed to be in Christ, that they were “neither cold nor hot” (vs. 15). But there is also hope and encouragement here. Jesus wanted to be with them, near them, among them; in Revelation 3:20, 21, Jesus said:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Isn’t that the kind of relationship we want to have? Where we can sit with Jesus and even eat with him? That’s the kind of relationship many of us look forward to when we get to heaven, but we don’t have to wait for it!
Don’t forget: Jesus promised to be with us (Matthew 28:20). Don’t forget: the church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), and this body was made for close relationships (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35). Don’t forget Paul’s words in Romans 12:5, “In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”; in other words, we are responsible for each other and to each other. As the body of Christ, we grow together as we help each other, teach each other, encourage each other, and serve each other. We can’t do that if we’re not present with each other.
Yes, that means we need to value our corporate worship time every Sunday morning. It also means we need to value the times we spend studying and praying together, whether in Sunday school, in Bible studies, or in home groups. It means that we need to pay attention to the prayer list and to pray for one another, and it means we need to call, write, and visit one another. Don’t let the distractions draw us away from each other or from Christ; the more we grow in presence with each other, the more we grow together.