This past week was a very different week for me, but in a good way. I was engaged more than usual.

My birthday was last week, and I feel like I have been celebrating for the entire week. It’s unusual  for me.

This is how my week went:

For starters, I’m in an informal birthday club, where several of us social work sister friends celebrate each other’s birthdays. Last weekend, my social work friends took me to one of my favorite restaurants, then fulfilled my wish to spend the evening looking at a neighborhood popular for amazing Christmas lights. As we drove, we stayed on speakerphone and had the best time talking between cars, laughing, singing, and pointing out a fun detail in a display or people-watching.

On my actual birthday, my co-workers blew up my cubicle with confetti and streamers and sparkly shredded paper. My secret Santa at work is hands down the absolute best—whoever they are started sneaking me gifts 4 days earlier than we were supposed to start!

Earlier in the year, I discovered two of my favorite Christian music artists were going to be in our area last night, but it’s a 2-hour drive. I hate making that drive alone. By the time I found someone who wanted to go, they were all sold out! So… instead of going to a concert last night, I hostessed my very own birthday party for the first time.

Maybe celebrating birthdays is a breeze for you, but it was a big step of faith for me. Others have always hosted birthday parties for me; otherwise I ignore birthdays. Not because I’m embarrassed about my age, but because I don’t  see a need to always celebrate the date I arrived into the world when I had nothing to do with it. That, despite the fact that I love to celebrate others’ birthdays. I love to celebrate!

I don’t know why I thought hardly anyone would show up, even among those who RSVPed. Even without those who RSVPed but couldn’t make it, we had two full tables and a lot of fun. I think everyone had a great time fellowshipping.

This morning I got a surprise when I showed up at our weekly early morning prayer meeting. There was not just one gift, but three cool and happy gifts, given with love and prayers from our lil prayer circle.

Yes, I’ve been feeling loved all week in a way that feels very different to me. My heart has been engaged.

My heart felt full, comforted, grateful, and joyful, that I actually got to celebrate my birthday for a week. I have never done this.

You see, my personality does not always lend itself to making friends quickly and easily. I’m often very intense, very passionate, about life and all things Christ, although I do maintain a nice degree of levity (eg. wearing my boingy ‘Cindy Lou’ Christmas hat everywhere). I’m aware of that about myself.

And just because I am involved in ministry or a fellowship group does not mean that others reciprocate, though I am not in ministry or fellowship expecting a return.

I bring all this up because I wanted to show the value of being engaged and connected within the body of Christ and not just attending church.

In fact, your Christianity and mine are not complete unless we are engaged AND connected with BOTH the Lord AND the body of Christ.

There is a pernicious lie floating around the church that says we don’t need people, we just need the Lord. Many popular slogans abound with some version of this sentiment: “You don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until you realize He’s all you have.”

Scripture like Psalm 118:8 and Jeremiah 17:5–7 are quoted out of balance with other verses that declare our automatic enrollment in the body of Christ and our interdependence on others.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand what those scriptures and sentiments are trying to emphasize: that the Lord alone is completely worthy of being worshiped and relied on. There are things only He can do, like be God and be sovereign and meet all our needs and be our 24/7 constant companion. No one can take His place in our hearts and lives.

However, He also made us social creatures, creatures that must be actively involved in relationship to not only survive but thrive. We don’t need a bunch of them, but we do need at least one solid connection in the body of Christ besides Him.

The relationship does not have to be a romantic one, but it can’t be a superficial one.

The relationship has to be one where you both have begun the journey of getting to know, appreciate, and like each other. Neither of you feel like a child; both of you treat each other as respected equals, as adults.

This is true for introverts, not just extroverts.

I won’t bore you with all the scientific research that has confirmed what the Word has already stated: “that it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “two people are better than one” (Ecclesiastes  4:18–21).

Basically: We can’t just show up for Sunday church and expect Him to spiritually pat us on our heads, tell us we’re good little boys and girls, and reward us with whatever we desire. He does not reward “good” behavior with a perfect marriage that you don’t have to work to maintain.

The Christian life is not just about showing up to church services, group gatherings or events, or simply meeting people and hoping as single Christians to find someone to marry. We need to be engaged and connected, past the superficial surface level, not only with Christ but within the body of Christ.

Without the human connection to provide the context for our practicing Biblical truths and godly character, we would remain immature, vulnerable, and spiritually stunted.

How deeply are you engaged with your spiritual family? Do you just “show up”?

My celebrations this week were not about the gifts, though I’ve gotten wonderful ones all week.  It’s about the love, the well wishes, the appreciation, the joy. It’s about knowing that those who I have felt engaged and connected with also feel engaged and connected back with me.

If you are merely “showing up” to church or other Christian gatherings, try preparing your heart to go.

Christmas is the perfect time to prepare your heart for Him.

Ask yourself, if you dare, why it is that you’re just “showing up” instead of engaging. What are your barriers to true worship (John 4:24)?

Pray about the condition of your heart. Ask for His help in being prepared to go to corporate worship and teaching (AKA church) consistently.

Then try fully engaging when you arrive.

Arrive on time (I admit I have trouble with this one much of the time!).

Greet people you don’t know. Give sincere compliments. Pay attention to the announcements.

Sit where you normally don’t sit. Sit with someone you don’t know and start a conversation. Start a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a long time. At least smile and say Hi, if any of that is difficult for you.

Sing all the songs and meditate on the lyrics as you sing them.

Think about scripture that might go with those lyrics.

Put your hands and your body in a different posture than you usually do to worship.

Close your eyes. Think of God’s attributes, His goodness and blessings. Get in touch with your emotions and express them during worship.

If you use an electronic device for your Bible, try turning it off or putting it on vibrate during service and use a real, live, hardcopy Bible instead.

Look up cross references to the scripture your teacher or pastor uses.

Take notes, not just of what is being said, but what the Spirit is saying to you.

Discuss the message (instead of the pastor!) after service. If your church isn’t the kind where the pastor stands in the foyer and greets everyone as they exit, email him/her your response to this week’s message.

Complete your engagement with the body of Christ by praying about and getting involved in ministry, if you’re not already involved.

If you are feeling used, restless, bored, or otherwise tired of a ministry, pray about leaving it and joining another. Or consider taking a temporary break from serving. Give yourself a time limit and speak with someone about where you’d like to be by the end of your ministry sabbatical.

Christmas is exactly one week away.

Come let us adore Him

Let every heart prepare Him room

and that means yours.

Get fully engaged this Christmas as we now count down the days and hours till next weekend, when we will actually celebrate His birth on earth.

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