Missing Persons

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. 15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”  (Acts 1:12-17)
1 David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day. Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag. They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, 2 and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old. They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way. 3 When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. 5 David’s two wives had been captured – Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God. 7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David enquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” 9 David and the six hundred men with him came to the Besor Valley, where some stayed behind. 10 Two hundred of them were too exhausted to cross the valley, but David and the other four hundred continued the pursuit. (1 Samuel 30:1-10)
We often say that we would like today’s church to feel a bit more like the church in the New Testament. But do we really grasp what that would mean? In the first verses of the book of Acts, we discover that the first church in Jerusalem started in a place of pain. The twelve disciples had become eleven. The five thousand who cheered Jesus when he fed them with loaves and fishes had been whittled down to only a hundred and twenty faithful believers who hadn’t abandoned him when things got hard. There were lots of empty places in the first church gathering after Jesus ascended back to heaven. The book of Acts doesn’t try to hide this from us. It is very honest about the pain of missing persons in the church after a period of scattering.

Right now, we don’t know for certain how many missing persons we will have at Everyday Church when we finally gather back in person all together, but we do know that there will be a few. Some people have seized working-from-home with both hands and have moved out of London to afford a bigger home. Others have lost their jobs or visas and been forced to move away. There are some who have found the past thirteen months of testing so hard that they have backslidden from their faith. Because we are a family, rather than merely an organisation, it is right that we feel the pain of those missing persons.

That’s why I love the way that Peter faces up to the pain of this in the opening verses of Acts. Verse 15 tells us literally that there were “about a hundred and twenty names” in the first church meeting. That’s an odd way of putting it, because the writer of the book of Acts wants to emphasise that each person matters – God knows all of our names and he shares the pain of our lockdown losses. It is good for us to grieve the loss of dear friends through the past thirteen months of Covid, but Jesus wants to carry us through that pain as we gather back together.

After I had been leading Everyday Church for a year, we announced that we were launching a second service. I felt nervous about how we were going to do that, but we knew as pastors that we had no choice – we needed to make room for new people to come. Two days after we made the announcement, a key couple came to see me and told me that they were moving overseas to plant a church. As a pastor, you are really meant to be happy about things like that, but I’ll be very honest with you that I wasn’t happy at all! I was thinking: “Doing this seemed difficult with you both by my side – without you it feels totally impossible!" Struggling to know what to do, I found myself led to the verses we have read today from 1 Samuel 30. David was chasing a massive army with only 600 men. Suddenly 200 of them announce that they are leaving the team, right on the eve of battle. As I read those verses, I sensed the Lord speak to me and encourage me about our own challenges at Everyday Church. He said to me clearly: “That was the moment when I knew whether David was trusting in the size of his army or in the size of his God!”
  1. Are you aware of any of your close friends having left the church during the past thirteen months of lockdown?
  2. How do you feel about that? Have you spent any time yet sharing with God how you feel?
  3. How might some of the missing persons, who we are going to miss massively, be an invitation from the Lord for us to put our trust in him, rather than in our church friends?
Father God, I want to be honest with you that it really hurts when people leave my church – even when I know that they are leaving for good reasons. Lord, I want to confess that pain to you, and I ask you to help me in this regathering season. At the same time, Father, I also recognise that such losses can be a test of where my trust really lies. I want to say to you boldly, as we start regathering as a church, that my trust is in you and in you alone. Amen. 
Today’s Everyday Devotions were brought to you by Phil Moore, who leads our team of whole-church elders.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
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