1. The Need of the Assurance of Reality
When we come together as the Lord's people, I am not sure that we come with any clearly defined idea of the object of our coming together. We come because we are aware of spiritual need and desire to know what the Lord may wish to say to us. Our coming is governed very largely by general feelings and thoughts, but I think it is helpful if we just pause to try to define for ourselves the object of gathering; setting the whole matter out. I think I would suggest to you that it may amount to this.
Firstly, we have a sense in our hearts that we desire and need to realise the practical reality of that into which we have come as Christians, that we are not occupied just with theories, teachings, ideas, doctrines, but that the things with which we are concerned, the things in which we find ourselves, are very real things. The assurance of reality is one of the basic things in our hearts related to coming together. There are so many conflicting voices, so many conflicting things in the world that create a sense of uncertainty, and even among Christians there are so many dividing ideas and conceptions that the heart does sometimes cry out: is it all true, is it all real? Even while we know very deeply down reality and truth, we feel the need of having our hearts constantly established and confirmed in the truth. That is one thing. I think you will grant me that that does so far define our purpose in coming together.
2. The Need to Understand More Fully the Nature of Christian Life
We want to know and understand more clearly and fully the nature and the measure of that into which we have come as Christians. What does it all mean? What does it all amount to? What is the nature of all this with which we have come into contact in being brought into relationship with the Lord Jesus? And what are the ranges, the measurements of it? And I would say over against that that Christianity has been made a very much smaller thing than it really is, a very much lesser thing than it really is, and there is not an adequate apprehension of the nature of this great thing which we call Christianity or I would rather say, this great Person: Jesus Christ. We want to know the meaning and range of it all, and to be quite sure this is something not by any means as small as it is often made to appear, and as Christian measure, as we know it, seems to say that it is. I mean by that that we are so often painfully impressed with the smallness of Christianity as represented by Christians, and that the nature of Christianity, as we see it and know it speaking generally, in Christians, is not really good enough - as we know it in ourselves. We want to know whether that is all, whether that is as far as it goes.
3. The Need to Understand the Ways of God With Us
And then there is a third thing which I think comes very near to our hearts. We want to know the meaning of the ways of God, that is, the dealings of God with us. We are aware that we are caused to traverse strange ways, difficult, perplexing paths, that our lives are often very much hedged up with difficulty, perplexity, suffering, problems; that Christian life is not just an easy-going sort of thing. When you become a Christian, you have much of inestimable value and worth beyond all the values of the world, yet you realise that you come into a realm where things become difficult, in many ways problematic. You find that, in the hands of God, things are not easily understood, and the cry of the heart is for a knowledge of the meaning of God's mysterious and strange ways with us.
Am I right in saying that if we were to seek to define the object of Christians meeting together, those three things would at least have a place? Well then, let us believe that the Lord wants to meet us along those lines, to enable us unto this threefold understanding and enlargement: that we are in a great reality, not theory; that what we are in as God's children, as God's people, is of immense and deep significance, and that there is an explanation to the ways of God with us. I believe that the Lord would come to us at this time along those lines.
So this introductory word is intended to try and focus our thoughts and our hearts, to bring us from just a general coming together and waiting to see what may come. What are we after? What do we feel to be the need? Having suggested that those three things are our need, let us look definitely for the Lord's answer along those lines.