t began with a simple, slow walk through the dark woods. It was one of those gorgeous summer nights—still warm enough to be in short sleeves, but cool enough to submerge into a hooded sweatshirt. The buzzing mosquitoes helped me opt for the latter. As I gazed at the bright night sky, glowing with stars rather than reflections of fluorescent streetlights and skyscrapers, I wondered how atheistic thoughts were possible.
The trek involved about 15 of us. Some were familiar faces, some I barely knew their names. We’d all come to Broken Arrow Ranch to serve God, and that was plenty to unite us. Suddenly an unnatural wooden structure appeared in the tree above. Because the moon was our only light, I tend to think it providential that we stumbled upon the tree house.
We needed about 20 minutes for all of us to ascend to the top, but before long we were there, crammed into the one-room abode. For a few minutes everyone just sat, listening to the crickets, buzzing insects, and the occasional coyote. I’m not sure who started or when it happened exactly, but before I knew it our voices were united in song.
Over the next hour we seamlessly transitioned from hymn to praise song and back again. The more talented harmonized, while the rest of us simply let words flow from our lips. As we ended one song, a longer pause ensued. Then one small voice began to pray; before long each of us had poured out our pain and sorrow to God—and to each other. Though I couldn’t see them, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the tree house.
In that old, wooden, elevated sanctuary we held a church service. There were no pews, no cross-adorned altars, no sermons. We worshipped God with everything we had, wrapped our arms around each other in support, and bared our souls to our Creator.
Of the hundreds I’ve heard, I remember a handful of sermons, testimonies, and vespers programs. But I can think of many impromptu moments on late Friday nights, after vespers, when masks came off and friends allowed themselves to be vulnerable by not worrying about appearances and the status quo.
When we are vulnerable with each other and with God, we open ourselves to unimaginable blessings. The church in its purest form is a group of people who don’t hide their pain, sorrow, and complacency amid the mundane day-to-day grind.
But how often do we expose what’s really going on under our hardened exteriors? How often do we allow God to work through others to bring us back to Him? From my experience, on Sabbath morning in nice clothes, sitting on a padded pew: rarely. That’s why placing ourselves in positions where God can give us the best spiritual times is so essential.
Move intentionally out of the ordinary. We can’t escape our shells when we don’t escape our usual surroundings and distractions. Each week, make sure to intentionally deviate from your routine. Get out in nature or go on a long drive to reconnect with yourself, your friends, and your God.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable to those you can trust and connect with. We’re called members of this body of Christ to support and strengthen each other. When we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable with those who care about us, we become far more susceptible to the painful attacks of the enemy.
Enjoy seven-day relationships, not seventh-day relationships. The church isn’t about board meetings, high-tech sound equipment, or platform order; it’s about people. Take time out of your week to get to know the people behind the faces in the crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, the church service has a lot of value. But God works through the church far more powerfully than at the church. Break your routine, be real with those around you, and let God do the unexpected. And if heights aren’t your thing, don’t worry: He’s got more up His sleeve than tree houses.
A former intern at the
Adventist Review, Jimmy Phillips finds his passion in writing, photography, and following Nebraska college football. In May he’ll graduate from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, with a degree in communication.