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Book Review: "Side by Side"

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"Side by Side" is a book by Edward Welch that a group of GBC members have been reading together for the past few months. Koon Han, who has been involved in this reading group, shares some key points from the book. 

sidebyside-bookWe are needy, yet we are needed. This is the humbling strength and coarse beauty of us, the body of Christ, of which we are members of and partakers of God’s grace. Edward Welch, in this practical book Side by Side, speaks to us of the condition of our hearts and of the life-changing ordinary ways that God uses to minister to us: through others who are much like ourselves.

This book is recommended for anyone seeking to be faithfully involved members of their local church. Care Groups would also greatly benefit from reading this book together, as they prayerfully and intentionally walk through the practical wisdom from Welch in each concise chapter.

The book is organised into two main sections, with Welch first reminding us of our need for help (whether or not we recognise it). Second, Welch walks us through some common situations we could face in our local church. He also provides a few suggestions on how to connect with and minister to those around us, the visible body of Christ.

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We are needy

Welch begins by highlighting a tension we all feel, that we are very much needy, yet it is our neediness that qualifies us to help others. We often spend too much time concealing our neediness. However, being needy is our basic human condition and we should feel no shame in it. In fact, offering our neediness to someone else can inspire others to overcome this shame and to ask for help. 

Hard circumstances meet busy hearts, and in those moments, some conversations with God go better than others. Life is too hard to manage single-handedly, and the condition of our body, our relationships, our work, the influence of spiritual beings and the world, and of the Triune God and His kingdom, all affect our outlook on life. Our hearts are busy. Scripture also describes our hearts as a fountainhead, a well, a tree, and a treasure chest, out of which come emotions, spiritual allegiances, and good and evil. At times, we are adamant and no word from God or others will sway us. But it is during these times that Welch exhorts us to keep talking to God and to not grumble about Him.

Welch urges us to say “help” to the Lord. We need to pray, but often resist it. Sin weighs a lot and burdens us. As a result of our sins, confession, God’s instrument of deliverance from sin has been tarnished. Thus, prayer takes practice, and praying the prayers of Scripture—prayers for help in trouble, of confession, and to know the Lord better—sets our gaze rightly upon God.

Welch also urges us to say “help” to other people. Recognising when help does come, we build “spiritual monuments” as living memories of God’s grace to us within our community. We say “thank you” to God and to others, and we proclaim His faithfulness all the days of our lives. 

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We are needed

We have the Spirit of God. Welch reminds us that everything changed when Jesus came. He died for sins, rose from the grave, and at Pentecost sent the promised Spirit to man. The Spirit gives us the wisdom of God, leading us to serve others, forgive those who sin against us, helps us understand suffering, and assures us of God’s love. 

Filled with the Spirit, we move toward and greet one another in church. Jesus, God in the flesh, stepped down from His throne and entered into the affairs of daily lives. As our King goes, so we go, taking the sometimes uneasy step of approaching others. As we seek to have thoughtful conversations, we follow the affections of the hearts of others, hoping to learn what is important to them. We listen for likes and dislikes, for feelings and emotions which reveal hopes and fears, for what is dear, loved, feared, and what is hard. Above all, we listen for God’s place in all of it.

As we get to know people, we start to encounter many hard things, even some unattractive things, but we strive to see the good and to enjoy one another. We have been carefully and wonderfully created in God’s image, and everything good reflects the glory of the One who is good. We are blessed and humbled as we see others as God does. We start to notice character qualities, patience, hard work, self-control, humility, and selfless acts. We notice gifts and talents that emerge from their faithful service to others, as well as spiritual vitality from their expressions of faith in Jesus Christ.

An important part of our relationship with others is the compassion we have for another. Compassion is enjoyment’s companion. We enjoy the good things in someone and have compassion during trouble. Compassion grieves with those who grieve and we find them a place in our hearts which doesn’t quite leave us the same anymore. Welch reminds us to speak to God and to each other often, knowing that silence is usually interpreted as indifference. In difficult times, Welch cautions us to not make the mistake of saying “it could be worse”, “what is God teaching you through this?”, or even “if you need anything, please call me, anytime”. God does not compare our present suffering to anyone else’s and neither should we. Suffering is not a solvable riddle and we do not want to undercut God’s call to suffering people to trust Him. Furthermore, sufferers usually don’t know what they want or need and they won’t call you. Instead, we are to proceed humbly and carefully amidst this mystery of suffering, reminded that we are children who do not fully understand the ways of our Father.

In our interactions with others, as we prepare to talk about sin, Welch insists that we first examine ourselves. As redeemed tax collectors, we humbly accept that our own sins are worse than others’, leaving us with no reason to defend ourselves when someone points out our sins in retaliation. We keep watch for our own anger and frustration, knowing that when anger is present, humility and patience are absent. We acknowledge the hard circumstances in the other’s life which often provoke sin, and patiently deal with their sins one at a time.

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Finally, having examined ourselves, we help fellow sinners. When someone faces temptations, we aim to bring these temptations out into the open that they may grow in saying no to restless desires. When we have seen sins active in others, we might receive no invitation to speak and must decide if the sin is to be called out or covered. However, we do not keep silent out of fear or keep silent out of anger. When the sin has been against us, our anger might cause us to talk to others about someone’s sin instead of gently confronting the actual sinner. If we are stuck in anger, we ourselves are the needy ones, and we ought to ask for help. On other occasions, when someone discloses and confesses their sin, our help takes a different form. The Spirit has already been on the move, to prompt them to make their struggle public. Welch advises us to not simply commiserate, but to develop a plan for change, to recognise the messy nature of growth, and to lead the other in saying “Thank You” to God.

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You are needy and you are needed

In closing, we keep the story in view. Our individual stories echo the hope and victory of the Bible’s master story. God’s master story culminates in our resurrection and the restoration of all creation. All things in heaven and on earth will be united under King Jesus. As we daily trust in Jesus, we know more and more the one in whose blood is the forgiveness of sins. We are brought into God’s plans to restore justice, beauty, reconciliation, and mercy. Looking forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face, we patiently await our sinless perfection, being inspired to grow each day more and more into who we will be. 

The basic platform for help that we have just reviewed is good and helpful in all hardships. In fact, it is necessary for all of us in our suffering and sin. It is necessary, but, in many situations, we help as part of a larger community. This book serves to remind us that we need one another, and also shows us how to be that practical help for each other.