It's a cliché to say I left my heart in Donegal but it's also a bit true. I just spent four days there with my family as part of an Irish holiday tour and we were smitten. Donegal is beautiful, with sweeping coastlines and spectacular cliff views. It's also an incredibly relaxing place to be – nothing is rushed, people are friendly and you very soon feel at home.
There was one moment where I realised that I'd fallen for the place.
I've always loved the idea of visiting islands and one evening I booked the ferry for us to travel across to Arranmore the next day. With my phone battery draining and internet reception poor I booked the ferry online. Half an hour later I got a bit twitchy that I'd had no confirmation. My inner control freak wasn't happy so I thought rather than stewing on it I'd call the office and double check. I got straight through and explained that I'd booked but hadn't heard anything further. Now mostly when we call a helpdesk we fear a long drawn out process. Not so in this case. 'Is that Dave?' came the reply and instantly I knew all was well.
God is at pains in the Bible to tell us that we are known by him. He knows us by name. He made us after all. Just as my anxiety drained when I spoke to the lady in the ferry office, God wants to speak to us to tell us that he knows us, he knows what's going on and he is with us all the way.
Many years ago I went to church one night feeling full of angst. I chose to sit in the balcony where I could engage with proceedings from a distance. Unbeknown to me a guy from North Wales had come along and sat behind me. He was there because a friend from Sheffield had shown some interest in faith so he came over to bring him to church. Part way through the service I got a tap on the shoulder and the man passed me a slip of paper with a Bible reference on it. The reference was Revelation chapter 3:8. I picked up one of the church Bibles and looked it up. It said: 'I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.'
I was gobsmacked. It summed me up to a tee. I was plodding along in my faith, persevering but full of questions about where my life was going. It was a huge reassurance to hear that God knew all that and would take the trouble to let me know that he knew and that there was a future to hang on for.
In my experience, the nature of life and faith is that sometimes everything is great. Other times there are problems but you really sense that God is with you. Other times you feel like you are out in the desert all alone.
God wants us to know we are not alone and he often does that through others. The problem is that sometimes when we are struggling we have a tendency to withdraw from community. We think consciously or unconsciously that the best plan is to sort ourselves out when we need the encouragement and guidance of others more than ever.
I have a problem with the US TV evangelist model where people are encouraged to link into (and give into) people's ministries. It's not that I don't think they don't have anything worth sharing. You have to judge each person on their own merit and fruit and I've received some good teaching in the past from some of these guys.
My problem is that these ministries approach of encouraging a following of individual subscribers perpetuates the idea that faith is all about an individual relationship with God. Now, I absolutely believe we each need to do business with God but the Bible is very clear that the context for this is as part of the church community. Extraordinarily Jesus says that the church is his body – his representation on the earth.
Let's be honest: being a part of the church is not all sunshine and flowers. It can be tough. People can hurt and infuriate us. But that of course is because they're broken sinners. Just like us.
There is nothing I know that has the transformational power of the church community. We would be lost without it and wouldn't have become the people we are without the love, wisdom and good old fashioned service people have poured into our life.
In an age of loneliness and isolation, God does not just call us into relationship with him. He calls us into community and once we're there we become part of his hope to the world around us. Maybe the next person to speak a word of encouragement to a person on the edge could be us.
Dave Luck is the author of 'What Happens Now? A journey through unimaginable loss' and blogs weekly on www.daveluckwrites.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter @dluckwrite or on Facebook at the 'Daveluckwrites' page.