“Love each other, be deep-spirited friends” (Philippians 2:1, MSG).
Most Christians I know have been in small group Bible studies or small group support groups (both of which are valuable), but few have been in an apprentice to Jesus group. What’s the difference? Let me illustrate by telling you about a small group that Kristi and me are part of.
The Spiritual Formation Group We’re In
The participants in our group are kingdom of God-minded. As fellow apprentices to Jesus we bring out more of Christ and his loving rule in one another, not by giving advice, but by asking the right questions, ministering grace, and openly sharing our own journeys of following the King and what we’re learning or struggling with.
It’s such a blessing when a friend opens his or her life and heart in a way that not only draws you closer to your friend, but also to Christ in your friend. The ancient writer Aelred of Rievaulx in his classic book, Spiritual Friendship, put it this way: “Here we are, you and I, and I hope that Christ makes a third.” What “sweet fellowship” it is to enter the house of the Lord with a genuine soul friend (Psalm 55:14).
That’s the purpose of our group: community in Christ. That’s it. Sometimes a Bible lesson or other curriculum serves the purpose of facilitating spiritual friendship. Probably more often it gets in the way. Group members may end up sharing opinions about what Bible passages mean or talking about principles they’re learning, but not sharing their personal challenges and where God is in them (or where they’re looking for God but can’t find him).
In other groups, “community” may mean honest sharing and supporting one another with listening and prayers but God is not central to the conversation, except perhaps as a resource to help us in the way that we want him to. Meanwhile, learning to be more submitted to God and more formed into the image of Christ – which is what is most important in life and is ultimately what opens us up to receive God’s grace and blessings – is not in focus.
We Long for Soul Friends
We all hunger for “deep-spirited friendships” in which we come to know one another in the ups and downs of our lives and get to see God at work in it all, helping us to become more like Christ and involving us in his kingdom purposes.
Here are some examples of what spiritual conversation sounds like:
- “In this time of waiting for God to answer my prayer for my daughter the Lord is teaching me to trust that he has good purposes for her that I can’t see yet…”
- “Usually I know what to do, but in this situation at work I don’t. Not knowing is so hard for me. I need prayer as I’m learning to rely on Christ one step at a time…”
- “It’s so disappointing to me that we still don’t have children. My younger sisters both have kids now. I want God to be enough for me, but I have to admit that in this issue he isn’t. I just want to have a child and I don’t know why God is withholding that…”
Almost a century ago the evangelical mystic and missionary Frank Laubach wrote:
It seems to me that we really seldom do anybody much good except as we share the deepest experiences of our souls in this way. It is not the fashion to tell your inmost thoughts, but there are many wrong fashions, and concealment of the best in us is wrong. I disapprove of the usual practice of talking “small talk” whenever we meet, and holding a veil over our souls. If we are so impoverished that we have nothing to reveal but small talk, then we need to struggle for more richness of soul.
As for me I am convinced that this spiritual pilgrimage which I am making is infinitely worthwhile, the most important thing I know of to talk about. And talk I shall while there is anybody to listen. And I hunger – O how I hunger! for others to tell me their soul adventures. (Letters by a Modern Mystic, p. 11; entry for January 26, 1930).
You Can Live in Jesus’ Easy Yoke is my new book that can help to facilitate authentic spiritual conversation for you and a friend or your small group.