We begin life in a small group. We learn from others. Spiritual growth takes place in groups also. Groups are especially important to our spiritual health in our early spiritual development. We will discuss some kinds of groups for growing spiritually.
At times, Jesus took the disciples with him on a retreat, to study and to pray, to rest and to grow, personally and as a group. During these retreats he prepared them–through his example, teachings, and illustrations–for working out God’s will in God’s kingdom on earth (Mark 6:31; Matthew 14:13,22-23; Luke 9:28). After the Spirit came upon them (Acts 1 and 2) they went out with power to teach and preach what they had learned from him. They were living a New Way.
You remember that Paul is careful to point out in Ephesians 2:10 that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works which God previously prepared as a way for us to enjoy life. As we grow, we find ourselves doing more good works. As we do more, we grow more. It is a spiritual exercise that is effective, similar to physical exercise that improves our muscles and endurance. Exercise in association with others of the same mind is more enjoyable and more sustainable than exercise or work alone.
If you want to read more about Paul and how he grew, look in the Book of Acts which tells about his career. In the beginning he was very antagonistic to Jesus and his followers. He saw Stephen stoned to death and even took part by holding people’s coats. Stephen was one of the early leaders of the new group. Not long afterward Paul was confronted by Jesus in a vision. As a result, Paul became one of the most dedicated of all those followers who were telling others about Jesus the Anointed Messiah and what God has done for us.
Paul spent several years in study, meditation, and prayer. Then he began traveling on a mission to both Jews and non-Jews. As individuals were persuaded that God was doing a new thing through Jesus, they formed groups to serve one another and their community. He kept contact with them through letters. He wrote about what God revealed to him as he encouraged them in their good works and in their struggles of life together.
Paul’s example is a good one for us in our newly created life. We can pray that God will give us pastors and teachers to help us learn. As we learn, we also become able “to minister to,” OR SERVE OR HELP, others. Our goal is to build each other up with a unity of faith and understanding that brings completeness of personality (Ephesians 4:12-14, MLB). Our “gifts” and strengths are recognized and confirmed by others in the process. We all need that kind of help.
BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION GROUPS
The New Testament writers recognized the necessity of learning and practicing new behaviors (the new self) and putting away old behaviors (the old self). They gave people many practical guidelines for everyday living in THE WAY. These writings were read in groups that came together regularly to study and teach how to love God with all their being, body, soul, mind and strength and to love others as well as themselves.
Likewise, today’s therapists have developed new ways to assist us in giving up old behaviors and becoming established in new behaviors. Group therapy is a way to hear from others what they see in you, both the good and the less good. The examples and suggestions from people in the group help you learn new ways of behaving.
If you choose a therapist, also choose God and ask for forgiveness of the old mistakes and character flaws, and ask the Spirit to dwell in you that you may become a New Creation.
Not all of us have the opportunity for retreats to study and train for spiritual growth in our daily life. In their place, we can use the twelve steps developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, either individually or in groups. The twelve steps provide a logically progressive structure for spiritual growth.
Two of the twelve steps are especially difficult for some groups of people. The first step acknowledges that we are powerless over our lives and the lives of others. Some of us have not experienced that powerlessness and may even be awed by the power we have over others. We may have reason to be proud of our own self-discipline. We can identify with the idea, however, that without God or the right use of power, we are indeed powerless to do good.
The step of confession is also one that troubles some of us. The idea of revealing our sins and shameful deeds to another human being is too humiliating to contemplate. We need not fear the step of confession, however, if we wisely choose a person who also has experienced shame and the release that confession brings when we are accepted, loved, and forgiven at the same time without reservations or conditions.
Let God guide you to someone to be with you in this step. It could be your pastor, a lay leader of your church, a member of an Anonymous group nearby, a friend, a new acquaintance, or a relative. Members of Anonymous groups may suggest a good person to meet your needs in this step.
You may know of other groups that offer structured programs for personal, spiritual growth with whom you can study and enjoy wholesome fellowship. There are the denominational groups of various faiths; and there are inter-denominational groups, such as Youth for Christ, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Life, Navigators, Christian Women’s Clubs and Aglow groups, Christian Men’s Clubs, Stephen’s ministries, and others that I have not personally known.
We have nothing to hide from God who knows all about us anyway. Giving all we are and all we have to God, both good and bad, is less fearful and more satisfying than trying to live without God. God knows all our needs, even before we do.
God can lead you to a group or help you start a group deliberately aimed at spiritual growth.