The Spiritual Practices put us in a place where we are better able to interact with our environment and God. God can then reach inside our spirits and transform them. Just as our body needs to eat, breathe, exercise, drink, sleep, etc., so our spiritual self needs to make sure it is being sustained, cared for, and trained. The results include spiritual growth, a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, evidence of the fruit of the spirit, and the ultimate goal, living life like Jesus did.
The Spiritual Practices are not:
- Meritorious laws that earn favor with God
- A way to show how spiritually mature we are
- Unpleasant or difficult
Instead, they are:
- Activities we do that when practiced allow us to do activities we cannot now do.
- Adaptable to work with our temperaments and gifts
- Adjustable according to the rhythm and seasons of our lives
There are two kinds:
Abstinence – when we stop doing something that is perfectly normal to allow ourselves to focus more on God, His Word, and growing in godliness. These also help us resist our tendency toward sins of commission (when we do something we shouldn’t do). We withdraw to breathe in all that God can provide to us, breaking the hold that the world has on our lives. Practices of Abstinence help ready us and create room for the Practices of Engagement.
Engagement – when we do certain activities that help us grow in Christ and obey his commandments. The Practices of Abstinence have opened up the time and broken up the preoccupations so we are now free to learn of, focus on, and practice those things that God commands us to do. These assist in keeping us from our tendency toward sins of omission (not doing the things we should do). We engage to breathe out all that God commands us.
This Journey Element requires more time than most to complete so break it down into sections. The two opportunities to Comment provide obvious breaking points.
Living in Relationship
From the very beginning, even in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, God said that it was not good for humans to be alone. We are not meant to go it alone in this life. If we try, we soon discover the truth that No Man (or Woman) is an Island. We need relationships. We need each other. We were not designed for, nor will we fully develop in isolation.
The basis for Christian Community comes from the perfect community shared between the three persons of the One and Only Triune God; The Father, The Son/Jesus, and The Holy Spirit. Since God is communal and we are made in His Image, we are also made to be in relationship, with Him and with other people.
God is relational and missional, not just focused on Himself. He is at work restoring all of creation to its original state and every person to a right relationship to Himself through Jesus. He desires to be in relationship with each of us, to commune with us, and for us to commune with other believers.
God is all about relationships. But, as we all know, relationships can be messy. Sometimes it seems easier to go out on our own.
Credit to Visions of Kai. 2008
On Your Own
What happens when you are on your own?
Isolation, fear, loneliness, depression. We shrink in size, losing our perspective and passion for life. We stop caring, our basic relational needs go unmet and we become ingrown, focusing completely on ourselves. We stop growing and learning, any hope we had fades away.
People need people. We only grow through connection, we can’t do it by ourselves. We don’t have all the skills, answers, or wisdom necessary for growth. All people have the basic needs to be seen and loved, to belong and be brave. Scientists have even discovered our brains actually need three things to work properly; oxygen, glucose and relationship.
Societies naturally form into groups, sometimes they come and go, many lasting only for a season of our lives. Some groups we have no choice in belonging to, from family groups, to work and neighborhood groups. Others, we either choose to join or are asked to join. And some groups reject us altogether.
We group based on common experiences, values, struggles, activities, education, likes and dislikes, fears, and goals. Other groupings revolve around political, racial, religious and community matters, as well as sports, business, charitable and travel endeavors.
Local Church Community Fellowship
The practice of living life together with other Christ Followers as the Church is often called Fellowship as the community of Believers seeks to obey and model the New Testament examples and exhortations. Jesus lived in Community with others, especially His 12 Disciples. (Mark 12:33, John 13:34-35, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:10, 1 John 1:7, Heb. 10:25)
In the Local Church Community we engage in the corporate spiritual practices of worship, study, prayer, celebration and service. Members of the Body must be in contact with each other if they are to be sustained by God.
The gifts of the Spirit are given to believers to benefit the entire Body and cannot be practiced in isolation. The Body is lacking and not as effective as it could be if you are not an active part. A certain level of joyous life is obtained together that is impossible to reach alone.
Our spiritual development is enhanced and encouraged as we learn to live with others who are not like us, or on different paths, with different gifts, life stories, struggles, and strengths. We refine each other as we learn to live in unity with humility, putting others needs above our own.
Christian communities will not all look the same. The important thing is that they are focused on the mission of Christ to reach out to a world in need, meeting those needs while sharing the gospel message. While accomplishing this, they will fulfill the needs of their members, with the intention that everyone becomes like Christ himself.
Fellowship is often confused with social activity – potlucks, and picnics…..when in reality it is a relationship. It is sharing together a common life, a devoted alliance between individuals who actively participate in a mutual spiritual heritage. We share the same life source – Jesus.
Benefits of Local Church Community Fellowship:
- The goal of fellowship is to encourage one another towards Christlikeness and spiritual growth. It is God’s gracious means of preserving our spiritual lives. We cannot grow alone. (Eph. 4:15-16)
- Keeps us from spiritual malnutrition which leads to apostasy. (Heb. 10: 24-25)
- Fellowship is the life jacket to weather the storms of life, to talk us back off the ledge. (Jude 23)
- Keeps us from the deceitfulness of sin. (Prov. 15:22, Ps 1)
- Restraining influence so we avoid distorted views and twisted interpretations to justify sin.
- Ministry flows from relationship and relationship flows from Fellowship.
Many think they don’t need to participate in a church community to be Christ Follower. If you stop meeting together you will run out of passion.
Stages of Community Development
Community cohesiveness doesn’t just happen overnight. It requires intentional application of the One Another commands listed below. Most thriving communities have worked through the following stages.
Honeymoon – Idealistic and committed – bonds are formed, everybody on the same page.
Disillusionment – Problems emerge, Relationships deteriorate, missions and goals conflict.
Reality – Problems worked out, true community begins.
With One Another
The exercise of the One Another commands is what allows Christ Followers to enter into the Reality of True Community. These are the antidote to our natural sinful human desires that seek only our own good and survival at the expense of all others. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we obey them.
A local church is not built by one person, or even a few people, but by every believer being actively involved in ministry through evangelizing the lost people in their lives and serving their fellow Christians. A quick glance at the practice of the New Testament church reveals that they thought very little about programs and very much about relationships.
Consider the community fellowship that would naturally take place in the life of a local church if every believer would practice the loving, one-another ministry that the early churches first read about in the instructions they received from the apostles:
The Christian life is all about relationships. It’s God’s design for our personal growth, which then translates into church growth—the real kind. Loving one another is a powerful evangelistic tool, as Jesus says: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Christ Followers are commanded in the Bible to share with and relate to each other. The term used in the New Testament is the Greek word, koinonia, which describes a partnership or sharing in something in common. That “something in common” is the Triune God (I John 1:1-4) and sharing in Him creates Christian community.
Community allows us to connect with other Christ Followers in authentic ways that encourage growth in Christ and engage in transparent relationships that cultivate, celebrate and make evident Christ’s love for the world.
We need each other for life. We need each other to grow up in Christ.
Wherever two or three are gathered we contain more of God than many scattered. Coals left alone on the hearth die out, while coals together in the fire, burn hotter and brighter, feeding off each other. Members of the Body of Christ, which is all believers, must be in contact with others if they are to sustain each other. Christian life and power are greatly diminished if you are on your own.
God has given each of us gifts and talents for the benefit of others. We have what they need, and they have what we need. (I Cor. 12:7-11)
The local church or Body of Christ becomes our family, providing mission and purpose. (Matt. 18-20, Eccl.4:9-12, Acts 2:44-47)
Christianity cannot be practiced in isolation. Jesus has removed our sin so we can have fellowship with Him and each other. Our reconciliation with Him brings us back together with each other.
Ways to Begin to Practice Community
- Pray for God to lead you.
- If you are not currently connected to a Community, look for a group of Christ Followers to join: a home group, local church, neighborhood bible study, a campus group. Search online, drive around or ask around.
- If you are already connected to a Community, or once you find a group, then explore ways to join or interact with other members. Start with a smile and introduce yourself.
- Take the initiative, give it time. Look for groups with easy access and lots of newcomers.
- Here are some possibilities for entry level community experiences:
- Small groups or classes
- Short term service opportunities
- Seasonal commitments – music, drama, events
- Practice the Spiritual Practices in a group setting – prayer, study, confession, service
- Trainings for life situations – recovery, children, f amily, aging, women, men
- Sign up and Go!
- The above options will get you in the door and help you make some initial connections.
- It gets messy. Some communities or small groups may be hard to break into and some groups are open only by invitation – especially leadership groups. Other groups have been together for a long time with lots of history, and although they may welcome you, you still need to prove yourself, earn the right, develop trust.
- Manage your expectations regarding community. Don’t romanticize it. It’s hard work that requires intentionality, commitment, forgiveness, humility and time.
- Remember, a Community of Christ Followers should never let people leave feeling unwelcome, unnoticed, or unloved.
- Here are some ways to begin to develop Community relationships.
- Personal encounter – say hello, start conversation
- Sharing concerns, joys, feeling understood
- Firm friendships – giving of self to one another
- Recognition of common mission, love for Jesus and each other
- Make a friend, be a friend, get to know one another
- Pray together
- Be hospitable and generous
- Be responsible
- Take the initiative
- Follow up
One of the most intimate types of community stems from a relationship with a Spiritual Friend or Mentor. This is another Christ Follower you meet with regularly or as needed to discuss spiritual things, your struggles, praises, someone who will hold you accountable, can give mature advice, will pray for you and support you in times of need. This person should be loyal, patient, discrete and spiritually mature.
Every person needs at least one essential friend to share their heart with and to be encouraged by in their relationship with God and in life. This is someone you feel safe enough with that you can share honestly about your struggles and growth, your hurts and your hopes. Companionship can also result, spending time just having fun, hanging out, but that would be an added benefit, not the primary purpose of the relationship.
This may not even be a person from your usual circle of friends, but someone more mature, a mentor of sorts. The goal is to have a sounding board, someone to make sure you aren’t wandering off, someone who asks about your spiritual life, how it is going with you and God. The person may not even be in your immediate area, as much of this fellowship can now be done over the phone or email.
What does a Spiritual Friend or Mentor Look Like?
- Have faith in you
- Believe God is at work in you.
- Empathetic Listeners
- Model openness, honesty, vulnerability
- Regularly spend time, talk, connect in some way with you
- Passes on more than just information
- Farther down the road than you, but going where you want to go and are willing to help you get there.
- Lives will not be perfect, but will be able to provide experience responding in a Christlike way to difficulties and joys of life.
Benefits of the Relationship:
- Push us to be more than a sum of our failures
- Drive us to direct our lives in ways that honor Christ more and more each day
- Show us our blind spots and areas of self deception
- Provide guidance, wisdom, cautionary tales, first hand experiences
- Focus should be to encourage you to depend on God and not the mentoring relationship
- Provide godly input and prayer
- Someone to listen to you
- Confirm what God is doing in your life
- Provide assurance everything will be ok
- Allow you time to take it all in
Ways to Begin to Practice Spiritual Friendship/Mentoring
- Start praying about who it could be.
- Pray about your own motives. Pray for an increase in your own desire for spiritual growth, and maturity, vulnerability, humility, respectfulness and responsiveness to a mentor. Look for an older, wiser believer; a good listener, someone who asks good questions and offers discernment. Approach the person and explain your short and long term needs.
- Make a commitment.
- Plan when to meet and what you will do.
- Evaluate and recommit if an ongoing friendship/relationship is already in place.
- Aspire to live your life in such a way that others will desire to walk the same path.
- Desire to use whatever God has given you in your spiritual journey to benefit others.
Personal Reflections on Community:
1. Read the following verses and share what you learn about the practice of Community.
Acts 2: 42-47:
1 Cor. 12: 12-21:
Heb. 10: 24-25:
I Thess 2:5-12:
2 Tim 2:2:
2. In which communities or groups do you currently participate? What responsibilities do you have as part of these communities? What benefits do you receive?
3. Developing a spirit of community takes intentionality and time. What forces work against healthy participation in fellowship or community – within or outside the church?
4. Everyone is different. What aspects of community or fellowship are meaningful to you? Which ones cause you to struggle?
5. Biblical communities focus on Living Life together with a focus on Christ. How should Biblical community or fellowship be different from a secular community experience?
6. What are some reasons communities fall apart? Why don’t some people want to be part of a community?
7. Because Community is a Spiritual Practice it requires that we must work at it or practice it. What are some ways you can practice Community with other Christ Followers?
8. Please watch the Not Good to Be Alone video linked here. In what ways do healthy Christian Communities challenge and help us grow? What benefits do we receive?
(In your own journal, the downloadable PDF for this blog, or in the Comment section for this post)
Share your answers to the Personal Reflections on Community questions. Also share anything you learned from practicing Community.
John White – “I cannot have true fellowship with you unless both of us have fellowship with God….It is only in making our relationship with Him primary that our relationships with one another will be what they should be.”
David Watson – “The more we live as members of the Body of Christ, the more we shall experience the gifts of the Spirit to edify that body. The manifestation of the Spirit is given only for the common good.”
The Hebrew – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.“ Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
Solomon – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Prov. 27:17 NIV
Spirit led listening is at the heart of the relationship. This is a time set aside for each participant to speak about what’s in her or his heart and mind while the other fully listens.
Luke – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47 NIV
Dallas Willard – “The fire of God kindles higher as the brands are heaped together and each is warmed by the other’s flame. The members of the body must be in contact if they are to sustain and be sustained by each other.”
Ray Stedman – “Superficial sharing usually occurs when an individual is afraid to risk anything of great depth…..Since the sharing of personal hurts is apparently risky to many, they find they can still participate by sharing someone else’s burden, like Aunt Mary’s issues, etc. Although these are legitimate concerns, if this happens too often, there can be no bearing of one another’s burdens.”
Dan Kimball – “Our goal should not be to get people to “go to church’. We should be inviting people to participate in the life of the church community and to participate in the activity of God….. We need to understand the difference between ‘belonging, then believing’ and ‘believing, then belonging’….In today’s culture, people don’t come to have trust and understanding until they feel they belong.”
References for the above quotes can be found in the back of the PDF version of O Mercy Me.
(In your own journal, the PDF, or the Comments section of this post)
Pick one or two of the above quotes or statements and share any insights or challenges it presents to you.
The next post is O Mercy Me 8: Journal 9.4 – Ungracious.