Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Alice Fryling's new book, Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction, (IVP Books, 2009).  

Many different kinds of groups can help you seek God – from Bible studies and accountability groups, to fellowship circles and missions committees. But a spiritual direction group will help you learn an especially valuable skill when it comes to seeking God: listening.

In a spiritual direction group, you’ll discover how to hear what God has to say to you and others as you seek Him together.

Here’s how you can seek God through a spiritual direction group:

Set up your group. Find several other believers who are interested in learning more about God through a group that’s focused on hearing His direction for their lives. You could ask members of your current small group to meet for about six weeks using a spiritual direction format, or you could start a new group of friends, people from your church, etc. Agree on a time and place to meet, and choose someone to lead the group who will be able to help members take turns talking about their spiritual journeys and listening attentively to others.

Create the right environment. Every group member should feel welcomed, loved, and encouraged. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of courage for people to open up about what God is doing in their lives. Avoid judging members for whatever they say. Make the group a safe place where people feel comfortable being real without fear of condemnation. Also, be sure to keep whatever information group members share confidential.

Follow a simple format. Start the group off in silence or with a short biblical meditation to give people time to quiet their minds from the activities in which they’ve just been engaged. Choose one or two people to talk about their lives during any particular meeting. Give each person who will be sharing about five or 10 minutes to talk about whatever he or she would like. Then take time to pray silently about what the person has said. Next, have group members ask questions to respond to what the person has expressed. Then close by praying silently for the speaker(s).

Listen more than you talk. Don’t dominate the conversation unless you’ve been chosen to talk about your own life at the current meeting. Be silent as often as possible and pay close attention to what the speaker shares. When you do talk, be careful to simply clarify information and encourage the speaker to share more, instead of giving advice or pat answers to deep questions. Simply listening will be a valuable gift for your fellow group members – especially when they’re struggling with challenges. Ask God to give you a contemplative attitude, an open spirit, and a humble perspective to help you listen well. Pray for the discernment you need to know when to speak up and when to remain silent.

Ask life-giving questions. Keep the group on track (away from aimless conversations) and draw the speakers out by asking thoughtful questions that help them consider how God may be working in their lives. Some questions to help speakers get started: “What was life like for you today?”, “Can you describe the time today when you felt the most free? When did you feel the least free?”, and “What is something you desire in your life these days? Can you talk a bit about your desires for yourself?”. Some questions to help speakers notice God in their daily lives: “In the last 24 hours, what gave you joy? Sorrow?”, “Who in your life (past or present) has given you a taste of God’s love?”, “What activities in your life seem to draw you to God? What activities in your life seem to pull you away from God?”, “When or where are you most likely to be aware of God’s presence? When or where are you least aware of God’s presence?”, and “In the last day or two, when or where were you most aware of the presence of God in your life?.” Some questions to help speakers talk about their spiritual journeys: “How would you describe your relationship with God today?”, “What is prayer like for you? What kind of prayer is most appealing to you?”, “When do you remember first thinking about God?”, “How do you experience temptation in your life?”, “What do you do really well? What do you think you are gifted to do?”, “What is your soul longing for today?”, “How is it for you when you read Scripture?”, and “When are you bored with your spiritual journey?”. Some questions to help speakers go deeper with what they share: “How is your view of God changing because of this experience?”, “What person in your own life acts (or acted) the way you perceive God to be acting in your life right now?”, “How would you like God to help you out of this?”, “What do you think the Spirit of Jesus might be whispering to your spirit in this situation?”, “How are you being changed by this relationship or set of circumstances?”, and “How would you most like God to touch your soul, your inner being, at this time in your life?”. Some questions to help close the meeting: “How would you like to experience God in the next few weeks?”, “Do you sense any invitation from God in this?”, “What would you like God’s invitation to be?”, “How do you hope your relationship with God will change as a result of this time together?”, and “What do you see as the first step on this next phase of your spiritual journey?”