How to Seek God as a Group
- 2009 17 Feb
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?”
Explore thoughts and feelings. The thoughts and feelings that you and others in your group share can help you all become more aware of your interpretations about God and yourselves. They can also reveal what consumes your attention the most in life, so you’ll know if you’re treasuring something or someone above God. When you’re struggling with certain thoughts and feelings, you can begin the healing process by bringing those thoughts and feelings into the light during group meetings. Trust God to meet you in the middle of your struggles and give you peace.
Meditate on Scripture together. It can be enriching to start your group’s meetings by meditating on one or a few Bible verses. Read the verses several times, think about what they mean to you, pray silently for God to speak to you through them, wait, listen to God, and notice if there’s anything you need to do in your daily life to respond to the verses. Another way you can meditate on Scripture is by using your imagination to picture yourself in the setting of whatever verses you’re reading. Consider what it might have been like in that time and place. Notice what catches your attention in the scene, how you feel, what questions you might ask and how you might respond to whatever is happening.
Deal with sin. Keep in mind that it’s not your job to point out sinful attitudes or behaviors that other group members reveal when they’re speaking. Instead, just listen and pray silently for the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin and lovingly encourage them to confess that sin and receive His forgiveness.
Pray together. Examine your daily life in prayer whenever it’s your turn to focus on your life during the meeting. Ask God to help you see your life as He sees it, and to become more aware of His presence with you. Notice the times during the past day or two when you’ve felt the closest to God, and also when you’ve felt the most distant from Him. Before praying for your fellow group members out loud, ask them if that would be okay with them. If not, pray silently. When you do pray out loud for people, remember that the purpose is to bring their needs to God, not to talk to them about what you think they need to do.
Communicate with different temperaments in mind. As you listen to each person speaking, remember how his or her temperament differs from yours and keep that in mind so you can best listen to how the Spirit may be uniquely leading that person. Set aside your own personal preferences and look at the person’s life through the lens of his or her distinct temperament. Consider whether the person is an extrovert or introvert, processes information primarily through senses or intuition, bases decisions on thoughts or feelings, and approaches life mostly through judging or perceiving. God’s direction for each person will usually be synchronized with his or her temperament.
Seek discernment. Ask God to give you the discernment you need to view the information that your friends share in the group from His perspective. Recognize that God allows people plenty of freedom to make their own decisions within the guidelines He gives them in Scripture. Realize that your own desires may often not conflict with God’s will for you. In fact, your desires may point you toward God’s will for you because He often places deep desires within your heart. Ask your fellow group members questions to help clarify what their desires really are. Then help them discover how they may experience those desires in the context of a faithful relationship with God. Encourage each other to maintain an open and willing spirit as you wait for God to fully reveal His will for each of your lives.
Troubleshoot problems. Evaluate how well your group’s meeting are working after the first three meetings and then again after a few months. Stay on schedule at each meeting, and gently redirect conversations that are getting off track. Check in with people who haven’t been attending regularly to either encourage them to come more often or give them an opportunity to drop out if necessary. Help group members participate in appropriate ways and gently correct those who do something inappropriate, like trying to fix someone’s problems rather than just listening and praying. Stay closely connected to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to guide each meeting.
Adapted from Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction, copyright 2009 by Alice Fryling. Published by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
Alice Fryling leads spiritual direction groups in her church. She is a spiritual director, a retreat leader, and the author of nine books, including The Art of Spiritual Listening and the bestselling book A Handbook for Engaged Couples.
Original publication date: February 17, 2009