The above link allows you to purchase an excellent book on what relationships could and should be as well as some thoughts related to conversations that make a difference.
For those who do not care to read a book, here are some notes/excerpts from the previously listed book
These people’s souls were asleep, numbed, I suppose, by years of lifeless relationships and pointless conversations. No doubt those conversations had all seemed important at the time—business deals, romantic encounters, child scoldings, religious meetings—but maybe such encounters with other people had never touched anything deep enough to stir life…
Lord, deliver me from living in a manner that will leave me one day sitting in a chair next to other people who are also sitting in chairs looking straight ahead, never into another person’s eyes, never knowing anyone, and known by no one…
Another small group pastor said to me over lunch, “We’ve got to move to another level. Good things are happening in our groups, but not what most needs to happen, not what I somehow know could happen. We arrange our bodies in a circle, but our souls are sitting in straight-backed chairs facing away from the others. We all play it safe because none of us feel safe in the group—not really.”…
Then I want us to talk with each other, not merely to make conversation, but to make a difference, to be caught up in another sphere, the world of the Spirit, where first things are first and second things are second…
I think that’s what the writer to the Hebrews had in mind. He told us to never stop getting together with other Christians…
He told us to consider, to think hard, about what all that means. But that’s not what we’ve done. Instead, we’ve found ways to “do church,” even to participate in small groups that don’t require real connecting, ways to involve ourselves with fellow Christians without fully turning our chairs. We’ve walked well-traveled roads, broad highways involving activity, organization, and ambition (both secular and religious), and built church buildings along the way. We’ve welcomed into our buildings the throngs of travelers who walk those roads with us and herded them into audiences we call communities. But they’re nothing of the sort. In real community people know each other; they relate in ways only God’s Spirit makes possible…
Churches are rarely communities. … The invitation to greet pew mates during the early part of the worship service typically leads nowhere. It’s often nothing more than a squirt of oil on the gears. You could state your name was Bob or Howard or Rita or Sue and it would make no difference. Those kinds of interactions rarely create community—they more often substitute for it. …
Chapter 1 – For God’s Sake, Don’t Expect It to Be Easy
Confusion isn’t always a bad thing. If we’re not confused about anything it’s likely we’re grasping the truth about nothing important.
Disappointment, too, is inevitable. More than that it is good. Following Christ must take us through seasons of disappointment, because Christianity remakes our dreams before it fulfills them…
What I am saying is that our ideas about happiness need a major overhaul, and that only the suffering brought about by shattered dreams can do the job.
Although our yearnings to feel happy are good, we’re in for some rude surprises if we follow the Christian path toward their satisfaction.
Christianity promises happiness—that’s part of its appeal—but we will not find it by traveling the route we’ve already laid out in our heads…
As Dennis the Menace once told his pal Joey, “Mr. Wilson says that if you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your future plans.”
The upside of confusion is openness. Confused people listen better, not always, but more often than people whose minds are made up…
Disappointment has an upside as well. It inspires hope by making hope necessary…
Soul-crushing struggle supplies the energy that nudges us along in the process of shifting from token hope, the kind that generates pleasant feelings, to the real thing that anchors us through life’s storms.Is psychology good or bad? …
But I do acknowledge that observation and inference about human behavior can stimulate our thinking…
Psychology bashers who study only their Bibles and read the works of psychologists with disdain, tend to approach neither with the humility appropriate to struggling seekers. They often end up with a moralistic version of soul care that misses the relational thrust of the Bible.Do Christians need counseling? Talking about problems in a caring, open relationship with a discerning counselor is a good thing to do.Does building up the body of Christ mean we only affirm what is good in people and never confront sin?
Disruption has its place. Facing one’s sin and pain, continually but never obsessively or centrally, is part of the spiritual journey.
Subtleties of both, what I call flesh dynamics, are sometimes best recognized by seasoned, discerning counselors.How important is the Christian community in helping people deal with their problems? … A connecting community, where each member is joined together in dynamic spiritual union, is a healing community.Is the Bible a counseling textbook, or must we look elsewhere for guidance in how to counsel?
I believe in the Bible’s authority and sufficiency for the work of counseling….
Of course the Bible is both true and sufficient, but how do we use it? That’s the burning question…
Study the text not only as a good scholar but also as an honest struggler.
First, ask what questions God has bothered to answer in the Word. Only He is wise enough to know which questions need answering.
Then study His answers for the rest of your life.
Second, as study continues, bring to what you’re learning the questions that honest living requires you to ask. And assume (this is important) that in the community of faith where the Bible is trusted, you will find all you need to know to live as you were re-created to live….
—an approach rooted in deep respect for the power of God’s Spirit to change lives through spiritual community.Can soul care at the deepest level really happen in a local church?
Soul care requires two kinds of relationships: spiritual friendship and spiritual direction. Both exist only as part of spiritual community. Neither is common in the Western church.
Rather than thinking in terms of therapists, counselors, pastoral counselors, and lay counselors, I propose thinking of a healing community as providing two kinds of relationships:
spiritual friendship, which exists among spiritually minded peers who share their lives together, and
spiritual direction, which takes place when time is specially set aside for one person to present his or her life to a respected (not always familiar) person who agrees to listen, pray, think, and speak, preferably without pay. …
In my view it is a much-needed discussion because good conversations among spiritual friends and with a spiritual director are uncommon in our church communities.
We don’t need more churches, as we usually define the word. We need more spiritual communities where good friends and wise people turn their chairs toward each other and talk well. Developing them will not be easy….Confusion and disappointment will be our companions till heaven, no matter whose ideas we follow. Things will be different then, but until we get there, let’s think hard about what spiritual community could be now.
Chapter 2 – It’s Not Easy, but It’s Worth It
A central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Only then can the power of connecting do its job. Only then can community be used of God to restore our souls.
When we turn our chairs to face each other, the first thing we see is a terrible fact: We’re all struggling…
It is in the nature of things that our natural foundations must be destroyed if true spirituality is to develop…
More frequently than untested Christians expect, God removes the one source of joy and meaning that we were counting on to make our lives worth living, and replaces it with nothing…
A friend told me just yesterday: “I feel so heavy every time I walk out of church. My burden doesn’t lift. It gets heavier. I just want to talk to God and hear Him talk to me. And I want to talk to a few friends.”…
You cry out to God. There is no answer..
When I describe the experience of cracked or destroyed foundations, I believe I am describing the experience of every pilgrim who honestly pursues the Lord. The path to the joy of God’s presence always leads through joyless isolation, when the part of us that most longs for connection is left painfully alone. When that happens, and when we cry out in pain, the nature of our spiritual community is revealed…
That was followed, in my remarks to the class, by a few excerpts from The Story of a Soul, the extraordinary record of how God worked in the life of St. Theresa of Lisieux, a nun who died at age twenty-four in l897. As I read of her remarkable affection for Christ and a devotion to Him that actually grew during seasons of joylessness, I felt alive with hope. “This could be my story,” I told the class. “I’m not there now, but what the Spirit did for St. Theresa, He could do for this unsaintly saint.”…
And then I concluded by telling the class that church, as most Americans define it, no longer holds any hope for me in my deep desire to experience more of God…
I only want Christ and am willing to move in whatever direction the Scriptures mandate and the Spirit leads. I am willing to risk giving up my cultural definition of church and try to define it biblically…
I wanted only to be heard. I yearned for friends to accept me where I was on the journey, and perhaps to let me know what thoughts and ideas my story had stirred within them…
Our community feels impotent to us, unable and inadequate to do any real good, the same way you would feel if you told a friend that your tooth hurt. An offer to pray seems less useful than an offer to drive you to the dentist…
We can’t stand to see a problem we can’t do something about. We’re not curious about the journey…
Somewhere near the center of our approach to community is a failure to see dark valleys for what they are. We don’t realize that they do not primarily represent problems to be solved, but are rather opportunities for spiritual companionship, for experiencing a kind of relating that is better and different from any we’ve known before…
You long for brothers and sisters who are intent not on figuring out how to improve your life, but on being with you wherever your journey leads. You want to know and be known in conversations that aren’t really about you or anyone else but Christ…
It’s time we paid whatever price must be paid to become part of a spiritual community rather than an ecclesiastical organization. It’s time we turned our chairs toward one another and learned how to talk in ways that stir anorexics to eat, multiples to integrate, sexual addicts to indulge nobler appetites, and tired Christians to press on through dark valleys toward green pastures and on to the very throne room of heaven.
It’s time to build the church, a community of people who take refuge in God and encourage each other to never flee to another source of help, a community of folks who know the only way to live in this world is to focus on the spiritual life—our life with God and others. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Our impact on the world is at stake.
Chapter 3 – Spiritual Community: What It Is
With conviction, I speak of spiritual community as a gathering of people who experience a kind of togetherness that only the Holy Spirit makes possible, who move in good directions—and want to—because the Spirit is at work. I hesitate to claim that an evening together as a family qualifies as a New Testament church—I don’t believe it does—but I have no hesitation insisting that where such community does not exist, there is no church. At its core, the church is a spiritual community journeying together toward God….
I quoted C. S. Lewis: “Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” Winning his wife back and preserving his family are, of course, exceedingly important, to be rightly desired with deep passion. But they are second things, surpassed only by the one thing that is first….
In my life and in the lives of so many, these kinds of conversations are unusual. Most often, we engage each other in ways that fall far short of what the Spirit makes possible. Why? Why is spiritual community so rare? I suspect it has to do with the requirement of brokenness. We’d much rather be impressively intact than broken. But only broken people share spiritual community.
Chapter 4 – It Takes an Armando
Only a certain kind of community, what I am calling spiritual community, can cut through our commitment to safety from people and allow us to enjoy safety with people…
A spiritual community, a church, is full of broken people who turn their chairs toward each other because they know they cannot make it alone. These broken people journey together with their wounds and worries and washouts visible, but are able to see beyond the brokenness to something alive and good, something whole….
We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe that we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are….
The passion to protect ourselves, to keep our wounds out of sight where no one can make them worse, is the strongest passion in our hearts. And it will remain so until we experience a certain kind of relationship, until we meet the crucified and resurrected Christ, and experience a person like Christ, someone broken yet beautiful, …
Chapter 5 – Unspiritual Community
…In unspiritual community, we tend to either hide our problems or parade them. In neither case do we give. There is no reflection of the life of the Trinity. It is a tragedy to live in unspiritual community. It is an even greater tragedy to live in unspiritual community and be satisfied and to think that it is spiritual….
We move away from spiritual community toward unspiritual community when, in response to conflicted relationships, we:
– Hide conflict beneath congeniality
– Cooperate on a project that lets us continue to honor self-serving agendas
– Seek only consolation (relief) when we’re in the middle of conflict
– Ask a counselor (or therapist) to uncover the roots of our internal conflict in hopes of weakening the passions that cause it
– Double our efforts to conform to moral principles of living as our central response to conflict.
Chapter 6 – Why Unspiritual Community is Unspiritual
..Someone who relates well (that, of course, needs definition) is more capable of promoting meaningful change than a trained professional who “does therapy” to a patient as a set of clinical techniques based on well thought out theories of pathology, diagnosis, and treatment….
Conflict is a problem only spiritual community can handle….
It’s good to enjoy whatever is enjoyable about someone else. That’s legitimate congeniality. It’s not good to keep ourselves at a distance from another to avoid a clash… Congeniality provides no cure for conflict. It simply hides it.
Sometimes we move past congeniality into cooperation. We work together on projects that let us channel our self-serving agendas into doing apparent good…
A more obvious form of consoling relationship develops when a friend takes on the job of helping us feel better about ourselves. That becomes his or her greatest priority. This bears little resemblance to our Lord’s response to Peter. He called him “Satan” and told Peter to get behind him. Pastors sometimes say what the itching ears of their congregations want to hear. Prostitutes do whatever their clients desire. There really isn’t much difference…
…Analyzing underlying causes and working with the psychological dynamics … In biblical language, it amounts to little more than rearranging or socializing the flesh… It represents no movement toward Christ and spiritual maturity, and it fails to equip the person to contribute to spiritual community.
…Biblical counseling is sometimes thought of as nothing more than hearing a person’s story, identifying where biblical morality is violated, and exhorting the transgressor to conform his behavior to biblical standards… Conformity—”do it right”—is the key. Releasing spiritual passions is not highly valued. My burden is to see spiritual communities develop, where spiritual friends and spiritual directors connect with people. I long to see communities where people feel safe enough to be broken. Where a vision of what the Spirit wants to do in people’s lives sustains them, even when they are far from it. Where wisdom from God sees what the Spirit is right now doing and what is getting in His way. Where the literal life of Christ pours out of one to energize that life in another, offering His divine touch.
Chapter 7 – Two Rooms
…Psychologists, as we discussed earlier, call this the drive to self-actualize, a commitment they think is honorable, a yearning to preserve and enhance one’s own well-being. The Bible calls it the flesh and says it must die…
These are the furnishings in the Lower Room:
-1 We long for good relationships;
-2 we look after our own needs;
-3 the world both frustrates and satisfies us, sometimes more one than the other; we learn what we like about the world and go after it; and
-4 we are aware of a moral code that tells us what we should or should not do in our pursuit of happiness…
People long for relationship. In the Upper Room, it already exists. No one demands relationship in this room. They already have it, and they know that one day they will fully and forever enjoy its pleasures. And people in the Upper Room aren’t obsessed with figuring life out. They prefer to live life rather than to analyze it. They have no sense that something fragile within them needs protection and no compelling urge to find themselves. They have already been found. With the pantry full, their strongest desire is to set another place at the table and invite someone else in to enjoy the feast…
More people live in the Lower Room than in the Upper Room… They see no value in brokenness and radical trust because their own resources are keeping life together quite well…
If we hear only words that are spoken to the Lower Room and if we spend our time there, we will live like citizens of that room. We will:
– Lack power to control sexual appetites
– Be open to connection with evil spirits
– Depend for happiness on people, places, and things other than God and, when they fail to come through for us, we will be devastated
– Find it impossible to get along at intimate levels due to jealousy, tensions, fits of rage, and a spirit of inner-ring exclusion
– Yield to our impulses to feel good now, regardless of the long-range outcome.
But if we listen to spiritual friends and spiritual directors who lead us to the Upper Room and speak to us there, and if we stay in that room long enough to share a meal with Jesus, we will:
– Find ourselves wanting to bless people more than use them
– Discover an unshakable joy that survives the most crushing disappointments
– notice a patient and kind gentleness nudging aside our irritation with people
– Experience ourselves as solid and whole in the presence of those who used to intimidate us…
But to change rooms, to hear the Spirit speak through His Word to us, to enjoy communion with Christ and sense the Father’s presence, and then to speak from that room into the reality of our difficult lives, two things need to happen.
One (and the order is not always the same), with the help of spiritual community and through meditation on God’s Word and passionate prayer, we need to see our Lower Room for what it is:
– An effort to manage life without God
– A priority determination to preserve and enhance our selves
– A furious hatred of God that fuels a proud, noble-feeling spirit of independence
– A resolute dependence on resources that we use to keep ourselves together and to find happiness We need to see how we do that, especially in our relationships, so we can present it to God for execution.
Two, we need to join a church, to become part of a community of people on a journey to God.
Chapter 8 – There Is a Lower Room
Last night, a close friend described what it felt like to wheel his incoherently mumbling father into the nursing home where he had just been admitted, down the urine-smelling hallway to the small room that was now his home. As my friend poured out his sorrow, something deep within me screamed, “God where are You? Do something miraculous. You have the power! Use it!”
I have had moments when I wondered if my faith would survive. A few months ago, in the middle of excruciating trials that prayer didn’t seem to touch, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “God, I know You’re good. I believe that. But I’m having a hard time knowing what You’re good for now, right now, when things are terrible.” Last night, a close friend described what it felt like to wheel his incoherently mumbling father into the nursing home where he had just been admitted, down the urine-smelling hallway to the small room that was now his home. As my friend poured out his sorrow, something deep within me screamed, “God where are You? Do something miraculous. You have the power! Use it! ”
Not every desperately poor person receives a surprise cash influx in the nick of time—sometimes all that comes in the mail is another bill. Not every person in physical pain finds relief. Not every person who grieves finds her tears wiped away…
If we are to have any real hope of recovering true spiritual community and rescuing the church from the irrelevance of manufactured inspiration and crowd-pleasing entertainment, we must retrieve the lost idea of a thoroughly evil Lower Room in each of our hearts and see it in ourselves. We must know what to reject as we relate. The idea was lost in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when a depth view of sin had to be eliminated to keep people excited about human progress. To maintain Enlightenment-style confidence in our ability to solve all human problems, we scrapped the idea of a hopelessly corrupt sin nature and reduced flawed morality to voluntary, conscious acts of transgression against known laws, acts that could be managed. The remedy became moral instruction, better opportunities, and accountability, what Dallas Willard calls “sin management.” The power of the Spirit to change life from the inside out was no longer needed.
Notice an important principle: When sin is lifted up from the bottom to something less than wretched, virtue is brought down from the top to something less than great. Good character was no longer seen as rooted in worship where a soul was fully engaged with God in humble, broken, obedient adoration. It rather became little more than social responsibility and a refusal to do bad things. The Holy Spirit was no longer needed to deal with evil or to develop virtue. Good training and cultural control would do…
Until we recover a distinctly Christian view of what lies beneath … disorders … and relational conflict, the value of spiritual community will not be recognized. Churches will continue to heal superficially through moralism, inspirational presentations of relevant truth, and a flurry of wholesome activities…
we must also recover a rich understanding of universal priesthood in the church. We’re all priests, we all have direct access to God and can draw near to Him, and we all have the life of the Spirit within us waiting to be poured into others. And it is that life that can heal the soul. … We simply need to become a community, to get together as a joined and closely knit body, to connect with one another.
Chapter 9 – Lower Room Furnishings
…There are, I think, four furnishings in our Lower Room, four distinguishable passions, each of which is a corruption of something good.
-1. The corrupted image of God that fills us with a passion for self. It seems reasonable and right. The first thing of loving God and others has become nudged aside by the second thing of receiving love (what we define as love) from others. Self-worship, disguised as embracing our longings, setting our boundaries, and taking care of ourselves has become our first thing.
-2. The corrupted resources we’ve been given as human beings that fill us with a passion for control. Strongly imbedded in our natural self (which is diabolical) is a commitment to depend on the resources we’ve been given to make life turn out the way we want it to.
-3. Pleasurable and painful life experiences that we corrupt by responding to them with a passion to define life (pleasures we must reexperience) and death (pain we must avoid).
-4. The corruption of God’s holy law that was given to reveal our need but now stimulates a passion to perform that literally drives us mad.
Chapter 10 – There is an Upper Room
Sometimes there is no greater act of faith than to believe there is something fundamentally good in the Christian people we live with. Especially ourselves. We can all be so petty, so defensive, so committed to making our point and having our way. And we can masterfully disguise our wretched commitments as great efforts to advance God’s kingdom. Think back to the last church committee meeting you attended. Did anyone really hear anyone else? Was anyone humble enough to explore another’s viewpoint and then to change his mind about something important? Have you done that? Have I?
In spiritual community, people participate in dialogue: They share without manipulation, they listen without prejudice, they decide without self-interest. The absence of dialogue is sure evidence that we don’t really believe others are speaking from a place worth hearing, and it is even stronger proof that we ourselves, whatever we may think, are not in fact speaking from that place…
Because it never comes naturally, I regard it as a great triumph when the first impulse in my counseling students as they hear a counselee’s concern is to look, not for what’s wrong with the person, but for what’s right. The overriding focus in a spiritual conversation is not on sin or psychological damage but on the Spirit’s movement. What’s good? Where is the goodness? We know it’s there, perhaps hidden, but it’s always present. What evidence can we find of the Spirit’s creative involvement in each other’s life? That’s the focus of spiritual community…
Speaking from the Lower Room requires fleshly courage, self-assertion, the freedom to speak my mind and not care what you think. That’s very different from spiritual courage, from speaking out of our Upper Room. … Members of a spiritual community look at each other with the conviction that God has placed something terrific in every member. It may be well hidden, but spiritual energy can see it, call it forth, and enjoy it.
When that happens, it’s a miracle, a convincing miracle. Jesus told us that the world would believe Him when that miracle occurred. Spiritual community is always a miracle. It never happens without the Spirit…
When I believe that you believe I am a good man, I don’t tend toward arrogance or presumption. I rest. And in my rest, I am more able to face my Diabolical Self and to then discover and celebrate my Celestial Self…
I also believe that no one can help me locate my Upper Room without having confidence that it’s there. Only then will I feel safe. Realistically appraising the evil in my Lower Room is terrifying. As I uncover what’s bad within me, a spiritual friend stays relaxed. He sees something else. I know of little else so powerful as confessing wretched failure and having a friend look on you with great delight…
It was two in the morning. Suddenly I sat bolt upright in bed, as if a fire alarm had sounded. An image so loathsome I cannot describe it had, entirely unbidden, entered my mind and filled it. I could think of nothing else. I remember saying to myself, “I have been taken to hell.” A noiseless scream, louder within me than if it had escaped my lips, rose out of my depths: “I am in Christ! I do not belong here. I am covered by His blood, forgiven, seated in heavenly places. What am I doing here? This is not where I belong! ” For perhaps twenty minutes (I really don’t know how long) the spiritual agony continued unabated. The odious image stayed clear. And then, the most definite sense came upon me. It came from outside. It was not me talking to myself. Of that I am certain. The sense (I almost said voice, and that would be nearly correct), more than anything else, was gentle. With ears that were not physical, I heard someone say, “ This is where your anger comes from,” referring to the hellish image. Of course it was a rebuke, a judgment, but it seemed more like an invitation. It was gentle, so very gentle. I had no doubt the speaker of those words loved me. I had never before heard such ugly truth spoken with such unlimited love. I immediately relaxed. The anguish was gone, the image vanished, replaced in one stroke by immense peace. I had been lifted to a different place. As I meditated on the experience, it seemed as if God had held me by the feet and, with a secure grip, dipped me into the cesspool till I was overcome by the stench, then lifted me into an Upper Room…
We have to live as peaceably as we can with many, while we develop spiritual community with a few.
Chapter 11 – Upper Room Furnishings
Furnishing #1: The Passion to Worship
I sometimes wonder if the most serious mistake we make in our churches is trying to get people to worship…
The passion to worship needs an opportunity for release…
But frenetic efforts to stir the passion produce only a shallow counterfeit…
We must learn to structure the opportunity to worship, to re-create the event that stirs our hearts, and then get out of the way and let the Spirit do the work of drawing us to Christ…
Only relaxed people worship well. And we can relax because we are forgiven… Saints, people who relax in their new purity, love to worship. It’s their favorite thing to do.
Furnishing #2: The Passion to Trust
… Our confidence is this: The God who forgave us and now accepts us as His adopted children sovereignly controls all that happens in our lives. Nothing occurs without His permission…
I don’t believe I would ever have grasped what little I know of the passion to trust without the experience of shattered dreams. Suffering exposes idolatry, it makes clear what we are depending on for life. It also surfaces what is enduring and alive within us. I am a new creation. I have wanted at times to give up on God and give myself over to pleasure, to abandon myself to sin. But I haven’t. Why?
At my worst moments, I have experienced the longing to trust. He is God. He is worthy of trust. And frankly, I am terrified to cross Him. It isn’t the cringing fear of the kid smoking behind the barn. It is the fear of standing on a railroad track as the train approaches. God is so much bigger than I am.
Furnishing #3: The Passion to Grow
Does anyone really believe what the apostle James said? Do we think it’s do-able? “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face many trials.”
Tell that to the man whose wife just left him. Tell that to the mom and dad burying their five-year-old son. Tell that to your friend whose surgery went badly, who will never walk again. They will hear only if they have found their way to the Upper Room.
In the 1960s, Francis Schaeffer observed that our culture is committed to personal peace and affluence. Happy and rich, things the way we want them and enough money to live well: That’s the modern dream. Since that time, nothing much has changed…
And people ruled by those passions can make no sense of James’s words.
But Upper room saints want to grow into Christlikeness more than they want personal peace and influence. And they’re willing to pay the necessary price. There is no other way to explain the martyrs.
Furnishing #4: The Passion to Obey
We don’t need to sin more to deepen our appreciation of grace. We’ve already done quite enough to understand our desperate need. True brokenness yields appreciation. When we appreciate Christ for the kind of person He is and this sort of love He extends to make us lovable, we begin to realize we really do want to follow Him. We experience in the Passion to Obey.
Chapter 12 – Turning Our Souls toward Each Other
Do we long to worship even when life is falling apart?
Given the choice, would we actually prefer growth over relief?
Would we opt for more Christlikeness over the legitimate blessings that would make our lives so much happier?
Foundational conviction #1
Spiritual community is the work of the spirit
Training classes for small group leaders often have more to do with techniques of leadership in handling conflict and drawing quiet people into the discussion than with spiritual dependence, spiritual character, and spiritual wisdom…
Humility demands prayer. Brokenness, the heartfelt admission that without Christ we can do nothing, enjoys prayer.
Foundational conviction #2
We best promote another’s holiness by pursuing our own. Our private choices affect the kind of influence we have on people.
I will value holiness above either pleasure or relief from pain.
Foundational conviction #3
A safe place to own and trace our desires to their source will put us in touch with our hunger for God
We need a safe place to admit and explore our desires, a community of fellow journeyer’s who believe that our desires are not at root shameful but thouroughly human and already met in Jesus.
Chapter 13 – The Fork in the Road to Spiritual Community
Spiritual community as CS Lewis said is a good laboratory for discovering God.
Self-esteem — what the therapeutic culture often means by that term and what it assumes is necessary for emotional health – is more a hearty weed to be pulled out of the human personality than a fragile flower to nourish.
Spiritual community can be thought of as an exchange between two or more people that reflects these four passions:
The safety of celebration. The new covenant provides forgiveness total and complete. When we even feebly grasp the radical nature of our new position as one filthy people now absolutely clean, an upper room passion to worship develops. The passion to worship translates into the passion to celebrate when we look at each other. Not too many people still celebrate.
The hope of vision. The passion to trust begins to stir, nudging aside the passion to control. We relax, we rest, we get quiet, we stop working so hard. The passion to trust translates into the passion to envision what the other is becoming as we journey together.
The wisdom of loving discernment. When life gets hard, certainly we’d prefer to smooth out the bumps and, if we can, we do. And of course we’d like to feel good about ourselves. But our deeper passion is to grow, to change, to mature, and to have the Spirit more completely form the life of Christ in us. When spiritual friends share their stories, the others listen without working. They rest. There’s nothing to fix, nothing to improve. The spiritual community feels undisturbed quiet as they listen, certainly burdened, sometimes to the point of anguish for what others must endure, but still resting in the knowledge that the light within, the passion for holiness, is indestructible. It needs only to be nourished and released.
The power of touch. We begin to experience a passion to obey. The passion to obey translates into a passion to give whatever the Spirit rouses in us to others so that they will be further stirred to obey our lord.
A community of people, ruled by their own upper room passions, offers an individual a relationship that forcefully communicates four messages:
1. We accept you – we celebrate your purity in Christ, as we worship God.
2. We believe in you – we envision your identity in Christ and what you can become as we trust God.
3. We see you and are glad to stay involved – we discern your good passions and delight in them; we discern your bad passions and know they do not define you, as we ourselves continue to grow in Christ.
4. We give to you – we apply no pressure to change you. The power to change is already in you. We give you what is most alive in us with the prayer that it will set you free to indulge your deepest desire, as we eagerly obey God.
Chapter 14 – Managers or Mystics: The Mystery of Community
Quote from CS Lewis – the best is perhaps what we understand the least.
What does a father say to his daughter when she breaks curfew for the 10th time? Parenting experts seem to know, but parents are never sure. Community, we must freely admit, is a mystery. It cannot be reduced to principles or boxed in by rules and regulations.
But soul care and all relationships are spiritual activity. Good relating that stirs life in another, whether in counseling, family, or friendship, depends on the Spirit and cannot, therefore, be managed, because He cannot be managed.
What we have come to at this point in the book is this: A safe community where souls can rest, love, and heal is a community where people look at one another and are stirred by the Spirit to experience holy passions. Out of those passions they speak.
As I use the term, mysticism … A plumber fixing toilets and a monk at prayer can equally be mystics.
Pascal put it this way, “If we submit everything to reason, our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.”
It could be different. With the New Covenant in place, we could be stirred by better passions. As we become obsessed with a Person who makes filthy people clean by becoming filthy Himself, who then claims His newly clean people as best friends, who stirs them to want good things, and who helps them go after those good things, we will discover passions similar to His stirring in us.
For now, to catch a glimpse of Christ and to feel a trickle of His life pour into us, we must turn toward each other… As we turn, we can hope to give and receive small doses of the goodness of God.
Chapter 15 – It’s Worth the Risk
C.S. Lewis – People who bore one another should meet seldom; people who interest one another, often.
When the possibilities inherent in spiritual community are even dimly apprehended, we are both terrified and galvanized. It’s a place where something bad might be seen that, once surfaced, must be dealt with.
But it’s also a place where resurrection follows death, where real life is stirred up and can be enjoyed as never before, where the taste of life now whets our appetite for what lies ahead.
Spiritual commmunity is at once the safest place on earth and the place of greatest danger.
A similar idea was apparently in Lewis’s mind when he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy, a visitor to the strange world of oppression and hope, was about to cross a bridge. But the great lion Aslan stood in her way. To reach her destination she had to pass by the lion, within arm’s length. Lucy turned to a resident of the land who knew the lion well. “Is he safe?” she asked. “Safe?” Mr. Tummis laughed. “No, he’s not say, but he’s good.”
The old hymn with a little editing:
Count your many blessings
Name them one by one
And pretend you’re happy
With what God has done.
I sometimes worry that my pursuit to a true spiritual community is like Dorothy’s search for Oz. Will I find only a short, bald man hiding behind a screen creating an illusion of what never was?
We can do better. And we don’t have to, we want to! God has given us everything we need to develop substantial spiritual community, if not with many, then at least with a few. Most of us are not coming close. The tragedy is that many Christians think they are.
If you have caught a glimpse of what community could be and find yourself weeping over where community now is, God’s word to you is this: “Be strong. Don’t give up. I am with you. The glory of the spiritual community is being slowly revealed and will one day fill the heavens. Never settle for less.”
Our journey together to God will bring us to a point were a choice among three options must be made.
1. Go mad: keep trying to make present community completely satisfying.
2. Backup: the search for intimacy is too risky, too dangerous, with uncertain and meager rewards. Find a comfortably safe distance from people, wrap yourselves in a Christian blanket, and live there, safe and smug.
3. Journeying on: stay involved, not everywhere, with everyone, but somewhere, with a few. Don’t give up on at least a couple of relationships. Die every day to your demand for total fulfillment now, in anything. Accept the ache in your soul as evidence of maturity, not neurosis. Discover the spiritual passions beneath the ache that are strong enough to sustain you in forward movement and to keep heaven in sight. If you put all your eggs in a basket of present community, even at its best, you will be of all men most miserable. Freely lust after the day that is coming. Let that hope keep you on course. Expect to discover the point of this life and to experience the spiritual joys available now, to get an unforgetable taste of Christ to feel the Father’s arms around you, to fill the Spirit within you.
If you choose the third option, then let me offer a simple model for engaging with people that may help us steer our way through stormy waters to a true spiritual community.
Chapter 16 – Enter, See, Touch: A Way of Developing Spiritual Community
Start with Prayer – we are commanded to wait on the Lord.
Lay the Foundation
1. Growth is a mystery – spiritual community develops only among humble people.
2. Personal holiness counts for more than trained skill – spiritual community develops only among people who seriously value personal holiness.
3. Every felt desire, at root, a longing for God, though often unrecognized as such – spiritual community develops only among people who aren’t afraid to want, who will honor desire, will feel it in themselves and learn to arouse it in others.
Grasping God’s Truth
1. We enter each other’s lives with a celebration and with the message: I accept you!
You must be:
Broken yet strong
Vulnerable with hope
2. We see, what’s beneath the surface, what could be and what is, both good and bad. We communicate the message: I believe in you and I discern both the Spirit’s work and the work of the flesh in your life.
3. We touch each other with the life of Christ; we freely give whatever the Spirit incites within us as we get to know each other. Our message is: I give you whatever the Spirit stirs me to give you.
Chapter 17 – Becoming Spiritual Community
When these individuals finish their degree, a state board tells society that they have enough knowledge to competently practice psychology.
But when I struggle with life, I want a wise, seasoned, spiritual saint who can peer into my soul and direct me, through all that’s there, toward God.
Western culture has wrongly divided the territory into spiritual problems and psychological problems. But that’s wrong.
Psychological problems at root are spiritual problems.
The choice is not between psychotherapy and spiritual direction. It is rather between independence and community.
If we were in a spiritual community our life could be different.
If we found a place safe enough to hit bottom and still be celebrated, believed in, seen and touched, we would experience a different reality.
Our Upper Room passions would be stirred.
We have no true spiritual community
Instead we have a few friends who offer moments of congeniality over dinner, who invite us to cooperate with them on church projects, who sometimes try to console us with sincere empathy and then recommend we get counseling, or, in their impatience, tell us to comform to biblical standards.
It could be so different.
The church is meant to be a community of spiritual friends and spiritual directors.