Small Groups and Spiritual Revival
Spiritual growth means to develop into the character of Jesus Christ. It means to care for and do the things he did. To mature spiritually means that you are better able to love the unlovable, forgive hurts, and give to the needy from your own possessions.
It is no wonder that this process is spoken of as growth or development, because just as our bodies require proper nutrition and exercise for growth, so do our spirits. Physical growth doesn’t just happen; it has to be fed and nurtured. Spiritual growth has to be fed and nurtured, too.
The food for spiritual growth is the gospels, the inspired stories about the life of Jesus Christ. As we read, reflect, and think deeply about the life of Christ, and pray for that message to fill the fiber of our being, we become filled with his thoughts. That is part of the process for spiritual growth. But, it is only part.
A child who eats good food is providing herself the proper nutrition to build strong bones and have a healthy heart. But, she must also exercise. Running and climbing are some of the fun activities of childhood, but they are also important developmental activities, strengthening muscles and developing coordination. Good food is important for growth; activity is important for growth, but neither of them are sufficient alone. They must both be present for a small girl or boy to become a strong and healthy young man or woman.
The same is true of our spiritual life. The gospels, the story of Jesus, is the food for our spirits. It is the nutrition for our soul, the thoughts to think about and make our own. But, where is the exercise? The exercise is in doing what Jesus did. Spiritually, we flex our muscles when we walk in the steps of the savior and love the people he loved, feeding them, forgiving them, restoring them to places of respect and honor in society. We flex our spiritual muscles when we eat with people no one else wants to eat with, having them in our homes, watching their children when they look for work, and becoming their friends.
If you feel uncomfortable being in someone’s presence, if you worry if your friends are going to see you with them, if you wonder if you are going to be judged by others, you are probably with the right person to flex your spiritual muscles.
Philip Jacob Spener started a major revival Germany in the 1600s. That poor nation had been ravaged by a major war lasting for 30 years, much of the fighting done by other countries within her borders. One-third of her population was killed. Orphans numbered in the tens of thousands. Young women sold themselves for a loaf of bread. Untended children became criminals. Spener wept over his beloved nation. But, he did more. He read the gospels and learned about Jesus. He filled his mind with the ministry of Jesus to the poor, the sick, the children, the morally questionable, and the sinners. He wondered, “How can I do for Germany in my day what Jesus did for Israel in his?” Spender gorged himself on the nutrition of Jesus. But, he knew that wasn’t enough; he needed exercise.
Philip Jacob Spener. Both pictures are from wikipedia.
The next thing Spener did was organize members of his congregation into small groups. The purpose of the small groups would be for more than studying the Bible; they would do some of that, but the real emphasis would be upon exercise. The members of the small groups would reach out into the community to actually do the things they learned about Jesus doing. They would provide food for the poor, homes for the homeless, child care for the orphans. Spener’s ministry led to a major revival in Germany, with the development of food programs, orphanages and schools started and led by Christians trying to be like Jesus. Those folks developed some muscle.
A Haugean pietist meeting in Norway, influenced by Spener
Studying the Bible does to our hearts what eating raw carrots does for our bodies. Sharing a meal with a hungry child does to our spirit what running a mile does for the muscles in our legs. It strengthens. Small groups are a vehicle for people to get that exercise.
Spiritual growth is not produced just by reading about Jesus. Spiritual growth is produced by living like Jesus, and being obedient to the mission he gives us in service to others.