Friday, April 9, 2021

Small Group Prayers that Spark Inner Healing

The Word of God will forever remain as a testament to the powerful ministry of Jesus Christ. While His divine role as Lord and Savior will continue to impact this world until the earth passes on, His brief period of in-person ministry also gives us an inside look to the divine nature of who the Son of God is and how the Spirit can move within the physical realm. Through actions like teaching, casting out demons, forgiving sins, and conducting miraculous healings, Jesus showed us a tiny glimpse of what the kingdom of God can do when it intersects with our world. Yet apart from His miracles, we understand that many of Jesus’s actions were not conducted solely because of His divinity. After all, many of the apostles and disciples went on to execute similar healings, exorcisms, spirit-filled teachings, and other power encounters that contributed toward the establishment of the early church. Rather, Dr. Terry Wardle postulates in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer that Jesus’s ability to accomplish these moments of ministry was instead based upon the intimate relationship that He had with the Holy Spirit.

Our Role in Inner Healing Prayer
This spiritual truth is something that we can be excited about as well. Indeed, if the disciples were able to facilitate powerful moments such as these, then, by extension, we too have the same potential when we make efforts to minister alongside the Holy Spirit within our own respective ministries. One such ministry opportunity that we might be able to take part in is what Dr. Wardle describes as “inner healing prayer,” or where “a caregiver partners with the Holy Spirit and humbly positions themselves to be an instrument of His powerful touch.” By doing so, the caregiver is able to facilitate “an encounter with the Living Christ, precisely where the broken have been severely wounded and deceived.” He goes on to explain that “inner healing prayer is a ministry that brings a broken person before the Healing Lord, where they can experience love, acceptance and freedom. The caregiver has the privilege to serve as a bridge that joins a ravaged heart with a Ravished Heart.”

Catered Ministry Through Groups
By being in a small group, individuals can get to know one another over a longer period of time and cater transformative prayer to each members’ specific needs. Wardle agrees, explaining that inner healing prayer is best applied when we can see and identify the interrelationships that are occurring within the life of the hurting individual. Oftentimes such connections can be made in our groups as we engage in the type of heartfelt conversation that builds one another up and encourages one another to remain accountable. It is here why we had initially explored what small group members and small group leaders can do within the journey of inner healing. When small group members and small group leaders first take the time to exhibit a tangible Christ-like love and acceptance toward a fellow group member in the physical realm, it can help to create a wider roadway through which the Holy Spirit can transmit the same level of care within the spiritual realm as well.

Being Conduits for the Spirit
Prayer in this type of group environment is not simply just a list of things that are brought to God. Rather, the prayers offered within this setting can be similar to a Romans 8:26 “sigh too deep for words,” where those in the group who may have experienced inner healing in the past can take on the role of the "wounded healer" and intercede for those who are currently in need. Wardle describes this as the essence of inner healing prayer, where it is “a ministry of the Holy Spirit that moves through a Christian caregiver and brings the Healing Presence of Jesus Christ into the place of pain and brokenness within a wounded person.” Let us serve one another and be a blessing by helping our fellow group members take one step further in the journey of healing. Let us be instruments for the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit into our group settings so that He is no longer impeded by any obstacles. Let us partner with the Spirit by encountering Him within this powerful ministry of inner healing prayer.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Healing Impact of Small Group Leaders

 

For anyone that’s been a part of a small group, we can all relate to the anxious feelings of the first few nights. Right from the start of the very first group meeting, we begin assessing the environment of our small group as we gauge whether or not it’s a safe environment to be vulnerable within. And since it may take a few meetings for the group to navigate through the “forming” stage of group formation, it’s possible that group members may keep their hearts under lock and key until after the “storming” stage passes. Yet despite this, the small group leader can play a role in speeding up the group’s ability to be comfortable with one another and to be more open to the stages of inner healing.

Self-Care and Personal Development
For the small group leaders who work full-time jobs, who are raising families, who enjoy various hobbies, and who also decide to serve elsewhere within the church, life can suddenly become very busy. Indeed, the more we fill our calendars, the more likely we may find ourselves sacrificing our personal time with Jesus for the next event or activity on the never-ending list of things to do. It is here where Dr. Terry Wardle in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer draws our attention, reminding us caregivers to not only ensure that we remain tethered to the word of God, but to also stay connected to other Christians who are committed to the ministry of the Holy Spirit (I would add that in this context, this would be a group of Christians outside of the small group that the individual leads). While these two activities may be shrugged off as collateral damage under the busyness of the daily grind, they are actually critical for the small group leader. After all, if we do not spend time in the Scriptures, the world will distract us from keeping the Lord’s teachings and commandments at the forefront of our minds. And if we do not engage in community with the body of Christ, we may find ourselves experiencing burnout as we neglect the relationships that can pour life back into us and sharpen our hearts (Proverbs 27:17).

The Wounded Healer
In her book Leaders Who Last, Margaret Marcuson says “we cannot lead others further than we are willing to go ourselves. If we want people to go deeper in the spiritual life, if we want them to grow up emotionally, if we want them to be more authentic, we have to show the way. Leadership starts with us.” Author and leadership expert John Maxwell defines this principle as the “Law of the Lid,” where an organization’s reach and influence can't go beyond where the leader wants to go (or more likely, where the leader decides to stop). This concept can be applied to small groups as well, where individuals may find it difficult to be led to a place of inner healing if the leader has not first been there themselves. Just as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:10, Wardle refers to this as the role of the “wounded healer.” He elaborates, “Only in weakness can the strength of Christ flow through a caregiver to the people who turn to him for help. The wounded caregiver must be touched by the Wounded [Christ] to offer healing to the wounded.” Wardle’s words here are encouraging, for it is when a small group leader experiences inner healing first that they can then be a powerful conduit for the comfort of God that then flows to the others who are placed in their care. By offering one’s testimony of their own journey of inner healing, the small group leader can effectively establish themselves as a “wounded healer.” By sharing their heart, the degree of the leader’s own display of vulnerability can help encourage the other group members to be vulnerable and courageous as well within future gatherings.

Discernment in Sharing
But how much of our story do we leaders offer? If we air out too much of our dirty laundry, does that cause us to lose credibility? While this article from April 2019 may be of some assistance, it is still a tough question to answer. Since every situation is different, it is here where the utilization of a mentorship program at the church can help. One popular method of organizing a mentorship program within the church’s small group ministry is referred to as the Jethro model (Exodus 18), where a coach (who isn’t a small group leader) is assigned to serve and be a guide for a collection of small group leaders. If unsure as to if a certain testimony or story is safe to share, running it upline to one’s coach or church staff member can help provide the clarity or guidance that is needed on the matter. If it is an experience that highlights victory in Christ, than it will likely be a positive story to share. Indeed, it is through a celebration of finding new life in Christ where we can establish close connections with one another and support each other through the seasons of life where community and Jesus can impact us the most.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Healing Support of Fellow Small Group Members

 

During various moments within each of our lives, we are confronted with events or circumstances that give us the opportunity to pursue inner healing. Until we are called by the Lord and meet Jesus in heaven, we are exposed to the inevitable pain and challenges of this world. While the hurt and lies that we may have experienced can create spiritual scars on our souls, we tend to find activities, habits, and behaviors to cover up or ignore these scars throughout our adulthood. Yet due to the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the impact on mental health that isolation has made upon us, we have begun to recognize that the events surrounding this last year have acted as a revealing agent, exposing the underlying spiritual struggles that may have lay dormant until now. For example, an individual struggling with self-value and performance addiction may have been able satisfy that gap at the office or on the ballfield; or perhaps a person afflicted by a lack of love and acceptance within their lives may have been able to find temporary solace within the dating scene. However, due to such a drastic interruption to our normal schedules, hobbies, and outlets, many of us were suddenly confronted with the turmoil of our spiritual wounds that we were no longer able to ignore or cover up.

Perhaps this may be partially why the world is now experiencing a mental health crisis, and perhaps this may also be why the pursuit of inner healing has become a hot topic of ministry as of late. During our previous article, we began our discussion on the concept of inner healing, as introduced by Dr. Terry Wardle in his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer. And while his book is certainly an excellent resource for any minister or caregiver that provides care at the individual level, what if we were to instead explore Dr. Wardle’s work through the lens of a church’s small group ministry?

The Structures Inner Healing
Wardle explains in his book that in order to experience inner healing from the wounds that are buried deep within our lives, we must first identify the lies and distortions that the evil one has used to lead us astray. But in order to identify these lies and distortions, we must first walk through the emotional upheaval that comes from confronting the dysfunctional behaviors that had caused the original disrupting life situation. For example, let us propose a hypothetical situation where a man who is a part of a small group shares that his wife has left him (the disrupting life situation). As the group discusses the serious matter in depth, it is discovered that one of the reasons that she had left him was due to the daily heated arguments that would inevitably lead to him inflicting verbal abuse upon his wife (dysfunctional behavior). From here, the man begins to repent in his heart and learn from his fellow group members about the role that God called him to uphold as husband and how such behavior is sinful (emotional upheaval). As the group explores the matter further, the man explains that since the husband was supposed to be the leader of the household, he always had assumed that there was no need for compromise since he presumably had the right to call the shots within all areas of the household (Lies and distortions). Finally, at the deepest moment in the journey, the man discovers that the lies he has believed for so long may likely be linked to the trauma he experienced as a child, witnessing his father severely abusing his mother.

The Group as a Partner, Not a Doctor
Within the context of a small group, one of the most crucial elements for a person’s ability to open up to others in their journey of inner healing is the group’s ability to offer a loving and trustworthy level of grace and support. This hypothetical scenario would not take place without prayer or without the Holy Spirit's involvement, and it would almost certainly not happen within the length of one small group meeting. In fact, there’s no guarantee that all of the aforementioned stages could be completed within the environment of the small group. Yet what is important to note is that the higher the quality of love and support that the group can offer to the hurting individual, the better the chances are for the group to be able to walk alongside the person throughout the journey of inner healing.

The Need to Be Understanding
Still, we must remain practical. Although it would be ideal to believe that all of these structures of inner healing would go as swimmingly as this pretend scenario, we also must be comfortable with the pace at which the individual actually responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the man might only offer the surface level of details about his wife leaving him before making the decision to seek professional care. Or perhaps the group is able to help him walk through some of the emotional upheaval involved with repentance before he ends up seeking additional care from their pastor or a counselor. Regardless, what is important to stress here is a reiteration of what was mentioned in the previous article: that small groups are not meant to be a replacement for counseling, and nor could it be promised that small groups can be as effective as or more effective than professional care. Instead, what the group members can strive to do is to be a supportive partner for the individual who is pursuing the journey of inner healing.

Indeed, deep wounds take time to unravel, and an individual that traverses through the experience of inner healing often finds that the complexities of each of these steps are layered upon one another and that they must be peeled back slowly in order to identify the next steps that lay ahead. Some individuals are more introspective in their style when reflecting upon serious matters of the heart, while others need to process their thoughts through the interaction with others. Nevertheless, either style requires the small group to submerge their meetings in submissive prayer while they meet the individual in their current position of the inner healing journey, all the while they continue to support the person with a phileo-like love that upholds and exemplifies friendship, companionship, and openness.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Inner Healing Within Small Groups

 


In our post-Covid environment, small groups are becoming one of the best primary points of entry for new attendees within our churches. Even if our social circles may have shrunk within the workforce or within our social engagements, our hunger for relationships still has not dissipated. Theologically, we understand this because we are made in the image of a God who exhibits perfect relationship within the Trinity. But how does this spiritual truth impact our ability to grow inward within our small group ministries, and how might this contribute to our small groups’ ability to minister to the deepest spiritual needs of our fellow group members?

In this next series of posts, we will unpack and explore how small groups are able to minister at some of the most profound levels to heal the soul. While some of our wounds may be buried deep or are carefully tucked away to help us function as close to normal as possible during the day-to-day, there are times when the presence of the Holy Spirit can fall upon a small group and meet one or more individuals in a powerful way that brings a wound or a lie to the light.

Yet for our purposes here, we will tread carefully. Our conversation on inner healing will not be meant for scenarios or seasons of life that are devastatingly urgent. Indeed, small groups can never and should never be considered a replacement for professional counseling. Nevertheless, there are moments when the Lord chooses to use a small group to either initiate a journey of inner healing or to walk alongside someone and be a partner for them in the journey of inner healing (It will be these scenarios in particular that this new series will focus on).

In his book Healing Care, Healing Prayer, Dr. Terry Wardle’s exploration of inner healing prayer provides an in-depth look of  how it allows us to not only identify the wounds of this world but also replace their dominion over us with the affirmation of God’s love. Writing from the personal experience of his own “dark night of the soul,” his multiple books over the years have empowered both the caregiver and the individual who is receiving care throughout the inner healing process. While Dr. Wardle’s book mainly focuses on the model and structure of inner healing between a caregiver and a single person who is receiving the care, here we will instead reflect upon the core principles of his text through the lens of a small group ministry.

Throughout this new series, we will discuss topics such as how group members can help to contribute toward inner healing, what the group leader’s role is within such a process, and how prayer can be utilized to engage the Holy Spirit within the group setting. Since the journey ahead requires great care and respect, it bears repeating that small groups are not meant to replace counseling (nor could it be promised that small groups are as effective as or more effective than professional care). Nevertheless, I have witnessed the impact that the presence of the Holy Spirit can make within the small group setting and it is very possible that the Lord may soon choose one of our upcoming small group meetings to stir the hearts of one or more of our group members. To help us prepare for such an event, let us prayerfully explore and meditate upon what we group leaders can do to help our group members meet the person of Jesus Christ in a powerful and transforming way.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Spiritual Plumbing of the Heart


A Home of Surprises
Before my wife and I were handed the keys to our new home in 2013, we already knew that we had signed up for a home with some home improvement surprises. One surprise in particular was a severe issue with the plumbing. During the inspection phase it was realized that the kitchen stack was not properly draining to the pipe that led to the city’s sewers (easily deduced by looking down the access of the city-bound pipe while running the water upstairs). What surprised us even more was that the blockage was so bad that the kitchen sink would begin to fill up as we continued to run the kitchen tap. One experienced plumber diagnosed the problem, explaining that the stretch of underground pipe between the kitchen stack and the rest of the house’s plumbing had likely rotted, and that the pipe was clogged up with food, grease, earth, or a combination of all of the above. Basically, every time we ran the kitchen faucet, the water went straight into the ground, underneath our house.

After deciding to go through with closing on the house, we quickly scheduled a professional plumbing company to come in and carve into our basement floor. Using jackhammers and shovels, they broke ground and began to dig up the shockingly degraded pipe. The expert that quoted the job was 100% correct. Apparently, the home’s previous owners made it a habit of pouring grease down the drain. Over the years, the iron piping rotted away, causing a complete breakdown in the underground plumbing.

Spiritual Plumbing
Plumbing in our homes is not unlike the plumbing that we maintain in our spiritual lives as we communicate with God. Last week, we discussed how we are called to be filled with the Spirit on an ongoing basis. This type of lifestyle requires us to be diligent with the plumbing of our hearts. In our homes, blockages or even damage can occur to the plumbing of the house if we dispose of grease down the kitchen sink or refuse to utilize a garbage disposal. Likewise, continuously absorbing a diet of worldly entertainment and habitually acting upon sinful temptations can cause severe disruption in our spiritual lives (aka blockages of the Spirit).

To help clear the spiritual blockages in our lives and open up the lines of communication with the Holy Spirit, fasting can be a powerful spiritual discipline that can help us recalibrate on what the Lord is calling us to pursue within our current season. By abstaining from food for a short season, we focus more on God and spend more time with Him through our season of fasting. More than likely, the boost in spiritual clarity that we gain during our fast will help us learn to be less resistant to the nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout the day.

Group Fasting
If your group is interested to try something new during its spiritual journey this year, try fasting for the 24 hours before the group meets. Encourage one another that day through a group-text and fall in prayer to support and uplift everyone as you seek the Lord throughout the day. After trying this for a few weeks, see if the group might like to try a longer span of time once or twice within the next month or two. Prayerfully consider the frequency of fasting, for the discipline could quickly devolve into legalism if the activity itself becomes more important than the pursuit of God. Every individual and group is different, and healthy reflection can assist the group in determining what fits best for everyone involved.