*Ding!* I have a text from my friend Cathy. "Are you free to talk and pray together this week?"
In the middle of a week of work, errands, and family, this text is an invitation to make space for something important: pursuing God together within friendship with a fellow spiritual journeyer.
Cathy and I have a long-lasting friendship built primarily on our mutual pursuit of God. We have journeyed together through life transitions and difficult seasons. Each time we get together, we share about how we're experiencing God, and about what's getting in the way of our spiritual growth. We listen without judgement, pray and listen together, and offer encouragement to each other. We are mutually committed to each other's spiritual growth.
Our spiritual journey is meant to be traveled with others. We are created to pursue God in the company of other people.
In relationships with other people, we receive and give support, encouragement, challenge. Of course we can encounter God and hear him alone, apart from other people. Yet there is an undeniable way we are able to grow spiritually in community. We all have flat sides and blind spots in our spiritual growth. Community with others often helps hear God and discern his will for our lives.
Friendships built on the common purpose of knowing and loving God
When I need prayer, encouragement, or wisdom, I turn to Cathy. She and I have a simple rhythm - we chat about once every two weeks. We briefly catch up on the essential stuff of our lives, we share what God is doing and how he is speaking, and we pray. Our prayer time includes a few moments of silent listening; we listen for any words or impressions God wants to give. Then we pray in that direction.
Through conversation, listening, and praying together, friends can help each other discern God’s activity, and encourage each other in that.
When we gather with friends with the purpose of pursuing God, we create the kind of sacred space that Jesus talks about in Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” It is a space for the Spirit of God to dwell among his people and bring forth more of his Kingdom reality in our lives.
Not every friendship can be like the one I have with Cathy. But I believe friendship built on pursuing God together is a gift worth working toward. Friendship is often built on how much you enjoy and like a person. But what if we could have friendships built on the common purpose of knowing and loving God?
Here is a simple way to develop this spiritual practice in your life.
How to develop friendships that help your spiritual growth:
1. Seek out another person who shares your desire to pursue God.
This may be challenging or easy for you, depending on how connected you are to others who share your desire to grow spiritually. Hopefully you are involved in a faith community, and can find someone there. If not, ask God to help you seek out a person.
2. Together with your friend, make a commitment to each other.
Share with each other what each of you is seeking and hoping for in your friendship. Discuss how you want to partner together in pursuing God and spiritual growth. Make a commitment to be open and honest with each other. This is not a common kind of conversation, and may feel clunky and awkward. That's fine. If you want a friendship that is ultimately aimed at mutual spiritual growth, a clear commitment to each other is an important step.
3. Decide on a rhythm of meeting together.
This relationship is built on being intentional and consistent. You will need to decide how often to meet together, depending on your schedules. For example, you might choose to meet weekly for about an hour.
4. Begin journeying together.
As with anything new, your friendship may feel a bit awkward at first. It may take a while to develop trust, comfortability and depth with another person. But I believe the benefits are worth it!
How you use your time together to help each other's spiritual growth:
If you need to get really practical, here is a loose outline for what to do and discuss. Feel free to alter it to best fit you.
In friendships, you are trusting that God is really the one bringing transformation. It is not your role or responsibility to change another person, but to act as partners pursuing God and walking the spiritual journey together.
Print my free PDF guide to spiritual companionship. For more guides and tools, check out my library of resources.
Questions: Do you have friends that help your spiritual growth? When you are in need of spiritual encouragement or support, who do you turn to? How do you want to make more space for this in your life? Please share in the comments.
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Easter is nearly upon us. It is the day celebrating Jesus' resurrection, and the ushering in of new life where there once was death. Before that are the days of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday, sometimes called The Great Sabbath or Silent Saturday, is the day of Jesus resting silently in the tomb.
Ultimately, Easter is about life. It’s about resurrection and revival and new life. It’s about hope in something so true and eternal, we’re still talking about it today, thousands of years later. It’s the story of a God who enters into our lives and in the face of death, gives way to eternal life.
But before that, before the life and resurrection, there is Holy Saturday, a waiting period, a length of time when there is a body lying in a tomb. In that place there is disappointment and darkness and waiting.
Life is full of of these in-between, darkness moments.
Maybe in some area of your life it feels like darkness. Like you are stuck between the pain of Friday and the not-yet-realized hope of Sunday, a place where you are waiting for God to do something. Maybe there is a place of disappointment, of having a dream die, or a relationship end, and you’re just...waiting.
Let me share my own story of waiting on the Lord.
Two years after having our son Aaron, Steve and I decided that we were ready to continue growing our family.
In November 2010, we got pregnant. Around the 5th week of pregnancy, I started bleeding, and a miscarriage was confirmed soon after. We were saddened, but knew that early-term miscarriages are common. We continued trying to get pregnant.
A few months later, we were pregnant again. At our 7-week doctor’s check-up, the doctor was unable to locate the baby's heartbeat. There was another miscarriage.
We felt a deep sense of grief and darkness. Friends and family prayed and mourned with us. We cried over our unborn babies, lamenting not getting to know them and see them in this life.
When we live life long enough, we encounter moments of death and darkness. Doors close, relationships end, hopes die. And we’re stuck in darkness, longing for breakthrough that hasn’t yet happened.
So what do we do in that moment? When we’re in that moment of darkness and in-between at the tomb, there are different responses we can have.
But waiting on God is also courageous. Waiting on God in the darkness is saying, “Okay God, I don’t know what’s going on and how this is going to end. But I’m choosing to press into you with all that is in me.” It’s the place of crying out to him with our true selves, and not just putting on the fake happy facade.
It’s not passive, it’s not escape, it’s not hopelessness. It’s connecting to God, listening to him, doing things with him, resting in him, grieving with him. And it’s a holding out in hope that he’s the God of resurrection and new life, even if all we have is the tiniest seed of faith.
God is with us always, even in the darkness and waiting. Some of the most significant moments in Jesus’ life took place in darkness: his birth, his arrest, his death. For us in the spiritual journey, waiting on God in the darkness can yield extraordinary events.
In my own experience of waiting in darkness with the Lord, there are a few ways I encountered God:
1. GOD ENDURES WITH US
Through his own death, Jesus enters into death with us. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? His cries echo the despair and lostness of the world’s pain. It is a cry of abandonment and agony. How incredible is that? We have a Lord who doesn’t just stand at a distance from pain, but he enters into it and suffers with us.
When Steve and I had our two miscarriages, I felt Jesus draw so close to us. It was counter-intuitive to me. I suppose I figured that in really painful moments, God would feel far away. But it was just the opposite. In the days following our second miscarriage, I was overcome with the deepest sensation of safety, comfort, and awareness of Jesus with us.
In my journal, I wrote this: “I feel the power, goodness, and mercy of the Father now more than I have in the last few years. I am more certain than ever that God is the only thing worthy of our hope and confidence.” In many ways, God poured out his love and comfort into our family that was unique to this season of darkness and waiting.
2. GOD PROMISES HIS PRESENCE
There are times in life when we are in the dark and God feels far away. I’ve had moments when I am barely making it with the Lord, and really struggling to see him and hear him. I’m going to guess that many of us have had that experience. It feels like God is far or even absent. We feel abandoned.
But Psalm 139 tells us that there is no place we can go to escape the presence of God. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Here’s the thing that I find so comforting and reassuring: God’s presence does not depend on us. It does not depend on how we feel. It does not depend on how in tune we are with him. The grace of God is that he doesn’t let go of us, even when we are completely unable to even come to him or pray or feel hopeful. Nothing will separate us from him. Even in the mystery and darkness, he’s with us.
3. GOD CULTIVATES NEW LIFE
In a book called The Holy Longing, Ronald Rohlheiser says this about the spiritual journey: “It is a process of transformation within which we are given both new life and new spirit. It begins with suffering and death, moves onto the reception of new life, spends some time grieving the old and adjusting to the new, and finally, only after the old life has been truly let go of, is new spirit given for the life we are already living.”
For the Israelites, there was Egypt, wilderness, and Promised Land. Or in the life cycle of a butterfly, there is larvae, cocoon, butterfly.
The darkness is a holding environment where transformation happens. We may not feel different or be doing anything different, but God is working to bring forth something new. It’s like the 9 months of pregnancy before a baby is born, and it’s incubating in the womb. It’s Jesus in the tomb, before being resurrected.
Oftentimes, in the darkness, the new life that God is cultivating is internal. He’s changing us. He’s freeing us from fear or shame. He’s breaking our bondage to idols. He’s gently coaxing in us the fruit of love, joy, and hope. He’s deepening our intimacy and dependence on him.
After our two miscarriages, we continued trying to get pregnant again. Months and months went by, and nothing.
In November 2011, we had significant time of prayer with a friend named Ann. Ann was the wife of one of Steve’s seminary professors, and they had a similar experience of miscarriages while trying to conceive their second child. When Ann heard about our journey, she had a sense that praying for us could have a similar outcome.
We were a bit perplexed (and disappointed) when December and January passed with no pregnancy.
Finally, in February 2012, we took a pregnancy test, and it was positive. We were thrilled, but also hesitant to get too excited, given our previous miscarriages. At our 6-week doctor’s check-up, we were relieved to hear a strong, healthy heartbeat.
That was the heartbeat of our daughter Alexandra, who was born in August 2012. She is our tangible reminder of the resurrection power of Jesus. Our reminder that death and darkness isn’t the end. When I look at her, I remember God’s faithfulness as we wait in the darkness, and remember that he’s the Creator of new life.
Jesus has triumphed over death, has resurrected, and is making all things new. That’s what Easter is. Easter is Jesus. Easter means everything Jesus has been saying about God, about life, about death, about faith, about love, about forgiveness, about suffering, about giving over your life…it's all true. Easter means God, who created everything in the beginning, is now recreating everything.
Whatever death and disappointment and darkness you are in, it is not the end of the story. Jesus is the end. So in the midst of the unrealized dreams, unfulfilled hopes, rejection, shame, brokenness, depression, whatever your disappointment, believe me when I tell you it is not the end. Deliverance and resurrection and breakthrough is coming. New life is on the other side.
Hold on. Wait on God. Welcome him in the longing and the hoping and the darkness. Cling to him with all your might, and hold on to his promise in Isaiah 25:
"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
In Jesus we have freedom and hope and renewal. In him we rise out from evil and death. And in him we have celebration and joy and new life.
Question: In what ways are you waiting on the Lord? How are you seeing God work as you wait? Please share in the comments.
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Jesus himself routinely asked people questions that helped them to get in touch with their desires and name it in his presence. He often brought focus and clarity to his interactions with those who were spiritually hungry by asking them, What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Such questions had the power to elicit deeply honest reflection in the person to whom they were addressed, and opened the way for Christ to lead them into deeper levels of spiritual truth and healing.”
I'm on a journey of learning what it means to engage with Jesus in the midst of everyday life. In this journey, I am discovering that a key to encountering God is to become more aware of my own desires and disappointments.
Deeply honest reflection is a challenge for me. Perhaps it's a challenge for you as well. When we get in touch with our truest desires, it is an act of profound vulnerability. Admitting our deepest longings can be terrifying because it often puts us in a place of disappointment and pain that we have little ability to control.
Jesus invites us to recognize and name our desires. This invitation is a gift because it frees us from our masks and distractions, and makes space for authentic relationship with God.
Tears may come. You may unearth deeper pain than you realized was under the surface.
Be strong and courageous, friend. Jesus wants to meet you in the place of your longings. He is ready to lead you to deeper places of restoration and healing.
What are you longing for in this moment? What do you want Jesus to do for you?
May we wake up to our longings, and allow our soul to speak. May we trust that in Jesus' presence there is safety to be truly honest. And as we do, may Jesus meet us, transform us, and fill us anew.
Aloha! I'm Larissa. I help others go deeper in the faith journey with God.
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