The drift of our minds is bent toward independence and self-sufficiency. This is understandable since, in the ordinary processes of learning and growth, we aim to become independent of our teachers. If we want to learn a foreign language, for instance, we obviously want to move beyond the point where we need our instructor to be constantly on hand.
God’s purpose for us, however, is to be in a close relationship with Him and with our fellow Christians. Basil W. Maturin, a British spiritual author of the early 20th century put it this way:
“We need to balance independence with our dependence on others…The man who is recklessly indifferent to others bears the mark of failure stamped upon him, and he who is wholly dependent loses all individuality and all power of influence in the world. This is true of those who are naturally strongest and weakest, and it applies equally to women and men.”
Without this awareness of our dependence on God and our interdependence with others, we will never come into our full strength. By extension, we as the church will never come into our full strength either.
For this to take place, we have to submit to a regimen we might call “sacred training.” C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Jesus works on us in all sorts of ways… Through nature, through our own bodies, through books… But above all he works on us through each other.” Let’s expand our vision of what God makes available to us through others.
Most obviously, we can relate to one another through acts of love and also through reactions, the kind of forbearance that reflects the love that the Holy Spirit “pours into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). Our reputation for this also has an evangelistic dimension: Christians have often won new believers to the faith simply by the love they share with one another. It is stated that the early Romans would continually remark, “See how these Christians love one another!”
Service is another aspect of this. A friend of ours is involved in an outreach initiative that aims to exercise spiritual influence in a medium-sized city near his church. The regular meeting of prayer and planning for this have brought a new social dimension to his life. In addition, moving forward together into uncharted waters has added an unexpected measure of zest and zeal to the members of the group.
We can also engage in close and intentional spiritual relationships, particularly in the form of peer mentoring. We know personally of a number of examples where this has been transformative for people trying to cope with challenging family situations. In one case, when a husband was at his wit’s end, the influence of peer mentoring was mainly in the form of deep-level encouragement. In another case it was a matter of mentoring a man who was on the verge of leaving his wife. Only within the peer-mentoring framework was he able to accept a negative reaction about this, and it saved his marriage.
Other benefits of small groups have long been obvious, especially when they show signs of covenantal commitment and life-sharing. For one thing, they are valuable for personal guidance. We can seek guidance from others as often as possible and be open to their insights. As it says in the Book of Proverbs, “in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14).
More ways could be mentioned for rebalancing our lives between dependence and interdependence. God spoke through one of His greatest prophets when he commanded: “Awake! Put on your strength!” (Isaiah 51:9). Let’s move toward full strength. In addition to private prayer and connection with God, let’s avail ourselves of our resources as living church communities. Our strength comes from the Lord, by the Holy Spirit, and His strength is effective and real.
Be light, go shine!