By Cameron Silsbee and Dan Self
Begin with prayer
Gather together as a Community in a comfortable setting. Take a moment to sit in silence in the presence of Jesus and each other. Have one person read Ephesians 3v16-19 over the group and then pray to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide your time together.
Take a few minutes to discuss anything noteworthy from your time reading and praying through John 21v1-19.
Read this overview
When we spend time with God, our experience of him can be shaped by how we assume he views us. This goes deeper than the general, oft-repeated theological answer, “God loves me.” You may believe that intellectually, yet your internal response to God may not align with that intellectual belief.
Your time with God may be filled with apprehension, stiffness, boredom, fear, or anger. These internal responses to God can hinder a profound experience of God’s love for us and limit the growth of our love for God. The quality of our time with God impacts our relationship with him.
The helpful response to this scenario is counterintuitive – we don’t push down our internal response to God, hoping to remove it. That won’t work, at least not for long. Instead, we use our internal responses to draw us closer to Jesus in vulnerability. We open ourselves to Jesus in an honest confession of how we feel towards him.
Struggling to experience God’s love is not a new problem unique to post-modern, tech-savvy humans. Throughout church history, faithful and resilient followers of Jesus have utilized different spiritual disciplines as tools for experiencing God’s love. While there can be powerful moments of healing and growth, these tools aren’t meant to be a one-off or quick fix. They’re meant to be utilized rhythmically and consistently through the ebbs of flows of our life with God. Our experience of God’s love matters to him: he doesn’t want you just to know he loves you, but he wants you to experience his love for you throughout your lifetime with him.
Talk through the following discussion questions:
Our experience of God’s love is something that inevitably ebbs and flows as we grow as followers of Jesus. A lack of experience or intensity of experience doesn’t necessarily reflect a person’s spiritual maturity or lack thereof.
As you answer these questions, do your best to resist any temptation to compare your experience of God’s love to others – a lifetime of faithfulness to Jesus will mean that you will go through many different seasons of experiencing God’s love.
- Reflect for a moment on your internal response to God when you spend time with him (or when you plan to spend time with him). Whether prominent or subtle, what sort of internal response(s) do you have that hinder you from spending quality time with God (e.g., anxiety, anger, boredom, shame, fear, cynicism, etc.)?
- Over the last week, can you point to a specific moment where you experienced God’s love? If you’re having difficulty recalling one, why do you think that is?
- Imagine you were aware of and experienced God’s love consistently throughout each day. How might that impact this upcoming week, with all its responsibilities, anticipated and unanticipated successes and failures, and challenges you will face?
Talk about this week’s Practice as a Community:
Historically, two spiritual disciplines that followers of Jesus have utilized to experience God’s love are imaginative prayer and the Examen.
Imaginative prayer uses a person’s God-given imagination to picture in their mind’s eye their interactions with Jesus (and his response to them) as they pray. Imaginative prayer helps ground our prayers in images that are more concrete than just a string of abstract thoughts.
The Examen guides a person to reflect on the day’s events and their reactions to these, drawing the person’s attention to God’s presence and grace throughout the day that they may have overlooked otherwise.
For this week’s Practice, do one of the following two options:
Spend three times in imaginative prayer this week.
If you have some familiarity with imaginative prayer, our suggestion would be to choose a story of Jesus from one of the Gospels. Read the same story each of the three times you do imaginative prayer. When you read the story, picture in your mind what it would look like to be one of the characters in the story. What are they seeing, hearing, and feeling? What would you think if you were that person? What is Jesus saying about you and your life through this story?
If you are new(er) to imaginative prayer, it might be helpful to keep it simple to start. You can follow this outline:
- Pray and invite God’s Spirit to lead your mind. Take a few deep breaths in and out to calm yourself.
- Picture in your mind’s eye sitting in a room with an empty chair in front of you. Allow the details to take shape in your mind; however, don’t worry if some of them are fuzzy or incomplete.
- Once you have the empty chair firmly in your mind, imagine Jesus coming and sitting down in the chair in front of you. Take note of how you see Jesus’s posture and how his presence strikes you. (If Jesus is a bit fuzzy in your mind, that’s fine.)
- Ask Jesus a question or two that seems pressing to you for that specific day. Wait for his response. He may respond by saying something or simply with an action.
- Ask Jesus if he wants you to know anything. Wait for his response.
- Thank Jesus for your time together.
Spend four times this week doing the Examen. Your time can range from 5 minutes to 20 minutes (or longer). Don’t rush the time, but allow it to be however long it needs to be. A person typically does the Examen near the end of the day. You can follow these steps for the Examen:
- Take a moment to get comfortable and take a few deep breaths, letting your shoulders drop and feeling your body relax. Acknowledge (out loud or in your mind) that God is present with you at this moment by his Spirit.
- Think about your day, and find things you were thankful for, even if it was a rough day. Name any moments that you felt particularly close to God or were aware of his presence or something he spoke to you (whether they seemed profound in the moment or not). No need to list everything, just the things that first come to mind.
- Once more, think about your day and the emotional ebbs and flows. What kinds of emotions did you have? What were they in response to?
- Talk with Jesus about the highs and lows of your day and how you responded to those in the moment. Talk to him about any lingering stress, shame, etc. Talk to him about the positive things as well.
- Sit for a moment quietly, listening to see how the Spirit is speaking or moving in this moment. When you’re finished, end your time by thanking God for meeting with you.
Be prepared to talk with your Community next week about how your time of imaginative prayer or the Examen went for you.
Close in prayer
End your time as a group by having one person say the Nicene Creed.
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.