(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
A Longing for Holiness
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Hebrews 10:22-25, 12:10-15
Methodist editor J. Richard Peck wrote, “John Wesley graduated from Oxford University and became a priest in the Church of England in 1728. Beginning in 1729, he participated in the Holy Club, a religious study group organized by his brother Charles (1707-1788)….Bound by covenant, they worshipped, prayed and studied — and visited prisoners and cared for the poor, orphans and the sick, emphasizing both personal and social holiness.” (You can read Peck’s entire article at http://interpretermagazine.org/interior.asp?ptid=43&mid=12528)
Psalm 147:7-12, Matthew 4:8-11
John Wesley sought to live a “holy and devout life” and adopted many “methods” to help him live that way. Regular worship was one of those crucial methods for Wesley. It is still an essential “method” for Christians. Yet we don’t worship our “methods,” abilities, or anything else about ourselves. The ultimate, appropriate object of our worship is always God.
Psalm 42:5-8, 1 Thessalonians 3:5-10
Both the Old and New Testaments spoke of regular prayer, both day and night, as a habit characteristic of God’s people (cf. also Daniel 6:10, Luke 2:37, 6:12). Through the centuries, various Christian groups developed ways of “praying the hours.” The Wesley brothers and their Oxford friends, too, chose to pray at specified times every day.
Acts 17:1-12, Romans 15:2-7
From its very start (cf. Luke 24:25-27, Acts 2:22-36), the Christian faith believed deeply that the Bible (at first, only in the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament), carefully and rightly read, bear witness to Jesus. Paul believed that; so did the people he preached to in Berea. John and Charles Wesley also saw careful Bible study as a key “method” for spiritual growth. (They were Oxford students, so they often studied the New Testament in Greek!)
One key reality that John Wesley grasped early from his worship and Bible study was that true holiness wasn’t just personal, but social. He and his friends got actively involved in helping prisoners and widows in Oxford. Holding together personal and social holiness has remained important to Wesley’s spiritual descendants ever since.
1 Peter 1:13-16
An inner hunger for holiness was the guiding flame that illuminated all of John Wesley’s life and teaching. As he found, holiness is a broad Bible word, taking in all of God’s vast love and goodness (cf. Isaiah 6:3), and all the good things God desires us to be. Peter invited his Christian readers to “let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.” (verse 15, The Message).
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, you called your ancient people, and you call us, to be different. We pray that we might become ever more different, ever more holy, as your people. We wish to obey and become truly free. Draw us to the Bible. Increase our hunger to understand and act on your guidance. Lead us in our prayers and teach us to listen even as we speak to you. Increase our desire to worship you, and let our fellowship with one another spark our love for others. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Would you say that Americans spend a lot of time entertaining themselves with TV, computers, IPods, video games, etc., or a little? Are these practices so excessive as to be good or bad for us as individuals and for America as a culture? Are there some worthwhile practices that you see diminishing in modern society?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Hebrews 10:22-25, 12:10-15. In what ways is it beneficial for Christians to meet together? Can these meetings spark increased holiness? In our meetings, how do we tend to encourage one another? What has shaped your view of what “holiness” means? What image does the concept of “holiness” conjure for you? What image does the world tend to have of the idea of holiness? What might prevent you from wanting to become more “holy”?
Read Psalm 147:7-12, Matthew 4:8-11. Is it hard to believe that your worship brings joy to God? How does knowing that God rejoices in your worship affect your relationship with God? Does it sometimes feel as though the world has accepted the offer the devil made to Christ? Is the world embracing all the “things” the devil was offering? Is the world worshipping the devil by embracing the “stuff” he offers? What is some of that “stuff”? Which of the devil’s offerings seem to be the most tempting to you–money? Fame? Power? Something else? How can we resist these temptations? Can we still be contributing members of society without embracing these things? Can we contribute more by choosing different values?
Read Psalm 42:5-8, 1 Thessalonians 3:5-10. Does prayer make a difference? Why do you think so? How often should we pray? Who benefits most from your prayers–you, others or God? How can we keep our prayers fresh and new? Does God get tired of hearing repetitive prayers? Do you get tired of offering repetitive prayers? How can we make our prayers more “effective”? Is prayer always us speaking to God, or is listening and being quiet also a part of praying? Can our reactions to seeing something beautiful, enjoying some event or savoring a wonderful meal also become a part of prayer?
Read Acts 17:1-12, Romans 15:2-7. Paul believed that careful Bible study is an important “method” for spiritual growth. How important is this today? Are modern Christians committed enough to the Bible? How important is it for us to read the Bible daily? Is our faith weakened when we fail to receive this “spiritual food”? Do you project yourself and your life situation into what you read in the Bible? What makes you avoid reading the Bible? Is it necessary that you understand everything you read in the Bible the first time we read it? How can we understand more of the Bible? Have you ever taken an in-depth Bible study class? Has reading the Bible with others helped you understand more of what you read?
Read James 1:22-27. What a powerful message! Isn’t it amazing that in so few words we, as Christians can find words to live by? What do these verses say to you? Is an intellectual knowledge of the Bible enough to sustain our faith? What is necessary in addition to this knowledge? Is James’ definition of “true religion” optional, or does it point to a kind of activity to which God calls all of Christ’s followers? What is it that James says gives us freedom? How can obedience bring a feeling of true freedom? How can doing whatever we please cause us to feel something akin to slavery?
Read 1 Peter 1:13-16. The biblical word for holy is hagios. Hagios means “different”. As people of faith, how should we be “different” from others? In what ways are you personally different as a result of your faith? Are you willing to be different? Are you willing to be even more different, more like Christ and his teachings?
From last week: Did you read more about John Wesley and the Methodist movement from the extensive history available online? Did you carefully and prayerfully consider the life and teaching of Wesley, and the effect he has had on your beliefs and your life? Share with the group whatever you learned about him and yourself.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, August 18, 2013:
Wesley would earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Christ Church, arguably one of the finest Oxford University colleges ….He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1724, went on for his master’s degree, and was, in 1726, elected as a fellow of Lincoln College. Fellows were professors, instructors and tutors who also governed a particular college. They received housing, meals and an annual salary. They were also expected to do research. Wesley was a lecturer in Greek and philosophy. Most people don’t think of Wesley as an Oxford professor, but he referred to himself as a fellow of Lincoln College throughout most of his life.
It is unusual to think that an Oxford professor of Greek and philosophy started a revival, but it points to something important about Methodists and the revival they led. Methodism is often described as a “thinking person’s church.” Presbyterians and Episcopalians think of themselves this way too. But what set Methodists apart was that they combined the intellectual approach to faith of the Presbyterians and Episcopalians with a passionate, evangelical faith. As Norman MacLean notes in his novel A River Runs Through It, his Presbyterian father described Methodists as “Baptists who could read.” Baptists were known for passion and zeal, while Presbyterians and Episcopalians were known for their emphasis on the intellect. Methodists held these two together.
This has, from the beginning, been a hallmark of Methodism. In America the same folks who held religious revivals (called “camp meetings”) started colleges and universities to educate leaders to change the world. The very first university of any kind founded in Kansas was Baker University, founded by the Methodists. The second university founded in Kansas was also founded by the Methodists–Blue Mont Central College in Manhattan, Kansas. Three years after its founding it became Kansas State University.
The University of Missouri, Kansas City was initially the vision of the Methodist Church, and its first classes were held in the Central Methodist Church. Methodists started hundreds of colleges and universities including Duke, Syracuse, Southern Methodist, Emory, Northwestern, University of Southern California, Boston University, Vanderbilt and many more….
Wesley began to see that the goal of the Christian life was to be holy as God is holy, to be consumed by love for God and for neighbor, to always and everywhere wish to avoid evil and positively do good….
It was this longing to be holy in all his conduct, to be disciplined and put aside the desires that were not holy, that defined Wesley’s life at this point. And it was this that marked the beginning of the 18th-century Methodist revival. Wesley became aware of his own brokenness, looked to Christ as a pattern for his life, and came to believe that God wants to restore us as human being….
By this time he was 26, his young brother Charles, 22, who was finishing his bachelor’s degree at Oxford, had begun the quest for holiness. He and a couple of friends were meeting to encourage one another in the faith as they studied the scriptures. They asked John to be their mentor. Soon another joined them and these four young men began seeking to encourage one another to “do all for the glory of God.” They worshiped together, prayed together, studied together, and soon began serving others together. They would fast two days a week until 3 p.m. They would receive the Eucharist weekly. They read and meditated upon the Bible daily. Soon they began visiting the prisons to minister to prisoners. They began tutoring orphans. They visited the sick and the elderly….
Soon their fellow students began to mock them for their efforts at holiness. They came to call these young people the “Bible moths” or “the Holy Club.” To mock them for their methodical approach to the Christian life, their methodical practices for growing in faith, they came to be called Methodists. The room at Lincoln College, and the four twenty-somethings that met together there, were the beginnings of Methodism. From these four young men the movement spread across the country and around the world.
Wesley’s individual pursuit of holiness would not have gone very far, were it not for the way he gathered with others, both to teach and to learn and to hold one another accountable. It is in meeting with others we find the power and encouragement we need as we seek be holy as he is holy. It is also there that we find stretcher bearers who carry us when we’re weak.
John Wesley and the Spiritual Disciplines
John Wesley used to start his covenant group meetings with the question, “How is it with your soul?” Spiritual formation is not something we do, it’s who we are. It is the care and nurture of our soul. The spiritual disciplines are ancient practices through which Christians have nurtured their souls for thousands of years. Take some time to explore these channels of God’s grace.
Prayer: “To live the life of prayer means to emerge from my drowse, to awaken to the communing, guiding, healing, clarifying, and transforming current of God’s Holy Spirit in which I am immersed” (Douglas V. Steere). Simply put, prayer is a conversation with God. There are many ways to pray. Prayer is the language through which we speak to God and participate in his Kingdom work.
Worship: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God” (William Temple). Jesus tells us in John 4 that we are to worship “in spirit and truth.” Worship is not about a place, but an attitude. Worship happens wherever we meet God and sense his presence.
Fasting: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us” (Richard Foster). Technically, fasting is abstinence from food for some period of time. But the discipline of fasting can relate to abstaining from anything that we habitually depend upon in order to increase our dependence on God. We see this practiced most often during the season of Lent, when Christians give up something in sympathy with the suffering of Christ. But as Richard Foster points out, we should give up anything that controls us and reduces our dependency on God.
Scripture: “We will only be happy in our reading of the Bible when we dare to approach it as the means by which God really speaks to us, the God who loves us and will not leave us with our questions unanswered” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). There are two ways to read scripture: informationally and formationally. We study the Bible to understand its universal message and truth. We read the Bible formationally when we are receptive to the personal truth that God reveals to us individually.
Study: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The spiritual disciplines help us trade our worldly habits for holy habits. We all read and listen to the radio or television. But how much of that steady diet of words is God’s Word? Through the discipline of study we immerse ourselves in the thoughts of other Christians and examine our own beliefs and attitudes in light of God’s truth. In addition to reading scripture, we should study the spiritual classics of the past and of today.
Stewardship: “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). Stewardship is our act of worship and gratitude to God for all that he has given to us. We primarily think of our finances when we hear the word “stewardship,” but this discipline applies to anything and everything that God has given us to take care of. When we think of everything we have as belonging to God (Deut. 10:14), then we make different decisions with our resources.
Solitude: The greatest threat to spiritual growth is not creating enough white space in our calendars and our heads to spend listening to God. Hurry is the enemy of transformation. In unhurried silence we can see and hear things that are normally drowned out in the rush of our days. If we retreat into the desert of our minds, we allow God to reveal himself to us. He will also reveal those thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are preventing us from growing closer to him.
Fellowship: “Christianity means community in and through Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this, whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years. While it is important to have time in solitude, it is equally essential to spend time in Christian community and fellowship. We are meant to live out our faith with others, not alone. Fellowship can happen in groups, or one-on-one. This is how we can connect with the Body of Christ.
Service: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should also do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15). When we serve others we practice the discipline of humility. We are called to humble ourselves to care for others. It’s not what we do that matters, but the attitude with which we do it. Through service we show God’s love to those who desperately need to know that they are loved.
This week, prayerfully consider the list of spiritual disciplines listed above. Ask yourself which of those disciplines need your greater attention. Each day, try to incorporate these disciplines into your daily life. Next week, share with the group how you did.