Week Three: Close to the Father’s Heart

Set-up:

Create a welcoming environment for your small group. Ideally, chairs are arranged around a table, or there are chairs in a circle. However, this depends on where you meet. You may decide to have some kind of devotional help (a reminder that your time together is set apart, such as a candle, cross or icon) or you may not. You may wish to have a written agenda for the evening, and the group expectations visible, although that is also optional.

Needed materials:

  • An extra copy of Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journal in case a participant forgets his or hers.
  • Books of Common Prayer for each participant, or access to bcponline.org. Hymnals optional.
  • A bible (or smartphone; you can access a free New Revised Standard Version at bible.oremus.org) for use during worship.
  • Paper (you may wish to use legal or 11×18) for group members.
  • Writing utensils for participants.

Learning outcomes:

  • Participants will be able to articulate what it means to have intimacy with God.

Gathering Prayer:

Invite participants to be seated comfortably either around a table or in a circle of chairs. If there is a candle, light the candle. Invite participants into a period of silence. You may wish to keep silence for 1-4 minutes. However long you decide, let the group know how long it will be, and that you are keeping time. At the end of the silence, pray this or another suitable prayer:

Jesus, just as you lived in intimate union and daily communion with your Father, so draw us to yourself in love that we may live in this same intimacy and communion with you; so that all that we do and all that we say may flow from your divine life abiding in us. Amen.

Check-in:

Using the process of mutual invitation as outlined in “Getting Started: Meeting Jesus” begin the check-in process with your group.

  • When did you feel particularly close to God/Jesus/Holy Spirit this week?
  • How was the process of journaling? What surprised you? (N.B. this is a question about process “How did journaling/praying go for you?” not content “What did you journal about?”)

Small Group Activity:

In this activity participants will see patterns in their spiritual life as they make a chart of their ups and downs with their relationship with God. Participants will be invited to share a portion of their chart with the group.

Distribute paper to participants. Invite them to turn the paper to landscape orientation, and draw a line across the middle of the paper. Label one end “Birth” and the other end “Now.” Ask them mark major life events on the horizontal line. After participants have done that, invite them to write “Close to God” at the top of the paper, and “Away from God” at the bottom of the paper. Now ask them to chart their relationship with God as closer or further away at different times in their life. They are not judging these moments, merely observing. No one will be asked to share their chart unless they would like to.

When everyone has completed the exercise your group can proceed in two ways: Either participants may identify a time on their chart and talk about it, or they can identify the highest or lowest parts of their chart and talk about them. What was it like to be close to or far away from God at that moment? Why were they there? What made that experience stand out?

Small Group Conversation:

Directed conversation is the heart of a small group. Sharing our personal stories and accounts of faith is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality. Tips for a fruitful conversation can be found here.

Here are some questions to get your conversation started. It may be that  you move through all of them, or have a deep conversation with the first question you ask. You may choose to ask your own question that speaks to the needs of your group. What matters is that participants are engaged with each other. These questions are based on the experience of the Living God and responses will be unique to each person. There is no right or wrong answers, there is only further discussion and exploration of our relationship with God and one another.

Discussion Questions:

The word intimate is from the Latin, intimare, “to make known.” To be intimate, one must really know the other. What is the process of becoming intimate with someone? How long does it take? What sort of relationships create intimacy? (Emphasize that group members should be using “I” or “me” statements, not broad generalizations.)

What does it feel like to be intimate with someone? How do people act differently when they are close with one another?

In the introduction to Week Three, the brothers write: “Knowing that this intimacy [with God] is possible is one thing; realizing that it is essential to our life and fruitfulness is another. It is a gift to be treasured and nurtured.” Can you tell a story about a time when you learned to be more intimate with God?

How are you actively encouraging intimacy with others and with God? How are you actively or passively discouraging intimacy with others and with God?

Jesus had an innate and special connection with God, but Jesus also actively fostered intimacy with God through time spent alone praying. What are some of ways you have learned to create space for your relationship with God?

How does social media or technology get in the way of intimacy with God or with others? In what ways does social media enhance intimacy with God or with others?

Check-out:

Invite group members to share feedback with each other by using one of these prompts:

  • Where did the group have a lot of energy? Where was the energy lacking?
  • Where did you feel close to God? Where did you feel far away from God?
  • Where did you meet Jesus in your session today?
  • Where did you see light from the Holy Spirit?
  • What did you notice about our time together?
  • [If short on time!] Please describe our time together in one word.

Housekeeping details:

  • Remind group members that they will start with Week Four Day One in their journal tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is I Have Called You Friends.
  • Remind participants that videos are available online [link], and that the social media campaign will be starting if they would like to participate online.  
  • Ask for a volunteer to lead worship next week, if this hasn’t already been decided.
  • If there is a meal or refreshments, remind the group of their decisions regarding food and clean-up, or ask for volunteers.

Worship:

Worship is the time we give thanks to God for all the gifts of our life and for our time together. Because Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a gift of the Society for Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic order in the Episcopal church, we recommend using the Daily Office, which is a cornerstone of monastic life.

Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, found on pages 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a wonderful and simple framework for your prayer time together. You may choose to use the recommended psalms and readings found in the BCP; supplement with our recommended readings; prayers and songs; or choose your own. Hymns may be sung a capella, or read as poetry. Be sure to make time for prayer intercessions, and encourage the group to pray for one another and loved ones.

For the week of Close to the Father’s Heart, we recommend:

  • Scripture: John 5:19-24
  • Hymn: Take my life, and let it be (Hymnal 1982 #707) Loving Spirit (Wonder, Love and Praise #742)
  • Collect: Jesus, just as you lived in intimate union and daily communion with your “Father,” so draw us to yourself in love that we may live in this same intimacy and communion with you; so that all that we do and all that we say may flow from your divine life abiding in us. Amen.

If your group is meeting in the evening, you may also wish to use the service of Compline, found on page 127. This is a brief, beautiful, and very popular service.

Your worship leader may wish to do something more creative or context-specific, like use another liturgy, lead a meditation, invite participants into silence, lead participants in song, or use prayer beads together. There are many other ways to worship God. Taking into consideration the theme for the week, we invite you to explore what that might look like together.