Overview- We have created five sessions of about an hour each. Plan to give your team a short reflection break after each session so they can journal one idea that spoke to them. After the third session, you might want a longer break for a meal, a walk, or something that will refresh your team members.
Session 1-Exploring the Topic
In this initial session the goal is to help your team begin to think and discuss together the topic of suffering and spiritual formation.
- Film clip or testimony - 15 min
Brent Campbell clip (National Staff Conference 2014) 6 minutes
- Have you had something like this happen to you? Would you be willing to describe it for others?
- What motivated the men in the truck to utter the slurs they did? Where did they learn that?
- How does Brent name his suffering?
- Do you agree with the response that Brent made? Why or why not?
- Group Discussion
Entry Questions--summarize these thoughts on an easel pad.
- When you hear the word suffering, what do you think of? What associations does it have?
- What is your experience of hardship? Where do you suffer?
- Where do our students suffer hardship?
- Where does our society or our world?
- What are the common elements in this hardship and suffering?
- it is painful
- it is unwanted
- it can produce fear
- it can seem unsolvable
- we think of it individualistically
- How do you connect suffering or hardship and your spiritual life in Christ?
- not looking for conclusive answers here but identifying where the audience is
- Tour through American culture to see how we tend to deal with suffering
- Project a TV advertisement or have others look through magazines; on an easel pad, record the values that are expressed in these pieces.
- Why do most Americans avoid or even disdain suffering?
- our history of Christianity as a nation, believing that God is for us and wants us to be fulfilled (this is true of course, more for whites than others groups)
- we are pragmatic more than philosophical, and believe that we can and should solve our problems ourselves
- we have a deep confidence that technology can solve all of our problems, e.g., take a pill
- we deeply believe that if we do the right things we will be rewarded
- Conclusion -- we are given many messages that suffering can and should be avoided, and that suffering and hardship have no real connection to our spirituality
Session 2- Scripture Study Hebrews 12:1-13
Depending upon the size of your team, you could do this Bible study as a whole group, or in small discussion groups. You can use the link to the PDF file to print a scripture handout for your team members. ( Scripture Passages for Suffering and Spiritual Formation.pdf )
- Read through Heb 11:24-40; what do you see in common among the stories? Why did the characters listed elect or persevere in hardship? What is faith in light of these stories?
- More than the conviction of things unseen (v1), it is the action that comes from a radical commitment that the Kingdom is worth more than their lives
- It is always action that reveals faith, not the mere expression of our beliefs.
- Their “perfection” (v 40) was the goal; this means not moral perfection, but the fulfillment of their purpose, which is God’s purpose, of seeing the kingdom come in its fullness everywhere. For this they gave up everything, such perfection was worth all that they had.
- Read Heb 12:1-3; why did Christ suffer willingly? How is he an example for us in our suffering?
- It was the anticipation of fulfilling the Father’s purpose for him, which to him was joyful; it is exactly what James means in James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
- Jesus sanctifies suffering, helping us to see that it is
- God’s will
- not shameful,
- is bearable with joy,
- draws us next to God
- Jesus is the pioneer by going before us; he is our perfecter of our faith by bringing his very life in us
- Read Heb 12:4-13; why is discipline (Gk: paideia, literally= training of children) a mark of a true parent-child relationship?
- Discipline is an expression of love that is necessary because children are unformed as well as sinful. A parent’s obligation is to reproduce healthy life in their children--mothers do this in bringing healthy physical life, life that mirrors the physical features of the parents; both parents together bring healthy emotional/spiritual life by shaping in the womb of the family the moral and spiritual commitments that reflect the parent’s faith.
- Done well, it leads to respect; it makes us to share in the likeness of the discipliner.
How is God the Father’s discipline alike and different from a natural parent’s?
- It is the same because
- it is done for the welfare of the child
- It is not pleasant
- It affirms the (legitimate) place in the family for the child
- It differs because
- God is so much wiser than we as parents
- it is truly for our Good, that “we may share in his holiness,” that is, in Christ’s character.
- It is for a long while, not just the first few years of life.
- What does the passage then tell us about hardship and spiritual formation?
- They are closely connected; the fruit of holiness in our lives, which is both in character and action, fruit in our soul and fruit in the Kingdom.
- We do well to “not forget the discipline of the Lord” (v5), which is “a word of encouragement” (Gk paraklesis) to us.
- It invites us to “submit to the Father of our spirits” (v. 9--that is why this is spiritual formation) and “live” (that is why this is so crucial). God is unlike any other: He knows our spirits, that is, each of us individually, and tailors our lives to encounter what we need at every moment, but always moving us toward holiness, not happiness.
- Hardship is our daily lot, thank God; every day we have the chance to be encouraged--producing a harvest of Christ-likeness in us.
Take a few minutes to write down your thoughts that you might teach to a newer Christian about the role of suffering and hardship for the Christian life. Share your statement with a partner.
Where are there hardships--think about something that has recently made you angry or sad--that are opportunities for growth or maturity in faith? You will have a time of guided reflection now to discern where you see your Father’s hand in it.
Session 3- Personal Reflection on Hardship or Suffering
Invite the members of your team to take forty-five minutes for personal reflection. At the end of that time, have them meet in prayer partners to share what they discovered. A PDF file is provided so you can print copies of the guide if you so desire.
- Identify a hardship or loss that you have experienced in the last year that you want to explore further with Jesus.
- Write down the essentials as you understand them. What happened or is happening? What was/is your reaction to the hardship or loss?
- How have you sought to bring your situation into God’s presence? What Scripture or insights from friends have helped you?
- How have you asked Jesus into the suffering? In Phil 3:10, Paul asks to share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] suffering.” How is your hardship leading you toward or away from that fellowship?
- Has the experience led you to something fruitful or toward bitterness? Is it possible for you to imagine what gift there might be in the suffering or hardship? How might that be helpful for others?
- What questions remain for you that you can offer at Jesus’ feet?
( Suffering Personal Reflection.pdf )
In this section we have listed five resources that can be used by individuals or groups to further explore the subject of Suffering and Spiritual Formation.
1. The Daily Examen is a practice used by Christians for the past 500 years to pay attention to their souls. Most of us live at such a fast pace that our lives become superficial and meaningless. One positive benefit of suffering is that it forces us to slow down and ask ourselves more primary questions. The Daily Examen is a spiritual exercise that helps us ask the most primary question of all—“Where is God for me today?” ( Daily Examin.pdf )
2. Lament in the Hebrew Bible is an expression of sorrow, a description of distress, or a protest about injustice. It is a literary art form used by God’s people to bring their pain, their complaint, and their outrage to their Holy God. We have included four corporate laments that could be used at an area team meeting or chapter event. ( Four Laments.pdf )
3. Guided Retreat Days are a way to provide space for members of your staff team to process more deeply what is going on inside. Most of the people we work with believe in the value of retreat days but few have the self discipline to do one. Consider inviting members of your team to do a retreat day together. You can find instructions on how to organize the day here. This page lists retreat guides that members of your team can download and use.
4. Scripture Reflection is the act of choosing a passage from the Bible to prayerfully read, reflect upon, and savor for a period of time. The time frame could be anywhere from an hour to months. Some have found it helpful to engage the text artistically by drawing, painting, or writing poetry. Listed below are topics and Bible passages that you could consider.
- Physical injury or accident or illness-Luke 5:17-26 The paralytic
- Frustrated expectations—1 Kings 19- Elijah in the wilderness
- Loneliness—Psalm 102, Psalm 27, 2 Timothy 4:16-18
- Depression/sadness—Psalm 42
- Unanswered prayer—Psalm 5, Psalm 6
- Racial or gender or other discrimination- The Book of Esther
- Persecution—The Book of Habakkuk, Acts 8:1-3, 2 Peter
- Sin – one’s own or others—Psalm 32, Psalm 51
- Death of another-Genesis 50, The death of Jacob
5. Books and Films are another way to engage the topic of suffering and spiritual formation. Brainstorm with your team options that you could do together. Here are a few ideas we came up with.
The Shack, William Dean Young
Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolsterstorf
A Grief Observed, CS Lewis
A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser
When God Interrupts by W. Craig Barnes
Joni - Joni Erickson Tada
Affliction by Edith Schaeffer
Suffering and the Search for Meaning by Richard Rice
Prophetic Lament, A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah
Joy in the Journey by Steve and Sharol Hayner
Additional books on suffering available at InterVarsity Press
Films to Watch and Discuss
Life is Beautiful
Session 5 Make a Plan
What parts of the day’s training might be applicable to the students you serve? Is there a corporate spiritual discipline related to suffering and spiritual formation that you would like to practice together? Invite the campus staff members to take 30 minutes to discuss these two questions. Ask them to make a plan for implementation and report back to the group when they are done.
Take time to Pray