I’ve long been fascinated, motivated, inspired, equipped, and encouraged by small-group Bible-study with other men. Yes, I enjoy and benefit from mixed sessions, but – especially understanding how men tend to be wired – there is a particular benefit to such homogeneous groupings that will always keep me involved.
There is a sense in which we need one-another in order to be fully functioning spiritually. Yes, this is true of every believer, regardless of gender; however, it seems to be in the nature of “The North American Male” to cultivate a general defensiveness when it comes to peeling back the layers and inviting God into our deeper selves.
Fact is, we need encouragement even to allow ourselves access to our deeper selves… let alone our friends, our spouse, or our God.
The Ark of the Covenant:
My Wednesday evening study group is taking a look at the Old Testament book of Samuel (I & II). It’s a great story, full with action, intrigue, rebellion, fighting, love, betrayal, pathos, redemption, and more.
This week we read the story of how the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines, and what happened as a result. Read 1 Samuel 4-7 and you’ll get a good idea of the pace of the entire book.
Our conversation was – as always – wide-ranging. My facilitation style is 1-part steering, 2-parts asking good questions, 3-parts listening, and 5-parts relying on the Holy Spirit.
In retrospect, the meat of the evening’s conversation seemed to revolve around the following part of the story, after the Ark of the Covenant had been passed from village, to village, to village, and ultimately back to one of the border communities:
Then the people of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? To whom shall he go so that we may be rid of him?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to you.”(1 Samuel 6:20-21)
Stiff-arming God: It seemed to us that the Philistines (like us) had the option of turning away from their idols, and following the One God. But instead they got scared and wanted nothing to do with the Creator. “To whom shall he go so that we may be rid of him?” they said.
If we are honest – and we spend a lot of time at our small-groups trying our best to do just that – we have to admit that we invest a great deal of effort attempting to place a comfortable distance between our inner selves and the God we say that we love and trust.
So we talked about carrying our own Ark of the Covenant around with us, deliberately keeping the presence of God near.
At the end of chapter 4, the wife of Eli’s son Phinehas has a baby; she names the child Ichabod (meaning, literally, “inglorious”). “Because,” she said in one of the saddest passages in scripture, “the glory has departed from Israel.” (1 Samuel 4:19-22)
We know with all our hearts that God’s presence is not restricted to a building, a temple, or a wooden box such as the Ark of the Covenant (see John 4:19-24). However, we do sometimes need symbolic help when it comes to paying attention to God, to inviting that presence into our moment-by-moment.
What can you do, today, to remind yourself that God is – absolutely – with you? What can we do to avoid being an Ichabod?
(the bird photos are gratuitous! Enjoy!)