Running a small group is kind of like performance art.
You bring a game plan along, you study and prepare, you have the beginning and the end in mind, you know what specific elements you want to include, you have a checklist of goals...
But then a dozen or so completely unique people enter the room, each with their own lives, personalities, issues, needs, questions, insights, experiences and level of preparation.
Then - and most importantly - there is the scripture selection, the grace of God, the personal interest Jesus has in each one of us and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Add all these elements together and you have my weekly small group meeting known as "The Men's Room." It's an exercise in improvisational leadership. You never know quite what is going to happen and how the time will play out.
Wednesday evening was exactly like that. And I love where the flow of all those elements took us. We're in the middle of a taking a few weeks to talk about some of our favorite Psalms. This week it was a short one, Psalm 100. Here it is - and well worth the read.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.First, I asked for a separate reading in various translations - depending on what Bibles the guys had in hand. So we heard the Psalm six times. NIV (above), NRSV, The Message, King James, NKJV, RSV.
Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
My reason was simple saturation. Over the past few weeks we've been discussing meditation, the power of repetition, and allowing God's Word to literally soak into our consciousness. So reading the short Psalm, aloud, at least half a dozen times, had exactly that effect.
Then I asked each of the men present to share a "first impression" from the reading. Everyone noted the complete absence of anything negative. No complaints, no ranting against enemies, no whining; nothing but praise. Here are some of the words/concepts they quoted: Joy. Gladness. Joyful song. Thanksgiving. Praise. Love that is relentless. Faithfulness. Unfailing love. Blessing. Mercy. Truth that endures.
We talked about the power of praise. The Bible says that God "inhabits" the praise of God's people. In The Message translation, the psalmist writes that "thank you is the password" for entering God's presence.
I really like that concept. So we talked about the effect of carrying around a thankful attitude, and of entering every experience in the context of thanksgiving and deliberate praise to God. JUST TALKING ABOUT IT WAS POWERFUL!
Every man present could tell a story about what happens when an office, a family, a team allow themselves to be defined by criticism, complaint and general bad-mouthing. Negativity is not only soul-destroying and miserable, it literally eliminates productivity.
Actually, it's deadly: One of the guys with extensive command experience in the military talked about what happens to a - unit, squad, platoon, company etc. - that develops a negative culture. It becomes essentially useless. They lose their edge, their focus, their ability to engage and the bulk of their power. The entire mission is placed at risk, along with the lives of thousands of other people.
Out entire time together yesterday evening was framed in thanksgiving, praise and - as the scripture put it - "gladness." My challenge to my guys was to begin each day this coming week by reading Psalm 100 out loud and with enthusiasm. Then, in the context of a prayer of thanksgiving, to see how such a spirit of praise might make a difference at home, at work, and in the community of faith.
We finished our time together by reading aloud, all at the same time, and with animated expression, from the varied translations we had in front of us. The result was an amazing meld of praise and language and expression and prayer that left most of us feeling powerfully engaged with God. The moment was inspiring.
The password - remember this - is "Thank You!"
With a grateful heart - DEREK