← Return to Articles

Smiling Back At Jesus

Small Groups | by Mark Nordlund

    Have you noticed how whenever someone smiles at you that you reflexively smile back?  This phenomenon is evidence of something called mirror neurons in our brains.  When we recognize a feeling in someone else it is experienced and mirrored in our brains . . . and sometimes even acted out!  Mirror neurons are one of the ways God wired us to be deeply connected and impacted by relationships. 

    I like to think of our spiritual growth in this way.  Jesus is smiling at us and, as we trust his incredible love, we respond and a smile comes over us.  Our faces mirror the loving smile of Jesus.

    Small groups at GPBC are Jesus communities where ordinary people are learning to live out a radical, trusting response to Jesus’ love.  They are communities helping people follow Jesus together.  But how does this kind of transformation occur?  In his article, How to Pursue Spiritual Growth in Small Groups, Bill Donahue offers three helpful observations about spiritual growth:

    Spiritual Growth is Communal

    Spiritual Growth is for Everyone

    Spiritual Growth Takes Effort

    In his first observation, Spiritual Growth is Communal, Donahue points out what most of us already know – that the Jesus life is meant to be lived together.  I was blessed by the REVEAL research that he cited about the uniqueness of communities that are Christ-centered.  “Those [groups] most committed to Christ (“Christ-centered” in REVEAL terminology) had the highest participation rates in groups and in other forms of community such as spiritual friendships, serving teams, and spiritual mentors.”

    Spiritual Growth is for Everyone reminded me of Pastor Wayne saying that the “normal Christian” is a growing follower of Jesus.  While I may see Jesus changing the lives of others, sometimes it is hard to trust that Jesus can truly transform me.  Donahue quotes Todd Hunter from his book, Christianity Beyond BeliefWe are cooperative friends with Jesus, living in creative goodness, for the sake of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  It’s because of the Friend we all share that we can be changed and can change the world.

     The final observation, Spiritual Growth Takes Effort, can sound like transformation is all about our strength or good works, but not so.  Spiritual growth is never about our good works, but it does require our response.  He notes that Dallas Willard often said, “God is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”  Donahue concludes with this encouragement:

    “Whatever we do, we must not do it alone.  In community we will discover what real transformation looks like: ordinary people like you and me, meeting in average small groups, led by reluctant leaders, fueled by the transforming grace of God, and empowered by his Spirit.  It’s a messy process, this community thing.  And it takes effort.  But the church—this ragtag group of spiritual misfits—is called to live in a community of oneness for the sake of others.  And I, for one, am continuing to learn more about how to enter this community with honesty, humility, and skill.”