Have you ever walked into a cobweb? You probably had to struggle to remove the sticky substance from your skin, hair, and clothes, and even then it may have been impossible to remove all the sticky nuisance. You may have needed someone to help you. The same is true for the bondage we face in life. We need help to reach freedom.
Encountering the Lazaruses of Our World
Most people are familiar with the biblical story of Lazarus. We have heard how Jesus wept and called this dead man from the grave, bringing him back to life. However, this story displays not only Christ's power, but also the power God has given us. John 11:44 states, "The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.' "
This passage speaks multitudes about how God has empowered believers to help free others. Within the first portion of this verse, the description of Lazarus is given: "The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face." Death had bound him on so many levels. As he retreated from his death bed, the reminders of death still bound Lazarus. He was unable to unwind his own linen because his hands were wrapped. Lazarus needed help in order to be freed.
We, like Lazarus, need to be freed from the consequences of the Fall. The Centers for Disease Control reports one out of ten adults experiences depression. Additionally, the American Psychological Association notes that in 2010 the majority of Americans reported moderate to high levels of stress due to economic crises and trouble balancing family and work life. What does this mean? Many people in our world today are just like Lazarus. People stationed in your small group are bound in the "grave clothes" of stress, depression, economic woes, and sin, and they are searching for freedom. They are crying out as best they can through their souls' muffled linen coverings. And we have the opportunity to help free them.
The Power to Free Others
The remainder of the verse shows God's design to use us to help free others. When Lazarus exited the tomb, Jesus told those at the tomb, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Why didn't Jesus unwrap the grave clothes? Why didn't Jesus call on just one person to help unwrap Lazarus? Because God uses us all to help free others.
God has empowered us to free those in bondage, to loose their grave clothes. God has called us to love one another and carry one another's burdens. Small groups have the incredible opportunity to embody that call. As 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 notes, often God places us in someone's path because we understand the grave clothes in which that person is wrapped. We know how to help free the person because God has allowed us to receive wisdom through experience. Maybe we have faced the loss of a child, divorce, depression, addiction, or job loss. While enduring the pain, we could not identify the purpose of the pain; however, standing with our brothers and sisters as they endure the same trials gives purpose to our pain because we are able to help lead someone to freedom.
Along with empowering us to help those enduring similar trials, pain also unites us to all who have ever lived. The Fall has made pain a universal part of life. When trials plant themselves in the middle of the lives of those we love and treasure, the trials can become magnets which draw us to one another. When we see others in pain, we are united through the shared experience of pain. We feel a sense of urgency to help brothers and sisters remove their grave clothes so we can go together to the feet of Jesus and bask in his presence.
As small-group leaders, we constantly encounter the Lazaruses of this world. The beauty of what we do is that perfection is not required in order to lead. God has provided us with our own grave clothes so that we may "declare [his] power to the next generation" (Psalm 71:18). No experience we have endured has lacked purpose. We have endured trials so that we can display God's power as we help lead members of our groups to freedom. It is our privilege to be loosers!
—Peri Gilbert is the Small-Group Coordinator at The Simple Church in Bossier City, LA.