I have recently completed my forth and final year of EfM (Education for Ministry), a unique distance learning certificate program in theological education based upon small-group study and practice. During the final class we discussed how we’ve been changed and challenged by our time in the course. Four years worth of study and development came flooding back as we all shared what the course had meant to us. I realized that from the readings, to the group discussions to theological reflection exercises it really was an intense exploration of faith and service, scripture and history. At the start, I came purely with an interest in the academic and was apprehesive when it came to the group sharing, unaware that I was carrying a bag of prejudices and judgement. I found myself so frustrated in the first year by other opinions and theological points of view that I really struggled with wanting to drop it and leave. But, I remember telling myself I had to stick with it– to see if I would be changed. So, week after week I came back to that same room and to those same people and with very few exceptions, I always left changed. My mother is my witness to this fact, as I often called her after each class eager to share some insight or personal revelation I had experienced that evening. My decision to stay and see what would happen helped me understand the baggage I was carrying that was preventing me from knowing God better, through the very people I was journeying with each week. Over time, I was able to put aside that judegment and amazing personal lessons were learned.
Referencing the class, one member remarked that the Lord can do marvelous things whenever a group comes together to seek God, noting the upper rooms mentioned in various passages of the New Testament. Sitting in an upper room of the church week after week, the similarity was glaringly obvious but there was more too it that the location we came to dwell.
From the last supper to the miracle at Pentacost the image of an upper room is potent to believers. If you examine Old Testament discriptions of upper rooms it is easy to deduce their importance. Houses and palaces of the ancient world often created larger, more public spaces downstairs– receiving halls, dining rooms, and kitchens, but upper rooms were often reserved for private and intimate purposes, only for members of the household. Being able to utilize or gather in an upper room of someones home must have been a great sign of closeness and familiarity. Each time the disciples gathered in an upper room it was very deliberate and they always left changed. Their closeness to one another through shared experiences brought them closer to God. Most importantly, in that quiet, smaller, more intimate space they were able to receive God in both a personal and communial way and God was able to meet them where they were, free from the intrusions of the outside world. In essence, they found themselves in an intimate space where God could be intimate with them. In that same vein, when we can come together prepared to seek God, we can know Him in ways we never imagined. Think about what an upper room in your life might look like. Are they places where you can share your zeal for God with others; places of quiet and intimacy where God can find us? I know I have grown from my time in an upper room and I thank God in advance for the next opportunities to gather together and be changed.