That's What I Want: There Are Reasons

Last week, we looked at Paul's incredible zeal in his pursuit to know Jesus more deeply. He kept this as his sole focus. This sort of thing can be easier to do when life is comfortable, but life isn't always comfortable. Paul's life certainly wasn't always comfortable (2 Corinthians 11:16-33). This week we take a look at Paul's reasons to earnestly follow Jesus when life is difficult. 

He reminds us that we're fragile, but that there is a reason we're fragile. We are fragile so our lives can demonstrate the excellence of the power of God.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

He reminds us, in the midst of whatever our current affliction, that we have a reason to hope. 
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison... 2 Corinthians 4:17

He reminds us that while we live, there is a reason—to live as ambassadors of Christ.

Discussion Points:

  • Who have you known that lived like they knew these reasons to follow Jesus? How has their unwavering pursuit of Jesus in the midst of hardship inspired you?
  • How can we encourage each other to keep our attention on Jesus and eternity instead of letting it drift towards our present and momentary afflictions?

That's What I Want: Moving Along

Philippians 3:7-16

As we noticed last week, the laser-like focus of the apostle Paul’s faith can be seen throughout his letters. Why was Paul so intense about his faith? What drove him?

One of the more transparent passages regarding Paul’s faith journey is found in Philippians 3:7-16. Several familiar verses in this passage vividly portray the passion Paul had for following Jesus:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (3:8)

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (3:13-14)

These words reveal Paul’s insatiable drive to move in the direction of Jesus- to know him deeper and fuller every day. Paul’s motivation was Christ- everything else was in his rear-view mirror. May we possess the same defined direction in our lives.

Conversation points:

  • Talk about things in your past that had incredible importance, but are now inconsequential. What were the circumstances that led to this change?
  • Who or what do you think contributed to creating the drive Paul had for following Christ? Do you think he was influenced more by internal or external factors?
  • It is a common understanding that believers should desire a deeper relationship with Christ. How would you describe what this looks like practically in life? How can you tell when you’re growing closer to Jesus?

That's What I Want: Light it Up

Philippians 2:12-13

Our relationship with God is an individual thing. It looks different depending on what we know and how we’ve put it into practice. Life experiences can shape that relationship. Friends, family, and church can influence it, too. It seems that some grow quickly and easily, while others stagnate.

A characteristic of the apostle Paul that frequently appears in his writings is his incredible drive. Even a casual reading of Paul’s letters reveals his intense, tenacious desire to follow God and spread the Gospel, at any cost.

How did he get here? How do I get there too?

In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul focuses on this truth: spiritual progress is a matter of learning to yield. He calls on his readers to obey what they already know, listen to the insights of other spiritually mature people, and allow God to provide both the power and the desire to grow.

“Lord, help me want to do your will”

Conversation points:

  • Think about someone you know who possesses laser-focus intensity in life (their job, a relationship, an activity, etc…). What internal and/or external forces contribute to this?
  • Do you sometimes find it difficult relating to the “heroes” of the Bible? If so, how might you find a more realistic connection to their lives?
  • What makes yielding/submitting so difficult, even when we know it may result in something positive in our life?
  • The heart of this week’s passage is Paul’s instruction to “work out your salvation” because “God works in you.” How are these ideas related?

God-sized Prayer

Joshua 10:1-14

The events experienced by Joshua and the armies of Israel in Joshua 10 are truly remarkable. Joshua and his men had marched all night, a distance of twenty miles, to do battle with their enemies. He needed the battle time prolonged so his troops could catch the other armies before they reached their fortified cities. More daylight was needed, so Joshua asked God to lengthen the day. As a result, the sun did not set for a period of a completed day, creating what can best be described as a 48 hour day (possible message title: Prayer, 24/8!)

Joshua’s prayer reveals what happens when one prays with the understanding and confidence that God is indeed limitless in his generosity and capacities. Learning to walk with hope and stand in faith requires Joshua-like confidence in the bigger requests as well as the smaller stuff. The size of our prayers will reflect the size we think God is. Let's broaden our understanding of God so we too may offer God-sized, uncommon prayer.

The claims and promises of God are as big as he is- let's claim them and walk in them!

Conversation points:

  • How big is the biggest prayer you ever prayed as a child? As an adult? Are those prayers different? If so, how?
  • Can you think of times in your life when you experienced God-sized forgiveness? What were the details? How did that event change you?
  • What steps can you take to live more confidently under the promises of God? How can your group help you?

Undeserving Intervention

Exodus 32:1-14

Exodus 32 contains the details of Israel erecting a golden calf in the wilderness, a graphic example of the people’s impatience with Moses and God. If ever there was a group of people deserving complete annihilation, it was the nation of Israel at that moment. What occurs next in the text is one of the most uncommon prayers in the Bible: Moses intervened before God on behalf of God’s chosen people. This is the first of two occasions where Moses stood before an angry God, ready to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Both times Moses appealed to God's promises, God's character, and God's mercy.

What sets Christ and Christianity apart is a steadfast love for the unlovable- intervening on behalf of those who, by the world’s standards, do not deserve it (Mark 12:31). On the cross Jesus did not call on the Father to destroy his accusers, but rather to forgive them.

Jesus intervened in defense of the indefensible.

We can do the same. The uncommon prayer of undeserving intervention is what leads a church into successfully bringing the life changing reality of Jesus to our neighborhoods, our cities, and our world!

Conversation points:

  • Why are we often motivated to only show kindness to those we think “deserve it?”
  • Talk about those in your life who cannot intervene for themselves. How might you pray God’s grace for them?
  • Talk about those who are most undeserving of prayerful intervention in your life (they’ve hurt you, abandoned you, betrayed you, etc…). How might you get to a place in your heart where you can and will intervene for them?

A Prayer for Boldness

A Prayer for Boldness?

Acts 4:23-31

It is no secret that one of our deeper desires is health and safety in our lives and for the ones we love. As a result, most of our prayers center around healing for the sick, safety for those traveling, and protection from suffering. Is this the essence of prayer? Or are we meant for something greater?

The early years of the church were not easy times. The majority of 1st century believers endured incredible pain and hardship for the cause of Christ (see the apostle Paul’s life experience in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Yet in the midst of the most threatening of circumstances, Peter and John prayed for continued boldness to speak the Gospel (Acts 4:29). Uncommon!

Our prayers reveal our values. If our target goal is to faithfully carry God’s love and hope to the world, then we will pray to that end- even if it includes discomfort. Praying for boldness is uncommon prayer, but we do not need more of the same. We need to rise above the common and live victoriously the way God would have his children live. Prayers for boldness- significant, eternal life altering prayers.

Conversation points:

  • What is something you prayed about as a child but no longer think about as an adult? What caused this change?
  • What do you think contributed to the boldness exhibited by the apostles and other 1st century believers? Have you seen this in other believers today? If so, share their story with the group.
  • If someone could read a transcript of your prayer life, what would they find? What would be revealed as most important? What would be absent (or barely noticeable)?
  • How might you pray practically with boldness this week? How can this group help you?

KNOWN

Psalm 139

One of humanity’s most basic desires is to be understood… to be known. The search for significance and notoriety can lead to desperate, even ridiculous actions (see any current “reality show”). Deep down, all of us want to be known for something.

In Psalm 139, David meditates on several attributes of God that are beyond our limited, human comprehension- his omniscience (he knows it all), his omnipresence (he fills it all), and his omnipotence (he designs and controls it all). As David thinks and writes about these truths of God, the intimacy between God and David rises to the surface. From the secret way David was created to the secret thoughts of David’s heart, God knows it all. This idea reaches an apex in verse 17, when David says of God “how precious are your thoughts to me.” A better translation reads “how precious are your thoughts concerning me” or “toward me.” Essentially, David is declaring “God can’t stop thinking about me!”

You and I are known more deeply than we can imagine by the one who matters the most. Now that’s significant!

Conversation Points:

  • What is something that you want to be known for? How has that desire changed over the years?
  • How do you handle the tension between factual statements made in Scripture about God’s attributes and your limited ability to comprehend them? Does it drive you crazy? Do you ignore it altogether? Are you able to find a peaceful resolution?
  • Psalm 139 begins and ends with God “searching” David’s heart- a statement of truth about God in verse 1 and a prayer to God in verse 23. What is the significance of David “bookending” the psalm this way?
  • Focus on David’s prayer at the end of the psalm (verses 23-24). How can you relate these words to your life?

Tell Him

Tell Him

Psalm 13

What do you do when life hasn’t gone in the direction you hoped? When you’re in the midst of pain and suffering, it can feel like nothing good can come from your circumstances. You have questions without answers. You have problems for which there seem to be no solutions. Your mind naturally runs to thoughts of “Why God? Why is this happening to me? Are you even there?”

One of the most helpful places to turn in times of crisis is the Psalms, specifically the “Psalms of Lament.” Almost ⅓ of the 150 Psalms recorded in Scripture are lament psalms- prayers of pain, confusion, and anger that draw attention to what’s wrong in the world, asking God to intervene. Psalms of lament generally begin with a description of the lament- a pain the author is experiencing or an evil the author is enduring. The author also petitions God, listing reasons why He should act on the author’s behalf and requesting Him to punish or destroy whatever or whomever is inflicting pain.

These psalms resonate with us because lament is an appropriate response to the evil and confusion we see in the world and experience personally. But what makes the lament psalms so amazing are the conclusions drawn by the authors. In the midst of pain, suffering and evil, an expression of promise is offered, to praise God regardless the circumstances.

The Christian life is filled with mystery and tension, and answers don’t always come quickly (sometimes they don't come at all). When facing life’s difficulties, perhaps we can follow the pattern of the lament psalms- telling God our pain and trusting Him for peace.

Conversation points:

  • Have you ever witnessed someone praise God despite difficult circumstances? If so, how did that person’s faith influence your own?
  • As you consider your current circumstances, what is one thing you can do to begin to focus less on what is going wrong and more on what God is making right?
  • If you’re currently in the middle of difficult times (or when you are in the future), what are some practical things you can do to remind yourself that God hasn’t abandoned you or forgotten you? What role can your Home Group play in boosting your faith?