Partnering With God

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” – Philippians 4:6. 

The Bible contains numerous passages about prayer. “One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.” (Luke 18:1) “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” (Ephesians 6:18) There are many more passages that could be noted. So why aren’t Christians people of prayer? Perhaps because we make it more complicated than it needs to be. 

Prayer is important if we are to know God. There is no way to draw near to the Lord apart from prayer. It is in prayer that we express to the Lord our love for Him, our faith in Him, our worship of Him, and our surrender to Him. If for no other reason, the desire to know our Savior better should be ample enough reason to drop to our knees.   

There is a partnership that God has called us to with Himself in the area of prayer. God, has chosen to accomplish His will on this planet through the prayers of His people. God has decided not to arbitrarily move in and out of situations on earth, even though He is able to do just that. Instead, He waits on His people to pray and then pours out His power in response to those prayers.

Ezekiel 22:30 is a passage of Scripture that illustrates this principle. “I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one.” God, Himself was looking for an intercessor. He was looking for someone who would stand before Him in prayer on behalf of Israel so that He would not have to destroy her because of sin and rebellion. But no intercessor was to be found. Israel was defeated by the Babylonians and her people were in exile for 70 years.

Isaiah 59 reflects a similar situation. The chapter speaks of a nation that was in trouble. Verses 15 and 16 show us the Lord’s response to the evil that was going on. “Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked. The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him.” But again, there was no one to intercede.

God has given us the awesome privilege of partnering with Him in bringing about the advance of His Kingdom on earth. As we ask ourselves, “why pray?” the answer is simple.  We can partner with God in what He is doing on this planet. Understanding the place of prayer in God’s plan can give us greater motivation and commitment to be the people of prayer that God is calling us to become.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The prayer of the righteous is powerfully effective, we should be motivated to pray. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What can we do this week to partner with God in prayer? 

A Real And Personal Relationship

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20.

It has been said that true Christianity is not a religion but a relationship. But how intimate of a relationship do you think God desires with each one of us? If you really think about it, God has done and is doing His part to have an intimate relationship with us. God desires an intimate relationship with each one of us.  

Do you know God? I don’t mean do you know “of” God. I mean, do you have an authentic personal relationship with the One who created you, and with His Son, Jesus Christ? It’s not a question of whether you go to church every week or if you grew up in a home where God was talked about frequently. Honestly, that doesn’t guarantee that you actually know God at all. I’m talking about a relationship with God based on a relationship with Jesus, thanks to His sacrifice and not based on the good or bad things you’ve done. Have you experienced God’s great love for you? “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3:19) And as a result of that love have you chosen to surrender your life to His plans and His ways.

If you want to develop a personal relationship with God, start by praying and reading His word consistently. Talk to God everywhere. This is the most important way to grow your relationship with Him because practically, no relationship would thrive without intentional communication. Quiet time praying and studying the Bible may not always be exciting but it’s so worth it. 

Then listen to God’s voice. Talking to God is important, But listening to Him is just as important. It’s not enough to just listen, we should act in obedience when He speaks. Obeying God has a lot to do with trusting Him. It’s tough to have a personal relationship with someone you don’t trust. God is trustworthy. You can trust Him with your whole heart and soul and be confident that He won’t ever let you down. You can tell Him when you feel angry, or when you feel afraid; you can trust Him when you’ve sinned or fallen short, and be confident that He won’t turn you away. You can tell Him your deepest, darkest secrets and the hidden struggles you’d never want anyone else to know about. Tell God whatever you feel inside. He’s God – He’s not offended by the thoughts in your heart. Let Him help you process them.

Finally, learn how to depend on God for everything. Depending on God is crucial for developing a strong relationship with Him. 

Developing a relationship with God is a process. It won’t happen all at once and sometimes you’ll think your relationship with Him is strong one day and the next day you may wonder if He’s even there. But, that’s a part of the journey. Like any relationship, a relationship with God is complex. You’ll learn more about Him and encounter Him in deeper ways in each season.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate your relationship with Jesus? What criteria do you use to rate the relationship? 
  2. What can you do this week to make the relationship even stronger? 

God Is Always At Work Around You

“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” –  John 5:17.

God was working before Christ walked on this earth. He was working while Christ was in the world. And He continues to work through His Spirit today.

We may not be inclined to think of God as always working. When faced with disappointments in life, it can be difficult to believe God works things for your good. But what if God has been at work all along, and you’ve just failed to recognize it? In John 5:17, Jesus reminds us that God has been working and tells us that He is also working on our behalf.

Jesus heals a paralyzed man in John 5:1-14. The man had been there for 38 years without anyone to help him get to the pool to be healed. Jesus broke the status quo by healing the man on a Sabbath day, and this was considered a severe breach of traditions by the Jewish leaders. However, Jesus used the opportunity to remind us that God will never stop working because of man-made traditions.

Jesus will not hesitate to break the norm or the status quo on your behalf because he needs to fulfill his purpose in your life. Therefore, be encouraged by the fundamental truth that your Heavenly Father is at work always. So as you go about your daily activities, think on that truth. Whether challenging and difficult in your work, marriage, business, education, children relationship, career, etc., you know that God is at work. You might be wondering why God seems silent, be still, and be at peace because God has been working until now, and Jesus is working as well. 

So, even though you might not feel or see God working right now in your situation does not mean he is not. He is working on other areas of your life that may not immediately be obvious to you. This is why the Holy Spirit is reminding you today through this word not to give up hope or feel helpless. because “… he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4)

Instead, he is always at work because he is working all things for our good, no matter how seemingly hopeless or near impossible the situation is or looks. Romans 8:28 (AMP) says “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”

John 13:7 says, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where have you seen God working in your own life, in the last 1-5 years? Where do you see God at work around you? How does He want you to join Him?

Developing A Personal Relationship With God

“Religion is a very dangerous thing. By that I mean being so caught up in rules and regulations and not focusing on the thing that matters most- a personal relationship with God.” –  Joyce Meyer

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you attend church, pray and read the Bible because that is what Christians do. You learn about God, you love God, but how much of a personal relationship do you have with Him. Because when you have a conversation with people who have an intimate, personal relationship with God, you realize there is something more, a deeper level to our relationship with God.  We were created to have a relationship, a friendship with God, but to have that, we have to put our trust in Him. 

We do not put our trust in the relationship we have developed with Jesus – our trust is in Jesus Himself.  We trust in Christ alone. We bring nothing to the table, even if we’ve been a Christian for decades. If our personal relationship with Christ “develops,” it’s not so much that we develop it, but that it develops in us by the Spirit as we put our trust daily in Christ alone – that is, as we continue to trust that Christ will be faithful to us, even though “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

God doesn’t want to be the almighty powerful God that is far removed from our lives. He wants to be your friend, that one that is always close to you and will never let you down. God wants you to experience all that He has for you, He wants you to know His will for your life.  A personal relationship with God is just like a relationship with your spouse. When you first met your spouse you learned where they live and their phone number. You may have shared some same interests. You may have some friends in common. Or you went to the same college. You had brief chats but you realized something was missing. What’s missing is that you’ve never had a deep conversation with him or her. Nor have you heard any stories about them, or seen them happy or sad. You don’t know their likes or pet peeves or any of the little quirks that define them.  All of that takes time, listening and getting to really know him or her. 

It’s the same way with knowing God. Developing a relationship with God is a process. It won’t happen all at once and sometimes you’ll think your relationship with him is strong one day and the next day you may wonder if he’s even there. But, that’s a part of the journey. Like any relationship, a relationship with God is complex. You’ll learn more about him and encounter him in deeper ways the more you work at it.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does not mean to have a personal relationship with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to make our relationship with God deeper? 

Experiencing God

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” – 1 John 4:16

God is more than a subject to be studied but rather a personal, relational God who wants us to know Him deeply and to experience Him daily. This isn’t something mystical. It’s actually quite practical. We can know God’s will for our lives. But it requires an understanding of “God’s will.” Americans are inclined to think of “God’s will” only in terms of God’s will for my life.

The problem with that line of thinking is that God, the Creator, and Ruler of the universe, doesn’t exist in a way that revolves around me. It’s actually not about me at all. We need to step out of our self-centered view of things to realize that it’s all about Him and His purposes. God is up to some things that are far bigger than anything that any of us are up to. 

There’s a big difference between God’s will for my life and simply God’s will. God’s will is essentially the timeless unfolding of His work of redemption – a work into which He desires to draw and use each one of us. So do not think in terms of  “God, come bless what I’m doing” and instead develop a “God, help me to do what you want to bless” prayer and mindset.  It will often take making major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing. It requires each of us to worship Him and not myself, Him and not my own dreams and ambitions, comfort and happiness.

Knowing God and doing His will is a repetitive cycle. I see and hear Him. I decide to join Him. I am transformed and I watch Him work. When I see Him work, I trust Him more. Over time, my personal, experiential knowledge of Him grows as I obey Him.

God Is always calling us to experience Him in a deeper and more personal way. We can live life entirely for ourselves. But we’ll never be fully satisfied. You’ll always wonder who you are and what life is all about. Or, you can begin to see God at work in the gospel and in the world around you, commit to abandoning yourself, and joining Him. 

However or whenever or wherever God comes to us, we need to be ready to hear and obey. In order to be available to experience God in different ways, we need to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s up to every one of us.  Our prayer is that you will say “yes” to God’s call to join God in His plan for the world

Discussion Questions:

  1. Scripture describes how Jesus was fully dependent upon the Father for everything He said and did.  Why/how is this significant to us?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Why do you think God likes to do His work through ordinary people? What does this look like in your life?

Faith And Sight

“for we walk by faith, not by sight.” –  2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)

Like it or not, self-driving cars are coming. 

Google, Apple, and Tesla are racing to produce autonomous vehicles for public transportation. Google and Tesla are testing self-driving cars on public roads, and Tesla has already begun to roll out self-driving features in their high-end electric cars. In the next several years we should see the first fully autonomous car that needs no human participation in the driving process. By the time our future children are grown up, learning to drive a car may be optional. You probably don’t understand the technology. Most people don’t. Basically, we are being asked to drive by faith, not by sight.   

 In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul had a similar message about faith: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” For those believers of Jesus Christ living in Corinth, the works and miracles of Jesus were only stories told by those who had traveled with Him. They wished that they could see Jesus in His glory so that their faith would be made strong when faced with difficult days. How often do we want the same thing? How often do we find ourselves as Thomas who refused to believe that Jesus had risen unless he touched Jesus’s nail-scarred hands? In response, Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29)

As Christians, we are called to live by faith and not by sight. To walk by faith means that you believe and obey the Bible’s commands before mankind’s commands. To walk by faith means that you choose righteousness over sin, no matter what the cost. To walk by faith means that you trust God in every circumstance rather than going by your own wisdom. To walk by faith means that you believe God rewards those who seek Him, no matter what anyone else tells you: “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).

Walking by faith in this life means we are to rely completely on all that God has said in His Word. The life of faith filters our thoughts, actions, attitudes, and words as we listen to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, follow His directions, and trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Unfortunately, we sometimes return to living by sight, by leaning on our abilities and trusting in our emotions. 

Basically, to walk by faith requires that we get really good at listening and obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit and following the truth of God’s Word. We choose to live according to what God reveals to us, rather than trusting our own understanding or what the world tells us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

Focus On God’s Word

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.”  – James 1:22-25 (MSG). 

If you’ve been in church very long, chances are you know a lot about the Bible. Maybe you’ve read it all the way through a couple of times. You’ve listened to sermons about it on Sunday mornings. You’ve been in some small groups where you’ve talked about it. But there is more to focusing on God’s Word than reading it.  

The word of God is a matter of life and death. This isn’t just a book. James described it as, ‘the perfect law that gives freedom.” (James 1:25 ESV) Those are pretty big shoes to fill. A book that’s perfect, contains God’s commands, and has the power to bring freedom in our lives has to be more than just a book. It’s more than just ink on paper. It has the power to transform lives. But to unleash that power we need to act on what we read. 

Jesus talks about this in Matthew 7. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and…” What’s the next part? “follows it is wise.” Other translations say “anyone who listens to my teaching and acts on it “(NASB); puts it into practice (NIV) and does it (ESV)” So focusing on God’s Word is not a passive exercise but an active one. It requires action on our part. James 2:14 tells us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”  

Don’t let circumstances dominate your life. Remember the power of the Word. Don’t limit God. Dare to believe and dare to act on what you read. How do you create the proper environment in which the Word can work in your life? You begin by making the Word of God the final authority in your life. That requires making a quality decision that if the Word says it, “I believe it.” 

Realize that it will also take time for the roots of that decision to become anchored in your life. Secondly, it requires that you have an earnest expectation – that you are going to see the Word work.  

Each day as you read God’s Word, don’t just read and then move on. Spend time asking the Lord, “What do you want me to learn from what I’ve read today?”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you create the proper environment in which the Word can work in your life? 
  2. What can we do this week to focus on God’s Word?  

Ordinary Into The Extraordinary

“Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” – James 5:17-18. 

As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer, but we don’t always live like we fully realize what powerful praying can accomplish. James chooses to end his letter by talking about the power of prayer. He reminds his readers in James 5:16 that the “…earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  He illustrates that point by using the example of Elijah. Elijah prayed and it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years. “Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”  (1 Kings 17:1) 

One of the reasons that we often do not pray powerful prayers is that we do not really feel like powerful people. We fail to ask God to do the impossible because we figure that we are unworthy to make such a request. But either was Elijah. Notice that James 5:17 says, “Elijah was as human as we are.” Elijah was not some super saint that never had any problems. Yes, Elijah saw God do some amazing miracles through him. However, it is important to remember that Elijah was only human, he possessed our same limitations. He was human, just like us. Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and it did not rain for three and a half years. Elijah prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. The drought ended and the rain brought life and abundance back to the land. This is the product of prayer.

The Lord had told Elijah that he was about to send rain on the earth. However, God did not do so until Elijah had prayed. We experience this truth in our own lives. God declares His will and then waits for us to act in obedience to it. Instead of working around us, He will often wait for us to cooperate with Him by prayer first before the answer is given. Elijah needed to know that the rain was coming, but that did not excuse him from the earnest prayer that would release it.

There is incredible power and potential in prayer. The power of prayer isn’t in the words you utter. Nor is it about when or how you pray. Prayer can be defined as talking to God, but it is much more than that. 

Through prayer, we invite the God of the universe into a situation and into our lives. Prayer changes things, but even more, prayer changes us. Through prayer, we have the opportunity to reach our full potential in Christ. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) As we grow in our prayer life, we become more alive and more engaged with what God is doing. None of us are perfect at prayer, but as we take steps to grow spiritually in our prayer life, the impact is incredible.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the key things this sermon series has taught you about prayer?
  2. The prayer of the righteous is powerfully effective, we should be motivated to pray. Agree or disagree and why?

The Prayer Of Nehemiah

“When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth,I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.” – Nehemiah 1:4-11.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Person who knew the problem and had the power to fix it. Nehemiah went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.  

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams and hopes to Him. That is when God will direct us. That is when God will set us on our purpose. Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future.

Because Nehemiah realized the power of prayer, he ends his prayer by praising God and petitioning for the success of his plans if it’s in God’s will. He reminds himself and God that he is God’s servant. Our hearts should always remain humble in the truth that God is God and we are His servants.

God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  God wants us to remember: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God were to answer all of our prayers from just last week, how would our lives and the lives of those around us look different? Would it make any difference?
  2. What steps can we take to become people who are marked by big, bold, and faith-filled prayers?

The Spiritual Benefits Of Fasting

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” –  Matthew 6:16–18. 

Many people view fasting as a negative. Perhaps the reason so many of us fast so infrequently is because we think of fasting mainly as what we’re giving up rather than what we’re getting. It is understandable because fasting is viewed as abstaining, going without food or drink, or something else that is a part of our lives.  But Christian fasting is more than simply abstaining. The goal of Christian fasting, in fact, is not going without but getting. Christian fasting is abstaining for the sake of some specific Christian purpose.

Jesus did not waffle as to whether His church would fast. “When you fast,” he said — not “if” (Matthew 6:16–17). “…they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15). And so the early church fasted: “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”

The spiritual purpose in fasting includes strengthening prayer. Ezra 8:23 says, “So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.”  Or seeking God’s guidance: “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23) Or seeking His deliverance or protection: “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.” (2 Chronicles 20:3–4)  Or humbling ourselves before Him. Psalm 35:13 says, “Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered.” There are others but the bottom line is that without a spiritual purpose, it’s not Christian fasting. It’s just going hungry.

Fasting is a kind of special measure in the life of faith. Fasting is a special mode, for unusual prayer and for showing the Giver we enjoy Him more than His gifts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that is it important for every believer to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting? Why or why not?
  2. Share about a time you fasted and prayed. What did God reveal to you during that time? What might you do differently when you fast again?