An Answer Is Forthcoming

“I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24.

If you are like most Christians, you probably find yourself more consistently confused or failing in prayer than in any other area in the Christian life. Why is that? Talking to the God who chose us, saved us, and sustains us should be the most natural and delightful thing in the world, right? Perhaps it should, but more often than not, it isn’t.

We all know we should pray more, but we often don’t. Perhaps we don’t really understand what prayer is — or we’re prone to forget. Prayer is our fiercest weapon against the enemy and all things in this fallen world.

The power of prayer relies on the assurance that God is listening to you and what’s more wants to answer you. Since prayer is two-way communication between you and God, you will always receive an answer to your prayers. It just may not be the answer you were looking for or even the answer that makes the most sense. Sometimes, we feel like God has not answered. But you will get an answer. It might be yes, no, or not yet, but there will be an answer because unanswered prayer does not exist.

A lot of people think God doesn’t answer prayer because some things don’t go their way. What they don’t realize is that God did answer their prayers He just said no, wait, or we simply weren’t paying attention. One question we need to ask is how well are we listening. The way that God speaks isn’t as mysterious as we may think, we just need to be present and listen. Instead of repeatedly making attempts to be heard, we should be listening to what God has to say. A lot of our prayers that we think go unanswered can simply be attributed to our unwillingness to be silent. After all, how can you hear what someone has to say if they can’t get a word in? If we just listen to God we will be able to hear what He says and find out that He always answers prayers we just weren’t quiet enough to receive the message.

And then we need to be patient. “The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:25–26) When we ask God for something we shouldn’t expect to get it right away; God doesn’t give us what we want right away. He’s not always a same-day delivery God. He wants us to put our faith into practice by trusting that He will do what we asked. A big part of waiting is trusting that something will happen in the near future. By making us wait God is teaching us to trust that He will eventually do what He promised He would.

If God doesn’t give us what we are asking for, we have to remember that He has a good plan and a purpose for everything in our lives and He only wants the very best for us. This is where knowing God’s character and knowing His promises are so important. When we have faith and trust in Him, then we can rest knowing that He hears our prayers, sees our needs and He is faithful to answer according to His will.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God answers all prayers? Yes or no and why?   
  2. What should our reaction be if God does not answer our prayer in the way we want?
  3. Do you have any lingering doubts/questions about prayer? How can you best get those questions or concerns answered? 

Preparing For Easter

“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” – Martin Luther King Jr.

All over the world, millions of Christians and many thousands of churches are getting ready for Easter weekend. It’s an incredible opportunity for the church to spring into action to invite and welcome people who are far from the heart of God to hear the Gospel. And so as we prepare for one of the busiest weeks for the church, we desperately need the power of God—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—to be at work in and through us. The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest demonstration of the power of God in all of history and we want people to hear the story, maybe for the first time, on Easter. 

This is why we do everything we do at Northstar. It’s so we can reach one more for Jesus. The typical person that you really want to reach is sitting at home right now totally oblivious to what Jesus has done for them and how much God loves them. To put it more simply, call on people to believe in Jesus, to grow deeper in Him, to find their place in God’s family, to discover their role in ministry, and to live on mission with God telling others the Good News.

Easter is one of two opportunities (Christmas the other) where people will come to church that normally do not attend. This is a witness to the truth that the Easter story has real meaning and continues to capture people’s imagination. It is an opportunity to reach people who are far from the heart of God to hear the gospel preached and let God work in their lives. But, only if we invite them. If studies are correct, then over 80 percent of your friends who are not Christians or do not attend church are at least open to and likely to respond favorably to your invitation to church for Easter. Let me encourage you to push out of your comfort zones and fight through the doubts to invite your neighbors and friends to our Easter services.

Inviting a family member or really close friend is a little different, You and these people know each other well. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You know their tendencies, talents, dreams, and motivations. You have shared the good and bad times with each other. These people can tell if you are being yourself or not so when you invite them to do so from your heart. Show them you genuinely care for them and you simply desire for them to experience something that is important to you and will be beneficial for them. An in-person invite is best for someone closer but if that isn’t an option a phone call or personal touch lets them know you’re serious about the invitation.

Remember that this is God’s story, not our story. We get to play a small part by simply inviting someone to come to church. Most of the time, we have no idea what God’s doing in people’s hearts. All we need to do is love that person enough to get through a potentially uncomfortable conversation. A personal invitation to church is one of the most effective ways of reaching the lost. We are all called to be the church, and the church is called to be on mission with God. It is the church’s responsibility to reach the lost and the hurting. Easter is an amazing opportunity to do just that. Remember that 100 percent of the people you don’t invite will not attend. God can use your invitation to radically transform a life.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Ready to take the plunge and invite someone?  But what if they say no, what if they punch you in the face, what if they ridicule you to others, what if inviting them hurts your friendship, what if… How do we overcome the what if’s?

Are You A Bundle Of Energy?

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” – Deuteronomy 6:5

Deuteronomy 6:5 is the “all-command,” because of the three-fold “all” — “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (ESV). There is no room here for divided affections or allegiance. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Throughout the Bible, this command is continually held up as the pinnacle of what the Christian life is to be centered around (along with loving our neighbors as ourselves). Jesus confirmed this in the Gospels when He answered the questioning of the scribes in Mark 12:30: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”

Loving God with our hearts and minds seems very practical and easy to understand. Loving usually has to do with matters of the heart and we all know that our minds must be continually reigned in if we are to align our thoughts and actions with His. But what does it mean to love the Lord with all of our strength or might?

When the question of strength comes up, the World’s Strongest man competition comes to mind. The World’s Strongest Man competition is about more than just force: it is about stamina, skill, tactics, training, and strategy. Every event is designed to push the strongmen to their absolute limits, challenging not only their physical strength but their agility and mental toughness too. One impressive event is the vehicle pull where vehicles such as trucks, boxcars, buses, and planes are pulled across a 100 ft course, by hand, in the quickest time possible. For us ordinary people, pulling a medium-sized dog out the door when it is raining is just about our limit.  

But what about everyday life: To love God with all our strength means loving God with all of our energy. God has given all of us certain talents and abilities. You see, to love God with all of our energy, with all of our abilities, and with all of our spiritual gifts, means serving the Lord in whatever way we can. It means that when we’re using all that energy to do our very best at our job or in our studies, we’re pleasing God. Philippians 2:13 (MSG) says, “That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.” Psalm 68: 28-35 expands on the reality that energy, power, and strength come from God. This psalm ends on a note of confidence as David proclaims that “…the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” (v.35). David prays, ‘Summon your might, O God. Display your power, O God, as you have in the past.” (v.28). David knows from his own experience that God’s power is more than enough for all his needs.

Will you choose to love God with all your strength, all your energy, and all of your being? Start today by thanking God for your specific talents and abilities, and asking how we can use them to glorify Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate your level of spiritual energy today? 
  2. What can we do this week to increase our level of spiritual energy? 

Does God Really Want To Heal You?

“And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” –  Acts 10:38.   

God is our healer. If you don’t believe that because of your experiences or the experiences of others, then believe it because the New Testament teaches that the Spirit gives this gift (and others) to the church: “The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.” (1 Corinthians 12:9)  

We learn many things about Jesus, His nature, and power as we read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Throughout the gospel stories, we see Jesus healing the sick. He had compassion for the afflicted, those tormented by sickness and evil spirits, and He would heal and deliver them. These repeated stories from the Gospels leave us with an undeniable truth, that God in Heaven  is a God of compassion whose ultimate desire is to alleviate all pain and suffering on earth when Jesus returns. 

When God heals, it is always intended to glorify Jesus Christ and point us to believe in His gospel. None of us has authority to heal a body, only the Creator does: “…and why stare at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or godliness? For it is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of all our ancestors—who has brought glory to his servant Jesus by doing this… (Acts 3:12–13). That’s why we always pray in Jesus’s name. 

God obviously doesn’t answer every prayer for healing. The ultimate reason is that He is God and knows best. He distributes this gift according to His will (Hebrews 2:4). God uses illnesses and afflictions to build our faith, cultivate our humility, experience His strong, sufficient grace, and heighten our joy. 

Do we have the boldness to ask Him in faith for the gift of healing? Or do we avoid seeking this gift because we don’t believe God will answer and we don’t want to look powerless?

We should pray for healing. The Bible provides a few models but no formulas. Basically, ask God. It’s the prayer of faith that heals the sick: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” (James 5:15). 

When God touches you in healing, don’t forget to thank Him. “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High.” Psalm 50:14) And don’t forget to thank those who helped you when you were in need – those who prayed for you, supported you, or provided material or practical help.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God is in the healing business and wants to heal you? Why or why not? 
  2. If you feel like God is not answering your prayer for healing, take a few moments to reflect on where He is providing for you in ways you have not expected.

 

 

 

God’s Purpose For Us

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope…You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense.” – Rick Warren.

Living a life without purpose can be incredibly frustrating. You’re talking to your next-door neighbor or to a person in your small group and you realize that the person you are talking to is living a passionate, engaged, meaningful life. You see it in their relationships, in their jobs, and their sense of direction that compels them to hop out of bed each morning with a spring in their step while you keep hitting the snooze button. 

The Bible is chock full of passages about living a life filled with joy. The Bible does not promise you that every single day you will be given the key to the city. It does mean that an overall sense of joy should permeate your life regardless of your present circumstances.  Psalm 138:8 (ESV) says: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” 

Jesus is the perfect example of purpose. In Mark 1, Jesus begins His ministry; He casts out an evil spirit (Mark 1:21-28), healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31), and many people who were sick with various diseases (Mark 1:34). The Bible then tells us that “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:35-39)

Jesus was the talk of the town. Everyone wanted His miraculous touch. But Jesus, having spent the morning in prayer, tells the people looking for Him it was time to move on to the next town because preaching the gospel was why He came out. Healing people was a good thing. However, the priority of Jesus was to preach the gospel and He needed to go where the people were. We see this throughout the Gospels. Whenever His presence in a town was dominated by His miracles, Jesus would move on to the next town so He could get back to His purpose. I’m sure some people were disappointed He did not stay longer and heal more people, but Jesus was focused on the work of His Father.

We get a glimpse of the all-encompassing purpose of God in these verses: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we … might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12 NIV)

Each one of us should periodically pause and evaluate what we are doing and why. Work. Personal goals. Church responsibilities. All of those are good things, but do they conflict with our God-given purpose. We need to have the strength to say no to anything that does not align with our God-given purpose and priorities.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible to know what God is trying to do in you?
  2. What can we do this week to get in step with what God is trying to do in our lives?

Jehovah-Rapha: The God Who Heals.

”He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” – Exodus 15:26.  

You can learn a lot from a name, and that’s especially true of God. Throughout the Bible, God presents himself with different names. The name Jehovah is used some 6,800 times in the Bible. Not only does it speak of God’s strength, but also it speaks of the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God. Each name reveals something important about God. One of the names of God is Jehovah-Rapha, “the Lord who heals.”

Does Jesus heal? The answer is yes. God heals broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, broken lives, and broken relationships. His very presence has immense healing powers. He can heal instantaneously by a miracle. He can heal over time through medicine.

The Israelites had been living in slavery in Egypt for generations. They cried out to God, and He miraculously led them out of slavery. They were on their journey out of servitude in Egypt and into the Promised Land when they become thirsty. They turned to God, complaining that He was not taking care of them. Moses turned to God and cried out for help. God intervened and instructed Moses to take a piece of wood and throw it into the water. Immediately, the water became clean, sweet, and refreshing. God then speaks to the Israelites, but he seems to change the subject. He talks about the diseases the Egyptians had suffered, and how the Israelites can avoid those conditions. God tells the people that He can heal them, but they need to obey.

We need to know this God can heal anything for which we need healing. Maybe you’re struggling with physical pain, emotional, or relational pain. God can heal that. Throughout the Bible, we read about people in dire circumstances. But no matter what the instance, Jehovah-Rapha heals and restores them.

In our own lives, we can call upon the healing name of God in prayer. This can help remind us about how God has healed people in the past, and He will come to our aid. Nevertheless, we do need to remind ourselves that although God heals, He may heal us in an unexpected way. “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” (Psalm 103:1-3)

Discussion Questions

  1. How can God use your life to showcase His life, love, and healing to the world around you? 
  2. How do your life and lips declare that He is Jehovah Rapha?

Preparing For Easter: The Resurrection

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. 

The most important event of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s right.  The greatest event in all history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. With Easter several weeks away, we need to take time to remember and celebrate this single, history-changing event.

The Apostle Paul, throughout the first fourteen chapters of 1 Corinthians, has talked about any number of issues. Now as he nears the conclusion of this letter, he reminds the Corinthians and each of us that just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so the resurrection is the gospel of life to our souls: “Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

Paul is not holding back. He is about as straightforward as he can be. He is summarizing and stating again the good news that, several years before, he had brought to the Corinthians. The good news was the Gospel, the news of the crucified and risen Lord. Paul reminds them that they had received it and that it was foundational to all they were. It was something by which they were saved. Paul was getting back to the basics, to the essence of the Christian faith.  

Everything in our redemption is connected to the resurrection.  The resurrection is the triumphant and glorious victory for every believer. Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose on the third day and He is coming again.  The dead in Christ will be raised up, and those who are alive at His coming will be changed and receive new, glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The resurrection proves who Jesus is. It demonstrates that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

The message of Easter is a message of eternal hope. There is an eternal future with God waiting for each of us who are followers of Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How should the resurrection impact your life on a daily basis? 
  2. How much does the evidence and faith play a role in your belief in the resurrection? 
  3. What does the resurrection mean for your past, present, and your future?

The Power Of Worship

“We were created to worship God. It’s a state in which our soul finds true peace, rest, and purpose. But it must become a condition of the heart, a way of life, a pattern woven into the fabric of our being. Worship must become so ongoing that it is no longer even a decision that has to be made because the decision has already been made. Worship must become a lifestyle. When you make worship a lifestyle, it will determine in whose image you will be formed and what you become. Sometimes praise and worship will be the only thing you do in a situation. You will stand and praise God while the tornados of life whirl around you, and you will see God move on your behalf. And then you will understand the hidden power of praise. When you understand that concept, it will change your life.” – Stormie Omartian, The Prayer That Changes Everything. 

Music is an awesome way for us to worship and experience God and to keep focused on the important things of life, the things that God cares about. Christians worship through music because it is an expression of praise, glory, honor, and reverence to the Lord. But the bottom line is that worship is a lifestyle. It is characterized by devotion, obedience, and love for God and others. Additionally, it is a conscious action. Worship requires effort. It can be expressed in numerous ways, one way is music. It can be as simple as just being grateful for blessings, family, and friends.

But what about prayer?  Prayer plays a key role in our worship of God. What are the worship choruses we sing, if not prayers set to music? The author of Hebrews writes, “ So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16). Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we have direct access to God. He urges us to make the most of our access by approaching God in prayer with a sense of confidence and boldness, knowing that our prayers will be heard and answered. Prayer can be a form of worship because engaging in prayer reminds us that He is in our midst, in the details of our lives. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). Prayer is an open invitation to a growing relationship with God.

The apostle Paul places prayer at the center of the Christian discipline of maintaining a continuous spirit of worship. “ Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Prayer has always played a significant role in worship and understanding the role and power in prayer will help us maximize the impact of our worship.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see prayer as a form of worship? Why or why not? 
  2. What does your prayer life look like currently?
  3. What can we do this week to improve our level of worship? 

As We Forgive Everyone Who Sins Against Us

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”He said to them, “When you pray, say:“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1-4.

 The disciples often saw Jesus in prayer. They had no doubts that He was intimately connected to His Father. Jesus prayed in the certainty that His father heard Him. So it was probably not surprising that they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. And while they were expecting some profound, even extraordinary way to pray, Jesus explained how to pray in simple terms.  Jesus modeled for us a life of total dependence on the Father. His prayer life and His instruction on prayer are educational and foundational as we seek to grow in our prayer life.  

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of Luke 11:4 is the qualification of the request “Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  The English Standard Version is translated more literally, “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” 

The Lord’s prayer underscores the essential connection between receiving divine forgiveness and forgiving others. As we experience God’s forgiveness, we are called and empowered to forgive those who have wronged us. Jesus is reminding us that He wants to forgive us and He wants us to forgive others. He wants us to set others free of their sins, but He also knows it’s good for us when we forgive others.  

If we choose to not forgive others we are missing the full benefit of forgiveness. God’s purpose in forgiving us is that we might be reconciled to Him and to each other. The experience of divine forgiveness enables us to do what otherwise is beyond our strength. We cannot honestly pray, “Father, forgive my sins,” if we refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against us.

We aren’t called to forgive because someone deserves it. We forgive because love requires it. We forgive because abundant life requires it. We need to choose forgiving others over our own sense of fairness. Choose to be like your Heavenly Father and forgive those who have wronged you. Colossians 3:13 says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

The Spirit will help you. He will give you the strength and courage to do what seems impossible. Spend some time in God’s presence today and forgive as He guides and directs you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does it make you feel to know God forgives you and your mistake is completely erased and forgotten in God’s eyes? 
  2. Who can you forgive today? 
  3. How does it make you feel when you forgive someone? 

What Matters Most To You?

There are moments in life that are truly momentous. Things like graduating from school, falling in love, getting engaged, getting married, witnessing the birth of your child, accomplishing something you didn’t think you could, and finding success at work to name a few.

These are the moments in our lives when we hone in on what is truly important. We pledge to make every day count. But then life intervenes and those momentous occasions are surrounded by interruptions. Things on your “to-do” list do not get done. Tomorrow usually seems like a better place to be than today.

Jesus spent His whole life choosing to do the most important thing at any given moment. He stopped to heal the sick when they crossed His path. He sat on a mountainside to speak life to a waiting crowd. He prayed for children, even as His disciples scolded the people for bringing them to Him. He looked a bleeding woman, a blind man, and a beggar in the eyes and gave them personalized hope.

Think about how Jesus spent His last night as a free man. Instead of rushing around to heal more sick people or giving a last-minute sermon, we find Jesus sharing a meal with His disciples. He set the stress and rush of ministry aside for the most important thing.“When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the Twelve.” (Matthew 26:20) Jesus spent his last hours of freedom with His disciples, teaching them how to remember Him and sharing the foundations of the gospel with them. He prayed for them (John 17) and then prayed for the strength to walk the difficult journey to the cross (Mark 14:32-36). 

Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi says, “For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” (Philippians 1:10) This verse indicates there is a benefit to us to understand what really matters. Knowing and loving God is our greatest privilege. And being known and being loved by God is our greatest pleasure. And then to seek what matters to God first in our lives.  He created us with intentionality; for us to live an intentional life for His purpose. To know His purpose is to know Him; to know Him is to know what is important to Him; to know His heart. And to put those things first in our lives.

A.W. Tozer said this about what matters most: “Yes, worship of the loving God is man’s whole reason for existence.  That is why we are born, and that is why we are born again from above.  That is why we were created, and that is why we have been recreated.  That is why there is a genesis at the beginning, and that is why there is a re-genesis, called regeneration.  That is also why there is a church.  The Christian church exists to worship God first of all.  Everything else must come second or third or fourth or fifth.”

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would happen if we began to lean into God, to be intentional enough to discover the things of God that truly matter to Him?
  2. Based on what you talk about most, what would people say is most important to you?