Presence Of Mind

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14. .

Let’s be honest. We all have those times in our lives when we feel lost, tired and alone. God seems distant, or you are preoccupied with something else because you haven’t felt His presence or joy in days or months. You keep asking yourself, “what am I doing wrong? Am I in a spiritual doghouse? Why am I facing this spiritual dry spell? How long will I be in this spiritual desert?” Most people yearn for the presence of God in their lives, yet there are times when His presence escapes us.

Consider Moses for a second. Moses led his people out of Egypt. In Exodus 33:12-13 we read, “…If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” Basically, Moses wanted to know God and to be in his favor. Moses just wanted to see and experience his Father.

Think about that for a second. Here is Moses, who has had as much contact with God as any man in the Bible, throughout these verses keep asking for God. C’mon Moses, seriously: You met God at the burning bush. You experienced God’s power in the 10 plagues. You spread your hands and watched a sea become a road. You cracked a rock with a stick and it became a drinking fountain. You even saw God engrave two stone tablets with his law.

Moses had many encounters with God. The Book of Exodus records God revealing Himself, His purposes or His ways to Moses, and yet in spite of all that, he continued to want to feel the presence of God.

“Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:15-17)

We all want to feel the presence of God. Unfortunately there is not always a definitive formula, a to do list that once completed results in the presence of God. But remember this when God seems distant. The God of the Bible is omnipresent, meaning He is present everywhere. The apostle Paul preached, “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples,” (Acts 17:24). When we relegate God’s presence to a certain time and place, we may unintentionally imply He isn’t present at other times or in other places. God is always near.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is anything making it difficult for you to see God’s presence in your life? Is there something you need to stop or start?
  2. If you want to see God, experience God, to know God’s presence you must look back and you will see where He has been. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. What are some of the subtle ways God reveals Himself to you? What are some of the most effective ways you’ve found of seeking God?

Wait A Minute

“but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31.

Jesus could have come and healed Lazarus when he was still alive. Instead, He waited to raise him from the dead when he was already in his grave. God could have made David become king the day after he was anointed. Instead, He waited years to be king, many of those years spent fearing for his life, hiding out and running away from his father-in-law. God could have given Abraham the son He promised him when he was still a young man. Instead, He waited until he was 100 years old and because of physical reasons would have a more difficult time conceiving at that age.

God could have answered prayers instantly, but He made them wait instead. And He often makes us do the same.

He makes us wait for healing to come after we’ve been praying for years and there is no sign of recovery. He makes us wait to find our spouse after all our friends are already married. He makes us wait to start a family. One thing we know for sure, His ways are not our ways, so if we are asked to wait, it is because God has a better perspective, plan and purpose for our lives.

If He is making you wait, there is a very good reason for it. If He is telling you “no” today, maybe it’s because He has a better “yes” waiting for you tomorrow. If He is keeping you in the same place you’ve always been today, maybe it’s because He’s helping build your faith for tomorrow. 

Wherever you are at today know that God is right beside you and that there is a purpose for you. Even if that purpose is to wait. Don’t give up just because you don’t see anything happening today. It may seem that little is happening, but that may not be the case. So don’t allow your waiting period to make you hopeless about what tomorrow will bring. Instead, let it build your faith and give you even greater hope for what God has prepared for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it look like to wait on God?
  2. What can we do this week to be better at waiting for God?

Better Purpose

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:12-13.

Isaiah 40:10 “God says My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” God isn’t obligated to explain to us everything He does. He doesn’t need our approval. Everything God does in your life He has a purpose for it–including problems and including saying no to some of your prayers. There’s a purpose in it.

2 Corinthians 4:17 says “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!” Behind every problem there is a purpose. That purpose is an eternal purpose that you don’t even see right now. If you’ll get your eyes off the temporary situation and look beyond it you will see the eternal purpose that God wants to do in your life. Don’t always look at the circumstance you’re in right now. Circumstances are like a feather mattress — you get on top and you’ll rest easy, you get under and you’ll suffocate! It depends on where you are. God says no to your request because it involves the temporary and because there is a greater purpose that involves the future. I think of Joni Ericson Tada, the paraplegic. I’m sure she’s prayed that God would heal her. Yet God has said no. Instead He has a greater purpose for her life. I think Paul had to learn this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-11 where Paul prayed to be healed. even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Paul had to learn that God is sufficient in every situation.

One of the marks of maturity and one of the marks of faith is the ability to accept a no. Immature people cannot accept a no for an answer. Ask your kids. As we grow we learn to accept no as a legitimate answer. Even Jesus had to learn what it meant to submit to God’s will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, right before the cross, Jesus prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  (Matthew 26:39) God let Jesus Christ go to the cross because of a greater purpose — our salvation.

When God says no it’s because He has a bigger perspective. Maybe He’s protecting you from an unforeseen problem you don’t even know about. Maybe it’s because of a better plan. He’s not limited to just one way; He has many ways. God has a greater purpose in your life that is greater than the problem you’re going through.

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.

God’s Game Plan

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” – Proverbs 19:21. 

When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, they often mean that God will help them achieve their dreams. God’s plans for our life are far superior to our ambitions, so sometimes the answer to our prayers are not what we are looking for because God has a better plan.

While we may not understand all the twists and turns of life, we can be sure of one thing: the same God who created us loves us. God’s personal promise is one of extreme hope and potential (Jeremiah 29:11). He also has an awesome strategy for your future. No matter what needs you are praying for at this time, God may say no because He has a better plan. 

We often want God to be our life coach rather than our Lord. We want God to give us some helpful tips on how to live an easier life, all the while forgetting that our mission is to glorify God. Instead of letting His glory shape our desires and ambitions, we too often expect him to comply with our prayer instructions for our lives. And when God says no, we wonder why because our lives wind up nothing like our expectations. What if we’re miserable? How is that God’s plan? Sometimes the path He leads us down is a difficult one. Sometimes we may find ourselves out of our comfort zone.  

Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Notice it doesn’t say, “my way, but my ways.” God has more than one way of doing things. He’s not limited in His options. He’s never forced into one answer. He has many alternatives. Our problem is that we get a preconceived idea and want God do what we want our way. We always pick the least painful way of having God answer prayers. God may not see it that way. 

Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”

When God says no we need to continue praying and trust God. Jesus is good. He never disappoints. Though He doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like, He knows what’s best for us. The Bible says “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:11) God is not holding out on us. He is good — so good — and His plans for your life can be trusted.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When people say that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, what do they usually mean?
  2. Part of God’s wonderful plan for your life is to make you like His Son. Does this excite you? 

Sometimes It Is All About Perspective

“He knows about everyone, everywhere. Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” – Hebrews 4:13 (TLB) .

Google earth is too cool. It lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, even the canyons of the ocean. Basically you can go anywhere in the world and zoom in to see what you want to see in great detail.   

Using Google Earth enables you to view the places you have lived and to relive long-forgotten memories of your childhood up to today. Through Google Earth, I can instantly gain a different perspective and scale of my world, even to the point of seeing earth suspended in space. You can zoom in and you can zoom out. That digital ability reminds me in a small, limited way about God’s perspective. Google Earth is a reminder that God sees the big picture with me right in it. He sees my life intertwined with other lives, events and timelines.

That perspective comes in handy when we pray. When we pray, take a few moments and “zoom out” of your life, to try and see the profound perspective that God has. The Bible emphatically confirms that God listens to us: “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” (Psalms 66:19-20). When we don’t get the answer to prayer that we are looking for, do we really consider how God views our prayers from a much larger perspective?

Sometimes we can forget the big picture and use prayer as a springboard for my “fix-it” list. Or we stuff a “suggestion box” to God outlining the ways He could go about improving His performance. Try to see God’s perspective when you pray. Thank Him for all He has done in our lives. Ask Him to show His mission and His will for our lives. Our prayers can become much more meaningful and powerful if we can manage perspectives of a big picture along with our own circumstances. As I pray, it is helpful to me to spiritually “zoom in and out” in my mind’s eye to better appreciate true reality of what God sees and what He can do.

In our prayers, let’s always remember that God has a perspective that is far, far bigger than ours towards all life and things. He sees all. As humans, we have a limited view.

It is also important to remember that in the big picture, God’s timeline is often way different from ours. Read what God declares in Isaiah 46:10: “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass for I do whatever I wish.’”

Discussion questions

  1. How does God’s perspective change the way we pray? 
  2. What can we do this week to have the bigger picture when we pray? 

Silence On The Other End

“While you did all this, I remained silent, and you thought I didn’t care. But now I will rebuke you, listing all my charges against you.” – Psalm 50:21.

If you are a Christian for any period of time, you will hear somebody say, “I try to pray regularly, but sometimes it seems like God’s not listening. Why doesn’t He answer my prayers?”

Sometimes it does seem like our prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. But what we feel isn’t always the same as what’s really true. The Bible teaches us that God does answer our prayers: “You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.” (John 16:24). When we think of “unanswered” prayer, it may be that we do not understand the way in which God responds to our requests. There are a few things we need to remember when we consider whether God is answering our prayers. So often we are inclined to think that the only answer God can give our prayers is “yes.” We need to remember that “no” is an answer also. God’s answer may not always be what we were hoping for. And sometimes we fail to recognize His answers. 

When we think of “unanswered” prayer, it may be that we do not understand the way in which God responds to our requests. We pray for prosperity, and sometimes financial stress is given. But our souls are made stronger for the test. We pray for health, and affliction is given, and we are better able to sympathize with those in affliction. God makes no mistakes, though at times we may question His wisdom. In any case, His answer is always the best answer. He loves us dearly, and His answers to our prayers are always what we need even if they’re not necessarily what we want.

The bottom line: As Christians, we need to trust God that He’s giving you the best answer for you, for your life, for all eternity: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How have you seen God work in your life through unanswered prayers?
  2. What changes in your thinking do you need to make so you can better understand unanswered prayer?

God and You

“Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” – Psalm 25:4-5.

Psalm 25 teaches us to seek God in the hard times. If you read the entire Psalm, you quickly notice just how much David desired to learn how God wanted him to do things. That makes sense because whatever we think is important will determine the direction of our lives. Or as Andy Stanley said in his book, The Principle of the Path, “your direction determines your destination.”

David wanted to follow God by discovering the paths that God wanted him to follow. David asked to be guided on those paths so he waited on God for instruction. You can understand why David felt he needed direction and more importantly guidance from God when you read this Psalm; David had problems. 

He has enemies that are waiting to “rejoice in his defeat.” (v. 2). It is not one enemy he is facing and they don’t much like him. “See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! “(v. 19) David is alone and in distress and his problems are going from bad to worse. (vv. 16-17)  And, David’s repeated requests for God to teach him the right path to follow (vv. 4-5, 8-9, 12) imply that he is confused about his future direction.  David is not alone in facing trials in life. None of us are exempt from facing trials if we are a follower of Jesus. Yet there are people who believe that if they obey God, He will give them a free pass from trials. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. One of the many things I love about the Bible is the numerous stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things through the power of God. Most of these men and women went through difficult trials. “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Trails are not a referendum on the fairness of God. The trial you are in is not just about God, it is about you and God. We will have trials in our life, but the question is how do we view trials. If we truly want a deep, meaningful relationship with Jesus Chris, then our trials is one of the ways we can grow that relationship. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” (James 1:2)

The only way you will truly consider trials a great joy is if we want more of God than you want to get rid of your trial. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you view trials as a referendum on the fairness of God? How can you change that?
  2. What can we do this week to begin looking at trials with joy? 

God Wants To Do Something In You

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:12-13.

As a pastor, I hear this lament all of the time –  “why doesn’t God help me in my troubles?” This is a legitimate question to ask. A lot of Christians tend to be afraid of asking God why, or earnestly seek to resolve their crisis. God uses problems in several ways. 

For example, God uses problems to examine you. When God tested your faith with a problem, how did you respond? What did you learn? Is Christ on the throne of your life? God also uses problems to lead you in the right direction. Sometimes God needs to get our attention, to wake us up.  Without such wakeup calls we will blindly fall onto the wrong path. He may need to light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems will point us in a right direction if we surrender our will over to His. And finally, God uses problems to discipline you. Sometimes the only way to learn the lessons in life and to make us better is only by suffering and failure. It is like as a child being told by his or her parents not to touch a hot stove. God is not in heaven thinking about ways to make our life miserable. Pain is a part of life, so it is best we accept and learn from it so we do not have to keep getting burned. Psalm 119:71-72 says, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.”

The method does not change the goal; the goal is to make something out of each of us who are followers of Jesus. We may be willing to settle for mediocrity, but God has so much more for you. We should ask ourselves a simple question: what are you asking God to do in your life? Because God wants to do supernatural things in you, things you could never imagine. Isaiah 43:19: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” In other words, God is saying, “Look! Can’t you see it? Can’t you feel this new thing that I’m doing?” 

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.    

Did I Do That?

“People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” – Proverbs 19:3. 

The family TV show Family Matters aired for nearly 10 years in the 90’s. Actor Jaleel White played the role of Steve Erkel, a nerd with big glasses, high-water pants, and suspenders. His most popular catchphrase uttered usually after damaging something beyond repair was, “did I do that?” Yes, Steve. You did, and everyone knows it.

As we reflect back on our life, we often ask the same question: “did I do that?” We make mistakes, vow to do better, but sometimes we just can’t seem to get over the hump. The natural tendency is to find a culprit. So we turn to God saying: “Lord why is this happening to me? Why have you abandoned me? Why is my life such a mess? Where are you?” After all, it would not take much effort from the Creator who knows all, sees all and is the master of all, to solve our problems. But if we stop and reflect for a few moments, we would have to come to the conclusion that some, if not all of our lows were because of or caused by us. Yes, you did do that.

We want to fight against our enemies when sometimes the worst of those enemies is ourselves. We are our own enemies when it comes to spiritual growth. We create some of our problems and pride serves as a buffer against admitting that we are the real source of our problems. Many of us can’t escape this scenario because we are so cozy in our comfort zones. We don’t want anything to disturb our regular schedules. We don’t want anyone to dictate what we should do. We just wanna be our own masters, live like we please but and when things go sideways, we question why God does not intervene. That mentality suggests that we want a full-time committed God when we are not willing to make the same commitment. If we aren’t doing our part, why do we keep begging God to do His? 

The Bible clearly teaches the concept of personal responsibility: “The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezekiel 18:20).

The first step is to realize God is the only one who can guide and direct us into our paths and purposes in life. And acknowledge that many of the mistakes we make we bring upon ourselves due to our bad choices. Check yourself again and stop blaming God. Pray and ask God to reveal to you whatever it is within you that is hindering you from growing. Then ask God to help you make the right choices going forward. 

  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Someone once said that ”no man was ever endowed with a right without being at the same time saddled with a responsibility.” Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What can we do this week to make better choices? 

The Blame Game

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

It seems like a lot of people these days are angry at God. Why does He allow babies to starve in third world countries, why does He allow bad things to happen, why does He — either actively or passively — cause so much grief? Recent studies indicate that nearly two thirds of people surveyed admit they sometimes feel angry at God in response to some current thing they are suffering with or when life seems unfair. It is called the blame game. 

People blame the government, blame others, and blame luck. And we blame God for the bad things that are happening to us. We can believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God, yet we blame God for what he does in our life, in other’s lives, and in the world. “If God is so loving, why is there so much suffering in the world?” Or, “Why is life so unfair?” Or, “What have I done to deserve this?”  This has been happening since man first walked on the earth. 

God will bring trials into our lives. God will test us. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2–3). The question is will we blame God or will we have the faith to trust God. 

God is not asking us to deny reality, but He does ask us to view life through eyes of faith.

How do we view life with faith? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Notice that it says in all circumstances give thanks. That means even in trials of health, relationships, finances, accidents, and job losses, we thank God, because none of these things are able to separate us from His love.

In fact, God will use them all for our growth and His glory. We do not rejoice because we have a difficulty, but we rejoice in the midst of difficulty because we know that God loves us and that He will use anything that happens to us for our good.

Discussion questions

  1. At some point we have all played the blame game. How fulfilling was it? What was the outcome? 
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13: Who/what causes sin in your life? Is sin a choice? Why or why not? Who is to blame for the choice made?