Walking Into The Unknown

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33.

We have all heard the term the “Christian walk.” It refers to an individual’s personal, spiritual journey. Many times we have false expectations of what the “Christian walk” should be like. Many times we believe that it should be free from troubles and difficulties. Some think that it is dull, boring and mundane. As Paul tells us in Acts 20:22, “…I don’t know what awaits me.”  In other words, the Christian walk is really a journey Into the unknown. 

That is a tough environment to be in. Talk to any business manager and they will tell you that it is very difficult to be successful when unknowns pop up and surprise you. Christians feel the same way about the unknowns in their walk with God. They look at it like a preacher who gives you an outline with blanks but then skips some of the points? That doesn’t work for us,

We like complete outlines. All the blanks filled in. All the gaps closed. All the details disclosed. And all the why questions answered to our satisfaction.

But that’s not the way life is. There will be gaps in our Christian walk that are simply too wide to close. And there are some questions for which there are no apparent answers. But that is the way God wants it because He designed life to be this way.

Without blanks, we would have no room for Him to write in His answers. Without gaps, there would be no way for Him to become the Way when there is no way. Without unanswered questions, there would be no way to show us that He is the answer. If we knew all the details then we would attempt to control our life and story rather than Him to be our life. Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). If we had all the blanks filled in, we would not seek God’s part in our story. Our God is not fickle, forgetful or fragile in any way. He does not make mistakes. He has a purpose for our gaps. He has a divine purpose behind all the blanks and the unanswered questions in our life. He leaves room for faith. 

Learn to be okay with that. Learn that God does what He does for reasons you can’t always see or understand.  Learn to believe that God is good, even when the unknowns of life creep in.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think that God does not give us all the details?
  2. Do you find comfort knowing that God is in the midst of your uncertainties?  Why?

Taking Your Cues From The Spirit

“Your call will become clear as as your mind is transformed by the reading of Scripture and the internal work of God’s Spirit. The Lord never hides His will from us. In time, as you obey the call first to follow, your destiny will unfold before you. The difficulty will lie in keeping other concerns from diverting your attention.” ― Charles R. Swindoll

Have you ever found yourself at an impasse with God? You just can’t seem to shake this idea that the Lord is doing something in your life, and more specifically, what He has next for you. There is only one problem. He isn’t telling you.

So you hit your knees and ask God for direction much like an actor or actress looking for their next cue. You want what all Christians want: for God to lead you and to show you what you are supposed to do with your life. But sometimes it seems the cues are just not there.   

As wonderful as it would be to see the whole picture before we get started, He usually leads us one step at a time after we get started. In Acts 20:22-23, Paul acts on a cue from the Holy Spirit. “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.” Proverbs 16:9 says “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” 

God cannot direct our steps unless we are stepping. God’s first call is to movement, with cues to follow. For example, God calls Abraham out of Ur to “go to a land I will show you.” Not exactly a complete screenplay with all the cues. So it can seem as if God is not particularly interested in providing us with the details of the journey to which He calls us. But, if He is leading us to do something, you can know He has a good reason for it. He sees and knows what you cannot see. But He will never leave us or forsake us. When we take a wrong turn, He is there to say “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) So if you are feeling paralyzed trying to make a major life decision, remember that whichever way you go, you have the Spirit. And He is everything. Go into every day and every decision mindful that your greatest need in life is not guidance from God, but Christ himself.

So look for the cues from the Holy Spirit. It may be a door opened or closed. It may be the power of His presence. It may be a still small voice. It may be a small cue that doesn’t help you understand the master plan. A cue that will not help tell you what He wants you to do with your entire life, but tells you where God is leading you today. And all those cues will lead you exactly where He wants you to go with your life.

Discussion questions:

  1. How sensitive are you to the Holy Spirit’s promptings?  What things in your life can make you numb to such guidance? 
  2. Are there any areas in your life where you are struggling to yield to the cues of the Holy Spirit?  Why do you think it’s been a struggle?  
  3. What can you do differently this week to be more receptive to God’s voice in your life?   

Get Up And Move

“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. ” – Acts 20:22-24

There is an interesting phenomenon that we see throughout the Bible. When God speaks, people move. When God speaks to people there is a call for them to move or respond and act in some way.  When God spoke, Noah moved. He started work on an ark.  He moved into the forest to collect timber. He moved his schedule around to make time for boat building. When God spoke, Abram moved. When God spoke, David moved. And when God spoke, Paul moved. Not only did Paul move but he could not be distracted or moved off his goal. Look at Acts 20:24 again, but this time in the King James Version (KJV) “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” 

Paul here says that “none of these ‘things’ move me”. The amazing thing about that statement is that Paul doesn’t know exactly what those things are. Even then it doesn’t matter. Why?  Because “…none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself so that I may finish my race with joy…”

Are we prayerfully seeking to move forward into all God has planned for us? The truth is there are many things that can hold us back and stop us from becoming the person God has called us to be. Instead of seeking to move on and press into everything God has planned for us, we can be hesitant. The prospect of change can be daunting to some, the idea of change does not come naturally to others. It can become easy to blame circumstances, situations, other people, and bad choices for a lack of movement in our lives.

If we want to be obedient disciples of Jesus, then we must choose to allow God to work in our lives, to work in us and through us, to change and transform us. To take us from where we are to where God wants us to be. The new year is an opportunity for each and every one of us to experience a fresh move of God in our lives.

God speaks and people move. God still speaks. God speaks through His word, God speaks through His people, and God speaks through His Spirit. God still speaks and when He does He invites us to move.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is it that moves you off of your goal?
  2. How and where is God calling you to move?

Wrong Decision. Wrong Direction.

“The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” – Jonah 1: 1-3. . 

If you stopped the average person on the street and asked them where they are going, they would probably answer absolutely. They would draw your attention to Google Maps and Waze on their iPhone and say, “I know how to get there too.”

Everyone likes to think that they have some sense of direction, and most people believe they are going in the right direction. But frequently, people will take a wrong turn somewhere and will wonder, “how in the world did I get here?” That can happen spiritually when we choose our way using our internal compass over the direction God gives us.

God has had a plan for each and every one of us. God had a plan for Jonah, but Jonah wasn’t interested in that plan. He thought he had a better plan. So he went the opposite way God had instructed him. He thought he knew where he was going, and for awhile things seemed pretty good. In fact, at that point Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold (of the ship; Jonah 1:5) 

But things were not going so well. God sent a violent storm at sea that threatened to break the ship apart. The sailors were terrified. They called out in desperation to their gods. They threw everything they were carrying overboard to lighten the ship.They cast lots and Jonah got the short straw. “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” (Jonah 1:12) The sailors hesitated but eventually threw Jonah into the sea and the storm stopped at once.

You know the rest of the story. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish. That convinced him to go where God wanted him to go. Before we judge Jonah, we need to ask ourselves if we too are sometimes running in the wrong direction, thinking we know where we are going. We too may find that things are fine initially. But if we want to do amazing things for God as Jonah did, we need to turn and move in the direction God is leading us. Because no matter where we are headed, God can turn us in His divine direction.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you imagine living in the belly of a fish for three days?
  2. Is it possible to flee from the presence of the Lord? 
  3. How can you know if God is pursuing you?   

Decisions Are Not About A Formula

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7.

According to some recent research, the average person makes thousands of “remotely” conscious decisions per day. These decisions can be as trivial as deciding between fruit loops or cheerios for breakfast, or they can be major decisions on who to marry, where you will live, and what you will do for a career. Because these and other decisions we face can affect us for the rest of our lives, how can we possibly hammer through these and be assured that we are making the best possible decisions? Is there a checklist, or a formula that will help us make the best choices, the best decisions?

It would be nice to have a formula that would enable us to make decisions. Give me some instructions, three steps, some type of blueprint. But while we want a roadmap, prescription or procedure, God wants a relationship.  Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that the secret is a relationship with God: “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.” When you think about it, it really is amazing that God, the creator of the universe, would desire a relationship with us. But He does. We want a formula, something we can follow step by step, but the real answer to making decisions can be found in a relationship with God. 

God not only has the answer, He is the answer. Proverbs 2:6 and 9 states, “For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.…Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.”

Believe that God will guide you. Faith is an important component to accepting God’s wisdom. You must recognize the fact that God wants to communicate with you. Proverbs 4:18 says, “The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.” God’s direction in your decision will become clearer and more distinct as you continue to pray and ask for His help.

We want to reduce our relationship with God to a formula. Give me three steps so I will know what to do. God says, “Know me. Spend time with me. Put Me first in every area of your life because when you do that I will take care of all those details.” It’s all about the relationship we have with God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is a relationship with God so important? How does that relationship help in the decision making process?
  2. What can we do this week to improve our relationship with God?

Play Someone For A Fool

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” – Romans 1:22-23.

Look again at Proverbs 13:20 (ESV): “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  This verse is telling us that there is an alternative to wisdom. It contains a contrasting preposition, “but.” The clause is a warning: “but the companion of fools will suffer harm.“

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, he’s a great kid; he just got in with the wrong crowd.” We can easily become like the people we surround ourselves with. It would seem good advice to surround ourselves with good people.  I know some of you may be thinking, “the Bible says to love all people.” Yes, we are all called to be kind to others, regardless of their state of need or brokenness. So how do you balance your heart to love people without finding yourself suffering harm from being a companion of fools?

The key is to give people different levels of access—to knowing you, spending time with you, speaking into your life—and thus controlling the influence they have on you. That is a way of letting the right people into your life while minimizing the influence that “fools” have on your life. It requires wisdom. We need friends who love us as we are, but are also courageous enough to speak the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. These type of friends really listen and then speak wisdom and truth. They are the friends who come alongside us when we are not at our best and encourage us. The truth is we all have blind spots, things we may not even know we need to work on. It’s important to get help from others to see them clearly and grow into the callings in our lives. Proverbs 11:14 (NASB) says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” These are the people that need complete access.

On the other hand, if we associate with fools, we can easily find ourself ourselves looking in the mirror only to find another fool. So choose your companions wisely.  Be with people who can help you grow into the person you want to be.  Spending time with fools will only hurt you in the long run.

Thankfully, wisdom is not a fleeting dream. Instead, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5). In order for us to be intentionally wise, we must walk with the wise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What qualities do you value most in a friend?
  2. Read Proverbs 13:20. How has this proverb been demonstrated in your life?
  3. What can we do to ensure we don’t suffer from the companionship of fools?

Don’t Hesitate To Ask

“ But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” –  James 3:17. 

King Solomon left quite a legacy. He was known for being the son of King David, for building the Lord’s temple, and he was incredibly rich and famous. But Solomon is most known for being the wisest man to have ever lived. Solomon wasn’t born with incredible wisdom, and he didn’t spend years reading books and going to school until he became the wisest man. Solomon was wise because he asked God for wisdom. 

If God asked you, “what do you want? Ask and I will give it to you,” what would you ask for? Hypothetical, right? No, God actually asked Solomon that very question. Solomon was a pretty new king, and one night in a dream, God appeared to him and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon asked for wisdom. 

In most cases when we are at our wit’s end, when we have painted ourselves into a corner or we simply don’t have the answer, we pray for wisdom. It makes sense that we would pray for the wisdom to help us understand why we are going through this trial or that test. It makes sense for us to ask for wisdom when we are faced with important decisions in our lives. We can trust God when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decisions.

We serve the decision-making-God. We can trust God to order our steps. But we must guard against the terror of error, or the paralysis of analysis because we think we can be wise without God. We need God to free us from second and ten-second guessing our decisions.

Our decisions, like every part of our life, should make us more like Jesus. And for that we need wisdom.  Wisdom to recognize the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us. Wisdom to know when God is leading us in a new direction and wisdom to know when He is telling us to stay where we are. We need the wisdom of God to become the person God wants us to be.

If you lack wisdom in a situation, or in a decision, then ask God to give it to you.”If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5) .

God wants us to live life with wisdom. How many times in our lives can we look back and see how much better it could have played out if we would have asked for God for wisdom before going into the situation? God is willing. We simply need to ask.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why did Solomon ask for wisdom? What keeps us from asking for wisdom?
  2. What can we do this week to incorporate wisdom from God in our decision-making process?

Where Do I Find Wisdom?

“ So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. ” – Ephesians 5:15-16. 

Are you wise? That’s really not a fair question because a truly wise person would probably say no, yet many of us would like to answer yes. We like that idea of being wise, but it would seem arrogant to claim that we are. It’s much easier to talk about someone else being wise.

So what makes a person wise? There have been people throughout history that people view as wise; Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein are some the people considered wise.  Why would we call one person wise and not someone else?

Solomon is remembered as one of the wealthiest (2 Chronicles 1:14-17) and wisest men of all history.  He wrote more than 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, plus the Song of Solomon and the book of Ecclesiastes (1 Kings 4:29-34). Kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. But with all his magnificent wealth and possessions, he understood the value of wisdom: “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.” (Proverbs 8:11). He also stated, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16)

Solomon also said: “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” (Proverbs 13:20)  Who we surround ourselves with has a direct impact on our desire and ability to pursue the kind of life Jesus wants us to live.The friends we run closely with influence the direction we go in. If we want to be wise, we have to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to make good decisions. Proverbs 13:20 tells us we acquire wisdom by walking with the wise. The person who lives in the company of the wise cannot help but to grow in wisdom because they will learn from the experiences and knowledge of their companions. When you spend your time with wise people, you will become wiser yourself.

The alternative to walking with the wise is surrounding oneself with fools, and Proverbs 13:20 warns us that those who do that will “get in trouble.” We are to avoid fools if we don’t want to become one. Fools put themselves in all manner of precarious situations. Which means that you too can be put in precarious situations.

The course of our lives is greatly determined by the many daily choices we make, and wise people can help us navigate those choices wisely.

Discussion questions:

  1. Read Proverbs 13:20: How has this proverb been demonstrated in your life?
  2. How do you manage the tension between “walking with the wise” and yet still have relationships with people who need to have Christ in their life?
  3. What can you do to ensure you have wise people in your life?   

Decisions. Decisions.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8.

If you had the chance, what decisions would you make differently? Probably more than you could count. But as we all know, we can’t go back in time. So in the present, we stress over the decision-making process. An executive who routinely made big decisions was asked about those decisions. His response was surprising. He said it isn’t that he is afraid of making a wrong decision, but rather he is afraid of missing out on the right decision.

That fits nicely with most of us who make decisions. We don’t just want average or even good decisions, we want the right decisions. We don’t want the regret that comes from bad decisions. So we let the pressure build up until making a decision becomes stressful, even paralyzing.

It is paralyzing because as Christians we want to choose the “godliest” option. We’re also paralyzed because we think our decisions will define the rest of our lives. Everything you’re hoping to do depends on this one decision. Lastly, we’re paralyzed in our decision making because we’re waiting for a sign from God. As a result, we begin to overanalyze every choice, every circumstance, and ultimately every decision. What we need is a process with steps to put things through to help us make better decisions.

That process is found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Add to that James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”

Fortunately for us, God is more than willing to provide guidance and direction. He is even interested in the small details. We need to remember that our perspective is limited, only seeing the here and now. It is wonderful to know that God can see the whole picture and will instruct us accordingly to live the life that He has planned for us.

Stop spending so much time worrying about your decisions. Stop asking everyone you know what you should do. Good counsel is great, but the best counsel comes from above. God is in control of all things, including decisions.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why is it so hard sometimes to make the right decisions?
  2. How might being a follower of Jesus make it easier to make good, wise choices? 
  3. What is your best defense against making poor, unwise choices?

Why Do We Do What We Do?

“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” – James 4:2-3.

The Bible has a lot to say about our motives. A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Motives are what’s behind what we do, did or about to do. Proverbs 16:2 says, “People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.” Jeremiah 17:9 says,“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Because the human heart is very deceitful we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Our motives matter because God cares more about who we are becoming than what we are achieving. Our motives determine what we do, who we are, and who we will become. Motives give meaning to our behaviors.

Every person since the beginning has experienced moments where their motives are put to the test. In 1 Samuel 18, King Saul became jealous of David because his growing popularity was just too much for Saul to handle. Saul began scheming of ways he could kill David. Motives give meaning to our behaviors. God knew the true motives of Saul’s heart were to harm David. Just as God knew the motives of David’s heart were to be humble and honorable. Psalm 26:2 says, “Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.Test my motives and my heart.”

One of the best ways to keep our motives pure is to ask God to show us the real reasons we do the things we do. Because when we consider our motives before taking action, we are more likely to act in a way that honors Jesus.

Discussion questions:

  1. How can we tell if our motives are more like Saul, selfish and harmful, or like David, genuine and honorable?
  2. James 4: 3: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. What would some examples of wrong motives be? What could be some ways we could know our motives are right?