Have You Ever Tried Negotiating with God?

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

Life is negotiation. Life is all about our interactions with others—family, friends, colleagues, and most significantly, God.  We tend to do our most negotiating when we face setbacks or difficulties in our life.

Life is challenging for everyone. We should not compare our lives to others because everyone has different circumstances. What we all have in common is we will experience disappointments. Maybe it is the end of a once-promising relationship. The loss of an opportunity that has thrown a monkey wrench in your hopes for the future. The disappointments that are the ones that are the hardest to deal with those are the ones you prayed about but God gave you a different answer than the one you wanted. You feel a little like David did in Psalm 73: 13-14: “Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.” In other words,  you have tried to do things right and obedient, but things aren’t working out from your perspective.  

Disappointment also motivates us to figure out what mistakes or wrong moves we made and figure out the right moves. If we do that then God will give us what we desire. It’s kind of making unspoken deals with God by trying to decipher the right formulas: the secret recipe for finding a spouse; the way to seize the opportunity in front of us, etc. The right formula will result in the right ending. We even word our prayers in a way that we hope will persuade God to resolve a particular circumstance. Most of us tried this as kids. “If I eat half my brussel sprouts, I can have a bowl of ice cream, right?” Parents were too smart for that and demanded we eat everything on our plate if we wanted dessert. But such deals cannot be made with God because He is God and sees what we cannot see. Deuteronomy 29:29 says: “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.” We need to learn to trust God rather than negotiate with Him. Often the reasons why things happen are only known to Him.  If I think I can somehow negotiate with God to manipulate Him into doing things my way by following a certain set of rules, I am in for some disappointment.

We tend to look at prayer as a way of asking things from God. However, when prayer is just asking we often grow frustrated when the answers are not immediately forthcoming or not according to our expectations. God often uses the process of prayer to bring us around to His way of thinking; to understand His mind and perspective on things. In prayer then, God often changes us to see what He sees and then asks for what He wants.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever negotiated with God? How did it work out? 
  2. What can we do this week to trust God enough to accept His answers to our prayers? 

God’s Plan For Good In My Life

“This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:10-11.

How do we choose what path to take for our life? We have more options than any generation before us. Technology, status, material wealth, and a global community presents the average person with more opportunities than our parents could have ever imagined. With all those choices, how do you choose the direction of your life?  

As believers, we trust God and know that His plans for us are good as we read in Jeremiah 29:11. Romans 8:28 tells us that God desires good for His children. This theme is repeated throughout the Bible. When we think about God’s good plans for us, we usually focus on the usual suspects; finding and marrying our soulmate, raising wonderful children, rising up through the ranks at work, and retiring comfortably by the time we are age 60. When we have our plans mapped out like that, God can become our life coach rather than our Lord. We want God to monitor our progress as we move through those steps and to intervene when we need His help. Instead of seeking God’s plan, we too often expect Him to comply with our prayer instructions for our lives. And when God says no, we wonder why when our lives wind up nothing like our expectations. 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 says “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 to 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. God 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 good and His plans for your life can be trusted.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?
  2. Proverbs 16:4 says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?

Prayer: Delight Or Duty?

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7. 

What do you think of prayer? Is it just another line on your “to-do” list when you’ve completed a lot of the other things on the list? Do you sometimes view prayer as a distraction, or as drudgery or chore? Are you uncomfortable that you know enough “prayer speak” to do it well? Is prayer a requirement you regret or an opportunity to communicate that you relish? 

Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about prayer is that it needs to be done a certain way using a formula with just the right religious words. Scripture presents a much less rigid picture of prayer, one that looks more like a conversation. For example, Moses argued with God about going back to Egypt (Exodus 3:11-14), Elijah complained to Him about feeling alone (1 Kings 19:10) and Mary responded to God with a spontaneous, heartfelt song (Luke 1:46).

Prayer is a different conversation than we normally have. We are used to talking with people face-to-face or over the phone and getting immediate responses that enable us to drive the conversation in the direction we want it to go. A conversation with God is completely different.  It takes faith and honesty. The Book of Psalms is basically a prayerbook and in its pages, you will find joy, serenity, victory, thanksgiving, petition, anger, disappointment, loss, grief, fear, and despair. It’s all there. One of David’s most profound prayers is striking in its simplicity: “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’  (Psalm 27:8) This is an uncomplicated statement born out of an intimate friendship: “You want to talk with me, and I want to talk with you.” 

Prayer is a conversation with God. But it has to be honest. Five minutes of honest prayer is better than two hours of a prayer of rhetoric and “stained glass” themes. And something starts to happen when we become really honest in prayer.  All of a sudden, prayer is not so much another thing to do as it is a foundation for everything we do. It feels good to communicate with someone who loves us and has plans for our life. Because prayer is about building a relationship with God rather than getting what we want, He welcomes all of our feelings, thoughts, and doubts. In return, He offers us His steady, loving presence. 

God wants us to come to Him and lay everything — our dreams, desires, struggles, anger, temptation, fear, confusion, and heartache — at His feet, not just so we’ll feel known by Him but so we’ll learn His heart and develop the deepest, most faithful friendship we’ve ever known.

So pray. Pray honestly and wait for the Lord. It’s not a chore, it’s a privilege and a delight.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the antidote to duty-driven prayer? 
  2. What can we do this week to make prayer a delight rather than a chore?   

Our View Of God

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. For this reason, the gravest question before the church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.” – A.W. Tozer in The Knowledge of the Holy.

What do you think of when you think of God? Do you imagine an old man bathed in blinding light? Do you think of a close friend or a distant ruler? Theologian A. W. Tozer reminds us that our view of God is vitally important to our character. How we see God will directly influence how we live. When we think of God we must first and foremost remember that God is not just a concept, He is a real and indescribable being. In fact, if we view God for who He really is, we will be in awe.

It is impossible to know all of who God is. But we get glimpses. Even for people like Noah, Moses, Elijah, and others in Scripture that have talked with God and have experienced being in His presence in a very real way, it was difficult for them to see and understand who God is.

Moses talked with God during his encounter with the burning bush (see Exodus 3). During the Israelites wandering in the desert, God appeared to them as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke (see Exodus 13:21-22). Moses is one of the most loved and respected people in the Old Testament, but even he didn’t have a complete picture of who God is.  

We are directly dependent on Scripture to give us the full view of Jesus. To know Jesus, we need to know Scripture. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” All scripture, from Moses and the Old Testament prophets to the Gospels, the books written by Paul, and Revelation, all reveal Jesus to us. If we ignore Scripture, we will not know Jesus. When we choose what we like in the Bible and ignore what we don’t, we get a distorted view of Jesus. Scripture reveals the true Jesus. Jesus reveals God to us.

A.W. Tozer’s perspective on God is very interesting and very true. Our very lives and character center on how we view our God. If we see Him as a weak, passive, and unnecessary God, our lives will reflect this. We will not trust or rely on Him. On the flip side, if we see God as powerful, active, and life-sustaining, we will cling to Him and praise Him as our Savior.  

We must pursue an accurate view of God. He wants to have a relationship with us, and it starts by getting to know Him for who He really is.

Discussion Questions

  1. How did you develop your view of God? Do you believe it is accurate?   

“Am I Good Enough?”

 “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.” – Acts 11:24. 

Every believer at some point in their Christian walk begins to doubt and asks themselves this simple question: “am I good enough?”  We know that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross pays for the sins of the world, and cleanses people of sin, yet those pesky doubts of unworthiness and feelings of not being good enough can creep back into our lives. 

In the early church, Barnabas was well-known as a respected leader. In Acts 11, he’s described as a good man. It doesn’t mean Barnabas never sinned, for we all do. However, his reputation was one that identified him as a man who abstained from evil and sin. In other words, he was a good man. In Acts 4, Barnabas sold his property and gave the money to help the poor saints and relieve their suffering. He found ways to encourage others and he was obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We walk in the Spirit when we are led by the Spirit. We will be led by something. Maybe it’s sports, work, money, hobbies, family, possessions, fame, or love. But when we live Spirit-led lives, we surrender our will to His and the result is a life of joy and peace.

Barnabas was full of Faith. Barnabas didn’t have a wavering faith. He didn’t have faith when things were going well. Barnabas had a deep faith in God. “Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (Matthew 21:21-22) Jesus wasn’t talking about easy faith or casual prayer. He was talking about the kind of faith that holds strong against any situation, regardless of how impossible it might seem. 

So what about us? Would you be considered a good person? The filling of the Holy Spirit transformed Barnabas’ life. The Holy Spirit is a person who knows you and loves you. Have you ever needed direction? Have you ever wanted answers to do whatever it is that you are doing? Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to be a counselor, one who would come alongside, and help you navigate through the decisions you are making in your life. Scripture says He comforts the saved.  He convicts the lost.  He conveys the truth. He points people to Jesus. Developing a relationship with the Holy Spirit is crucial for those who desire to discover and fulfill God’s will for their lives.

Where does your faith stand?  Faith is not a feeling. Faith has nothing to do with your feelings. Faith is simply a recognition that God has promised something, and, since He is God, to expect Him to do it.  

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough? 
  2. What can we do this week to live a life full of the Holy Spirit?

Intercessory Prayer

“Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” – Hebrews 7:25.

Have you ever felt the urge to pray for the community or the world at large? That is intercessory prayer. The Bible is filled with examples of men and women who lifted up others in prayer.

Intercessory prayer is a prayer for the needs of others. Praying for other people is not just a religious exercise for Christians seeking to check all the boxes on their spiritual to-do list. According to Scripture, praying for other people is important. When we pray for one another, it helps in very practical ways.

Jesus is an example of intercessory prayer. In the midst of His greatest trial, Jesus prayed fervently. What would you have prayed about when facing torture and death? It’s fascinating to see what was on Jesus’ mind as He prayed, not only for Himself but for His disciples and for us: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:120-21).

God gives us instructions to pray for others in several places in the Bible. James tells us to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16). The apostle Paul encourages us to intercede (pray) for Church members and ministers and for himself:  “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20). And 1 Timothy 2:1-2 adds, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”

God is at work and He invites us to join Him in His work by praying for others.  The work of intercession is never completed. It is an ongoing and persistent task. The subject matter changes often, but the call to pray is the same… and always necessary.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does intercessory prayer mean to you? 
  2. Do you pray for other people? Do these prayers work? What do you do when a prayer is not answered (as you thought it would be)?
  3. What lost friend or relative can you intercede for today? 

Some Common Misconceptions about Prayer – Part 2

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” – Psalm 91:14-16. 

Prayer is very simple. Praying is having a personal conversation with a loving God who’s always there to hear us and help us. Real prayer, the truly powerful kind of prayer, is just a heartfelt, honest conversation between God and us that we can do anytime, anyplace. But there are some misconceptions about prayer.  

Over the years people have developed the idea that prayer is reserved for “big” things in our life. That is a misconception. Prayer is an appropriate response for any situation. Prayer can be used for healing from breast cancer to asking God to stop the itching from a yellow fly bite. Regardless of if we are praying for little things or big things, we must remember that God isn’t a vending machine. We can’t pick the outcome we want. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we would like them answered. One of the great things about praying often—for both little and big things—is that it keeps us in communication with God. Communicating with Him helps our hearts become more like His. The better we know God’s heart, the more we understand His ways and His will. This helps us align our hearts with His so we have a better idea of how to pray and how to respond regardless of how these prayers are answered. 

Another misconception is that prayer is complicated. Sometimes we make prayer more complicated than it is. It’s not a formal conversation in which we’re required to repeat spiritual-sounding phrases. Neither is it a case of meeting some criteria to enter God’s presence. Prayer is a heart-to-heart connection in which we come into God’s presence assured of His welcome: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” (Ephesians 3:12).  God wants us to pour out our hearts when we feel grieved or disappointed. To tell Him when we’re afraid. To share our delights and joys with Him. He wants to be a part of our life. He wants to be our life. Prayer is not complicated. 

Still another misconception is that God doesn’t answer our prayers. You heard the phrase prayer changes things. But sometimes it seems like it doesn’t.  You ask for something from God and nothing happens—it’s like He wasn’t even listening.  God listens to all of our prayers, regardless of what we ask (Matthew 7:7). He does not ignore His children (Luke 18:1–8). His answer may be some variation of “yes” or “no” or “wait, not now.” But God always answers. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you pray for little things? Why or why not? 
  2. Do you think prayer is complicated? If so, how do you uncomplicate it this week? 
  3. How has God answered prayers in your life?   

Some Common Misconceptions About Prayer

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6

There is incredible power and potential in prayer. 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. 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. But there are some misconceptions about prayer.   

For example, some people view prayer as a monologue, a one-way conversation. Like all communication, prayer goes both ways.  It is a two-way conversation that requires listening even more than talking. You need help, guidance, protection, and favor. You need these things and so you go to God asking for those things. But you are doing all the talking. When you stop to listen, you’ll find God wants to talk to you, too. He may do it in a variety of ways: by reminding you of a Bible verse or the lyrics of a song, by bringing to mind a message you’ve heard, by placing a thought in your mind that lines up with Scripture, or maybe just by surrounding you with the peace that passes all understanding. Prayer is supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue. So if we don’t make those intentional moments of giving God space to act, we forget we’re in a conversation. We forget that God wants a relationship, not just prayers said at Him, but prayer as an encounter with Him.

Another misconception is prayer requires a lot of great-sounding “spiritual” words. Not true. God loves childlike faith, so He welcomes and cherishes all prayers. Remember, He is looking at your heart, not at the quality of your vocabulary. You don’t have to convince God of what you need. He already knows. Just go to Him as simply, honestly, and humbly as you can, and talk about what you need. Don’t use prayer to show off. Instead, be sincere. Don’t spout off clichés. Don’t add in fillers because you’re afraid your prayers are too short. Talk to God like you would to a loved one or a good friend.

Another misconception is that prayer is boring. It can seem that way if you treat prayer like it’s a task – just something to check off your list of to-dos.  Christians run the risk of prayer seeming like something ordinary because we’ve heard about it so often. Our familiarity with the idea of God loving us can prevent us from grasping how amazing prayer is. Somehow, God has an invested interest in our moods, thoughts, and life events. He cares about even those insignificant things. And to show the greatness of His love, God actually wants us to ask Him for things. To put this in perspective, this is the King of Kings who doesn’t need anything from us. On the contrary, He has every right to only ask for things from us, but who listens intently to each request no matter how small and delights in responding to them. The truth is that prayer empowered by the Holy Spirit is so exciting because you never know what new things God will reveal to you in prayer or what/who He puts on your heart to pray for, or how He will answer your prayer. That doesn’t sound very boring. 

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you know when prayer is a one-way conversation? 
  2. Why is it so important to be simple and sincere in prayer?  
  3. Do you think prayer is boring? If so, how do you change that? 

Prayer 101

“Prayer is conscious, personal communication with the God of the universe. A better question than “How’s your prayer life?” might be, “Have you been enjoying conscious communication with God — over His word, in your daily needs, throughout your day?” Has your relationship with Hm been real — not a box to check, not just a hurried place for help, not a vague abstract idea hovering over your head and life? Has your faith been tying you to Him in your heart? Have you been leaning on Him, and not yourself?” – John Piper, Desiring God. 

When you think about someone praying what goes through your mind? Perhaps you imagine someone kneeling beside their bed, listing his or her needs to God. Maybe you see someone sitting silently seeking to be in the presence of God. Or maybe you see a small group holding hands thanking God for answered prayer. So what is prayer and how do you develop a consistent and effective prayer life?  

One beautiful thing that we all have in common is that we can all do better with our prayer life. All of us can improve, increase and intensify our personal prayer life, no matter how long we have been praying to the God of all creation.

Prayer is the way we communicate with God. It’s a spontaneous, one on one, and unorganized form of petitioning and thanking God for all that He has done in our lives. When we pray, we talk to God like we do our friends. We share all our worries, emotions, and feelings with Him and also thank Him for the life that He has given us.  Prayer is the glue that holds together the relationship between God and His people.

Prayer makes a huge difference when we begin to realize that’s not about asking for what we want, it’s about asking for what God wants. It’s not about searching to figure out how I can get what I want. It’s about searching for the will of God – knowing many decisions will have no clear Biblical answer; such as “should I have this surgery” or “do I take this out-of-state job?”  Prayer is about staying in constant communications with God, asking for His will in our lives. C. S. Lewis wrote, “I don’t pray to change God. I pray because I have to. I pray because I can’t help myself. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

Perhaps the best reason to pray is that Jesus prayed. If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray regularly, sometimes all night praying to His Father, then certainly we need to pray. Jesus said, “…Yet I want your will to be done, not mine…” (Luke 22:42) When we learn to pray the same way, then we begin to experience a faith that is real. When we pray like Jesus, it will change our routine prayer life into one that provides intimacy, fulfillment, and direction to our lives and ministries.

If you are not already doing so, find a private place where you can escape to spend some intimate time with your Father. Spend whatever time it takes to align your will with His. Then talk to Him about the needs that you have and your dependence on Him to provide those things for you. 

 

Discussion Questions

  1. What practical suggestions have helped you most in your prayer life? Why? 
  2. What can you do this week to work on your prayer life?  

The Presence Of God

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – Acts 4:13 (NIV). 

The word that jumps off the page is the word “ordinary.” Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men yet because they had been with Jesus, people could see the difference. They spent time with Him. They were diamonds in the rough. They were uneducated. They were common. But they were not scared. They did not let fear grip them. They faced their fears with boldness and people took notice. All because they had “been with Jesus.

Jesus had recently been crucified yet His followers were unafraid to proclaim the same message that caused His death. Their courage wasn’t something they manufactured. Their boldness came from the presence of God in their lives.  

The presence of God makes a big difference. Remember Moses’ prayer in the wilderness: “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16 NIV). His presence is meant to be at the core of all that we do. God so hated separation from us that Jesus was sent to pay the ultimate price so God’s presence would be available to everyone. Psalm 139:7-8 says, “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.” And Psalm 84:3-4 says, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises.”

So how do we encounter the presence of God? How do we experience His nearness? Encountering God is similar to encountering another person. I don’t seek an experience with a friend; I simply seek to know Him by spending time with Him and gaining experience as a result. I don’t seek to hear the voice of a friend; I simply engage in conversation with Him as an act of wanting to know Him and hear His voice as a result.  

The more you draw near to God, the more you will experience Him in your life. The more you pray, the more you realize He hears you. The more you read your Bible, the more you realize how true and unchanging He is. The more you choose to trust Him, the more you will miraculously witness His faithfulness. If you’ve found yourself searching for change, for more in your life, first draw near to God and He will draw close to you.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe God is always there? How have you experienced that?
  2. What can we do this week to make His presence real in your life?