Pour Your Heart Out

“O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.” – Proverbs 23:26. 

Have you ever sat down with someone and listened to them pour their heart out about something in their lives. If you have, you know that it is a special moment. A bond forms. A closeness grows. But in order to open your heart to another person you must trust that person. It requires a trust that the other person will be a good listener, will care and be empathetic. And will work and be with you to help you overcome whatever you are facing.

God wants our trust. God offers to be our refuge–the place where we can find understanding, compassion and wisdom. He wants us to tell Him what is on our minds. He invites us to talk to Him about anything and everything; especially the times when it requires us to be completely open and honest before Him. He wants us to pour our heart out to Him.

The Old Testament book of Samuel introduces us to Hannah: a godly woman who had some problems. Her problems weren’t brief and they weren’t simple and they made her feel empty and frustrated. Hannah experienced infertility and she also had a complicated relationship with a rival-wife.  Hannah’s husband had two wives. While having two wives was a cultural norm at the time, as you might guess it was complicated. (Read 1 Samuel 1-2 for the full story of Hannah.)

Hannah didn’t pretend to be okay.  She openly admitted, “…I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:15). 1 Samuel 1:10 says,”Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.”  She took her burdens directly to God. Hannah didn’t just briefly bend a knee, she poured out her soul. She poured out her sorrow, her disappointments, her frustrations, her depression, her confusion, her anger, her embarrassments, her anguish and her grief. She poured out her emptiness. She wanted a son and God remembered her plea. God gave her a son. 

Before she spent time with the Lord, Hannah had lost her appetite and was filled with despair. After she poured out her soul to God, the Bible shows us that her appetite returned and her countenance had changed. “Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad.” (1 Samuel 1:18)

God is faithful. He longs to fill our souls with peace regardless of the circumstances we face.  Hannah was changed, but realize this:  Hannah didn’t just do a “drive thru” prayer time with God.  She parked there for a while and did some serious business with Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you relate to Hannah? In what way?
  2. How does one go about pouring out their heart to God?
  3. Do you look at pouring your heart out to God as an act of worship? Why or why not?
  4. What can we do this week to move closer to God?

Getting To The Heart Of Worship

“O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.” – Proverbs 23:26.

God said “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) God said “if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.” (Deuteronomy 4:29). God said we have to “serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” (Joshua 22:5). God says “…obey with all your heart and all your soul…”  (Deuteronomy 30:2). And God says, “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.” (Psalms 9:1)  The Bible is filled with verses on the heart, 830 times to be exact in the King James Version. But also notice that God likes the word “all” as well. 

If God tells me to love him with some of my heart, I’m on it. Seek him with some of my heart? I can do that. Serve him with some of my heart? No problem. But God doesn’t want some. It’s what most of us give Him, but he’s not interested. God wants all of you, not just a part of you. He wants you to be fully committed to Him, not just 90 percent committed. He wants 100 percent, with no reservation. 

So true worship is about our relationship with God, it’s about who sits on the throne of our heart, because whatever we worship, whatever we put first, whatever trumps prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, and serving others, communicates what we love the most. Worship is expressing love. And yet time after time we find ourselves being enticed to worship other things. You see, any time our hearts are filled with anything but God, we find our lives are full, we’re busy, we’re distracted, but we’re just empty on the inside, because all the things of this world can’t satisfy the heart created to be satisfied by God.

Desire for other things that can grow up around us and reduce the “all” to “not all.” It can be pressure from money, relationships, illness or a variety of other circumstances and situations. There is no better time to give all of your heart to God than in the midst of trials and tribulations. And there is no better time to pour out your heart to God than during the Christmas season. The best decision you can ever make is to fully commit your heart to God and His plan for your life, whatever your circumstances.

A.W. Tozer said, “God is trying to call us back to that for which He created us, to worship Him and enjoy Him forever.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define worship?
  2. Worship involves communication with God through such means as prayer and quiet time. What can you do to remind yourself to think about God and talk to Him more often throughout the day?
  3. Which is more pleasing to God right now—your public worship or your private worship? Why?
  4. Worship is expressing your affection to God, focusing your attention on God, and using your abilities for God. What is one thing you will do this week to become a better worshipper? 

Born In A Barn

“At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. …All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:1-7.

It is a rite of passage for most kids these days. You are in such a rush to go outside that you run out the door and leave it wide open. Your father or mother will inevitably see this and call out to you, “shut the door! You weren’t born in a barn!” There is no biblical evidence to suggest this, but I wonder if Mary ever told Jesus the same thing. And then you have to wonder what Jesus’ answer would have been.

While we are not sure if Jesus was born in a barn, stable, or some type of shelter, we do know that the Savior was  born in the most humble circumstances imaginable. Who would think that an event so important to human history would take place in a stable, with God himself spending his first night in the world in a trough meant for feeding animals? In this manner, the Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords was born into the world.

Jesus lived His life like most of the people around Him – only poorer. No matter how many times I think or talk about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, I am filled with awe. For all eternity His home had been heaven, surrounded by all the glory and power that were rightfully His as God’s only Son. But He willingly left all that behind and came down to share our messy lives on this earth.

My awe increases when I read what Paul spoke of the great mystery of our faith in 1 Timothy 3:16: “Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory.” Don’t you find that extraordinary? God “was revealed in a human body.”

The mystery of Christmas is how God could become man while remaining fully God. It defies human explanation, but in the perfect wisdom of God, it was the plan of the ages. Jesus was completely human and completely divine. Jesus is God, but He left the majesty of Heaven to be born among animals and live as one of us. He is a King who was raised in poverty. The birth of Jesus Christ was the most humble birth, yet it can bring you salvation and eternity in Heaven.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you feel about putting your firstborn child in a feed trough because that was the only place there was room? 
  2. Does the birth of Jesus bring you joy? Awe? Amazement?
  3. What can we do this week to stop concentrating on ourselves and concentrate on Jesus?   

God’s Gift To Man

“The greatest and most momentous fact which the history of the world records is the fact of Christ’s birth.” ~Charles H. Spurgeon

Over the years there have always been hard to find toys. And because they were hard to find, the kids wanted them. You had Chatty Cathy, G.I. Joe, Star Wars figures, Cabbage Patch dolls, Transformers, Teddy Ruxpin, Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies, Furby’s and Nintendo Wii to name a few. The lucky ones who got the hot toy for that year were ecstatic because these gifts were their ticket out of Normalville and into Coolville. You would be the kid that everybody wanted to play with.

The question is when did Christmas become about gifts. When did it transform from the birth of the Savior to big marketing and commercialization? We all ponder that question during the Christmas season. We all wonder how best to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a stable and yet still managed to save the world. The best way to do that is to give Christmas back to Jesus. Not just a corner of it, but all of it. There is nothing wrong with gifts; but let’s give Jesus the gifts of our time, energy and resources. They will last long after the new juicer is broken or outdated.

Christ’s life begins and ends surrounded by two of the most vivid exhibits of faith in the Bible. At His birth that exhibit of faith is in the wisemen—at His death it is the thief who repents. Both were presented with the impossible—an infant who sure didn’t look like God, and a crucified man that also failed to look the part of the Eternal King of Glory.

The wisemen believed in Christ when they had never seen him. They believed in Him when the scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving. They saw no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any of us. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the Savior of the world. They “bowed down and worshiped him.” (Matthew 2:11). 

That worship is a presentation of our gifts to God. We read that these wisemen “gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  The gifts had both significance and meaning. Gold is for a king. Frankincense is for a priest. And myrrh is for the One who was to die. These gifts of the wisemen, even in the infancy of Jesus, at the cradle of Christ, foretold that He was to be the true King (john 12:15), the perfect High Priest (Hebrews 2:17) and the Savior of mankind (Luke 2:11).

The wisemen recognized Christ as a king. One did not enter the presence of a king or other royalty without bearing gifts of great value. And they did not simply drop off the gifts on their way to visit their grandparents. By most accounts, they spent more than a year searching for the Messiah. 

What gifts will we give to Jesus this Christmas season?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn about gift-giving from the wisemen?
  2. Are there  “gifts” in our life that God gets blamed for? Is He responsible?  
  3. What are some gifts God has given you, and how do you show Him your appreciation?
  4. What obstacles keep you from giving the gift of worship this Christmas season?   

A Long Journey

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” – Micah 5:2. 

Have you ever thought about how easy travel is today?  The family piles into the SUV to take a ride to the grandparent’s house for Christmas. Even though it is December, it is hot in Florida. But no problem. You are riding in air conditioned comfort. You are rocking to your favorite tunes. You are sitting in a soft leather seat. You soon grow tired of listening to the music so you get out your laptop and start a Christmas movie you haven’t finished yet. You hit a bump in the road, but the shocks level it off to nothing.  You didn’t even spill your Diet Coke sitting in the cup holder. Your grandparent’s live about 200 miles from your house and you will get there in about 3 hours. Even then it seems to take too long.  But it will be so worth it to sit down to Grandma’s turkey, all the trimmings and some of that to-die-for apple pie.   

Now, compare your normal traveling experience to that of the wisemen in Biblical times. Back then you walked almost everywhere you went—to work, to worship, and even sometimes to your relatives (who might live thirty miles away). When Jesus was on earth, it seems that He walked nearly everywhere He went. Although animals such as mules, donkeys, horses, and camels often were used when traveling really long distances, walking was still the most common method of travel.

We know that the wisemen were from “the East,” most likely Persia, or modern-day Iran. This means the wisemen traveled 800 to 900 miles to see the Christ child. Traveling in ancient times was much different than it is today. To avoid the extreme heat of the sun, travelers would often journey by night, and get their direction from the stars. People also traveled at nighttime in order to help escape detection from thieves, who (like in the parable of the Good Samaritan—Luke 10:29-37) would hide beside the road waiting for someone to rob. And if that was not enough, a  traveler had to beware of wild animals along the way. Lions, leopards, and bears were just a few of the animals that used to lurk about the land of Palestine.

In view of the many dangers that travelers encountered along their journeys, the wisemen traveled a long distance to see the Christ child. They stepped out in faith. Many times our journeys, the most difficult ones the Lord asks us to take will be like the wisemen, and we feel like we begin it all alone. However, God is always with us–willing to lead and guide us as we look to Him and follow Him step by step.

Many times, the Lord will also provide others to journey with us—who kind of meet us half way yet they become just a big part of our journeys. Together we encourage one another and cheer one another on—pick one another up when one falls and rejoice as we get closer to the finish line that the Lord has called us to.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever taken some steps in life without knowing where and if God was leading you? What happened? 
  2. Do you think you would have the faith to take on a 900 miles trip in Biblical times?
  3. Trusting God often means dropping conditions that we have.  Agree or disagree?
  4. What conditions do we need to drop this week?

A Bundle Of Joy

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

Most people view Christmas as synonymous with joy. Christmas songs certainly seem to suggest that songs like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” all communicate that Christmas time is to be a joyous, trouble-free season. We know that is not always true. There are times when it is hard to have a holly-jolly Christmas.

What can we do to improve our level of joy this Christmas? The answer is found in the story of the wisemen in Matthew 2. Start by asking yourself this simple question: What is it that would make your Christmas wonderful and satisfying? All the family together and happy? Finding the right present to give? Getting the present you have been hoping for?  If this is what you are looking for, then you are looking for the wrong thing. The wisemen were looking for the right thing. They came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” That is what we need to be looking for and expecting this Christmas – an experience of worship, a fresh glimpse of Jesus. If our goal this Christmas is to worship Jesus, then I doubt very seriously we will not experience joy.

The next question is where are you looking for joy at Christmas. We learn from the wisemen that there are wrong and right places to look for Christmas. They started by looking in the wrong place. They went to the palace of Herod and found out that was a mistake.  We too are tempted to look for joy at Christmas in the wrong places. We think by getting or giving the right gift we will be satisfied, only to find out we are not. 

The wisemen also model for us the joy in giving. The wisemen came bearing gifts. The gifts they gave were entirely appropriate. We ought to give appropriate gifts this Christmas as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about material gifts. I am talking about more important things. We ought to give the gift of our love and kindness to our friends and family. We ought to give the gift of our help to those who are hurting. We ought to give the gift of forgiveness to those who have hurt us. Giving these kinds of gifts will result in a joyous and meaningful Christmas.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you rate your joy at Christmas?
  2. Think of one of the best Christmas gifts you’ve ever given to someone. What made it the best, and how long do you think they appreciated it?
  3. What are some things you currently enjoy or love about the holiday season? What don’t you like? Is there a common theme between what you like and don’t like?
  4. What new tradition(s) can you plan that would focus more on Jesus’ presence than presents?

A Journey of Faith

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” – Matthew 2:1-2.

We know the story of the wisemen from the Bible, but how much do we actually know? We don’t know for sure how many were there, where they came from or how long their journey took. They show up and then they are gone. But this was a journey of faith. 

What would prompt someone to leave the comfort of their homes to go on a dangerous journey? Romance? Yes. Wealth? Most definitely. But faith? Yes, faith. They asked, “Where is He who has been born the King of the Jews?” That is an interesting question. They had seen the star – the evidence was real – now where is He? They had faith that He was alive – that He existed – now all they needed to do was to find Him. They were willing to risk everything to find Him. They were willing to leave the safety of their homes to risk a perilous journey to seek a King.

Can you imagine what the relatives, neighbors and friends reactions were? “By your actions, I am assuming you are going away, is that true? Yes. Where are you going exactly? Well, I am not sure. Well, how far is it? I’m not sure of that either. At least tell me how long you expect to be gone. Well, I’m not sure of that either. So, you don’t know where you are going, how far it is or how long you will be gone, is that right? Yes. Remind me again why they call you guys wisemen?”

Abraham probably heard the same things when he left his home for the Promised Land. They must have said the same things to Noah who was building an ark – even though it had never rained in the history of the earth up till that point. They must have said the same kind of things to Peter, Andrew, John and James when they left the fishing nets to become fishers of men. People of faith have been willing to respond to the challenges of the unknown over and over again down through history. But God guided them on their journey.

The star was a sign from God, a supernatural sign to lead them along their way. God cares enough for His people that He will never leave them to themselves, guessing apart from Him which way to go, which way to turn and what decision to make. He desires to lead His children, to guide His children and bring His children to their destination.

Was there a price to be paid for the wisemen’s worship? Yes. Travel in those days was not very comfortable – in fact it could be down right dangerous. But the wise men were willing to make the sacrifice to find the newborn king and worship Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you see the wisemen’s journey as a journey of faith? Why or why not?
  2. How has your journey toward God been similar or different than the wisemen?  
  3. The wisemen were led by a star to Jesus. What are various things in your life that lead you to Jesus? What are some habits and external influences that we can build into our lives to point us toward Jesus?
  4. King Herod tried to alter the purpose of their search for and worship of Jesus. What internal and external forces threaten or distract your pursuit of and worship of Jesus?

Distract Yourself From The Distractions Of Christmas

“I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” – 1 Corinthians 7:35

Christmas is the season for distractions. Traffic is heavy, the stores are crowded, the lines are long and patience is in short supply. We wander from line to line, or wander aimlessly waiting for the time when we can “get out of there.”  Around every corner there is something that seeks to increase the stress and steal the joy of the season from us. 

Between today and Christmas, we will face the inevitable distractions.  As a result, it is a lot easier said than done trying to simplify life and keep  Christ at the center of our celebration. If this is you, you are not alone. Nor should we be surprised. The Devil wants nothing more than to turn our focus from the real message of Christmas.  He wants nothing more than getting us all caught up in wrapping paper, parties, details and Christmas lights. And we all know he is pretty good at it.

So what do we do this Christmas season to deal with the many demands, the constant deadlines, and tensions in relationships.  How do we to handle the distractions?

In Philippians 4:4, Paul says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!”  I know what you are thinking, here comes the think positive and don’t worry speech. And what’s more those phrases won’t help me deal with the distractions. But Paul is not telling us to don’t worry, be happy, he is saying we should rejoice. We should worship the Lord. He is telling us to remember who we are and who we belong to and ignore the distractions.

In the midst of the Christmas rush, we must remind ourselves that our reason for celebration this season is not the decorations, it’s not the presents, the carols or any of these surface things.  Our reason for joy is the Lord.

We can have a Christ-centered Christmas.  But it takes focus and determination.  Yes, we will have to  deal with the distractions. But they not keep us from remembering the real reason for the season by worshipping the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Discussion Questions

  1. In your opinion, what is the best part of Christmas?
  2. Do you think it’s possible to avoid stress, debt, and huge crowds during the Christmas season? Why or why not?
  3. What impact do you think that all the “merchandizing, stress, commercialization, etc. has had on Christmas?
  4. What’s the one thing you can do to reduce the distractions at Christmas? 

Tis The Season To Worship

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” – John 1:14.

This year will be like any other. We will all hear the comments, view the illustrations and observe the traditions that surround every Christmas season. But there is one phrase that you tend to hear most often at Christmas time. You will hear people say that this person, this group or all of us could use a little more Christmas spirit. But what exactly is Christmas spirit? How do I get it and how do I demonstrate it every day? 

To me, Christmas is about worshipping our Savior. It is about falling on our knees in wonder, worshipping God, who came to us a baby, lying in a manager, surrounded by animals, because there was no room in the inn. No matter if you were saved yesterday or have been a follower of Jesus for decades, it is hard to get your arms around the wonder of the Christmas story. 

Christmas “spirit” is not found in bright decorations and Christmas music. It is not found in a Christmas tree. It is not found in brightly wrapped gifts. Nor is it found in out-dazzling our neighbors with a bigger outdoor display. It is not found in being warm and glowing. It is found in the joy of knowing that the history-changing story of Christ’s birth is true.

I believe true Christmas spirit is a deep-seated joy in worshipping the Christ child born to save mankind from their sins. It is so easy to celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts and spending time with family, but never connect the celebration with the reason for it. It is much like going to a wedding reception to celebrate their union without knowing the bride and groom.

If you truly have the Christmas spirit, you could remove the trees, lights, presents, food, and music, and your joy would continue unfazed. That is because they personally know the Christ who was born in a manger.

If we all worshipped this mystery at Christmas, lived that worship in every moment of our life’s during the Christmas season, we would all have the Christmas spirit. The Christmas season brings a perfect opportunity to include our friends, neighbors, and relatives in our worship of God and model to them our love of Him. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define Christmas spirit?
  2. Should our worship experience be any different at Christmas? Why or why not?
  3. If you decided to “skip Christmas,” what impact would that have on you?
  4. Are you willing to change anything about how you celebrate Christmas this year? If so, what? How will those changes effect your Christmas?

Worship In Spirit And In Truth

“Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:21-24. 

In John 4:21-24, Jesus says that worship is no longer about a place (i.e. the temple) but rather about “spirit and truth.” Because of Jesus, we no longer need a high priest to enter the temple and sacrifice animals on an altar once a year on our behalf. Jesus has become the great high priest and His sacrifice was once for all. When we are saved by faith, we are no longer dead to sin, but instead Christ now lives inside of us.  Galatians 2:20 says it this way: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in John 4:23 that a significant transition is about to take place: “But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” (4:23),  There are people who mistakenly believe that if they go through the rituals of worship, then they will be good in the eyes of God. But they haven’t dealt with God on the heart level. Jesus is telling the Samaritan woman that externals don’t matter as much as what’s in the heart.

God created the world for His glory so God now is seeking worshippers who will bring Him glory, not just for an hour on Sunday, but every day through all their activities. We can’t properly worship God on Sundays if we’re not worshipping Him throughout the week. I believe that worship in spirit is, in part, emotional or felt. This is not to say that we should go crazy and jump up and down and yell at the top of our lungs in church. Genuine emotions for God result from focusing our minds on the truth of who He is and what He has done for us at the cross. But if your worship never touches your emotions, something is wrong. It’s like my love for my wife.  My relationship with my wife is not built on my feelings, but rather on my commitment to her. But when I think about all that she means to me, I feel love for her and I try to express that love in a way that shows her that I love her.

As we gather each week to worship God we are reminding one another of the great love of God and our desperate need for Him. My prayer is that we will let that truth sink into our hearts and respond in spirit, with our whole being, devoting ourselves to Him and to each other. Pray that we would continue to understand what it means to worship God during the Christmas season.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think when you worship God in spirit and in truth?
  2. What are some worldly influences that choke out worship in your life? How should you deal with them?
  3. Complete this sentence: If truly worshipping God is my priority, my daily schedule must change by doing….