Dealing With The Pressures Of Life

“It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.” – Hudson Taylor. 

People today live pressure-filled lives and it’s taking its toll. Experts say that the way we live our lives is emerging as the main cause of illness today. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that two-thirds of all visits to doctors are stress related. We are constantly looking for ways to relieve anxiety. We look for ways to feel with the coronavirus fears. We search for the best ways to reduce stress and, have more balance and margin in our lives. We simply want to be calmer inside. But, let’s face it, stress and pressure are a part of life.

Psalms 119:43 says, “As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.” As he turned to God’s Word, he found “joy.” His whole attitude changed. He was reminded of His promises, and his spiritual strength was renewed. The apostle Paul came to a similar conclusion. As a man who had persecuted followers of Jesus, he knew that Christians were not free from stress. But he also realized Christians undergo a change. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Paul knew how to respond when he was “…pressed on every side by troubles.…” He knew that “we are not crushed.” We could be “perplexed,” but in these moments we are “not driven to despair.” We may be “hunted down,” but we can know that God never abandons us. We may “get knocked down,” but we can know that He is with us and we will not be “destroyed.” ( 2 Corinthians 4:8-10) 

We must “never give up” but realize that God is at work, renewing us. And we are to remember that our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  

Isaiah 26:3 promises to keep me in perfect peace, despite any situation, if I willingly commit to doing these two things: Trust God, instead of trying to master things on my own.  Keep my thoughts fixed on God, instead of worrying about what everyone else thinks.

Don’t be surprised if you experience pressure, or feel stress. As the psalmist discovered, these are moments to turn to God. Trusting in Him, confident that He will bring you through, and give you the strength you need.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you typically respond when you are in a high-pressure situation?
  2. Knowing the Holy Spirit will teach you how to respond when your faith is being questioned, does that inspire confidence in God or cause you concern that you’re not in control?

The Power of Prayer

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.”– Nehemiah 1:4-7.

The power of prayer isn’t in the person praying. It’s not a magic formula. It isn’t keywords. It is an open heart, humble and filled with awe of who our mighty God is. Rather, the power resides in the God who is being prayed to.

Nehemiah had a burden for his people and for the city of Jerusalem. He had a vision of what could be, but he didn’t immediately pack up and race off to Jerusalem and try to get things fixed. He didn’t start developing a strategy or plan. He didn’t communicate with the populace in an attempt to get them on board. Instead, he went to the Person who knew the problem and had the power to fix it. Nehemiah went to the Lord and prayed. Nehemiah understood that he needed God to be successful.

We all have dreams just as we have have a purpose in this life. Every day each of us is faced with numerous choices. Decision-making can be difficult. There is often a lot at stake. So the question is: How do we choose wisely? What criteria do we use to evaluate, to discern the best course of action? Gathering all information necessary to make a wise decision is essential. We need the kind of wisdom that comes from above and that wisdom begins with prayer.

We know that God is sovereign. God is above all things and before all things. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is present everywhere so that everyone can know Him. God created all things and holds all things together, both in heaven and on earth. That being the case, God can help us with our decisions about our dreams and purpose if we ask Him in prayer. In His timeless plan, God has conceived all possible scenarios and has thought of every possible contingency. There has never been an event that took God by surprise, and there never will be.

That should be comforting to every follower of Jesus faced with a decision. Pray and tell God that you are worried about a decision. Pray that God would give you a heart of wisdom. Pray that you will make wise choices; and when two paths seem to be equal, pray God will help you to trust even as you make the decision. Pray if the decision is the right one that God would open the door wide. And if it’s not what God has for you, that God would close the door tightly.  And at the end of this decision, pray for continued guidance.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe every decision should begin with prayer? Why or why not?
  2. What can we do to make prayer an integral part of the decision-making process?   

Ezra And His Dream

“He had arranged to leave Babylon on April 8, the first day of the new year, and he arrived at Jerusalem on August 4, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” – Ezra 7:9-10. 

Ezra is the story of how God takes a defeated people and moves supernaturally to send them back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. Solomon’s temple was destroyed and laid in ruin for decades. God raised up a remnant to return to Israel. God moved the heart of the Persian King, Cyrus, to allow the Israelites in Babylon who desired to go back to Israel and rebuild the temple.

The Phrase in Ezra, “the hand of God” sums up what was happening. The Lord was in this return. It was part of His master plan. “This Ezra was a scribe who was well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel. He came up to Jerusalem from Babylon, and the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him.” (Ezra 7:6) Ezra 5:5 says, “But because their God was watching over them, the leaders of the Jews were not prevented from building until a report was sent to Darius and he returned his decision.”

Ezra completed his journey, and the vulnerable exiles arrived safely in Jerusalem, according to “the good hand of his God upon him.” It is evident as you read the entire story that follows in chapters 7 and 8 that God’s blessing was upon Ezra. God’s care, provision, and protection were with Ezra and those returning to Judah with him. “Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”  (Ezra 7:10)  

Ezra had first, prepared his heart. To set the heart is to determine, to devote, and to dedicate our whole being to something.  He sought the law of the Lord. To seek the Law of the Lord is to invest time and effort in studying the Bible. We seek to know the mind, the heart, and the ways of God through His Word. The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to know and understand God’s Word. Ezra was committed to doing the Law of the Lord. James taught that to be a hearer of the Word without being a doer of the Word is to be self-deceived (James 1:22). The hand of God was upon Ezra because he was determined to obey God’s Law.

The story of Ezra with rebuilding the temple is an example of how obstacles can be overcome when God’s moving hand is behind His people. There is power when the “hand of God” is with His people. 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do we need the “hand of God” to fulfill our dreams?
  2. How do we go about rebuilding the temple of our lives? 

Working Together For The Greater Good

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.” — Philippians 1:27.

Casey Stengel made a comment about the challenge of managing a professional baseball team. His observation applies to life in general. He said, “It’s easy to get good players. Getting’ em to play together, that’s the hard part.”

You can place people together in a team, but the true bonds of teamwork form when the individuals work together towards the same goal.  This is true in our faith journey as well.  We can sit side-by-side with people in our congregation every Sunday for years, and yet we don’t start to build relationships until we work together outside the church auditorium.  When we do life together or work with each other towards a common goal, that’s when we can learn from each other and support one another through our faith journeys. While it’s essential for us to take responsibility for our own faith, it’s also essential for us to form bonds of relationship with others, so that we can grow together as God intended.

One of the best-known native textile art in North America is the weaving of Navajo Indian blankets and rugs. Navajo Native American Indian rugs are made from wool using an ancient style where colored threads are woven together in a pattern. On the surface, some threads stretch vertically while others stretch horizontally. In many ways, each thread can appear unique until the elements are woven into a whole. This is similar to the way God knits together His people. We are not the same. We have many personalities and interests. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be a pattern. We are being knit together in love by God Himself. We don’t oppose each other; we just accomplish different aspects of the same mission.

As He builds the church, God calls each person to focus on the role He gives us as individuals. He wants us to be the thread He has created. We might look different from others. We may not agree. But as we surrender our lives to God, we will realize that He has a special pattern for the whole body, knitting us together according to His design.

As we trust Him, He can harmonize each person with other believers. Seek to fulfill God’s special design for you. Don’t look at other believers as rivals or competitors but as parts of the same fabric knit together by God into something beautiful.

What happens when every Christian goes from sitting on the premises to standing on the promises and working for the purposes of the Lord? This is not something you do alone. We are called together to work together in Christ, connected and united.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you been trying to accomplish too much work on your own? What has been the effect?
  2. How does/should the Church exemplify working together to accomplish more for the glory of God?
  3. How can you get people to help you in the work God wants you to do? Who can you help?

The Attributes Of God – God Is Always With You

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, who is God, what is God like, and what kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is always with you.   

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” –  Joshua 1:9. 

You are not alone. You are never alone. You may feel like the only person in the room, but God’s presence is always with you. God is present everywhere … so He is always with you. Because He is an infinite Spirit, He is not restricted to being in one location at a time. God is not limited to time and space; He exists everywhere at the same time. No matter where you go or how fast you get there, God is already there. You simply cannot escape the presence of God. If it was possible for you to travel from east to west at the speed of light, you will find God is already there, waiting for you. 

Jesus Christ promises to be with us always and everywhere: “… And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20). In Acts 17:28 we are told, “For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.”We live in His presence every second of our lives. When we are alone, God watches what we do. When we do something good that nobody else knows about, God sees it.  He also sees the bad things we do in secret. Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable”

We actually have the presence of Almighty God living inside us. The apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)  God wants us to “consciously” live in His presence each day.  Because He is always present, it is possible for us to be in constant communication with Him and to depend on Him in every situation. But too often we ignore His presence because we are so preoccupied with our lives.

The bottom line is that no person or circumstance can ever remove us from the presence of our loving God. He is always with us, hearing our cries for help. He is always with us, protecting us from danger. He is always with us, watching what we do. He is our ever-present Lord and Savior.  

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:20. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. It isn’t a matter of achieving God’s presence, but surrendering to God’s presence that is already within the Christian. Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  2. Is anything making it difficult for you to see God’s presence in your life? Is there something you need to stop or start?

Having An Encounter With God

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” – Jeremiah 15:16. 

Have you ever had a personal encounter with God? Do you know what it means or even that it is possible today in our everyday lives?

Scripture tells us how to have a perfect and direct avenue to powerful and transformational encounters with God. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” In Scripture, we find both our weakness and God’s unfailing love portrayed through countless stories. All we need to both understand and pursue a wholehearted unveiled relationship with God is found in scripture.

Do you desire to have a personal encounter with God?  One thing we need to understand is that as we try to find God, He is trying to find us. If you can’t find God, start to worship and He will find you. Hebrews 11:6 says “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

People are changed when they have a real encounter with Jesus. When Jesus was here on earth no one who needed help could come into His presence and remain the same. Sick people were healed. Dead people came back to life. Broken people became whole. It’s no different now. The reason people are changed is when people encounter God. If the presence of God is present, people are changed. Some of the most impactful times in the presence of God can be just you and Him. You’re alone in your prayer closet or in God’s great outdoors in silence and stillness. He will show up.

When you experience such an encounter, what makes it so wonderful, is the realization that you matter to God. Whether in a crowd or by yourself, an encounter with God is not Him raining down something “on” you; it’s Him being with you. Your heart is open and still, and the living God of the universe “…will share a meal together as friends.”  (Revelation 3:20) When we seek God with passion, desire, and excitement, He shows up, and everything changes.

The key is to keep showing up alone with God. Invest in your relationship with your Creator. Something special can happen if you are focused on Him. And you will find yourself being transformed.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe yourself when you have been the most “connected” to Jesus. The most “disconnected.” 
  2. What can you add or delete from your life today to be more connected this week?

Matching Your Dreams with God’s Dreams

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19

We hear a great deal about “the American dream” or “finding your dream girl or boy” or “beyond your wildest dreams” to speak of experiences that surprise us or go beyond our expectations. There are many terms and expressions in which the term “dream” is used. God starts with a dream of a beautiful, interconnected world, constantly unfolding, teeming with His creation that is loving. The question is how do we match your dreams with God’s dreams for your life. 

Joseph was a dreamer. He had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. His brothers hated him because he was already their father’s favorite; he wore a special multi-colored robe that was a daily reminder of their father’s favoritism. Now, these dreams just made them hate him even more. They wanted to kill him, but one of the brothers talked the others into selling him into slavery instead. They looked at Joseph and saw a pampered and spoiled pet, and an egotistical dreamer.

But God looked at Joseph and saw a man He could trust. God knew that tough times were coming, and if the family was going to survive, God needed a man He could trust in a position of authority. God gave Joseph those dreams, and other dreams, because God had a dream for Joseph. God didn’t see a spoiled boy; God saw the next administrator of Egypt and the savior of Jacob’s family.

 God’s dream for you is more significant than anything you may have in mind. You are called to participate in greatness, not smallness. God’s dream is for you to have a spectacular life—the best. But often, God’s dream for His creation veered off course putting each other down instead of bringing out the best in others, or ourselves.

Jesus is the answer to getting back on the path toward re-alignment and cutting the gap between the world as it is and the world God intended. In Luke 4:18-19, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus tells us what He is all about and how to get back on track.  Jesus was about healing, liberating, forgiving debts, and extending God’s favor to all.   

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Every person is a dream of God. God dreamed you up…for a reason. God has a plan and purpose for you, and you will be the happiest and most effective when you are living God’s dream for you. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. How does God’s dream for us impact our daily lives? 

Support For Your Dreams

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.

We are not the first people to stand before a challenge and wonder if it can be done. The building of the wall is a very clear example of a daunting task after years of complacency and indifference. Now, Nehemiah could have never fulfilled his dream of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem by himself alone. It would have never happened. In fact, every phase of the dream that God gave Nehemiah would require assistance. In chapter 2 King Artaxerxes not only gave permission but provided resources and help for the project. Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem, surveys the broken down walls, calls the people together, and says, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:18)

And on it goes from there. There are lots of interesting human elements. We won’t likely remember all the names, but the description as a whole is filled with evidence that there is tremendous solidarity and unity of purpose among God’s people. God didn’t build the wall; the people did.  Imagine if the list of names was far shorter or if those involved did far less. Is Nehemiah even a book in the Bible? Probably not. Why? Likely the wall would never have been built. The opposition and the threats and the size of the project would have eventually overwhelmed them. It took all the people working with all their might for the entire wall to be done. It’s amazing what can be done when everyone is committed.

The alternative is dealing with your dreams by yourself. Just like a building needs support, your dream needs support. True success is never a one-man show. Anything significant that’s done in your life, any great dream will require help from others. Your dream requires the support of others because you can’t do it by yourself. You don’t know everything you need to know. You don’t have enough time or energy to do everything by yourself. And you don’t have every talent that you’re going to need to get your dream done. You see, God intentionally wired us to need each other so we learn how to work together.

We were not created to go about this life apart from relationships with fellow children of God. Without our brothers and sisters, we will never experience the fullness of life God intends for us. In community, we discover our place in the body of Christ. In community, we learn what it is to serve out of love, honor, and respect. And in community, we receive the healing and love that can only come from those who share in the same Spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we need support from others to fulfill our dreams? Why is it wise to prepare for opposition?
  2. What advice does Ecclesiastes 8:6 give about building your dream team? How can you apply that to your situation?

More Than Your Wildest Dreams

“May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.” – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.

In the movie Billy Elliott, a young boy loves to dance. But he has a major obstacle: his father disapproves. Billy has a long, arduous road to travel, but his dream keeps him going despite his challenges. This wonderful movie will encourage anyone who has a dream to keep reaching for it and inspire those who have stopped dreaming to once again imagine what could be.

Our lives, like that of Billy Elliott, are full of obstacles—people and circumstances that try to tell us our dreams are impossible, unrealistic, or, as in Billy’s case, that there is something or someone trying to keep us from fulfilling them. 

When we dream, how big do we dream? How large can our aspirations be? There is a certain fear within a dream and a bigger fear of trusting God with our dreams. We worry that our expectations are too high, that our dream could never happen, or that this dream of ours is too big for us. One of the most common fears as Christians is that our dreams might not lie within the parameters of God’s plan for our lives.

God’s hope and plan for us are pretty simple to figure out. For those who resonate with formulas, here it is: add your whole life, your loves, your passions, and your interests together with what God said He wants us to be about, and that’s your answer: basically that is to love God and love people. Does your dream fall within that?

Loving God is surrendering everything in your life for His glory, and the beauty of loving people is that it could take shape in so many different ways. That is where your dream lies. Within fulfilling the great commandment; loving God and dreaming big for His glory and the love of His people.

God longs for His children to dream. He longs for us to set aside time with Him to wish and wonder about what life could be. I fear that many Christians have lost the art of dreaming with God out of a misunderstanding of His heart. While God most definitely has a will for our lives, He also longs for us to dream with Him so that His desires become our own. While He most definitely has perfect plans for us, He longs for us to want His plans so that we might co-labor with Him. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your dreams? 
  2. What dreams do you feel will never come true? Why? 
  3. What dreams are you sure will come true? Why?

The Attributes Of God – God Is All Powerful

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is He? An attribute of God is something true about Him. Each Friday we will look at the attributes of God. This week, God is all-powerful.  

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?…How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!” – Psalm 8:3-4, Psalm 147:5. 

Effective relationships are based on knowledge. You can’t presume to know a person until we have the opportunity to learn more about that person, such as his or her history, personality, likes, dislikes, and desires. The more we know the more effective we will be in developing a relationship with that person. It is much the same with our relationship with God. That relationship needs to be rooted in a firm understanding of who He reveals Himself to be in His Word.  

People have many different perceptions of what God is like. Some see Him as a divine helper, others as a vengeful deity. Some fear God. God wants us to view Him correctly. He wants us to know Him intimately. How you view God touches every facet of your life.  The more accurate your understanding of who God really is and how He is involved in your life, the more highly motivated you will become to excel in the use of your time, talents, and abilities. 

God is all-powerful and the ways He demonstrates that are too many to mention. God merely spoke the universe into being — a universe that astronomers estimate contains more than 100 billion galaxies. But all the power contained in this entire universe is but a small representation of the unlimited power of God. The combined energy of all earth’s storms, winds, ocean waves and other forces of nature do not equal even a fraction of God’s almighty power. 

Because God is all-powerful, He has the ability and strength to do whatever He pleases. His power is not restrained or inhibited by any of His created beings. People and nations are powerless when confronted by His might. No task is too big for Him. He never fails. 

No matter what you might be facing, God can help you. Nothing is too hard for Him. No need is too great for Him to meet. No problem is too complicated for Him to solve. No foe is too strong for Him to conquer. No prayer is too difficult for Him to answer. The Bible promises tells us, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Have you considered that God wants us to reflect His power on earth? As we begin to understand God’s vast and magnificent power, our lives cannot help but be transformed. Everything about us will change – our attitudes, actions, motives, desires, and lifestyle. And as we are transformed, we will light up the world around us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God being all-powerful mean to you?
  2. What would you change in your life this week knowing that God is all-powerful?