Thirsting For God

 “Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:13. 

What is the first thing that pops into your head when you are thirsty? Cool water. You can’t help it. It’s instinctive whether it is a hot day in Florida or you are walking in the desert. The thirstier you feel, the more water dominates your thoughts. You begin to think about where you are and where you can get a cool drink of water. 

The question is to do we thirst for God? In the 63rd Psalm, David the shepherd king expressed his desire for God: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

When we’re thirsty, we crave water. Do, we crave Jesus? Jesus declares that anyone who is thirsty can come to Him and drink (John 7:37-39). He tells us our souls were created to need God, to desire Him, and to thirst for Him.

Jesus has given us a tangible way to reflect on our soul’s reliance on Him. Our daily need for water acts as our reminder to drink deeply of Jesus every day. He doesn’t have what we need. He is what we need. Knowing this, we can also rejoice in the fact that Jesus doesn’t just give us a drink to satisfy us in the moment, but He gives us an eternal fountain of living water. We will never run out of His grace, His love, His freedom. “Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!”  (Matthew 5:6 AMP)

Whatever we are hungry and thirsty for is what we will seek to satisfy that hunger and thirst. If we are hungry for God, then we will seek after Him and His righteousness, His salvation, and His wisdom. In the same vein, we should thirst after the living God. He is here and now. Jesus is Emmanuel—God with me. He is not in a land long, long ago, or far, far away. He is present in the wind that creates waves in the Gulf and He is in the midst of our daily circumstances.  

My prayer is that we thirst to be in His presence. That we are hungry for a vital encounter with the Living God. He is all we need. Today, let’s pause and let God know how very much we thirst for Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you felt distant from God because of something you did (sin, busyness, etc.)? How did it impact your relationship with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to thirst after God?  

Having An Attitude Of Gratitude

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.” – Psalm 100: 4-5.             

Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on what God has done for us, positive memories, blessings, and just things in general for which we’re thankful. It’s easy to be grateful when circumstances turn out well, but thankfulness doesn’t have to be limited just to the good times.  

 What makes gratitude so beautiful is its rare combination of humility and joy. Like real love, real thankfulness displaces human selfishness — it’s impossible to feel conceited or conniving and feel truly thankful at the same time. When it comes to God, few realities fan the flames of our love for and worship of Him like gratitude. That’s why thanksgiving is talked about so often in the Bible:

Psalm 136 stands out as it repeats a continual refrain, “Give thanks to the Lord,” and then lists many different things for which the psalmist was thankful. Giving thanks is so much more than saying “thank you” when someone does something nice for you or working up feelings of gratitude. Giving thanks is directly tied to your relationship with God.

We see this exemplified time and time again in the New Testament. From the “sinful woman” who put oil on Jesus’ head and poured perfume on His feet as an expression of her thankfulness (Luke 7:36-47) to Zacchaeus paying back fourfold from what he took from others (Luke 19:3-6), thankfulness and gratitude became a hallmark of their life. Then there is Paul. One of the most common characteristics we find in the apostle Paul’s letters is the number of times he gives thanks to God in prayer. The opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an example of this: “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly.” (Ephesians 1:16)  And Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

When we pause and reflect on all that God has done for us, a mere “thank you” doesn’t seem enough. How can we ever be thankful enough for the cross?  How do you respond to the general grace that God gives all of us? How do you respond when God blesses you specifically – when He answers prayer? How do you respond when He provides healing, or He supplies your needs in a way only He can?  While our thanks may seem unworthy, we should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him because every “…good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father,…”  (James 1:17).  

All of us have a lot to be thankful for this time of year. But not only should we give thanks during the holidays, but we should also give thanks to God every day of the year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible to give thanks even in hard times?
  2. Does thanking God lead to praising God in your life?
  3. For what are you most grateful today?

Focus On Loving God

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” – 1 John 4:18-19. 
 
As a Christian, I know that the most important part of my life is God. But with that being said, I am easily lured away from focusing on what is important. Daily living catches my attention and my mind wanders off a rabbit trail of distractions.

Trying to think only about God is basically impossible. Think about it. We can barely make it through our morning cup of coffee before we are distracted by something. But it’s not just that we’re ADD. There are legitimate duties of life that demand our attention. You’ve got to focus on work. You’ve got to focus on your spouse and kids. Life is not all that simple today. There is a lot going on.

The secret to permanent focus on God is to fall more deeply in love with Him. We need to turn our focus from our pain to God’s love. We need to switch our attention from focusing on our problems and our pain and pressures, our difficulties, and focus on God’s love. And even though we may be mad at God, we need to remind ourselves that His love isn’t based on what we do or what we say or what we focused on a particular day. God’s love is unconditional. God is love. We can’t make God stop loving me.

Such love is beyond our ability to grasp with our minds, but it is not beyond our ability to experience with our hearts. The more we study it, the more we understand it, the more we realize, we will move steadily beyond our understanding. But it does not mean that we cannot have confidence in the fact that God unconditionally loves us. Know it, cling to it, and remember it; don’t underestimate the love of God for you.

Spend some time focusing on loving God. Once the heart falls in love, that love continues even when your mind is occupied with something else. When you fall in love with your spouse, it becomes the foundation. You don’t stop loving your spouse just because you’re focused on mowing the lawn or watching a child’s baseball game. True marital love is always present. It’s the same in our relationship with God. It’s love that creates constant contact with Him.

Loving God with all your heart means to love God with your entire being. Truly loving God with all your heart means at all times. To put it another way, love God even when it seems He’s a million miles away even though He never is. God doesn’t leave our side. Love the Lord with all your heart means to love Him even when your prayers aren’t answered as you hoped they’d be. Continue to love the Lord when He says yes, no, and/or wait. Last but not least continue to love God even though bad things are happening and your circumstances remain unchanging.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What is your definition of “unconditional love”?
  2. How often do you try to grasp the love of God?

Finding The Strength To Keep Going

“Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” – Acts 9:18-19

Facing storms in life can be daunting. So daunting, you may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to carry on.  

Whether you are a ministry professional or a new believer, this topic will come up. Most people don’t know what to do with it. Why is that? One obvious reason is the ugliness we deal with time from time in our lives. It robs us. It takes away our confidence and trust, in who God says He is and what God says about us. We have a really hard time hearing God in this world and as a result, we do not have the strength to go on. 

But as difficult as a storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). 

Four words leapt off the page when you read the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9: “…he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:19) The risen Christ blinded Saul after confronting him on the Damascus road. Saul was so disoriented and awestruck that he refused to eat or drink for three days. He was physically depleted, to say the least. When Ananias laid hands on Saul to heal and anoint him, Luke tells us the scales fell from his eyes, he regained his sight, ate some food, and was strengthened.  God was strengthening and equipping him to face anything — hunger and plenty, need and abundance. It’s a reminder that we need this strength as much in blessing as we do in suffering, as much in success as we do in failure, as much in health as we do in sickness.

God wasn’t refreshing his body to survive another day; he was filling him with the power to overcome his circumstances and weaknesses. That is the strength you and I need today.

Your heavenly Father promises His strength to you today. Just as He worked to help Paul spread the gospel, He desires to help you today in whatever lies ahead. The strength of God is always with you. When Peter says, “whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV), we do this not only by praying for strength but by trusting in the promise of His strength in specific situations. 

Do you need God’s strength in an area or season of your life? What area of your life seems to be plagued by weakness? Ask God to work in your life, and experience the fruit of co-laboring with your heavenly Father today.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How has God worked in and through you during a time of trial? What will you do to develop trust in God’s strength to carry on during times of stress and suffering? 
  2. What can you do to trust God for an uncertain or unknown outcome this week? 

The Thing That Refreshes The Soul 

 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23.

 What do you find most refreshing? A cold drink on a hot day? An afternoon nap? Listening to praise and worship music? No doubt everybody has something in their life that refreshes them. And sometime during the average week, we will need to be refreshed.  

 When life is piling up and wearing you down, God offers to refresh us and renew us. However, we can’t get that refreshing by focusing on what’s going on in our lives. We get the refreshing from the water of God’s Word. When we put God’s Word into our hearts and minds, then meditate on it, we become refreshed because we start thinking of heavenly things. It gives us a new perspective and allows God to speak into our situation.

 The Bible says we can have spiritual refreshing. Acts 3:19 – 20 says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins. If you do, times of spiritual strength (refreshing in AMPC) will come from the Lord” (GNT).  Isaiah 44:3 (ESV)  says, “ God is the refresher and provides nourishment by pouring out His Spirit on us. The Holy Spirit is able to fill up our hungry and dry hearts. When our souls are refreshed it’s like water is being poured onto a thirsty land.“

Reading scripture can refresh our souls and can touch and change our lives. For example, every time you read King David’s words in Psalm 23, the words seem to become active and alive and refresh the soul. There are lessons in these words of hope and an unmistakable and unyielding truth in this Psalm: He gives me all I need. (v1) He lets me rest. (v2) He leads me. (v2) He renews me. (v3) He guides me. (v3) He keeps me company. (v4) He is close beside me. (v4) He prepares a meal for me. (v5) He honors me. (v5) He pursues me. (v6) He will spend eternity with me. (v6)

 It is hard to read those words and not have your soul refreshed. God’s Word has power. Each time we read the words penned many centuries ago they come to life over and over again. His Word is still active and alive.   

There is no better way as believers to experience a time of refreshing by quieting our hearts in a devotional time of prayer and Bible reading. When we spend time alone with the Lord, we can experience His peace and joy and feel renewed.

 Discussion Questions:

1.     Have you experienced a time of refreshment from reading Scripture?

2.     What can you do this week to find refreshment in the chaos of life?  

How Has Your Faith Changed Over The Years 

 

 “Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” – Mark 11: 22-24. 

 What do you want to be when you grow up?

 If you ask ten different children that age-old question, you’ll likely get ten different answers–all delivered with the determination and optimism that comes with the innocence of childhood. As adults, swept up in the hectic demands of work, family, and endless obligations, we’re faced with the realization that we are not living the life we thought we would live.  

 It can spring into your mind in an instant. You are doing life when a neighbor tells you about her life-defining accomplishment. Her accomplishment gets you thinking and with that thinking comes the realization that any significant accomplishment is missing from your resume and sadly, you are not living the life you imagined years ago. The reality of life is often different than what we imagined. Is our life spiritually different than what we imagined as well? 

 At some point in our life, we became a follower of Jesus. From that point, our faith grew as we grew in both understanding of and dependency on Him. Our faith, our understanding of scripture, and our idea of God himself should change and grow over time.

Think about the relationship with your wife or husband. Over the years it has changed. You have both grown as individuals and you have also grown in your understanding of each other. Perhaps some of the early romance or unpredictability has gone, but then so has much of the minor things that cause arguments. You may have new shared interests and find yourself on the same page more often than in the early years. Or think about your relationship with your parents. As we grow older this changes as we transition from dependency to an acknowledgment that they are a whole lot smarter than we gave them credit for and we find ourselves being more like them than we could have imagined.

 Over the years, your faith has changed–and your faith has changed you. Maybe you have learned to control your temper more, to love other people more, to understand your circumstances better, and so much more. God will widen your horizons and will make your heart bigger. He restores what we had lost, and He replaced it with something even better.

God himself is unchanging but our understanding of Him must change. The only way our understanding of God and His word could never change is if it was perfect, to begin with. But the only person in this universe who has a perfect understanding of God is God Himself. We are not God. As we grow God shows us more of Himself, and importantly, more of ourselves. This will change us, as will the triumphs and tragedies of the life we live.

Discussion Questions:

1.     How has your faith changed or evolved over the years?

2.     How can we ensure our faith continues to grow? 

What Spiritual Lesson Would You Like To Learn? 

 “Becoming like Christ is a long, slow process of growth.”  – Rick Warren

If you asked a group of Christians what the hardest spiritual lesson they had to learn, you would probably get a variety of answers. The answers would probably include the usual suspects of faith, trust, self-discipline, understanding scripture, forgiveness, finding our purpose. It would most likely also include dealing with our attempts to control everything and trusting God and giving Him control. Letting go is not always easy. It is easy to forget that we are giving control to the One who has control over all things. 

 At one time or another, we all come to the conclusion we have this whole life thing figured out. We become pretty adept at making a beeline for God and giving control to Him when we’re met with challenges that we can’t solve. The question is why in some moments in life it was easy to go to God, while in others, while we count on ourselves for other moments when we should ‘trust in the Lord with and not depend on your own understanding.”(Proverbs 3:5)   

Letting go and letting God take control is difficult because we don’t fully know the character of God. We believe we can trust God, but only to a point; the point we are faced with a challenge that requires more than we are comfortable giving. If we truly believed that God was good, that He loves us conditionally, and that He has a good plan for our lives, why would we hesitate to give Him complete control?  Why wouldn’t we be letting go and letting God take control if we actually, truly knew and believed in who He said He was?

 Most people believe having some control is a good thing. But when you are in control God isn’t. It is that simple.  So we need to decide every day who’s going to be in control of our life — us or God. There are things in our lives that we want to control. We want to set the rules and be the final arbiter of what is right and wrong. Psalm 46:10 says, “Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. I rule the nations. I rule the earth” (GW). 

Let God be in control.  Instead of trying to make situations what you want them to be or manipulating things so you’ll feel better, trust that God has you right where He wants you. Everything goes through God’s hands first before it even reaches your life. We must remember that nothing takes Him by surprise. (Psalm 139:1-6) Let go, breathe, and let God take control. He knows what’s best for each and every person—much more than we could ever understand.

There is so much joy to unlock in the Christian life, so much potential each of us has for doing His work in the world, so much opportunity to be the salt and light in the world. We don’t want to forfeit the abundant, purposeful life Jesus died to provide simply because we are bogged down by trying to control what we can’t control.  

 Let go and let God be in control.  

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. Responsibility is God’s gift to us. As long as we never assume responsibility for ourselves, our choices, and our actions, we will remain stuck. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. What area of your life are you struggling to control?  What can you do this week to give it to God?  

Making Disciples As Jesus Made Disciples

 “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.” – 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Living things grow. That’s what they do. All believers are defined by a common desire—a desire to grow in the understanding of Christ and His Word. This desire for a deeper, growing knowledge of Christ is so basic that Peter compares it to an infant’s natural desire to be nourished by his mother’s milk. 

New believers have an immediate need to be nurtured and trained as soon as they initially trust Christ and then as they grow in their faith. The term discipleship is used as a catchall term for anything from mentorship to small-group discussion, to meetings at a coffee house, to the title for a conference. However, it is best to understand discipleship as the deliberate process of moving Christians forward spiritually.

Jesus is our model for creating God-honoring, life-changing disciples. When He began His earthly ministry, He could have spent all of His time preaching to thousands. This might seem like the most efficient method of gathering followers. Instead, Jesus invited twelve ordinary men into a community to learn and grow together as they followed Him. Rather than mass-producing disciples, Jesus chose to invest deeply in a handful of people, thereby developing committed followers. Since it is Jesus who has given us this command to “make disciples” and since disciples are followers of Jesus, I think the important question we need to consider is “how did Jesus go about making disciples?”

Jesus was a mentor to the twelve – a personal trainer, tutor, and teacher. He lived and traveled with the twelve; His life was intertwined with theirs, and theirs with His. Essentially, He lived life with a group of people for several years. He taught them all the time, not simply in formal settings, but also in how He modeled life for them in their day-to-day interactions. He focused on going really deep with a smaller group (of 12) and especially with an even smaller group of 3. He certainly taught large groups, but the bulk of His time seemed to be spent pouring into the twelve. He also sought for His disciples to live transformed lives of love and submission to God. Ultimately, Jesus made disciples who multiplied. Jesus’ followers multiplied from several dozen men and women meeting in a room after His death to a global movement spanning 2000 years and unknown millions of people.

We should actively seek out new believers in the Christian faith and make ourselves available to help them grow in their faith. Help new believers understand not only the essentials of the Christian life but also develop an understanding of the Christian faith by helping them to understand the assurance of God’s salvation and forgiveness, the significance of prayer, the life-changing power of the Word of God, and the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. 

Discussion Questions: 

1.     What is the role of the believer in disciplining others? 

2.     What would we need to do differently to disciple like Jesus did? 

Passing It On

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” – 2 Timothy 2:2. 

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban is considered by many the greatest college football coach ever. Whether he is or not, his accomplishments are significant. One of the things that stand out, in addition to the national championships, is the number of successful coaches that were a part of his programs. The list includes Mark Antonio, Jimbo Fisher, Lane Kiffin, Will Muschamp, Jeremy Pruitt, Kirby Smart, and Steve Sarkisian to name a few. In a very real way, his career should be judged not merely on the number of the wins and losses of the college football team he coached, but by all the men he trained and sent out to coach in his footsteps.

This is the mindset we need to adopt as Christians. Being a disciple of Christ is not just about each of us following Jesus personally, but also involves passing our commitment on to the next generations of disciples. 

But that process begins by becoming a disciple ourselves. The standard definition of “disciple” is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. It is a follower or a learner. It refers to someone who takes up the ways of someone else. Applied to Jesus, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him — someone who, because of God’s awakening grace, conforms his or her words and ways to the words and ways of Jesus. Basically, discipleship is a lifelong experience of learning the mind of Christ and following the will of Christ, submitting ourselves in complete obedience to His lordship.

Making disciples is important because it is the Lord’s chosen method of spreading the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. During His public ministry, Jesus spent more than three years making disciples—teaching and training His chosen twelve. He gave them many convincing proofs that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. He spoke to the crowds, but often He drew the disciples aside privately to teach them the meaning of His parables and miracles. He sent them out on ministry assignments. He also taught them that soon He would be returning to His Father following His death and resurrection.

Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2) because you are a disciple, and you have heard and learned these things from me, now I want you to go and share these things with others: “entrust these to faithful men.” Paul is asking Timothy to do for others what he had done for him: “entrust” to them the doctrines and practices of the faith which he had learned from Paul. Because Timothy had been a disciple, he wanted him to now go and make disciples too.

So, how do we make disciples? In the example of Paul and Timothy, Paul was going about his mission, and came across Timothy, pulled him aside, and poured into his life. This is a model we can follow: find a person in the course of your life and ministry who is receptive to spiritual things, and spend some special time with them, investing in their life. Jesus also exemplified disciple-making, which should say a lot to us.  He ministered to the crowds for sure, but He always had the 12 with Him whom He was investing special time with, and taught them things that the multitude was not ready for yet. 

We should look for opportunities to do these same types of things. As you go about your life and ministry, find a person or two who are receptive to growing spiritually, and spend time with them, investing in their lives in a special way. That is discipleship.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Who has poured the life of Christ into you? How did that person invest in your Christian life?
  1. What is the responsibility of one generation to share Christ with the next generation? 

Waiting For Things To Change

“One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath.”  – John 5:5-9.

Thirty-eight years is a long time to sit on your mat. Every day is the same. Waiting. Watching. Hoping. Sitting on his mat has become a way of life for the man in John 5. He sits by a pool where people with diseases and disabilities wait for the troubling of the waters, because healings happen in this pool. People believed that an angel of the Lord would come and stir the waters, and that whoever was the first to enter the pool after the waters were stirred would be healed of his or her malady. The problem is his circumstances: he can’t get off his mat to be the first one in the pool. So he sits there and thinks, “As soon as the water bubbles then I will get up off my mat. As soon as I get to the water my life will be better. As soon as I get into the water my problems will be fixed.”

At one time or another, and in one severity of another, we all face a pool of Bethesda; that time when we are convinced that our life is nothing more than our circumstances. So we wait for our circumstances to change. As soon as I get that job, life will be better. As soon as my husband changes his attitude my life will be better. As soon as I get to retire, life will be better.   

There are many “as soon as” possibilities that people are dealing with. But while dealing with them, life has been put on hold and we sit on our mat. That is not to suggest that the circumstances of our lives are irrelevant or have no effect. That’s just not true. They do affect us. People are coping with difficult circumstances daily. We are, however, more than the circumstances of our life. Life is not to be found outside our various situations or circumstances but within them. it is not our circumstances that define our reality. Rather, it is the truth of Christ’s love and life in us.  

Jesus does not help the man get into the water. He comes to him on his mat, the same mat and situation the man so wants to escape, and says, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Jesus doesn’t change our outer circumstances. He changes us. He calls us into a new way of being, seeing, acting, speaking, thinking. We discover the circumstances have somehow changed. That doesn’t necessarily make life easy or mean we no longer have to deal with the circumstances of life. It makes our circumstances more manageable and we engage them from a different place and position.

The life Jesus offers us does not happen “as soon as ….” It happens today in our circumstances. We simply need to trust God,  “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a “as soon as “ circumstance? If so how is it affecting your life? 
  2. Why is it important to remember that God is at work, even in the midst of our circumstances?