Developing A Personal Relationship With God

“Religion is a very dangerous thing. By that I mean being so caught up in rules and regulations and not focusing on the thing that matters most- a personal relationship with God.” –  Joyce Meyer

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you attend church, pray and read the Bible because that is what Christians do. You learn about God, you love God, but how much of a personal relationship do you have with Him. Because when you have a conversation with people who have an intimate, personal relationship with God, you realize there is something more, a deeper level to our relationship with God.  We were created to have a relationship, a friendship with God, but to have that, we have to put our trust in Him. 

We do not put our trust in the relationship we have developed with Jesus – our trust is in Jesus Himself.  We trust in Christ alone. We bring nothing to the table, even if we’ve been a Christian for decades. If our personal relationship with Christ “develops,” it’s not so much that we develop it, but that it develops in us by the Spirit as we put our trust daily in Christ alone – that is, as we continue to trust that Christ will be faithful to us, even though “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

God doesn’t want to be the almighty powerful God that is far removed from our lives. He wants to be your friend, that one that is always close to you and will never let you down. God wants you to experience all that He has for you, He wants you to know His will for your life.  A personal relationship with God is just like a relationship with your spouse. When you first met your spouse you learned where they live and their phone number. You may have shared some same interests. You may have some friends in common. Or you went to the same college. You had brief chats but you realized something was missing. What’s missing is that you’ve never had a deep conversation with him or her. Nor have you heard any stories about them, or seen them happy or sad. You don’t know their likes or pet peeves or any of the little quirks that define them.  All of that takes time, listening and getting to really know him or her. 

It’s the same way with knowing God. Developing a relationship with God is a process. It won’t happen all at once and sometimes you’ll think your relationship with him is strong one day and the next day you may wonder if he’s even there. But, that’s a part of the journey. Like any relationship, a relationship with God is complex. You’ll learn more about him and encounter him in deeper ways the more you work at it.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does not mean to have a personal relationship with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to make our relationship with God deeper? 

Experiencing God

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” – 1 John 4:16

God is more than a subject to be studied but rather a personal, relational God who wants us to know Him deeply and to experience Him daily. This isn’t something mystical. It’s actually quite practical. We can know God’s will for our lives. But it requires an understanding of “God’s will.” Americans are inclined to think of “God’s will” only in terms of God’s will for my life.

The problem with that line of thinking is that God, the Creator, and Ruler of the universe, doesn’t exist in a way that revolves around me. It’s actually not about me at all. We need to step out of our self-centered view of things to realize that it’s all about Him and His purposes. God is up to some things that are far bigger than anything that any of us are up to. 

There’s a big difference between God’s will for my life and simply God’s will. God’s will is essentially the timeless unfolding of His work of redemption – a work into which He desires to draw and use each one of us. So do not think in terms of  “God, come bless what I’m doing” and instead develop a “God, help me to do what you want to bless” prayer and mindset.  It will often take making major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing. It requires each of us to worship Him and not myself, Him and not my own dreams and ambitions, comfort and happiness.

Knowing God and doing His will is a repetitive cycle. I see and hear Him. I decide to join Him. I am transformed and I watch Him work. When I see Him work, I trust Him more. Over time, my personal, experiential knowledge of Him grows as I obey Him.

God Is always calling us to experience Him in a deeper and more personal way. We can live life entirely for ourselves. But we’ll never be fully satisfied. You’ll always wonder who you are and what life is all about. Or, you can begin to see God at work in the gospel and in the world around you, commit to abandoning yourself, and joining Him. 

However or whenever or wherever God comes to us, we need to be ready to hear and obey. In order to be available to experience God in different ways, we need to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s up to every one of us.  Our prayer is that you will say “yes” to God’s call to join God in His plan for the world

Discussion Questions:

  1. Scripture describes how Jesus was fully dependent upon the Father for everything He said and did.  Why/how is this significant to us?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Why do you think God likes to do His work through ordinary people? What does this look like in your life?

Faith And Sight

“for we walk by faith, not by sight.” –  2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)

Like it or not, self-driving cars are coming. 

Google, Apple, and Tesla are racing to produce autonomous vehicles for public transportation. Google and Tesla are testing self-driving cars on public roads, and Tesla has already begun to roll out self-driving features in their high-end electric cars. In the next several years we should see the first fully autonomous car that needs no human participation in the driving process. By the time our future children are grown up, learning to drive a car may be optional. You probably don’t understand the technology. Most people don’t. Basically, we are being asked to drive by faith, not by sight.   

 In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul had a similar message about faith: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” For those believers of Jesus Christ living in Corinth, the works and miracles of Jesus were only stories told by those who had traveled with Him. They wished that they could see Jesus in His glory so that their faith would be made strong when faced with difficult days. How often do we want the same thing? How often do we find ourselves as Thomas who refused to believe that Jesus had risen unless he touched Jesus’s nail-scarred hands? In response, Jesus told Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29)

As Christians, we are called to live by faith and not by sight. To walk by faith means that you believe and obey the Bible’s commands before mankind’s commands. To walk by faith means that you choose righteousness over sin, no matter what the cost. To walk by faith means that you trust God in every circumstance rather than going by your own wisdom. To walk by faith means that you believe God rewards those who seek Him, no matter what anyone else tells you: “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.” (Hebrews 11:6).

Walking by faith in this life means we are to rely completely on all that God has said in His Word. The life of faith filters our thoughts, actions, attitudes, and words as we listen to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, follow His directions, and trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Unfortunately, we sometimes return to living by sight, by leaning on our abilities and trusting in our emotions. 

Basically, to walk by faith requires that we get really good at listening and obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit and following the truth of God’s Word. We choose to live according to what God reveals to us, rather than trusting our own understanding or what the world tells us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

Focus On God’s Word

“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.”  – James 1:22-25 (MSG). 

If you’ve been in church very long, chances are you know a lot about the Bible. Maybe you’ve read it all the way through a couple of times. You’ve listened to sermons about it on Sunday mornings. You’ve been in some small groups where you’ve talked about it. But there is more to focusing on God’s Word than reading it.  

The word of God is a matter of life and death. This isn’t just a book. James described it as, ‘the perfect law that gives freedom.” (James 1:25 ESV) Those are pretty big shoes to fill. A book that’s perfect, contains God’s commands, and has the power to bring freedom in our lives has to be more than just a book. It’s more than just ink on paper. It has the power to transform lives. But to unleash that power we need to act on what we read. 

Jesus talks about this in Matthew 7. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and…” What’s the next part? “follows it is wise.” Other translations say “anyone who listens to my teaching and acts on it “(NASB); puts it into practice (NIV) and does it (ESV)” So focusing on God’s Word is not a passive exercise but an active one. It requires action on our part. James 2:14 tells us, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?”  

Don’t let circumstances dominate your life. Remember the power of the Word. Don’t limit God. Dare to believe and dare to act on what you read. How do you create the proper environment in which the Word can work in your life? You begin by making the Word of God the final authority in your life. That requires making a quality decision that if the Word says it, “I believe it.” 

Realize that it will also take time for the roots of that decision to become anchored in your life. Secondly, it requires that you have an earnest expectation – that you are going to see the Word work.  

Each day as you read God’s Word, don’t just read and then move on. Spend time asking the Lord, “What do you want me to learn from what I’ve read today?”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you create the proper environment in which the Word can work in your life? 
  2. What can we do this week to focus on God’s Word?  

Ordinary Into The Extraordinary

“Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” – James 5:17-18. 

As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer, but we don’t always live like we fully realize what powerful praying can accomplish. James chooses to end his letter by talking about the power of prayer. He reminds his readers in James 5:16 that the “…earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  He illustrates that point by using the example of Elijah. Elijah prayed and it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years. “Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”  (1 Kings 17:1) 

One of the reasons that we often do not pray powerful prayers is that we do not really feel like powerful people. We fail to ask God to do the impossible because we figure that we are unworthy to make such a request. But either was Elijah. Notice that James 5:17 says, “Elijah was as human as we are.” Elijah was not some super saint that never had any problems. Yes, Elijah saw God do some amazing miracles through him. However, it is important to remember that Elijah was only human, he possessed our same limitations. He was human, just like us. Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and it did not rain for three and a half years. Elijah prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. The drought ended and the rain brought life and abundance back to the land. This is the product of prayer.

The Lord had told Elijah that he was about to send rain on the earth. However, God did not do so until Elijah had prayed. We experience this truth in our own lives. God declares His will and then waits for us to act in obedience to it. Instead of working around us, He will often wait for us to cooperate with Him by prayer first before the answer is given. Elijah needed to know that the rain was coming, but that did not excuse him from the earnest prayer that would release it.

There is incredible power and potential in prayer. The power of prayer isn’t in the words you utter. Nor is it about when or how you pray. Prayer can be defined as talking to God, but it is much more than that. 

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. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) 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.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the key things this sermon series has taught you about prayer?
  2. The prayer of the righteous is powerfully effective, we should be motivated to pray. Agree or disagree and why?

The Prayer Of Nehemiah

“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. “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth,I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.” – Nehemiah 1:4-11.

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.  

When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) He begins his prayer after days of fasting and mourning. He mourned how his people had turned their backs on God. He mourned how nothing was right. He mourned the lack of dignity God’s people had. He mourned his sins. All the while he was talking to God. He was pouring out his heart and soul to God. Nehemiah’s relationship with God teaches us we ought to walk and talk with God not just in the little things, but the big things too. God wants us to bring our worries, anxiety, dreams and hopes to Him. That is when God will direct us. That is when God will set us on our purpose. Prayer helps us to find strength for today and hope for our future.

Because Nehemiah realized the power of prayer, he ends his prayer by praising God and petitioning for the success of his plans if it’s in God’s will. He reminds himself and God that he is God’s servant. Our hearts should always remain humble in the truth that God is God and we are His servants.

God uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places to change the culture, revive hearts, and build His Kingdom. God has placed you where you are for a purpose.  God wants us to remember: “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17).

Discussion Questions:

  1. If God were to answer all of our prayers from just last week, how would our lives and the lives of those around us look different? Would it make any difference?
  2. What steps can we take to become people who are marked by big, bold, and faith-filled prayers?

The Spiritual Benefits Of Fasting

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” –  Matthew 6:16–18. 

Many people view fasting as a negative. Perhaps the reason so many of us fast so infrequently is because we think of fasting mainly as what we’re giving up rather than what we’re getting. It is understandable because fasting is viewed as abstaining, going without food or drink, or something else that is a part of our lives.  But Christian fasting is more than simply abstaining. The goal of Christian fasting, in fact, is not going without but getting. Christian fasting is abstaining for the sake of some specific Christian purpose.

Jesus did not waffle as to whether His church would fast. “When you fast,” he said — not “if” (Matthew 6:16–17). “…they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15). And so the early church fasted: “One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”

The spiritual purpose in fasting includes strengthening prayer. Ezra 8:23 says, “So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer.”  Or seeking God’s guidance: “Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.” (Acts 14:23) Or seeking His deliverance or protection: “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.” (2 Chronicles 20:3–4)  Or humbling ourselves before Him. Psalm 35:13 says, “Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered.” There are others but the bottom line is that without a spiritual purpose, it’s not Christian fasting. It’s just going hungry.

Fasting is a kind of special measure in the life of faith. Fasting is a special mode, for unusual prayer and for showing the Giver we enjoy Him more than His gifts.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that is it important for every believer to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting? Why or why not?
  2. Share about a time you fasted and prayed. What did God reveal to you during that time? What might you do differently when you fast again?

Holy, Holy, Holy

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” – Isaiah 6:3

What comes to mind when you hear the word “holy?” Words like holy and holiness generate different ideas in different contexts. People hold many different definitions. Sometimes people believe that holiness is righteousness, or perfection, or separation, etc. But one thing is for sure: God is holy. The Scriptures declare twice that God is “holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8) This three-fold repetitiveness is meant to emphasize to the reader that God is Holy. If you could only understand one thing about God understand this: God is holy.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God. The chapter also details how Isaiah reacted. But if we go a little deeper into the text we learn that God gave Isaiah a revelation not just about Himself but into Himself. God is seated on a magnificent throne. He is high and exalted, and the train of His robe fills the temple. Six-winged angels called seraphim are flying above Him, and the seraphim are covering their faces with sets of wings as they fly. They’re calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3).”

This passage gives us a very personal glimpse of God. We see similar glimpses in the books of Revelation. These glimpses are small peeks into heaven where even the angels are simply blown away by God—they are so in awe that they can’t even look at Him. And what attribute of God do these angels call out? They’re not calling, “loving, loving, loving.” They’re not calling, “Faithful, faithful, faithful.” They’re not calling, “indescribable, indescribable, indescribable.” Even though God is all those things and more, the angels have a laser-like focus. They’re not searching for the right word. They are not trying to debate theological concepts. They’re not searching their Bible software for an inspirational quote. No. They center on the holiness of God.  

John’s vision of the throne of God in Revelation 4 was similar to that of Isaiah. Again, there were living creatures around the throne crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” (Revelation 4:8) in reverence and awe of the Holy One. John goes on to describe these creatures giving glory and honor and reverence to God continually around His throne.

Hopefully, we will spend some time today reflecting on how worthy God is of our devotion. May we authentically give God our devotion today as we take time to discover how holy and worthy He is.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you describe the holiness of God? 
  2. How does the fact that God is holy impact our lives?  

Know Your Bible

“…Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. 47 These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” Deuteronomy 32:46-47.

The Bible has had untold influence throughout history and influences hundreds of millions of people worldwide today. But how well do we know the Bible? Many people would probably not be happy if our knowledge of the Bible could be quantified. Yes, we want to be knowledgeable about Scripture so that it can guide us as we journey through this life. 

The Bible represents God’s instructions to us. The Holy Scriptures were written by forty authors. It is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible has something to say on almost any topic you can think of and has much to teach us about the issues we face on a daily basis. When we need an encouraging word, or we’re in a negative environment, it’s good to know that we can find the answers in God’s Word. Charles Spurgeon said, “nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”  

Reading the Bible teaches us who God is. As created beings, it’s important for us to know more about our Creator. As we come to know God we learn why we should worship Him and how we should serve Him.

There are numerous Bible verses that instruct us to learn Scripture and apply it to our lives. A few examples include:  Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Joshua 1:8 tells us to ”study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” Colossians 3:16 adds, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” Matthew 4:4 says that “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Hebrews 4:12 describes God’s Word as “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword.” Deuteronomy 11:18–20 encourages you to put Scripture into your heart and mind, writing it on hands and foreheads, teaching it to your children, talking about it at home and when you’re away, thinking through Scripture when you lie down and get up. “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7) 

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He quoted Scripture back to the evil one. “It is written . . . it is written . . . it is written.” That’s the winning tactic for us as well. If you want to know God in a deeper way and hear His voice more clearly, then become a student of His Word. Read the Bible every day, and let the Lord speak to your heart. You will say along with the psalmist: “Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long.” (Psalm 119:97)  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you believe you have been oriented to the Bible? What can you do to fill in the gaps?
  2. Bible study is not the same thing as Bible reading. How are they different?

Pray For Those Who Offended You

“Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”  – Luke 6:38.

Well, this is a tough one, isn’t it?  It is difficult and counterintuitive to our nature to pray for someone who’s hurt you. It’s so much easier to plot revenge and lick our wounds. The problem with that approach though is that, paradoxically, it keeps us attached to the very person who has hurt us, magnifying their power to hurt us even more. Without realizing it we give them too much control over our thoughts and feelings; in other words, giving them rent-free space in our hearts and heads.

With a little thought, we could all come up with a list of people that have hurt, betrayed, lied and/or offended us, whether it’s friends, family, social media, or opposing views. We will all experience times on the giving and receiving end of feeling offended. We may not have set out to hurt someone intentionally. But we’ve all hurt people and wished so desperately that we could take it back. But how different would you feel if they were praying for you and working on forgiving you?

In the Old Testament, even righteous people prayed for God to destroy their enemies in cruel ways. But Jesus turned life upside down with His command to bless, love, and pray for our enemies.  

Why should we pray for our enemies? Because Jesus did. He prayed for those who opposed Him, for those who devised evil against Him, and ultimately as He hung on the Cross, Jesus prayed for His Father to forgive all those who had a part in His death—because they didn’t know what they were doing. Jesus modeled unconditional love and how we should pray for our enemies, then commanded us to do the same.

Prayer is an amazing discipline and privilege. What usually happens when we pray for anyone, is that the prayer acts as a boomerang. God may or may not answer in the way we prayed, but God often chooses to bless and change us as a result of our obedience to pray. It’s hard to stay angry at someone for whom you earnestly pray. Prayer also leaves the consequences, revenge, and complete justice to God. By praying for our enemies, God’s Spirit can supernaturally show love and kindness through us or another that may ultimately change them.  

If Jesus can love you unconditionally, no matter what you’ve done, couldn’t you pray for someone who has done something to you? I know it can be difficult to pray for someone when you’re hurting and angry but the first step is to pray to see them from God’s perspective, and a heart to forgive. The other person(s) are probably struggling just like you are and they need forgiveness and grace, just like you do. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is prayer such a vital part of forgiving others?
  2. How different would your life and your relationship with Christ be if you removed all bitterness from your heart by forgiving those who have hurt you?