Deeper Waters

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish. “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.” – Luke 5: 4-7. 

I love this story. Peter is frustrated, tired, and weary. A night of fishing has been a complete bust. He and the other fisherman caught absolutely nothing. In the morning, Jesus finds Peter washing his nets. Jesus, seeking a little space from which to speak to the crowds amassed all around Him, commandeers Peter’s boat. Peter apparently is okay with having his boat appropriated. Jesus then tells him to launch the boat into deeper water and let down the nets. Really, a teacher telling a professional fisherman how to fish. Peter tells Jesus in frustration, “Hey, we’ve been fishing all night.  We know fish.  The fish don’t run in the day.” Peter probably wanted to finish cleaning the nets and go home and hope for better luck tomorrow.

So Peter does something that doesn’t make sense, letting down his nets after he’d been fishing all night and caught nothing. But at that moment they hit the mother lode. Can you imagine the expression on the fishermen’s faces as they struggle to haul in this catch, call their friends over to help, and barely get their boats to shore before they sank.

It is easy to stay in shallow water. The shallow water is a safe place to cast our nets. But it is also the place where we may not catch any fish.  How do we respond when we hear God instruct us to move into deeper waters? Do we suggest that we prefer the shallows? Do we theorize that things are just fine in the shallows? After all, I can see the bottom in the shallows. I am comfortable in the shallows.

Sometimes God wants us in deeper waters where we love our enemies, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, forgive completely, minister to the least of these, and spread the gospel. Deeper water is “faith territory.” The blessings are out where you are over your head and Jesus must be trusted to get you through whatever the situation may be. It takes faith and courage to tread into deeper waters. Moving into deep waters requires us pull up our anchor keeping us in place and to turn over our control to God. But it is in the deep water that we catch what God has for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When God instructs us into deepwater: Do we hesitate to answer? Do we linger in the shallows?
  2. What can we do this week to better understand the love and grace of God?  

It Could Make All The Difference

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” –Chuck Swindoll

A child once asked “What does God do all day?” Good question; one that I can’t answer because I have no idea how God spends His day or even if a day has any meaning to God. Psalm 90:4 (GNT) says, “A thousand years to you are like one day; they are like yesterday, already gone, like a short hour in the night.” But let me ask that same question from a different perspective. How much time does God spend each day helping us fulfill the purpose He has for our lives? For some of us, God wouldn’t be spending much time, because we are not spending much time doing what God wants us to do. 

Typically, we want to get to the purpose God has for our lives, but we don’t like God’s way of taking us there. We want to be in God’s will, but not always what God wants us to do. We know God has a greater purpose than just making us happy. He has a different plan and purpose for each of us, but I think it is safe to say that the common denominator is He wants to work in us, through us and all around us to impact the lives of people with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We have been called by God to take the initiative, to do something, to make a difference in the world.   

But impacting the world seems like a monumental task. What can we do to reach the thousands upon thousands in Panama City let alone Florida, the United Sates and the world? The reality is it is humanly impossible to reach them all, but we can partner with God to make a difference in some of their lives.  It may seem limited, but when coupled with God, the possibilities are unlimited.  We need to pour our time and energy into the possible by doing what God asks us to do: to serve where God has asked me to serve; to give where God has asked me to give and to go where God asks me to go and leave the results to Him. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “… we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Sometimes we do things somewhat backwards. In the Christian world, doing big events to reach people is vogue and makes headlines. But as individuals we can make a difference by loving one friend. Then another. Before you try to feed all the homeless people in your city, why not start by feeding one? Start small and let God produce the big results. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are you making a difference in your community? 
  2. What can we do this week to make a difference in one person’s life?

No Limits

Yes, again and again they tempted God, And limited the Holy One of Israel. ― Psalm 78:41 (NKJV). 

Do we limit God? If we are all straightforward with each other, many people limit and are limiting God’s work in our lives. We are not alone. There are many examples in the Bible who restricted their Creator. Moses, Thomas, David and the Israelites all went through times where they limited God. Psalm 78:41-42 explained about the Israelites: “Yes, again and again they tempted God, And limited the Holy One of Israel.” 

On the surface, it seems illogical to limit God. It should seem impossible when we think of the greatness and power of God. God holds the whole ocean in His hand, and He created the land on which we stand and walk. Ephesians 1:19 tells us that “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power” Isaiah 40:12 adds “Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?” It would seem impossible to limit a limitless God. 

But is it? We have the ability to limit who God is when we exercise control. We limit what God can do by putting Him in a box. If we truly understood God we would understand that He doesn’t need to be limited, especially when He is an unlimited God. The more you understand who He is, the more you will understand what He is capable of doing, which by the way, is everything. And when you understand He is capable of everything then you will have no reason to ever limit him. It was D.L. Moody who said, “If God is your partner, make your plans BIG!”  

Consider what Romans 4:21 says that Abraham was “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” We need to move to the place where we are “fully persuaded” that God will carry out fully what He has spoken and has written down for you and me. To be fully persuaded means no more second-guessing, no more doubts and no more trying to do things our own way; no more limiting God. I want to live a life that is fully persuaded about God’s faithfulness and God’s abiding love in my life.

We have an unlimited God.  As Christians we can limit God or we can loose God’s limitless power in our lives. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Ask God to show you one area in your life where you are limiting God?
  2. What can you do short-term to change the area where you are limiting God? 

Seek The Blesser, Not The Blessing

“Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.” They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:26-29

In the John 6 passage, we encounter a crowd of people who watched and ate when Jesus fed 5,000 people plus their families with 5 small barley loaves of bread and two small fish. Naturally, they looked for Him the next day after such an awesome event. Now we might think that Jesus would be happy that people were following Him. But not so much. Jesus sees their inner motivation.”…Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” They were more interested in the blessing than the blesser. They sought Him because they wanted another free meal for their stomachs. Jesus then encourages them to use their efforts for something of a more eternal value than bread and fish: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

That was not the answer the crowd was expecting. They reasoned that if Jesus wasn’t going to feed them again, they wanted some of this power for themselves so that they could do the multiplying thing themselves, so they asked, “…What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28 ESV) One more time they didn’t get the answer they wanted: “Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29). In other words concentrate on the blesser not the blessing. 

What blessings are you seeking? What kind of stuff are you pursuing? Maybe it’s a new job, a spouse, or a new business venture. Whether it’s big or small, these things aren’t bad things. No, they’re good things. But what’s our approach in those pursuits?

Do we want Jesus for the miracles, the food, the house, the job, the spouse, or some other thing we desire? Will we be like those in Biblical times who turned away from the blesser because they wanted the blessing more? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be blessed and have blessings, but when the blessing becomes our god instead of the blesser, we have missed the miracle.

It is not a blessing that we need. It is the blesser. It is Jesus, who loves us, that we need to seek. So my prayer is that today, we will focus on God, on the blesser not the blessing. He is the blessing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Psalm 37:4: Matthew 6:33: and Matthew 7:9-11: What do these verses say about those who would seek God and the blessings He gives?
  2. What do we need to do today to focus on the Blesser rather than the blessing? 

Are We Worth The Blood Of Jesus?

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” – Psalm 51: 7-12. 

There is a line in the book, Jesus>Religion that blew my mind.  The author, Jefferson Bethke, was talking about an incident in his life. He was in the process of doing something that he knew to be a sin and went ahead and did it anyway. Afterward, he was swimming in his guilt and shame when a still, small voice whispered in his mind. “I love you. I desire you. I saw you were going to do that before I went to the cross and I still went.” The line was not a revelation, yet my eyes hovered over it, my mind refusing to move on.  I just stared at those words for a few seconds.  Then I read them again, letting the power of those words sink in. Jesus knew I would be a mess, yet He still went to the cross for me.

For those few seconds, I wondered what my life would have looked like to God, if not for the cross. Isaiah 64:5-7 tells us, “You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways. But you have been very angry with us, for we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” All of my righteousness is like “filthy rags” and I am “infected and impure with sin.” Look at what Paul said in Romans 7:24 (ESV):”Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Just a few verses earlier, Paul says “…I am all too human, a slave to sin.” (Romans 7:14 NLT). God loves us in spite of our sin, and He yearns to forgive us, cleanse us and purify our hearts and minds.

So no matter what we do, we will never catch God off guard. The Bible says, “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.” (Hebrews 4:13). When Jesus went to the cross, He saw all I’ll ever be and all I’ll ever do; but He loved and pursued me anyway. That is grace. Grace that I couldn’t earn and don’t deserve.  Thanks to the cross, God no longer sees me as a ”wretched” sinner but as a child of God, as someone God thought was worth the blood of Jesus. 

Right now if I died, I would go to heaven. Not because I pastored a church. Not because I participated in mission trips and taught small groups. Certainly not because of religious education, Bible knowledge or study.  Not because of denominational affiliation, baptism, or participation in the Lord’s supper. If I died right now, I would go to heaven because two thousand years ago the Son of God shed His blood for every wretched person, inluding me.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus knows all about our sins, and yet He went to the cross for each of us. How do you respond to Jesus’ powerful love for you?
  2. What can we do this week to better understand the love and grace of God?  

Intercessory Prayer

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” – 1 Timothy 2:1.

In the midst of His greatest trial, Jesus prayed fervently. What would you have prayed about when facing torture and death? It’s fascinating to see what was on Jesus’ mind as He prayed, not only for Himself but for His disciples and for us: “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:18-21).

Jesus did not just focus inward, but by His words and His prayers showed that He wanted love and joy and peace and patience and all the presence of God’s Spirit for His followers.  He prayed for them—and us—out of love and deep concern. The scriptures direct us to intercede for others. Praying for others is our responsibility and our privilege. Oswald Chambers said that “the real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer.”  

Have you ever felt an unexplained burden on your heart to pray for those who are far from the heart of God in your community or the world at large? There are many ways to love our neighbor, but intercessory prayer—praying on behalf of other people—is surely one of the most powerful. The Bible is full of examples of intercessory prayers. The prophets prayed for the people of Israel. Jesus interceded for those involved in His crucifixion, “…Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34). The book of Hebrews indicates that Jesus will always intercede for us: “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save[a] those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” (Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus often stopped what He was doing to help people whether it was convenient or not. He lived and ministered among the “people.” He did not shy away from interaction with people like tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he wanted them to remember the needs of others, not just their own needs.

Prayer is vital,  but don’t stop there.  Ask God how you can take action to help a person in need. Maybe it is taking them grocery shopping, or cooking, or babysitting, or just picking up the phone and calling them.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you seen God work through your intercessory prayers? 
  2. Have you experienced a blessing in your life as a result of someone interceding in prayer for you?  

Pray For The World

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. 

If I asked you who you pray for most of the time the answer would be yourself.  Our prayers are full of our individual worries, problems, needs, and desires. If we are praying for ourselves, we aren’t praying for others. In the book Radical by David Platt, the author challenges the reader to do five things, one of which is to pray for the world. There are more than 1 billion people without Christ that are in need of our prayers.

Jesus called us to pray for the world and those lost in the world. In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” God wants believers to pray for everyone on earth together because He desires all people to be saved. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not even pray for them? Prayer is one of the simplest ways we love our neighbors near and far.

And it just so happens that today’s technology extends our memory, expands our reach, and unites our efforts so that we can intentionally do this for everyone on earth. What will God do as we pray for people we’ve never prayed for before? What will happen as we pray regularly for the world? It will be exciting to find out. 

In the book Radical, David Platt talks about a book entitled Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone.  Platt says this book revolutionized his prayer life more than any other book outside of the Bible. This book contains detailed information on every nation in the world, including statistics on the religious makeup of every country, updates on gospel work in every country, and prayer requests for every country. It also includes a prayer guide that you can follow, over the course of a year. That information enables you to pray specifically and intentionally for every nation in the world. You don’t have to buy the book. The information in the book is available free online (www.operationworld.org).

Prayer can lead to effects far beyond what we can imagine. What can your prayer do, as it is empowered by God? Just imagine. So the first facet of the radical experiment from the book Radical is to pray for the entire world in one year. Pray intentionally, specifically, and audaciously that God’s purpose to be accomplished around the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think praying for the world will make a difference? Why or why not? 
  2. Which countries would you be willing to pray for? 

The Story Of George Müller

“I believe God has heard my prayers. He will make it manifest in His own good time that He has heard me. I have recorded my petitions that when God has answered them, His name will be glorified.” ― George Muller, The Autobiography of George Muller“

George Müller…most people have never heard that name. Certainly his name is not as familiar to Christians as D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and Hudson Taylor. George Müller (1805–98) pastored a church in Bristol, England, for more than sixty years, but he was best known for the orphan ministry he began. During his life he cared for more than ten thousand orphans. The defining feature of George Müller’s life was his unshakable confidence and faith in God.  

In the 1800’s, England was driven by social classes, which meant that poor people did not fare very well, including children. Many children in poverty ended up on the streets, either abandoned or orphaned. George made these children his primary ministry. The Müllers’ took in their first group of girls in 1836, and their orphanage soon housed over a hundred. It’s expensive to feed even a small family. Imagine the cost of feeding hundreds at a time. But George never worried about money and never asked for donations. He believed that God would answer his prayers to provide their needs. George raised each and every penny for this ministry on his knees, through unceasing, persistent, thankful prayer and an unwavering faith in God. Remarkably, and intentionally, he never asked for money or other resources to provide for these orphans. Instead he simply prayed and trusted God to provide.

One example: The orphanage had run out of milk. Upon hearing the news, George rose from his desk and reached for his wife’s hand. “Mary,” he said, “let us pray.” Two orphanage employees joined them, and together they made their humble yet necessary request to God. Someone knocked on the door. Mary hurried to answer, returning to the study a moment later. She handed her husband an envelope. “It’s a letter, George. Hurry up and open it.” Enclosed was a sum of money, more than enough for the milk. Within minutes, two more letters arrived with money and pledges of support.

The power of prayer should not be underestimated. James 5:16-18 declares, “…The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 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.” God most definitely listens to prayers, answers prayers, and moves in response to prayers. 

There is no magic formula to prayer. There is no eloquence requirement. We don’t have to use certain words or phrases. Prayer is communicating with God. All you have to do is ask God for His help as George Müller did so many times in his life. Psalm 107:28-30 reminds us, “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor.” There is power in prayer!

Discussion Questions:

  1. The early church was described as being “devoted” in prayer. Would you say that you are devoted to prayer? 
  2. Read Ephesians 3:14-19. Imagine this prayer becoming reality in your life. How would things be different?

Is Communication With God Too Difficult?

“I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray.” – Psalm 17:6 

If I asked you if prayer is important you would probably say “most definitely.”  If I were to ask you if you pray as much as you know you should your answer may be “no.” You would not be alone. It is interesting that we all know that we should pray, but we do not pray enough.  We hear sermons on the right and wrong ways to pray. Sometimes we even hear sermons on how we should pray. We know that prayer is important and that the Bible has much to say about it, but we do not always feel as if we are doing it effectively. It is natural to pray regularly and repetitively about certain matters—our personal relationship with God, family members, our church families, our unsaved neighbors and relatives, financial care and provision, health and safety, and so on. We become concerned that we are saying the same old things about the same old things. As a result, our communication with God has become too repetitive or stale. 

When God met Moses at the burning bush, it became a time of communication. God gave Moses his calling and Moses rebutted with his excuses as to why he was inadequate. Every time Moses gave an excuse, God gave an answer. God already knew everything about Moses, but Moses needed to get involved with God. Moses needed to communicate with God and become accustomed to talking with Him. As a result, Moses became a changed man. God then used him to change his world. God wants to get involved in everything we do. Prayer is how we involve Him.  

By spending time daily in prayer and worship, we invite God into our lives. God wants to hear from us, and get involved with us. Prayer is an opportunity that we should take to invite God to become involved in our lives. At Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “I want your will to be done, not mine.” In Matthew 6:10 (CEV) Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven.” It is important that we tell God what it is we think we need. It is also important to let God know our wants and our will. But, we need to listen to God and find out what He thinks and what He knows we need. We must remember that God’s will is more important and much better for us than our own. We can tell God our wants and needs, but we need to tell Him, “your will be done.”  

We desperately need God. God is not made complete in us, but we are made complete in Him. Prayer is the key to being made complete in Christ Jesus. In the book of Acts, whenever the church came together in unity and prayed, God moved miraculously. We need God to move miraculously in our lives, and this can only happen through prayer. This is why we pray, not to inform God, not to change him to our way of thinking, not to get our will done, not because He needs us, but because we need Him, love Him, and long to worship Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe your daily conversations with God. What types of things do you regularly pray for?
  2. There are people who think “life is a prayer.” Agree or disagree and why? 

How Well Do You Know Your Bible?

“Oh, the joys of those who do not  follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” –  Psalm 1:1-3. 

Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with the living God. But effective relationships do not run on autopilot. It’s easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it’s all-new, fresh and exciting. But if we don’t put in the effort, that relationship can become routine or even stagnant. That is where the Bible comes in. The Bible has all the information we need to build and even strengthen our relationship with God. It is God’s guidebook for life. So, you need to pray with Paul, “asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Ephesians 1:17).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul is telling us that God’s Word is good for us; it is profitable. Profitable means that there is a great gain on an investment. It teaches – helps us understand and brings clarity to life. It reproves – shows us how we have sinned. It corrects – points us to the truth when we are in error. It trains – shows us how to obey. God left us His word not simply to increase our knowledge, but to influence our character and conduct. God’s Word is sufficient to prepare us for everything the Bible commands us to do.

Jesus made perhaps the clearest statement describing the ultimate importance of Scripture when, as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “…The Scriptures say,‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4). 

Spending time daily in Scripture is an essential component of spiritual growth. The power of understanding what the Scriptures say is not for knowledge only but because they tell us of Jesus. The more we know about the Bible the more we can intimately abide in our relationship with Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why should we study God’s Word? Do we need a different learning style when studying the Bible?