GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK

“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”  – John 5:17.

God is always working. If we are going to be used by God, we must first acknowledge that He is already at work all around us, and that His work isn’t contingent upon us. This is not something we’re starting up. The weight is not on our shoulders—the pressure is off.

God does not sit idly, watching our life take place. And that is a good thing because there will be times in all of our lives when we simply don’t understand how God is working. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t always align with what we can want or imagine. It doesn’t fit into the way we believe things happen in this world. But remember this. God keeps His promises, God gives you the right instructions according to His perfect will and He won’t mislead you. No matter how much you don’t understand life as it is right now – no matter how uncomfortable it may seem or how hard it gets, we don’t have to worry because God is with us. God was working before Christ walked on this earth. He was working while Christ was in the world and He continues to work through His Spirit today.

Sometimes, it seems like God is not working in our lives. When faced with disappointments in life, believing God works things for your good can be difficult. But what if God has been at work all along, and you’ve failed to recognize it? In John 5:17, Jesus tells us that God has been working and that He is also working on our behalf. So, think about that truth as you go about your daily activities. Even though you might not feel or see God working right now in your situation, it does not mean He is not. John 13:7 says, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” He is working on other areas of your life that may not immediately be obvious. This is why the Holy Spirit reminds you today by saying not to give up hope or feel helpless because “… he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4)

Instead, he is always at work because He works all things for our good, no matter how seemingly hopeless or near impossible the situation is or looks. Romans 8:28 (AMP) says, “And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.”

God doesn’t expect us to understand everything He’s doing. It’s okay to have questions. It’s OK to want to know more. It’s normal to think what’s happening doesn’t make much sense. And we will experience a whole variety of emotions along the way.

The reality is that we will never fully grasp all God is doing this side of heaven. But He does want us to know this with all our hearts: He loves us and is working on our behalf in ways beyond what we can comprehend.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where have you seen God working in your life in the last 1-5 years? Where do you see God at work around you? How does He want you to join Him?

THE ART OF EVERYDAY WORSHIP

 “I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”—John Ortberg.

How can we worship God in our everyday lives? Worshipping the Lord daily can be as simple as remembering God in daily activities like driving to work, washing the dishes, cleaning the garage, etc. It is a matter of glorifying God and practicing an awareness of Him in everything amidst the busyness of life.  The point is this: God is always present, and all that we do can be used as an act to worship Him. The Apostle Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Paul writes in Colossians 3:16-17: “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. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

With the advancement in technology, most of us have fallen into the routine of checking our phones from the moment we open our eyes. If you attempt to break this habit and instead use your time by spending it with God, you will grow your relationship with Him. Read your Bible for a few minutes, listen to worship music, and thank Him for giving you another day to live. Thank God for His daily blessings.  

Whenever you are outside, take the time to notice the beautiful scenery. Notice God’s creation and everything He has made. He made the earth for us to live on. He cares for every living thing that He created. Take the time to appreciate it more and thank Him for His creation.

The lyrics to the song “Heart of Worship” are simple but striking: “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus.”

God created us to worship, and the object of our worship is Him. It should be a daily event.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we do to worship God daily?

CONSUMER OR FOLLOWER?

“Following Christ isn’t something that can be done halfheartedly or on the side. It is not a label we can display when it is useful. It must be central to everything we do and are.”― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.

The crowds loved Jesus. And why not? Every day, Jesus would perform a miracle. He healed sick people, cast out demons, stilled storms, and brought people back from the dead, and the people loved it. One day, He even fed thousands of them with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Life was good. You could watch Jesus do His thing and get fed. At one point, however, Jesus calls the crowd out in John 6:26: “…I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.”

Jesus knew that the crowds could be fickle and were entertained by His miracles. They didn’t understand what it meant to follow Him. They were just consumed with what He could do for them. Later on in John 6, the crowds showed their true colors and walked away from Jesus: “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him” (vs 66). Apparently, the novelty had worn off, and Jesus wasn’t entertaining them enough anymore.

Have you ever really thought about why you want to be with Jesus? Is it just for the next miracle He might provide, the next blessing, or the presumed freebies you expect to get as a follower of Jesus? Consumers want to be with Jesus for the free perks of the relationship. They want to be with Jesus for what’s in it for them.

Followers of Jesus are different. They want to be with Jesus not primarily for what He does for them but for who He is. They want to follow Him because He is the risen Son of God. His resurrection compels them to trust in Him as God and is worthy of our love, worship, and obedience. The beauty of the Gospel is that in trusting Jesus, they find that He pours into them more than they could have expected or hoped for.

Matthew 14:22-36 tells the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus. Imagine if you were in this situation. We are the disciples, the boat is our comfort zone, and the lake is the tumultuous situation we encounter. Jesus walks above our difficulty and invites us to walk above it all with Him. As human beings, we can often be skeptical about leaving our comfort zone. But that is the only way to grow in a relationship with Christ. When we get out of the boat, we often forget who invited us and get scared. Jesus is ready to pull you out of that place and help you grow. The key to all of this is accepting His hand of help. Recognize that you are not strong enough to fix yourself, and let Christ help you grow. We follow Him because He wants to help us grow in our relationship with Him.

Decide to bring God into all aspects of your life. Don’t just reserve Him for Sunday service or prayer before a meal. You can be with God when you’re walking, reading, Bible journaling, creating art, playing in the sand, driving, etc. Think of God as the best Father you could ever have—one who cares about you and wants to spend time with you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus gives us an implied choice: to follow or not. How do you choose to follow Jesus daily?
  2. How much of your time, attention, energy, etc., does following Jesus get from you?

RECOGNIZING THE COST

 “Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”   Luke 9:23-24.

Many of us have a difficult time balancing Jesus’ generosity with His intense call to follow. There is a tendency to try to balance grace, blessings, and love with the costs. Because the reality is that there is a cost that all of us must count to follow Christ.

Jesus does not remove the cost of following Him. Jesus makes this point clear in Luke 9. Self-denial and daily cross-bearing are the marks of a follower of Jesus. It is a call to surrender your rights and submit to God’s agenda.

Jesus said anyone following Him would need to take up their cross daily. Remember the way Jesus suffered on His cross. No cross comes without pain and agony. Every day, we must be prepared to suffer for the sake of Jesus. Rather than health and wealth, Jesus promised we would be hated, homeless, and persecuted (John 15:18-21). Following Him will not result in a life of ease, but it will guarantee an eternity of peace in His presence. The cost of following Jesus is great, but the reward is far greater.

Jesus gives two illustrations concerning assessing the cost of following Jesus. The first illustration is of a tower being built. A parallel would be building an addition to one’s house. Not counting the cost means the project will not be completed. Jesus declares that one must assess whether one is ready to take on the personal commitment and sacrifice required to follow Jesus. The second illustration is similar, and it concerns a king going to war. A king must calculate the cost before going into the battle. One must count the cost to avoid an embarrassing and deadly outcome. Being a disciple requires abandoning all projects, plans, and personal goals.

Jesus expects nothing that He has not already accepted for Himself. Everything that matters is challenging and costly. You are going to face pressure to not intensely follow Jesus. But in the end, having Jesus means gain, like Paul says: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we go about recognizing the costs?

THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS

  “A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” – Luke 14:25-33

There’s a popular misconception that accepting Christ leads to health, wealth, prosperity, or a comfortable life. Christians know better. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. Following Jesus can seem like swimming upstream when the rest of the world is happy to go with the current. It takes courage, faith, humility, selflessness, discipline, commitment, boldness, strength, and endurance to live a life committed to Jesus.

“The Cost of Discipleship” is a book written by  Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Nazi Germany who directly opposed Hitler and the Nazis because of his Christian convictions. He was arrested, imprisoned, sent to multiple concentration camps, and the Nazis ultimately hanged him just months before the war ended.

The theme of the book was that while grace is a freely given gift from God, there are real costs involved. Early in the book, Bonhoeffer notes that Jesus’s first three recorded words to Peter were “Come, follow me.” He also notes that Jesus’s last three recorded words to Peter were “Come, follow me.”

The big difference was that the first time Peter heard those words, his response was to set out on an adventure with the young rabbi who did extraordinary things and quickly gained notoriety. The second time he heard these words from Jesus, he had been following Jesus for three years and learned about the demands and costs of that invitation. He had seen the power of Jesus in his miracles, but He also saw what His mission on earth cost Him on the cross. The invitation to “Come, follow me” would also cost Peter his life.

And that is Jesus’ unchanging command to all of His disciples. We are to follow Him. That is what being a disciple means. Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t just attending a worship service every week. It means to follow Him daily, regardless of the costs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the costs people normally associate with what it means to follow Jesus?
  2. In Luke 14, Jesus delves further into the costs of following Him. In verses 26-27, how does Jesus describe the cost of discipleship? What do those tell you about following Him?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ABIDE IN JESUS?

  “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”   John 15:4–5 (ESV).

Does the idea of abiding in Christ seem abstract or elusive to you?

John 15:4-5 helps us understand what Jesus meant by abiding in Him. The main point of the analogy is that the power to bear fruit requires us to be vitally connected to Him. Similarly, this is true with the phrase, “Abide in my word” found in John 8:31.

Simply put, abiding in Christ means having faith in Him alone. The primary message Jesus is communicating is that salvation is found in Him alone. To abide in Him is to repent and believe that God the Father lovingly sent His Son to die on the cross and rise from the dead to forgive sin so that we could be declared righteous in God’s sight and receive the gift of eternal life. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15).

In John 15, Jesus plainly tells us that He is the power we need to live fruitful lives. He says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Abiding in Jesus means staying vitally connected to the life-giving, power-giving, fruit-producing branch, Jesus.

Abiding in the vine means receiving, believing, and trusting in the words of Jesus. Abiding in Jesus, like faith, is a matter of degrees. It’s not that some Christians abide and some don’t. If you believe in Jesus, you are in Him and united to Him. You are connected to the life-giving branch. But no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, you can experience the reality of this connection to Jesus more and more.

We may experience peaks and valleys in abiding in Jesus. But in the end, the battle is assured because it does not depend on us. Jesus wins. He and His Father are greater than all.

When we abide in Christ, He bears fruit in our lives. This glorifies Him and blesses us and those around us.  We can trust Jesus and the Father to prune and bring forth fruit in our lives.

“Abide in Me says Jesus. Cling to Me. Stick fast to Me. Live the life of close and intimate communion with Me. Get nearer to Me. Roll every burden on Me. Cast your whole weight on Me. Never let go your hold on Me for a moment. Be, as it were, rooted and planted in Me. Do this, and I will never fail you. I will ever abide in you.” – JC Ryle.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the importance of abiding in the Lord?
  2. What does abiding in the Lord look like practically? Why is it sometimes hard to abide in Jesus?

WHAT IS THE PAYOFF FOR FOLLOWING JESUS?

Outside of Christ, I am only a sinner, but in Christ, I am saved. Outside of Christ, I am empty; in Christ, I am full. Outside of Christ, I am weak; in Christ, I am strong. Outside of Christ, I cannot; in Christ, I am more than able. Outside of Christ, I have been defeated; in Christ, I am already victorious. How meaningful are the words, “in Christ.” – Watchman Nee.

Have you ever asked yourself, “is it really worth it to follow Christ?” Have you ever compared what you get with following Jesus with what those in the world get? You look around and see people devoting their lives to the things of this world. They seem to be living the dream. They have plenty of money. They take nice vacations. They drive new cars. It is human nature to look at them and ponder whether your life would be similar if you were not a follower of Jesus. You wouldn’t have to give a portion of your income to the Lord’s work. You would have your weekends free to pursue whatever you wanted to do. Is it worth it to follow Christ?  “Am I making a mistake to give up all this to follow Christ?”

The motivation for following Christ should not be to get the benefits. We follow Him because He is who He claimed to be: the Savior and Messiah. But He graciously reassures us by telling us of the promised benefits. The pleasures of this world pale in comparison with the pleasure of knowing the Savior. The sacrifices of time, money, and hardship you encounter in serving Christ are nothing compared to the joy of knowing Him. The beauty of the Gospel is that in trusting Jesus, He pours into us more than we could have expected or hoped for.

Psalm 103:2, for example, says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Psalm 116:12 says, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” The Apostle Paul described a major part of his ministry this way: “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 NIV).

Jesus does not invite us to follow Him for what we can get, but He invites us to follow Him for what we can give. We can be a part of serving, loving, and reaching the people around us. We need to trust Jesus when He says, “ If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Christians don’t follow Jesus for the perks. They follow Jesus because He is the risen Son of God. The truth of His resurrection compels us to trust in Him as God and is worthy of our love, worship, and obedience. In Jesus alone, we find counting the cost results in us receiving far more than we could ever repay or earn. That is the beauty of the Gospel. That is the reason Jesus is always worth following.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the payoff in your mind for following Jesus?

FOLLOWING JESUS IS NOT A SET OF RULES

“Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored. At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.” – Mark 3:1-6.

When Jesus extended the invitation to “follow me,” He was calling believers to a transformative way of living that goes beyond following a set of religious rules. Following Jesus is more than following a set of prescribed regulations. It’s about entering into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Him. Francis Chan said, “Following Jesus is not about diligently keeping a set of rules or conjuring up the moral fortitude to lead good lives. It’s about loving God and enjoying Him.”

In Mark 3, we read about a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees were more concerned about their rules than they were about Jesus performing a miracle.  Just think about that for a moment.  Knowing that this man had a deformed hand, you would think that the Pharisees would be in amazement after witnessing the miracle. Instead, they went away and plotted because their rules blinded them from accepting the miracle that they had just witnessed.  Instead of cheering with excitement for what they had just seen, they fell back on their rules.

Following Jesus is much easier than following man-made rules. The only rules that we need to follow are God’s rules. You do not have to perform meaningless ceremonial tasks dictated by man.  The only functions that we should follow were demonstrated to us by Jesus.

Today, the call to “follow me” is a call to look beyond the confines of rules and to understand the deeper values they aim to represent. It’s a journey towards living a life that is deeply rooted in the principles of love and compassion, the core of Jesus’ teachings. This is where we find the true essence of what it means to follow Jesus – not in the adherence to rules, but in the embodiment of love and grace in our everyday lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the benefits of following Jesus?
  2. What needs to be different short term to better follow Jesus?

SOME THOUGHTS ON PETER

   “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,”   Philippians 2:5 (NASB).

How would you answer questions like: What does it mean to be a Christian? How does a Christian act? Or what are the characteristics of a Christian? We can answer those questions by looking at Peter’s life. Peter is an example of the transformation a follower of Jesus goes through and how the characteristics of Jesus are to be exhibited in the lives of believers.

I think most of us can identify with Peter. Peter was a person with many facets to his character. His tenacious spontaneity attracts the wild at heart. He was quick to speak and slow to listen, just like so many of us. He often found himself in situations that could have been avoided if he kept his eyes on Christ. All of these things make Peter such a relatable person. But we must also remember that although it took a while, Peter eventually learned to find His victory in Christ. God transformed him to a powerful witness. As we trace the trajectory of Peter’s life, we see a man powerfully renewed in his walk with Jesus Christ.

One of the most important aspects of our Christianity is recognizing that we are continually involved in transformation as we grow and mature as followers of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

Peter was the one who was full of strange contradictions in his early walk with the Lord. At times, he was presumptuous, timid, and even cowardly, but we see him transformed into a man of God who led the early church in its early days. Ultimately, we find him as a rock standing firm in the faith.  Acts 5:15 tells us “As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by.”

Peter’s story is recorded to show us how a man can be used by God. We can hope for God to do the same in our lives. Peter’s life is a testimony to the fact that we can change. We can move from frustration and failure to fulfillment and fruitfulness. This is our inheritance and God’s intention for our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Peter’s life?
  2. How does Peter’s life give us hope?

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTER TRAITS OF A JESUS FOLLOWER?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control”-  Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV).

If you were buying a new car, you would probably look for something well-built, dependable, and in your price range. If you were reading a novel, you likely want a good plot, a compelling crisis, and solid character development. If you were considering a new house, you would focus on location, size, quality, and price. In almost everything in life, typical characteristics make something “good.”  Similarly, characteristics, or traits, distinguish those who follow Jesus from others.

Genuine Christian character is not just about our personality or disposition. It describes who we are as Christians. It is exhibited in what we do and how we do it as followers of Jesus. In essence, our character is the display case of Christ.

Building and developing character is something we must desire and work at. Fortunately, Christ gave us a model to evaluate. Studying the character of Jesus is a lifelong effort. These qualities of Jesus Christ’s character are apparent throughout His ministry.

First was compassion: Jesus never looked away from people; He always looked upon them and had compassion (Matthew 9:36). Whenever people were around Him, Jesus understood their real needs and sought to address them. Jesus took the time to notice that people were hurting—and His compassion drove Him to help them. Jesus was the ultimate servant. He taught them to be servants by actually doing it Himself.  Despite having the authority to get anything He wanted and have people praise and pamper Him, He did the exact opposite by lowering Himself and serving others.

No list of Jesus‘ character is complete without love. If anyone doubts His love, all they have to do is look upon the cross and see the agony that He bore for our sake. He experienced that horrible death so that all could be saved. That, very clearly, is true love at its finest.

 Additional characteristics include forgiving, patience, commitment, gentleness, self-control, and humility. Jesus had every opportunity and right to demand praise and accolades for His miracles and teachings, but He never did. He did not want to become a sideshow,  He wanted to seek and save the lost and offer forgiveness for sinful people.

The world doesn’t need more role models; it needs more of Jesus, the ultimate role model. People will not find a better person to emulate positive character traits than Jesus Christ.

Imitating Jesus in even a small way is a tall order. But following Him starts with asking God to help me discover more of what that means, with a hunger to know more of the purpose for which I have been made and asking how I can grow more fully into God’s image. When I love Him, I will be like Him. When I am like Him, I will love like He loves and be a reflection of Him by wearing the following wear.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of the characteristics of Jesus is the easiest to do? Which is the most difficult?
  2. What can we do this week to follow Jesus a little bit better?