For Days of Trouble
Read Matthew 6:5-18
- What are the hypocrites’ motivations for prayer in vs. 5-7? In what ways do we fall into some of those same unhealthy motivations when we pray? In contrast, what does Jesus say should be our motivation in prayer?
- Jesus is teaching us how to pray to God, but even more so, he is trying to shape what we believe about God when we pray. What characteristics of God are highlighted in vs. 5-8? How should these insights about God shape the way we pray?
- What are the key elements of the LORD’s prayer in verses 9-13? What does it teach us about how to pray? How might praying the pattern of the LORD’s prayer increase our intimacy with Him?
- What keeps us from giving ourselves in intimacy and vulnerability to Jesus?
- How can our community encourage one another in practices such as prayer and fasting if they are to be done “in secret”?
- Close by saying the LORD’s prayer together, pausing between each line to expand on it with additional praise/prayer, or to allow for silence.
Read Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23
There is a progression in this parable of the sower and his seeds. The first seed falls on the path, where it is snatched away by the birds before it even has a chance to take root. The second seed finds a home in the soil and springs up, but soon withers because its roots are shallow, having been planted among the rocks. These first two seeds never really had a shot at real growth, never really had much potential to produce fruit in the farmer’s garden.
But the third seed is different, having the most promise of the three. This seed actually becomes a plant, stretching its roots down deep. The farmer might have watched this plant push its way through the earth in excitement, anticipating much to come from the first budding branches and leaves. But there is a problem. The soil is fertile, ready to produce; but it is also crowded. There is no room here for the plant to grow. Instead it is choked by thorns that have overtaken the garden. This plant will not thrive, will not produce fruit.
Many of us identify with this third seed. We have received the word of God, allowing the message of the gospel to take root in our lives. But our soil is crowded, our thoughts are crowded, our souls are crowded; we feel choked by the worries and anxieties of this world. And as much as we strive to produce and perform, we’ve stopped yielding fruit.
Reflect: How have worry and anxiety hindered your fruitfulness in your faith? What worries and anxieties do you need to lay before God today?
The good news is that God can take our wilted, withering lives and make us whole again.
Pray: LORD, I confess that I have believed the lie that my security comes from what I can see and touch, and I am consumed by worry. Help me to receive nourishment from you today. Remove my anxious thoughts, and help me to be fully present to your love and grace.
Small Group Ministries
Read Philippians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrew 13:5
All of us desire something more and better in life – better job, higher pay, bigger house, more education, newer smartphone, etc… Many of us are restless and unhappy, searching for something of better value, but we never seem to find it. Still others are unable to handle even small hardships without complaints. Comparison and envy steal our joy and our desire to live a godly life. Is it possible for followers of Jesus to be content?
Several people have heavily influenced me in how I understand the relationship between contentment and simplicity. My English teacher in middle and high school lived such a simple life, even a thief couldn’t find anything of value to steal. My mentor in Muslim Ministry has now retired, having literally never owned anything in his life. Another friend is still paying his medical student loan, even after more than 36 years of ministry as a medical doctor. All of them have lived simple lives, yet are totally content and full of joy. Simple living, high thinking!
In the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, no single individual experienced more suffering than Paul: imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks (2 Cor 11:23-27) and even death by execution. Yet Paul declared, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” (Phil 4:12). If Paul can be content in such deep levels of agony, can’t we find hope too? My prayer is that all of us would be convinced that “Christian contentment is finding delight in God’s wise plan for our life and humbly allowing Him to direct us in it.” (Andrew Davis, The Power of Christian Contentment) If we can consistently display such Christian contentment, God will be glorified in our daily life, we will be more joyful, and others will seek the reason of the hope we have (1Pet 3:15).
Reflect: Are you a contented person? How do circumstances – positive and negative – affect your level of contentment?
Pray: Share your inner struggles honestly with God and ask Him for strength to overcome and live out contented life as Paul.
Read Philippians 4:4-9
When I was in college, circumstances beyond my control left me in a place that I did not want to be in. I found myself “making my requests known to God” as Paul says here, but looking back, I couldn’t help but think that my prayers came with an expectation that God would come through for me in the time and manner of my choosing. Where prayers were not answered, doubt and worries soon followed. I remember the turning point came while listening to a sermon series here at Lake, where my thoughts shifted from “God, why are these things happening to me?” to: “Lord, what do you want me to do with the life that you have given me?”
This changed my perspective on the things that I was going through, because in a time of anxiety and uncertainty, submitting my requests also meant ceding control of the outcome over to God. I started thinking less about “Why is this happening?” and more about “What I can do while this is happening?” Verse 8 and 9 encourage us to have this mindset: submit our requests to God, and trust Him in the waiting.
Reflect: In what areas of my life do I need to shift from asking “Why is this happening?” to “How can I honor God in this?”
Contentment comes from recognizing that God is in full control of our lives. More importantly, it is genuinely believing that He is enough. As we look at our circumstances through this lens, we can find peace in the things God has answered, but more importantly, we can find peace in things that He has not. We sometimes know what’s best for us. He always does.
Pray: Lord, you know me better than I know myself. I lift up my hopes and dreams, and fully submit to whatever you want to do with them. I pray that wherever you place me and in whatever circumstance I find myself in, that you will enable me to act in a way that honors and glorifies You first.
Matthew 6:25-27, Matthew 6:33-34
Read: Read the passage once—slowly, gently—listening for one word or phrase that jumps out at you. Savor that word, repeating it (either out loud or in your head), listening for the “still, small voice” of God.
Reflect: Read the passage again, and this time ask: How is my life touched by this word? What does this word have to do with my life? What emotions do I feel as I hear this word? Sit in silence, meditating on how God’s word is speaking to your context.
Respond: Read the passage again, and this time ask: What is my response to God based on what I have heard?
Rest: Read it one more time and simply rest in the words of God.