PRACTICE NIGHTTIME TAPS. Relax into sleep with TAPS prayers. Offer thanksgiving for the day’s blessing. Show adoration for the Creator who has given us this incredibly rich universe. Petition for your needs and those of your loved ones. Express sorrow if you’ve hurt another in any way. Sleep well.
Why do you think studies often show that many Christians do not pray?
What ideas do you have for how you could make your prayer time more intentional?
Sabbath: Strengthening Your Connection
A particularly vital point of connection with God is the Sabbath. Sabbath reminds us to reflect on our priorities. It’s not about having one day separate and then living the other six like any other person. It’s about strengthening and re-energizing our connection with God and His eternal values. Our Sabbath experience can change the way we worship, the way we interact with others, and strengthen our relationship with God.
Sabbath is designed for us to take a break from “time = money” consumerism traps. It reminds us that we are created for eternity and that life is not about the abundance of our things. Rather, life is about dynamically connecting with God and people. Sabbath gives us a break from the things that can clutter up the rest of our lives and provides a great opportunity to spend time worshipping, connecting, serving, growing, and sharing.
Why do you think God invented the idea of Sabbath?
Why do you think it’s important to take a break from “time=money” consumerism?
How can you make your Sabbath experience personal?
Your Connection Is Unique
The way you connect most deeply with God and just how God grows you will be unique to you. He made you that way. By looking at various characters in Scripture we see that people connect with God in different ways. Some people feel deeply connected to God through learning intellectually about Him. For others it is primarily through worship, serving, nature, relationships, or contemplation/reflection. All of these ways of connecting are important and part of a balanced, growing relationship with God. However, you will more naturally connect through some of these ways than others. Remember that everyone is wired differently. Together we can learn from one another and stretch in our experience of connecting with God.
Can you think of a time when you felt particularly close to God? What factors do you think shaped this closeness?
What Christian disciplines have you tried and what made them work or not work?
When are you best able to hear God communicating with you?
Connecting With God In Your Everyday Life
God wants to connect with you and live in the ordinary, everyday moments of life with you. Sometimes we think that a spiritual moment needs to be something unusual or out of the ordinary. However, your everyday, ordinary life is exactly what God would love to experience with you.
The apostle Paul talks about doing absolutely everything, even the everyday things, with God. He calls it being a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). It seems a strange combination of words; however, being a living sacrifice simply means that every part of our life is an offering to God.
The Message describes it like this: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.”
For Paul, your ordinary, everyday life is the very place to be an offering to God. We don’t often think of walking around and going to sleep as being spiritual activities, but Paul says our every thought, word, and action can be an act of worship to God.
Of course, this living sacrifice life isn’t something we attempt in our own power. Jesus is not sitting in the audience watching us perform. Jesus wants to do the ordinary, everyday things of life with us. He wants to work in and through us. We live life in partnership with Him. Being a living sacrifice is about focusing on Jesus’ presence with you as you go through the seemingly inconsequential moments of your day.
How easy is it for God to get your attention in your ordinary day?
Would you like to spend an ordinary day with Jesus in person?
How aware are you of the possibility of meeting God during your day?
Making a Plan – Training in Godliness
Like any healthy relationship, growing in connection with God takes intentionality. We don’t become healthier and increase our muscle tone by just sitting back and seeing what happens. If we want to get fit, we make a plan. It’s the same with spiritual fitness. In growing in Christ we need to orient our lives around practices and habits that remind us of what matters and give God space to work in us.
Imagine you are at the starting line to watch the Olympic marathon. Just before it starts, an official spots you and explains that your country needs you to run. Regardless of how hard you tried, you would probably struggle, unless you’re already a serious athlete. If you were given a year to prepare and you were serious about it, you would shape your life around habits and activities that trained your body. You would start running short distances and gradually increase them. You might eat differently and arrange your day differently so you could get to the gym. You might buy different shoes and find a coach. When the time came to run in the marathon, you would be able to do by training what trying alone does not allow. It’s the same for training in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7b-8). Training means to arrange your life around certain exercises and experiences that will enable you to become over time what you are not yet able to be—even by trying hard.
In attempting to grow a dynamic relationship with God, many people try, fail, and think this life of connectedness with God is not for them, or even wonder if it exists at all. Discipleship is not a matter of trying harder, but rather engaging in a lifestyle of ‘training in godliness.”
Have you ever found yourself trying to connect with God and feeling like you’re going nowhere? How would you explain the difference between training and trying?
What do you think a plan for “growing in godliness” might look like in your life?
What do you think your friends would say are the top three factors that drive you?
What do you think are the top three things that get in the way of growing in your relationship with God?
If in the future an archaeologist was to study your messages, credit card statements, and diary, what would they conclude your priorities are?
What do you think it means to love God with all your heart?
What factors might stop you from getting started on your “training in godliness” plan?
If you cut back using the computer one hour a week, how could you use this time to be in the presence of God or others?
Would your friends say that being around you is a bit like being around Jesus? What would have to change for this to be the case?
God Gives You The Choice.
Too often we can live life with no regard for God’s perspective. Even sadder is that instead of looking to God for our meaning and fulfilment we chase the next thing that promises to fill the void. It might be a new body shape, car, or relationship – each promising a sense of fulfilment and none delivering. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things; they are just not designed to give us ultimate meaning and purpose.
The same God who made the world offers to remake your life and live the everyday moments in relationship with you. God did not make you to be a puppet, with strings for Him to pull—that would make you His toy. Rather He made you with purpose and the power to choose so that He could have a relationship with you. He does not force a relationship. God’s desire is to be invited into your everyday situations and live life deeply with you.
Take some time now to direct your thoughts back to Him: ask for His help or His guidance, or simply share your heart with Him.
What changes in your schedule can you make right now to make space to “train in godliness”? (Share with your accountability partner.)
What ideas do you have to give yourselves reminders of God’s presence throughout the day?
Identify a time this week where you can simply be still and focus on God’s love for you. Where and when will it be?
What one Christian discipline will you train in this week? Where and how will it happen?
In your prayer time, remember to thank God for loving you so much.
Pray about the factors that might be getting in the way of your connection with God.
Ask God to work in and through you in the ordinary, everyday moments of your life.
Christ Calls Me to Be His Disciple
To understand that Christ calls me to be His disciple, I am learning that:
by beholding Jesus and abiding in Him, I will continue to grow more Christ-like.
the love of Christ constrains me to a life of obedience and self-denial.
all biblical teachings illustrate the character and mission of Christ.
being a disciple involves all of my life – my worldview, my relationships, and my purpose and mission.
I will participate in the body of Christ and its work in the world.
I accept life – both now and eternally – as a gift from God to be shared with others.
When Christ calls you to Him, He sends you to others. A disciple isn’t just a student, but is also a messenger.
Look: Mathew 4:18-20 (NIV), Mathew 6:33, Mark 10:28-30
Memorize: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers; Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).
By Beholding I Become Changed
“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45 NIV).
God created us with minds that absorb like sponges. We drink in what we see, what we spend time doing. Nothing can be truer in our walk of discipleship with God. To become His disciple, we need to absorb Him into our lives. His disciples did that when He walked with them. Their lives revolved around time with the Savior. So should ours.
Let’s look at the men who became the very first disciples of Jesus. Who were these men Jesus called? Were they educated? Were they rich? Did they have families? Did they have positions of importance within the church?
Jesus chose ordinary men. Most were fishermen—men used to hard work, little pay, and long hours without sleep. He chose men who knew the importance of faithfulness, who were not afraid to work hard to get the job done. Men with personality—firebrands, some. Peter, James, and John were all known for their fiery personalities. Simon and Andrew were both zealous, seeking truth.
Were they perfect men? The Bible shows us clearly that they weren’t. They had faults—many of them. So what was it about their characters that made Jesus call them to become disciples? What can we learn from studying their calling to discipleship?
Their calling, like ours, was one of an instant. The moment Jesus calls you to Himself, the moment that you surrender your heart to Him, you are called to be a disciple. The disciples left their nets and their families and followed without question. Many of those Jesus healed did the same. Instantly, their focus was on their Savior and His kingdom. The same should be true of us. We have the good news, and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. The world is hungry for what we have found. We are called to share it.
Learning how to best do this is not so instant! It is easy to make mistakes in our zeal to share Christ with others. The disciples showed us this—they wanted to take the world by storm. So do many of us. But storming our way into others’ lives is not the most effective method.
As a group, answer the following questions:
Why was it important for Jesus to choose ordinary men?
Did their character traits limit them from becoming effective disciples?
How can your character traits make you an effective disciple? Make a list in your personal journal.
How can we grow as disciples and in discipleship? By beholding, we become changed. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us this. The disciples had the advantage of looking into the Lord’s eyes and seeing in them the depth of His love for them. We have the privilege of looking into Scripture, daily studying it as the basis of our spiritual diet. We may feast on the truths that have lasted through eons of years unchanged, and so behold Him as well. We are to follow the example that Jesus set, seeing in His Word His love for us.
You can’t rely on others’ words to strengthen and teach you. A disciple of Jesus is a student of His Word. Have you ever read the Bible through? Do you know that by reading three chapters a day, in one year you will have read the Bible from cover to cover? It’s a wonderful way to start learning all about Jesus—and His Father, whom He came to show us. As you read through the Old Testament, you’ll learn about God’s character of love and learn to truly love Him. Then, the New Testament will show you His character through His son. The two Testaments go together in a powerful way. And in less than thirty minutes a day, one year later you’ll have the whole picture. Then, like layers of an onion, God will be able to reveal new truth from His word to you as you are ready to receive it. You’ll fall in love with His Word in a new way—and will be famished when you miss it.
From the Pen of Ellen G. White
“Open the Bible to our youth, draw their attention to its hidden treasures, teach them to search for its jewels of truth, and they will gain a strength of intellect such as the study of all that philosophy embraces could not impart. The grand subjects upon which the Bible treats, the dignified simplicity of it inspired utterances, the elevated themes which it presents to the mind, the light, sharp and clear, from the throne of God, enlightening the understanding, will develop the powers of the mind to an extent that can scarcely be comprehended, and never fully explained. The Bible presents a boundless field for the imagination, as much higher and more ennobling in character than the superficial creations of the unsanctified intellect as the heavens are higher than the earth. The inspired history of our race is placed in the hands of every individual. All may now begin their research. They may become acquainted with our first parents as they stood in Eden, in holy innocency, enjoying communion with God and sinless angels. They may trace the introduction of sin and its results upon the race, and follow, step by step, down the track of sacred history, as it records the disobedience and impenitence of man and the just retribution for sin” (Messages To Young People, p. 255-6).
As a group or individually, think of ways that you can make the study of God’s Word a daily part of your life. What do you need to do to find the time to study daily? Would making an appointment with God help you to be faithful in this? Would listening to Scripture through electronic media make it easier? Could you use your commute to work or classes as a specific time for this? Would reading from different translations help? Would keeping a Bible journal help you to focus on what you are reading and want to study it more?
Needed: Christian Fellowship
Before Jesus’ public ministry began, He did something with His disciples that He continued up until the end of His earthly ministry. He spent time with them, instructing them, encouraging them, praying for them. For each of us today, that same fellowship is important. Church attendance is a vital link in our growth as disciples. Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us this. Take the time to look up this Scripture now.
Does it seem that Paul is speaking to us today?
Is it easy in our busy lives to sleep in, miss church, and thus the chance for fellowship that helps us grow as disciples?
We live in a busy world. Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy. He did promise that the rewards would be out of this world. Being a disciple means being disciplined. Time is valuable. Time fellowshipping with other believers is valuable, too. It is a tool Jesus used with His disciples, and one that He wants us to use, as well. Sharing insights with others and listening to what they have learned will make us more rounded as Christians and more effective as disciples.
From the Pen of Ellen G. White
“Many become inefficient by evading responsibilities for fear of failure. Thus they fail of gaining that education which results from experience, and which reading and study and all the advantages otherwise gained cannot give them” (Messages To Young People, p. 194).
By beholding Jesus and abiding in Him, I will continue to grow more Christ-like.
Beholding Jesus in His Word and beholding Him by fellowshipping with others are important parts of our discipleship tool kit. What other possible “tools” would be important to put in our kits? Does fellowship have to stop as we leave church each Sabbath?
The disciples met daily, breaking bread in fellowship and encouragement. Today, that would seem almost impossible, but it’s not. The Internet has made socializing an instant tool. It is easy to keep up with others and seek their advice and encouragement as you grow in your walk of faith. Texting is another tool that keeps you in close contact with those you know. Why not use it to talk about Jesus, share thoughts and prayer requests to grow and help others to grow? There are also wonderful books that not only open Bible truths, but can help you become a more disciplined and effective disciple. Journaling your experiences and thoughts is also an effective means to growing in Jesus. As you grow, you’ll have more and more to share with others.
Jesus also used quiet time to fellowship with His Father. This was so important that Jesus taught His disciples to spend time in prayer, too. Communication is important in any relationship, but it is vital for a Christian. Time in prayer will help us be able to trust Christ with all aspects of our lives. It will help us to surrender our very will to the Father and find His will for our lives. It strengthens, refreshes, and encourages us. Communication is a two way process. If we spend quiet time with God, He will speak to us. We just have to listen, and that often takes quiet time, literally.
Christianity doesn’t end with our repentance and conversion. It is only the beginning—the beginning of a wonderful journey called discipleship. To disciple effectively, we need to be constantly growing. As we behold the character of God, we can do this in many ways.
Questions (Can be answered as individuals in journals or as a group.)
How can you embrace the discipleship that Jesus has called you to?
What barriers do you see in your life that are limiting your ability to become an effective disciple? How can you break these barriers down?
It is easy to make excuses, especially when we are busy. Do you use excuses to limit your discipleship? What are they? How can you change these excuses into challenges?
What happened to Moses as he spent time with God on the mountain? What can happen to us as we spend time with God?
Discipleship Means All of Me
Do you enjoy God? Psalm 37:4 tells us that we are to delight ourselves in the Lord. The Septuagint translation (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) has the most marvelous rendering of these words: "Indulge thyself with delight in the Lord."
Indulging in some things is not good for us, but oh so tempting. Eating just a little of that half-gallon of ice cream residing in your freezer is sometimes hard to do. Eat the whole half-gallon and you’ll know it. You’ll feel sluggish, irritable, and probably sick to your stomach. One thing you’ll know is that it wasn’t worth it.
Indulging yourself in the Lord is never a bad thing. You can’t spend enough time with Him once you come to know how very much He loves you, what He has done for you, and what wonderful things He plans to do in your life.
Can you be half-pregnant?
Can you be half-married?
Do you like your food half-cooked, your pizza half-baked?
Discipleship calls for a total commitment. You can’t do it half-way. When you come to truly know God and His character, you won’t want to.
So go ahead and indulge yourself with delight in the Lord. You will never be sorry that you made this commitment. And as you grow, you will naturally want to share what you have learned with others. That’s God way.