The aim of this series of studies is to deepen our relationship with God. The way any relationship grows is by getting to know more about the other person. Discovering more about the Person and the character of God will help us to pray better, to worship better and to trust God more in every part of our lives.
So each week we will study Scriptures about an aspect of God’s character, or consider the implications of one of the names God has revealed Himself by. Some will be obvious, others perhaps less familiar. Our interest is not abstract theology, but devotional and pastoral. An important aspect of each study will be a time of prayer, worship or meditation to apply and express what we have been talking about. In ten studies between now and Christmas we will consider what it means to call God Faithful, Just, Light, Sovereign and Father. We will think about Jesus as Son of Man, Lamb of God, Messiah and Lord, and about the Holy Spirit as our Helper.
Each study will include a number of passages or groups of passages on the theme. You may choose to look at these in the whole group passage by passage, and there will usually be some logic in the order presented. Alternatively you might divide the group up into pairs, and invite each pair to look at one or two passages for a few minutes by themselves, and report feed back what they have discovered to the group. Either way, do leave time both to discuss the implications of the theme for our relationship with God, and to express this in a time of prayer, worship or reflection together.
Let me repeat, our aim is not just to find out more about God. Our aim is to deepen our relationship with God!
1. God is ‘Faithful’
1. What images do the words ‘faithful’ and ‘faithfulness’ bring to our minds? (e.g. an ancient butler, ‘the faithful retainer’? ‘a faithful friend’, a pet dog? A ‘faithful wife/husband’?)
2. What do the words ‘faithful’ and ‘faithfulness’ actually mean?
3. How did God reveal His faithfulness? Exodus 34:5-8; Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 145:13. How is God’s faithfulness related to His eternal nature and unchanging character?
4. How should we respond to God’s faithfulness in prayer and worship? See Psalms 71:22; 89:5-8; 98:1-3; 100:4-5; 117:1-2.
5. How does God’s faithfulness help us in practical ways? 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 and 10:13;
2 Thessalonians 3:3; Psalm 143:1; Psalm 146:5-10.
6. Invite the Group to share any experiences they have of God’s faithfulness to them in their own lives.
7. Since God is faithful, what implications should that have for OUR behaviour? Suggest some practical examples (e.g. in family life, in the workplace, in church).
8. What are the implications for our prayer, worship and life of faith that God is the Faithful God?
9. Now spend some time responding to God, the Faithful God, in reflection, praise and prayer!
2. God is ‘Just’
God is the just and righteous God. The focus of these studies is “Knowing God Better” and the implications of aspects of God’s character on our personal relationships with Him.
1. The God of the Bible is a Just and Righteous God. How should that affect our attitudes to global issues of social justice such as world poverty, exploitation, fair trade, debt relief, etc.
Read Isaiah 51:4-6 and 58:5-10; Psalm 89:14-16 and 140:12; Proverbs 31:8-9; Deut 15:1-11.
2. How should God’s justice impact on our own behaviour, in areas such as social action and ethical lifestyle? Read Psalm 146; Psalm 9:7-10; Matthew 25:31-46; Amos 5:21-24.
3. Invite the Group to share any times when they have experienced the Justice and the Righteousness of God in their lives. If they find it hard to think of examples, discuss why this might be. Is it possible they may have had more experiences of the Just and Righteous God BEFORE they were believers than since they have been saved?
How true is it that Christians focus so much on the love and grace of God that they neglect or even forget the Justice and Righteousness of God? Read Romans 3:21-26.
4. He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8) What impact do the justice and righteousness of God have on our relationship with Him? What does it mean to “walk humbly with your God”? In what ways should the fact that God is Just and Righteous affect our prayer and worship?
5. Spend some time in prayer, worship or reflection responding to the God who is the Just God.
3. God is ‘Light’
“God is Light” is a metaphor, a symbolic representation of a deep truth. Metaphors touch not only our minds but also our hearts. So parts of the study tonight are designed to engage our emotions as much as, if not more than, our minds. N.B. the final meditation will require preparation beforehand.
N.B. SOME GROUPS MIGHT FIND THE OPEN-ENDED REFLECTIVE APPROACH IN STUDY 3 TOO DIFFERENT! If that is the case and you prefer “straight” Bible Study you may wish to jump over questions 4 and 5 and move directly from 3 to 6.
1. Read 1 John 1:5-7. When we read “God is Light” what images does that bring to our minds? What ideas do the metaphors ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ in Scripture represent? You may like to read Numbers 6:22-26; Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 60:1-3, 19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6;
2. Read John 8:12; John 9:5. What did Jesus mean? See also John 1:3-8, Revelation 22:5
3. Read 1 John 1:6-7 again. What does it mean to “walk in the Light”? See Matthew 5:14-16.
4. For some people light conveys safety and darkness makes us afraid. How do the ideas of “light” and “darkness” make us FEEL? How does the truth that “God is Light” make us FEEL? How should that affect our prayers and our worship?
5. “God is Light”. So ask the group “What colour is God?” Why do they think so?
6. Spend some time in meditation and prayer on our theme, “God is Light”. Light a candle (or one each) or use any other unusual light source (a multi-coloured lamp?) to inspire you.
4. God is ‘Sovereign’
1. God is described as Sovereign, Ruler of all, almost 300 times in the Bible. He is in control of the whole of His creation, and has “the last say” over everything that happens. Begin by asking the Group what they understand by “the Sovereignty of God.”
2. Are there any areas of life where we find it difficult to believe that God is Sovereign?
(e.g. Innocent suffering? Natural disasters? Specific crimes?)
3. What do these passages of Scripture tell us about God as Sovereign? You may like to invite pairs to look at different passages for a while, then report back. Read Acts 4:23-31; Isaiah 14:24-27; 40:10-31; 43:10-13; Amos 7:1-9; Proverbs 21:30-31; 2 Samuel 7:18-29. Ezekiel uses the title “Sovereign Lord” over 200 times! Read Ezekiel 11:7-16; 12:23-28.
4. Invite the Group to share any experiences they have had which have confirmed God’s Sovereignty over their lives and over His world.
5. Then invite the Group to share any experiences in their own lives which have caused them to doubt that God is Sovereign, to doubt that God is really in control! (Treat sensitively – some of these experiences, which might include bereavement, illness, bad treatment by other people, etc, could be very painful to recall.) Is God really in control of everything? Or does human free will sometimes over-rule God’s Sovereign rule?
6. How should the truth that God is Sovereign affect our prayer, worship and life of faith? Spend some time in prayer, praise and reflection for the Sovereign God.
5. God is ‘Father’
1. Ask the Group, “Who do they pray to?” In other words, how do they address their prayers? To “God”, to “Jesus”, to “Lord”, to “Father”? Which aspect of God do they imagine (maybe even visualise) while they are praying? (There is no “right answer” to this question!)
2. The Christian name for God is “Father.” Jesus the Son of God Has made it possible for us to become God’s children and know His Father as Our Father. Remind yourselves of this glorious truth! Read John 20:17; Luke 15:11-24; Galatians 3:26-4:7; Psalm 103:8-14.
3. Ask the Group, what does it mean to each one of them to be God’s precious child, and to know God as Father? In what ways is our relationship with God the same as that with our earthly parents? In what ways is it different? (For different reasons, some people may find it difficult to relate to God as Father and may prefer to think of God as e.g. the Perfect Parent.)
4. How might knowing God as Father affect our prayers? Read and reflect on Luke 11:2-4, 9-13; Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 8:15-18; Ephesians 1:3, 16-19; 3:14-19; 6:23.
5. Spend some time in prayer, worship and reflection on the theme of the Fatherhood of God.
6. Jesus is ‘The Son of Man’
To begin with, just a reminder that this series is about Knowing God Better. So the principal purpose on these occasions is to learn things which help us develop our relationships with God, particularly in prayer, worship and everyday Christian living. How do these various titles of Jesus Christ affect the way we think and feel about our Saviour, how we speak to Him and how we trust and depend upon Him in our daily lives?
1. The title “Son of Man” is used more than a hundred times for Jesus in the Bible. What do these verses (or any others you can think of) teach us about Jesus? Individuals or pairs might take a verse each to think about for a couple of minutes and then report back.
Matt 8:20; 11:19; 16:13-17; 17:22-23; 20:28; 26:24; Luke 19:10; John 3:13.
2. How important is in to you in your prayers that Jesus is Son of Man, completely human, and therefore understanding totally everything we go through? Read Hebrews 4:14-16.
3. Recall and share specific occasions when specifically the HUMANITY of Jesus has made a real difference to your praying or your worshipping.
4. The Bible also speaks of the glorious “Son of Man”. Read Luke 21:25-28; Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:12-18. What impact does THIS vision of Jesus Christ as Son of Man have on our worship and our prayers? When we pray, is our focus more on Jesus the Man or Jesus the Son of God? How might tonight’s study deepen the ways you pray?
5. Spend some time in prayer and worship to Jesus Christ, “Son of Man”.
7. Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’
1. Ask the Group to tell each other about the occasion when it first struck them that Jesus Christ laid down His life for them individually and personally. (e.g. was it a church service, Billy Graham rally, time of prayer?) Can they remember how that realisation made them feel?
2. What does the image of Jesus as Lamb of God mean to you? What might it have meant to a Christian who had first been a Jew? Look at the Old Testament background to the sacrificial lamb. Read Genesis 22:7-8; Exodus 12:1-14; Isaiah 53:4-7
3. Look at how the New Testament takes and extends the idea of the Lamb of God.
Read John 1:19; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 5:1-10; 7:9-10; 21:22-22:5.
4. Of course it is significant that Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” at times of repentance and confession. But how does it affect your OTHER prayers that Jesus sacrificed His life for you. For example, how does Christ’s death on the cross affect our intercessions?
5. “Breath prayer” are simple one sentence prayers which we can say in one breath at many times during the day. The oldest recorded “breath prayer” is this. “Jesus Lamb of God have mercy on me.” You may like to encourage the group to use this prayer in the week ahead.
6. Spend some time in prayer, worship and meditation on the Lamb of God who takes away YOUR sins.
8. Jesus is ‘The Messiah’
This is NOT a study on the place of Israel in the purposes of God! It continues our series on “knowing God better.” It explores the question of how our personal relationship with God is affected by the historical facts that Jesus came as the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, and that His racial, ethnic, cultural and religious identity was not as a “Christian” (whatever that means) but as a first century Palestinian Jew. Just what was Jesus like as a man? First and foremost, Jesus was a Jew!
You may prefer to avoid giving the game away by not revealing tonight’s title too soon!
1. Ask the Group, “When you think about Jesus, how do you picture Him?” Some people may think of Robert Powell in Zefirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” Others may think of Jesus as portrayed in “The Passion of the Christ”. Others may imagine Jesus “just like one of us”.
2. Then ask, “How would everyday life for Jesus have been different from our lives today?” Folk might mention factors such as subsistence farming rather than supermarkets, lack of electricity, education, transport, communication, simplicity and a slower pace of life. They might think of the problems of poverty, shorter life expectancy, or living under the occupation of the Romans. Note how soon or how long it takes before somebody remembers that Jesus grew up and lived as a practising Jew. Discuss “In what ways would his Jewish identity have shaped Jesus’s everyday life and culture?” (e.g. synagogue and Temple, centrality of Old Testament Scriptures, Jewish festivals, Sabbath observance etc.)
3. I remember a striking talk given by the African evangelist Morris Stuart with the simple title, “Jesus was black”. We can easily forget that Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah. This translated into Greek as “The Christ” meaning “the Anointed One”. What do the following verses teach us about Jesus as Messiah, fulfilling God’s Old Testament promises to Israel?
Read Matt 16:13-16; Acts 2:36; Rom 1:1-4, 16; John 1:41. Note also that Jesus was indeed “the King of the Jews” in Matthew 26:68; 27:17, 22; And the Early Church freely applied prophesies about the Messiah such as Psalm 110:1 to Jesus e.g. Acts 2:34-36.
For OT background on the Messiah, you could look at Isaiah 9:2-7; 11:1-9; 61:1-7.
4. Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)
In what ways does Jesus fulfil the Old Testament? How does that affect our Christian faith?
5. Another not unrelated question, but one needing sensitive treatment. “Jesus was born as a man. Not as a woman. What effects does that historical fact of gender have on our relationship with God?” How might men and women answer that question differently? Does the maleness of Jesus (or of God as Father) help or hinder our relationships with God?
6. Jesus was a Jew, with all that implied in terms of customs and practices, history and hopes. His racial, ethnic, cultural and religious identity was as a first century Palestinian Jew. How should Jesus’s Jewish identity affect our worship, prayer and daily walk with God? Does the fact that we are not Jews introduce a distance between us and Jesus? Or does having a clear picture of what kind of man Jesus was and the kind of life He led actually bring us closer to Him, and He to us?
7. Spend some time in worship and prayer to Jesus the Messiah.
9. Jesus is ‘Lord’
1. Ask the Group again (as you did in Study 5) WHO they address their prayers to? The most common name of God used in most Christians’ prayers is probably “Lord”. So ask the Group, when they pray “Lord” who do they have in mind? e.g. “Almighty God, Lord of Heaven and Earth” or “Jesus Christ, Lord of all.” Is “Lord” to them the Father or the Son?
2. What do we actually mean when we pray to our “Lord” or the “Lord”? I am convinced that there is often much less “content” in the word “Lord” than there should be when we use it time and time again in our prayers. It has become just a convenient label, rather than the true Name of God on our lips.
3. So what SHOULD it mean for us to call Jesus “Lord”? Reflect on the following passages. Matthew 5:21-23; John 20:26-29; Acts 4:23-31; Romans 10:8-13; 1 Corinthians 12:1-3; Philippians 2:6-11; 3:7-11; Revelation 4:11; 15:3-4; 19:6-8, 11-16.
4. Remind the group that in the days of the Early Church there was only one Lord recognised in the Roman Empire and that was the Emperor. Christians were martyred because they refused to utter the words “Caesar is Lord”! How can we make sure that we do not trivialise the title of “Lord” in our prayers or our worship?
5. Spend time in prayer and worship to Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
10. The Holy Spirit is ‘The Helper’
1. Begin by asking the group, “What contributions does God the Holy Spirit have in our praying and our worshipping? How does the Spirit help us in our relationship with God?
2. Ask “Should Christians ever pray directly to the Holy Spirit?” “Should Christians ever worship God the Holy Spirit?” Some evangelical traditions would answer these questions very definitely no. Some charismatic traditions encourage prayer to and worship of the Holy Spirit. Some traditions explicitly call down the Holy Spirit by prayers such as, “Come Holy Spirit”. What do the Group think of these practices? (You may remember that I do sometimes use prayers such as, “Come Holy Spirit” or “Holy Spirit, fill this person.”)
3. Read Romans 8:27-28. Encourage the group to share their personal experiences of when and how the Holy Spirit has helped them in their praying, and in particular guided them to know specifically what to pray for. (These verses may refer to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues, and folk may wish to share testimony or discuss tongues as a form of private prayer, but Paul clearly has other kinds of spiritual experience in view here as well.)
4. Read Ephesians 6:18. What do we think Paul means by praying “in the Spirit”? Can members of the Group give any examples of “praying in the Spirit” from their lives?
5. Read what Jesus promised about the Holy Spirit as our Helper in John 14:15-21, 23-27, 15:26-27, 16:7-16. What do these passages teach us about the Holy Spirit’s work in our devotional lives? Ask the group to share their experiences of the Holy Spirit helping them.
6. Suggest practical ways steps we could take to invite the Holy Spirit to help us more in our personal prayers, in our prayer meetings and in our prayer and worship on Sundays?
7. Invite the group to share specific ways in which their prayer and worship have been enriched by this series on Knowing God Better. Then spend time in prayer