Songwriter Joan Osborne asked, “What if God were one of us?” Turns out He was. Hagar called Jesus “the one who sees me.” He not only sees us, but chose to become us, taking on human form and living in our world. He willingly chose to limit His divinity so He could fully experience our humanity. Do we need to better limit our human will so He can more fully do His work in our life?
1. What difference does His humanity make in the way you think about Jesus?
2. What choices do you make that may limit His divine power in your life?
Challenge: How are you limiting Jesus’ presence in your life? We need to recognize how we’re limiting his presence and correct it. Look at your calendar. Are you limiting God there? Is there time for Him? Time to get to know Him? Look at yours and see if you’ve scheduled God into it.
Biblical scholars believe that before He came to earth, Jesus made occasional appearances throughout the Old Testament. One of these “Christophanies” occurred in this passage, when He comforted and encouraged Hagar after she was driven out of Abraham’s household. Throughout history, Jesus has been the one who sees us, knows us and makes his presence known.
1. Can you think of a recent occasion when you felt the presence and concern of Christ?
2. How do you most regularly connect with Jesus and sense His presence? In prayer? Nature? Acts of service?
Challenge: “I know how you feel.” This statement is said to comfort during affliction and trial, to provide solace and care, but, is it true? Next time you start to say it, think about it. Perhaps Jesus is the only one who really knows how someone feels. Maybe say “He knows how you feel” instead.
For many of us, our mental story of Jesus begins in a manger. The truth is, Jesus has always existed. Referred to by John as “the Word,” Jesus was present with God at the beginning of all things. Everything that is was created through Him. His time among us was only a small—but to us, extremely important—slice of His eternal existence. He has always been, and always will be, present.
1. Do you think of Jesus more as a baby in a manger or the Creator of the universe?
2. Do you have a personal/family devotional for Christmas? If not, would you consider using one? If yes, are you using it?
Challenge: Have you ever had that one relative that came a day (or week) early for a visit? And were you ready? Probably not! We need to always be ready for His presence. When you recognize Jesus presence in your life this week, text a friend each day how you experienced Him. You will have to be ready to notice Him!
Suffering and comfort are closely entwined in this passage. The suffering here is directly related to being a follower of Jesus. The Corinthians and Paul were under “great pressure” because of their beliefs. Comfort flows from God, but not just to give everyone relief. Notice that God comforts people so that they can go on to comfort others. Suffering and comfort together equipped Paul and the Corinthians to comfort and support each other.
1. Have you experienced persecution of some kind for your beliefs? Explain.
2. Have you felt comforted by God during trials of any kind? What does comfort look like?
Challenge: Look around you today, and seek to comfort someone that could use a helping hand, or a friendly ear.
James starts off with “Be very happy when you are tested in different ways.” That sounds completely nuts. However, if the goal is a mature faith, rather than just avoiding pain, things can start to look a little different. While trials may stem from our individual weaknesses, God uses these tests to prove our faith genuine and build endurance. God works with us where we are, to help us overcome sin. The result is blessing now and a crown of life in the end.
1. What do you think of the idea of being happy in tough times? Is it okay to be sad or discouraged?
2. Can you think of a struggle in your life that never seems like it will end? What does endurance look like in that situation? What does victory look like?
Challenge: Take a few minutes to write a list of struggles or testing situations you commonly wrestle with. Then, pray for grace and endurance as you pass through the trials of this week.
Sometimes trouble strikes when we least expect it. Paul helps rid a woman of a demon; yet instead of thanks, he ends up beaten and jailed. This doesn’t seem to be the most likely time for singing praise songs, but that is what Paul and Silas did. After an earthquake frees all the prisoners, the jailer expects everyone to have fled. However, Paul, Silas and the rest all stayed. Again, not something you would expect.
1. Why do you think Paul and Silas responded the way they did in this series of events?
2. Have you ever been able to glorify God by responding in an unexpected way to a situation? Have there been situations you wish you would have?
Challenge: Consider what it looks like to do what is good rather than what is easy. And if you see an opportunity, take it!
Job was a righteous man who had it all. He was blessed with wealth, influence, and family. Yet his life took a turn and he lost everything. The easy response would have been to assume the suffering would never end. To feel cheated or wronged by God. And yet Job still worshipped God. Not because he understood why things were hard, but because he knew God, and that He was in control.
1. How do you think you might react toward God if you were in Job’s shoes?
2. Why do you think it is difficult to praise God when times are tough?
Challenge: Take some time daily this week to praise God, and look for the ways He is working around you even if you are struggling with a difficult situation.
King Jehoshephat is faced with a war. He knows what is coming is more than Judah’s army could match. Jehoshephat was frightened. In that fear, he could have despaired of hope. Instead, he turned to God, remembering what God has brought the Israelites through. His display of faith inspired his kingdom to trust in God’s power as well. When the battle came, the people faced the foe, but God did the fighting for Judah as he promised.
1. How do you let fear control you?
2. Did God help you surpass that fear? If so, how?
Challenge: Journal about an experience of fear, and how you worked through it.
The Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus, so they ask Him, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” He says the first is to love the Lord, the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. We are to show love to our neighbors, “the world.” It is even more relevant today as we can reach across the world with a click of a button. If we do not love, how will our neighbors see the great work that Christ has begun in us?
1. How can we show love to our neighbors (the world)?
2. How does knowing the Lord help us look at the world in a different way?
Challenge: Make showing your love to your neighbor a priority in your life today.
In yesterday’s devotion, we discussed that God disciplines us because he loves us. So much so that he sent His son Jesus to save us. He did not send Him to condemn us, but to save us. Johns 3:16-17 is probably the most famous verse in the bible and the most misused. Some groups seem to worry about the condemning people part, and miss out on the saving part. We all have had moments when we were quick to judge and not to act in love. Acting out of judgment and not love is another way that separates us from the holiness in Christ.
1. When have you been quick to judge and not to love?
2. What actions can you take to help you love others and be slow to judge?
Challenge: Be intentional in letting your actions show that you have received a new life in Christ.