Busyness - Finding God in the Whirlwind

A LifeGuide® Bible Study

BUSYNESS

Finding God in the Whirlwind

8 STUDIES FOR INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPS

Juanita Ryan

Contents

Getting the Most Out of Busyness

1   Live in the Present with Eyes Wide Open

Matthew 6:19–34

2   Receive Strength for the Day from God

Isaiah 40:25–31

3   Seek and Live in God’s Wisdom

James 1:1–5, 17; 3:13–17

4   Express Gratitude Throughout the Day

Philippians 4:4–9

5   Rest with and Rely on God

Mark 6:30–46

6   Remain in Conversation with God

Psalm 16

7   Labor in Love

Colossians 2:6, 20–23; 3:1–17

8   Serve with Joy

John 13:1–17; 15:9–12

Getting the Most Out of Busyness

“How have you been?” a friend asks. “Busy,” we say. And it is usually true. We are almost always busy.

For many of us much of our busyness is necessary to our survival or to our own and others’ well-being. For some of us, our busyness may include activities of caring for or serving others.

But for many of us some portion of our busyness may also be self-imposed. We may get caught up in endless attempts to track and consume the information overload at our fingertips and on our many screens. Or we may be driven to achieve some form of status or success through long hours of working or tasking. Or we may be responding to internal and external pressures to gain approval from others or from God by doing or serving endlessly.

Both the good and necessary things in our lives and the self-imposed busyness of overdoing or overconsuming may be creating pressure and tension in our lives, robbing us of peace of mind and interfering with an awareness of God’s presence with us. We may be left feeling empty, unfulfilled and hungry for spiritual nurture that will sustain us and guide us.

In the midst of the whirlwind of our lives, however, it may seem impossible to make time to focus beyond the noise and activities of the daily demands on our time. We may find ourselves longing for a greater awareness of God with us in the midst of it all, but asking ourselves how we can possibly add one more thing to our to-do list.

But our relationship with God is not meant to be one more thing to do. It is not meant to be just another demand on our time and energy. Rather, our relationship with God is meant to be the center from which our life’s activities flow. God’s presence with us is the center, the source, the light of our lives, providing the peace, the strength, the wisdom, the joy, the companionship and the purpose we seek. In his book Making All Things New Henri Nouwen writes:

Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying we should not be so busy.… He does not tell us what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless.… Jesus’ response to our worry-filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing.” … Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change in pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first … and all these other things will be given you as well.”

How can we learn to live centered in God’s loving presence, in a way that allows all our activity to flow from that center? How can we experience this change of heart that will allow us to know God’s presence with us in the midst of the busyness of our lives?

The purpose of this study guide is to seek answers to these questions from Scripture. We will listen as Jesus calls us to live with eyes wide open to what matters most in life, even as we entrust ourselves to God’s care so we can live in the present, where God is with us, providing for us. We will hear the invitation to draw the strength we need for the day from God, the Source of all life. We will learn to open ourselves throughout the day to God as we seek God’s wisdom, express our gratitude and begin to rest and rely more deeply in God’s presence with us. We will explore ways of conversing with God in the midst of the whirlwind of life and come to see our day’s work as a labor of love for God and as the joyful service of kneeling before all others with Jesus.

Scripture calls us to slow down, to quiet our minds and still our bodies, and to remember who God is and who we are. We are called to live thoughtfully, compassionately and humbly as the much loved children of God that we are. We are called to live in the present moment, aware of God’s loving presence with us and in us, relying on God and responding in love to God and our neighbor in all we do and say.

May you come to know God’s presence with you in all things. May you come to rest in God as you move through the demands of your day, allowing God to guide you, strengthen you and give you peace.

Suggestions for Individual Study

1. As you begin each study, pray that God will speak to you through his Word.

2. Read the introduction to the study and respond to the personal reflection question or exercise. This is designed to help you focus on God and on the theme of the study.

3. Each study deals with a particular passage so that you can delve into the author’s meaning in that context. Read and reread the passage to be studied. The questions are written using the language of the New International Version, so you may wish to use that version of the Bible. The New Revised Standard Version is also recommended.

4. This is an inductive Bible study, designed to help you discover for yourself what Scripture is saying. The study includes three types of questions. Observation questions ask about the basic facts: who, what, when, where and how. Interpretation questions delve into the meaning of the passage. Application questions help you discover the implications of the text for growing in Christ. These three keys unlock the treasures of Scripture.

Write your answers to the questions in the spaces provided or in a personal journal. Writing can bring clarity and deeper understanding of yourself and of God’s Word.

5. It might be good to have a Bible dictionary handy. Use it to look up any unfamiliar words, names or places.

6. Use the prayer suggestion to guide you in thanking God for what you have learned and to pray about the applications that have come to mind.

7. You may want to go on to the suggestion under “Now or Later,” or you may want to use that idea for your next study.

1

Live in the Present with Eyes Wide Open

Matthew 6:19–34

I stood at the kitchen counter, grinding coffee to brew a fresh pot for my family. My mind whirled with the grinder. In the midst of an already full schedule, I was managing the care of our ninety-seven-year-old widowed friend, and her needs were in a rapid state of change. My mind was spinning, trying to anticipate what to do, when to do it, how to find the resources. My mind came up blank. I couldn’t figure it out. And the coffee? It turned out weak and undrinkable.

My whirling brain produced nothing but anxiety. And the work of my hands was abandoned as I left the present moment and visited the imaginary “Land of the Worry-filled Future.” We are all acquainted with this land. We live there too much of the time. This accounts for a great deal of the stress and the distress we experience in life.

It turns out that no matter how worthy the cause we are worrying about, the worry is not only a waste of time and energy, it is worse. It is an activity that robs us of the awareness of God-with-us here, now, in this present moment. It blocks us from resting in God’s presence and from receiving the many gifts of God’s loving care and provision each moment of each day.

My whirling mind was the result of my forgetting that God can be trusted to provide and guide. My work was not to figure everything out but to entrust myself and our widowed friend to God’s care, thanking God that the Spirit would show me what to do one day at a time.

Group Discussion. What happens to you physically, spiritually and relationally when you worry?

Personal Reflection. What makes it difficult to trust God’s care for you?

 

What helps you trust God’s care for you?

 

In the text for this study we will listen as Jesus instructs us to live with eyes wide open to what matters most, and as Jesus calls us out of our anxiety, back to the present where we can learn to rest and trust in God’s loving care for us, one amazing day at a time. Read Matthew 6:19–34.

1. What wisdom does Jesus offer about the priorities of those who follow him?

 

2. What contrast does Jesus make between riches (treasures) on earth and in heaven in verses 19–21?

 

3. What comes to your mind when you think of “riches on earth” and “riches in heaven”?

 

4. Jesus changes metaphors and talks about our ability to see in verses 22–23. What is Jesus suggesting that we need to be able to see?

 

5. Once again, Jesus changes metaphors and talks about servants and masters in verse 24. What point is he making with this metaphor?

 

6. What are the subtle and not-so-subtle attractions of pursuing earthly riches, of keeping our spiritual eyes closed and of serving money?

 

7. Jesus then turns to nature to offer us a new perspective. What is he saying as he talks about the birds and the flowers (vv. 26–30)?

 

8. How do Jesus’ comments in verses 25–34 relate to the what Jesus said in verses 19–24?

 

9. In verses 25–34 Jesus talks about anxiety and trust. In your busyness what anxiety do you experience?

 

What happens to you when you worry about the future rather than staying present to God’s care in the present moment?

 

10. How do Jesus’ words speak to your anxieties?

 

11. What might it be like to live one day at a time, with your eyes open to see what matters most while trusting the promise of God’s love and care?

 

Thank God for calling you to move beyond pursuing false securities to valuing the kingdom of justice, mercy and love. Thank God, as well, for calling you to live one day at a time, letting go of anxiety about the future as you remember that God knows your needs and will provide for you.

Now or Later

For many of us, there are worries that lie beneath the worries of “figuring things out” or “getting everything done.” These worries might be fears that God is not pleased with us, that we have to get everything right, that we are failures, that we are on our own, that we have to strive hard to earn God’s favor. In a time of quiet, invite God to show you what some of your deeper fears might be. Invite God to bring healing to these fears and to deepen your capacity to trust God’s love and care for you.

Daily prayer: May I live one precious day at a time with my eyes open to what matters most and my heart open to your presence with me.

 

2

Receive Strength for the Day from God

Isaiah 40:25–31

Most of us face multiple demands on our time and energy. We may frequently find ourselves wondering, Where will I get the strength for what I need to do?

Often, we answer this question by soldiering on, on our own. We push and push ourselves, sometimes until we are on the verge of burnout or collapse, ignoring our own basic needs and neglecting the needs of those closest to us in life.

Occasionally we may realize that we simply do not have the strength we need. In those moments we may, once again, and by God’s grace, come to an end of our self-reliance and remember our need to rely on a power, a strength, that is greater than ourselves. These moments are often painful for us. We may see such moments as failure. But these moments of realizing that our strength is limited are gifts. They are moments of clarity, moments of truth.

We were designed by our Creator to rely on the strength of the One who is the source of our life. We were not meant to “go it alone” in life. Not on the challenging days. Not on any day. Learning to rely on God’s strength each day is an important aspect of experiencing more fully the reality of God’s presence with us in the midst of the busyness of our lives.

Group Discussion. What are some of the demands or challenges that drain you?

Personal Reflection. What might (or does) help you remember to ask God for strength each day?

 

In the text for this study we will remember that we are creatures, the handiwork of a master Creator, and that we were designed to rely on God for the strength we need to walk and not faint, to run and not grow weary, to mount up on wings of eagles and soar. Read Isaiah 40:25–31.

1. What title would you give this text?

 

2. What images of God does this text present?

 

3. In what ways do these images of God speak to you?

 

4. How do these images of God compare to how you tend to see or experience God in your daily life?

 

5. What difference might it make in the stress and busyness of your life to see God in these ways?

 

6. We read in verse 27 that people are saying, “The lord doesn’t notice our condition” and “Our God doesn’t pay any attention to our rightful claims.” What might cause a person to experience these fears?

 

7. What is God’s response to these fears?

 

8. When have you experienced similar fears?

 

9. The text states that our strength is renewed as we “trust” (“hope in,” “rely on”) the Lord (v. 31). How might trusting (or hoping) in God open us up to receiving renewed strength from God?

 

10. What three images does this text use to describe what renewed strength might do for the one who receives it (v. 31)?

 

11. What might these three images be intended to convey?

 

Thank God for the promise of strength as you trust in God’s powerful care for you.

Now or Later

What concerns or challenges are you facing? In a time of quiet, talk with God about your concerns. Ask God to help you to place your hope in God and entrust yourself and your cares to God.

What gifts of strength do you need at this time? In a time of quiet, invite God to be your strength today. Let yourself see yourself soaring on wings like an eagle, running without growing weary, walking without fainting.

Daily prayer: You, God, are my strength. May I soar and run and walk in your strength today.

 

3

Seek and Live in God’s Wisdom

James 1:1–5, 17; 3:13–17

For most of us, the possibilities for being in continual motion and subjected to continual input are endless. Much of what we do may be necessary, and much of it may be good. Yet the choices we make on a daily basis to do, and go, and be in front of our many screens may be hurting us and others. We may be driven to gain status or power. We may be anxious and seeking numbing distraction. We may be feeling that no matter how much we earn or consume, it is never enough. We may be believing that we can never say no when asked to be of some service.

Our endless working to achieve status or power, our overconsuming, our numbing distraction, and even our need to please and impress are all likely centered in selfish ambition and pride. They are not likely to be centered in the loving wisdom of God.

Knowing God’s presence in the whirlwind of life comes in part from seeking and yielding to God’s wisdom in the many choices we make. It comes from learning when to say yes and when to say no as we seek God’s loving will in our lives.

Group Discussion. How might unnecessary busyness add to a person’s distress and anxiety?

Personal Reflection. Where do you sense that you are making unhealthy choices that create unnecessary busyness and add to your distress?

 

The text for this study invites us to ask for God’s wisdom. It then goes on to help us to differentiate God’s wisdom from our selfish tendencies. Read James 1:1–5, 17.

1. This Scripture begins by making a connection between life’s challenges, perseverance and joy. How would you describe what the author is saying?

 

2. Have you experienced this connection? If so, explain.

 

3. How will God respond to us when we ask him for wisdom (v. 5)?

 

4. What does this say about God’s character?

 

5. James 1:6–8 describes what many of us have experienced. We may ask God for wisdom and then fail to trust that God will guide us. Another way the text describes this is that we don’t receive the wisdom we asked for, even though God is giving it generously. We may fret about “getting it right” and fail to pay attention to the guidance we are sensing. Or we may decide to go our own way after seeking God’s will and way. What experience have you had with this problem?

 

6. Imagine for a moment what it might be like to fully trust that God really does respond to your requests for wisdom. How might trusting this affect your capacity to receive God’s wisdom?

 

Read James 3:13–17.

7. How does this Scripture describe the wisdom that comes from God?

 

8. How does it contrast God’s wisdom with envy and selfish ambition?

 

9. What are some of the subtle and not so subtle ways that envy or selfish ambition can add stress and unnecessary busyness to our lives?

 

10. How might living in God’s wisdom help a person experience God in the busyness of life?

 

11. What wisdom do you need to ask for at this time in your life?

 

12. What help do you need from God and others to trust that God will give generously “without finding fault” (Jas 1:5)?

 

Thank God for being a generous giver whose gift of wisdom is available to you in every situation you face in life.

Now or Later

In a time of quiet, ask God to show you where you have been making choices out of envy or selfish ambition. Ask God as well for God’s humble, peace-loving wisdom to guide you. Invite God to deepen your trust in God, who promises to give you wisdom generously. Open your hands and heart as you thank God and receive God’s gifts of wisdom for you at this time. Write about your time of prayer and meditation.

Daily prayer: Give me your wisdom today. May I come to trust that you give wisdom generously to all who ask, including me. Help me to receive and follow the wisdom you provide.

 

4

Express Gratitude Throughout the Day

Philippians 4:4–9

Scripture instructs us to express our gratitude to God in all circumstances. This is an instruction that often eludes us. We find ourselves wondering, What does this mean? Why is this important? Perhaps if we understood this instruction as an invitation to see our lives and circumstances through childlike eyes of wonder and trust, we might get a glimpse of the gifts gratitude offers us.

In the months that I helped provide end-of-life care for an elderly friend in her home, I experienced some of the gifts gratitude provides. I experienced how gratitude kept me present in each moment, how it opened my eyes to gifts of grace and goodness, how it opened my heart to receive those gifts. As a result, I experienced how gratitude allowed me to know God was with us in the midst of the whirlwind.

My strongest memory of the gift of gratitude from this time came from my elderly friend’s determination to walk to the bathroom from her bedroom, and from the way she saw each step as a gift. Each step she took with her walker was an occasion to gave thanks. “Thank you, thank you,” she’d say, one step at a time.

“Thank you. Thank you,” she’d say,

offering her soft spoken hymn of praise to you

with each step she took.

Ninety-seven, clutching walker,

while I held onto her,

she walked in thankful wonder

like a toddler taking first steps with glee.

Each step a gift, counted.

Walker steadied and grounded her body in motion

while her thanksgiving steadied and grounded her spirit

in the here and now flow of grace.

I lost count of how many of these short walks we took

that last sweet year of her life,

saying our thank-yous to you out loud

down the hall and back.

But they were many and enough to echo in my cells

and to raise up in me from time to time

this simple hymn of praise.

“Thank you. Thank you.”

I find myself whispering to you

over and over throughout the day,

noticing how my eyes open to the outpouring

of grace and blessing in every moment,

how I feel myself carried on the current of your joy,

how I am able to use this walker of gratitude

to steady and ground my heart and mind, body and soul

in your glorious presence with us here and now.

Thank you. Thank you.

Group Discussion. Share an experience you have had with the power of expressing gratitude to God.

Personal Reflection. What thoughts and feelings do you have in response to the experience expressed in the above prayer “Gratitude”?

 

The text for this study shows us the relationship between gratitude and the experience of peace. Read Philippians 4:4–9.

1. Using your own words, make a list of the instructions this text offers in verses 4–6.

 

2. What do you think it means to “rejoice in the Lord” (v. 4)?

 

3. What might it mean in practical terms to “rejoice in the Lord always”?

 

4. What does it mean to “let your gentleness be evident to all” (v. 5)?

 

How might this be related to living in joy and gratitude?

 

5. This text suggest several antidotes to anxiety. What antidotes are suggested in verses 6–7?

 

6. What antidote is suggested in verse 8?

 

7. How might following these instructions in verses 8–9 help bring us God’s peace?

 

8. How does the list in verse 8 compare and contrast your typical daily focus?

 

9. How might following the guidelines in verses 4–9 allow you to know God’s presence in the midst of the whirlwind of life?

 

10. What are some practical ways you might shift your focus to rejoicing, petitioning, giving thanks and thinking about what is praiseworthy?

 

Thank God for the peace that comes as we express our needs and gratitude to God.

Now or Later

In a moment of quiet, write a list of things that are causing you anxiety and another list of what you are needing and wanting in relationship to these anxieties. Talk to God about these concerns, as you thank God for God’s love and care.

Take a few minutes to write a gratitude list, thanking God for gifts big and small, ordinary and extra ordinary.

For a moment, breath in the peace, calm, hope and joy that can flow from the practice of noticing and expressing gratitude for God’s good gifts and loving activity in your life and in this world. How might this practice change your experience in the midst of the busyness of life?

Daily prayer: Thank you, thank you, thank you for who you are, for your healing work in my life and for your unfailing love for us all.

 

5

Rest with and Rely on God

Mark 6:30–46

Scripture calls us repeatedly to rely on God and to rest with God. These activities work together. In times of quiet with God, we remember that we are limited, finite creators. We are reminded that God is God and we are not. We return to the truth that we were designed to live in reliance on God and not on ourselves.

The perspective that comes to us as we sit in quiet changes how we face the challenges in our lives. We begin to find ourselves moving through our busy days with deepening awareness of God with us in all things and a growing capacity to rest in and rely on God for the provision, strength, wisdom and peace we need in each situation.

Henri Nouwen described this interplay between resting and relying on God in Making All Things New.

Although the discipline of solitude asks us to set aside time and space, what finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell wherever we go and whatever we do. The more we train ourselves to spend time with God … the more we will discover that God is with us at all times and in all places. Then we will be able to recognize him even in the midst of a busy and active life.… Thus, the discipline of solitude enables us to live active lives in the world, while remaining always in the presence of the living God.

Group Discussion. What kinds of solitude tend to restore you the most?

Personal Reflection. What barriers get in the way of you finding time to rest with God? What might help you to remember to rely on God rather than yourself as you face the demands of each day?

 

In the text for this study we meet Jesus and his followers in the midst of their busy lives. We see them seeking a time of solitude and having trouble making it happen. We also watch as Jesus teaches his disciples to bring their limited resources to him so he can multiply them for the benefit of others. Read Mark 6:30–46.

1. What do you picture as you read the opening scene in this text (vv. 30–31)?

 

2. What thoughts and feelings do you have about Jesus’ call to the disciples to get away with him to a quiet place and rest when there were so many people needing attention?

 

3. What benefit would there have been for the disciples in getting away to rest in quiet with Jesus at that moment?

 

4. What value have you experienced in finding a way to get away, if for even twenty minutes at a time, for rest and quiet with Jesus?

 

5. After a short time alone in the boat, Jesus and his disciples are again swarmed by a crowd (vv. 33–34). Put yourself in the disciples’ place. What might it have been like to witness Jesus’ compassionate response to the people?

 

6. Put yourself again in the story as one of the disciples concerned about the crowd getting hungry as it gets late in the day. What anxieties might you have experienced as this story unfolds?

•   as you realized how late it was getting

 

•   when Jesus tells you to feed the crowd

 

•   when all you have to bring Jesus is a few loaves of bread and two fish

 

7. What kinds of experiences have you had with this kind of concern and sense of inadequacy in your own busy life?

 

8. What does Jesus do for the disciples in response to their distress about the enormous gap between the size of the need and their limited resources?

 

9. What is the significance of Jesus involving the disciples in providing nourishment for the crowd?

 

10. What kinds of experiences have you had with learning to rely on God in the busyness of life?

 

11. This is a story of great need, inadequate resources and of God providing in an unexpected way. What difference would it make in the whirlwind of your life to more fully acknowledge your need and inadequate resources?

 

12. We learn in verses 45–46 that Jesus did get a time of solitude and the disciples did get a time apart from the crowd. How might carving out times of solitude help you?

 

How might you build this practice into your life, even if you have to persist in trying to make those times happen?

 

Thank God for inviting you to rest in times of solitude with God and for teaching you to rely on God in the midst of responding to life’s pressing needs.

Now or Later

In a time of quiet, allow yourself to rest with Jesus. Slow your breathing, release some of the tension in your body and let the loving presence of Jesus be with you like a soft light. Talk with Jesus about all that is going on in your life. Talk with Jesus about your concerns, your wonder at watching God work, whatever is on your heart and mind. Then sit quietly for a few minutes, resting in Jesus’ presence. Be aware of anything you sense the Spirit saying to you.

Daily prayer: God, I ask to rest with you today, even as I rely on you to do what only you can do. I offer myself to you with all my limits, asking that you will be my Provider, my Strength, my Wisdom, my Peace today.

 

6

Remain in Conversation with God

Psalm 16

God invites us into an intimate relationship that is characterized by an open, ongoing conversation. Night and day we can talk to God and listen as God counsels and instructs us. Night and day we can practice awareness of God’s loving presence. Night and day we can commune with God.

To remain in conversation with God (or return to conversation with God) throughout the day and in the waking hours of the night is to “practice the presence of God.” It is a way of praying described by Brother Lawrence, who talked about being in conversation with God throughout the day as he worked in the kitchen to feed all who ate at the monastery where he served.

This practice of communing and communicating with God throughout the day and night is a vital way of knowing God in the midst of the whirlwind of life.

We may not think this kind of prayer is possible or practical. But when we understand that this is not about a performance or an attempt to meet some kind of goal, but simply the basic dynamic of responding day by day to God’s invitation to intimacy, we can begin to catch a glimpse of the gift this practice holds out to us, namely, the gift of an ongoing, vital, personal relationship with the living God who is with us always.

Thomas Kelly says this about the prayer of communion:

Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is in our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life.…

How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps for our souls.…

One can live in a well nigh continuous state of unworded prayer, directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart.

Group Discussion. What images come to mind when you think of prayer?

Personal Reflection. How might it change your experience of your busyness to be able to remain in (or return to) conversation with God throughout the day and night?

 

In this study we will listen as the psalmist describes his relationship with God. It is a relationship characterized by communing with God throughout the day and during the waking hours of the night. Read Psalm 16.

1. What title would you give this psalm?

 

2. Make a list of all the ways the psalmist describes God.

 

3. How does this description of God compare or contrast to how you see God?

 

4. What difference might it make in our lives to see God in the ways the psalmist sees God?

 

5. This psalm describes a dynamic relationship between the psalmist and God. What actions does the psalmist take in this relationship?

 

6. What actions does God take?

 

7. What might it mean for God to counsel us (v. 7)?

 

8. What gifts does the psalmist describe that have come from his relationship with God?

 

9. In what ways does this description of the psalmist’s relationship with God and the gifts that come from it mirror some of your experience?

 

10. What might the psalmist mean in verse 8 when he says, “I keep my eyes always on the lord”?

 

11. What might this mean in your own life?

 

12. What are some practical ways that you might do this?

 

Thank God, who is with you always, for offering to counsel you and instruct you throughout the day and night.

Now or Later

Read and meditate on Psalm 63:1–8. Write about your reflections.

Write a psalm of your own, describing how you have come to see and experience God’s loving presence in your life and describing how these experiences have affected your life.

Daily prayer: Lord, keep me in ongoing conversation with you today. May I share my thoughts and concerns and gratitude with you and listen to your counsel and instruction.

 

7

Labor in Love

Colossians 2:6, 20–23; 3:1–17

When we entrust our lives to God, we are, in effect, offering our lives to God. In doing so, we invite God to transform us from our selfish ways to the way of self-giving love. That is, we give ourselves to God so that God can remake us into the image of our Creator.

This is the life that Jesus lived. It is a life of surrender to the God who is love. Jesus calls us to let go of our greed and our self-serving behavior. Jesus empowers us to live instead a life of love as we rely on God’s strength, wisdom and help. In this new way of life, all we are and all we do are gifts received and gifts given to God.

In this way, our busy lives are made new. Whatever was driven by selfish ambition, pride or greed (including good deeds and religious activities) is let go. All that is centered in God’s heart—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness—is pursued and undertaken as if we were doing it all for the One who loves us beyond telling.

All our words and deeds take on this singular focus. So that “whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, [we] do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).

Group Discussion. How would you define or describe compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness?

Personal Reflection. What do you see as your typical motivation or focus for doing what you do?

 

In the text for this study we will explore what it might mean to let our activity become a labor of love and gratitude for God. Read Colossians 2:6, 20–23; 3:1–17.

1. As you look over the entire text, ask yourself how it describes what it might mean that our “life is now hidden with Christ” (Col 3:3)?

 

2. Describe and summarize the contrast Colossians 3:1–17 draws between the “old self” and the “new self.”

 

3. What other phrases might be used to describe what is being said in verses 5–9 when it instructs the reader to “put to death” and to “rid yourself” of the characteristics of the “old self”?

 

4. What might it mean to “clothe yourself” in the qualities of the “new self”?

 

5. What is verse 11 saying?

 

Why is this significant to the new way of life in Christ?

 

6. Imagine meeting someone who displays the qualities described in verses 10–17. What might it be like to be in close relationship with a person with these qualities?

 

7. What might it be like to live day to day with qualities of character described in verses 10–17?

 

8. This text is telling us that to be “clothed” in the characteristics described in verses 10–17 is to be made into the image of our Creator. What impact does it have on you to see God in this way?

 

9. Read verse 17 again. What does this mean?

 

How might it change your experience of your busy life to “do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”?

 

10. In previous studies we have been exploring our need to ask God to be our Provider, Strength, Wisdom and Peace as we rest in and rely on God, and as we remain in conversation with God. How might this way of living help us to let go of the “old self” and put on the “new self”?

 

Thank God that all you do and say can be done as a labor of love for God.

Now or Later

In a time of quiet, invite God to show you where you are living from the “old self.” Ask God, as well, to give you glimpses of how your life might change if you let go of these old hurtful and destructive ways. Make a note of what you sense God is showing you.

As you continue in quiet, ask God where you need to clothe yourself in the “new self.” Then let yourself see Jesus clothing you in garments of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. Invite God to show you how your life might change day-to-day as you put on these new clothes. Make a note of what you sense God is showing you.

Make a list of some of the tasks, responsibilities and challenges you are facing. Offer these activities as a gift of love and gratitude to God, asking for God’s help, strength, wisdom and peace as you labor in love for God.

Daily prayer: Lord, all I do and all I say today, I offer in love and gratitude to you. May all be done as a labor of love for you.

 

8

Serve with Joy

John 13:1–17; 15:9–12

The Gospel of John records some of Jesus’ most intimate moments with his disciples—moments that took place just hours before Jesus was arrested and crucified. They were moments in which Jesus demonstrated and taught his disciples, once again, about the joy of loving and serving others.

The story begins with Jesus, who “loved [his own] to the end,” expressing his love by kneeling before each of his disciples in humble service. He did what only a servant would have done. He disrobed, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin and washed each one’s feet.

Jesus shared his heart in those moments, saying, in essence: “I love you. In the same tender, unshakeable way that God the Father loves me, I love you. This reality is the foundation for all of life. This reality is the source of joy. You are loved. Receive this love. Rest in this love. Stay close to me and to my love for you.”

Jesus continued by calling his disciples to love and serve others.

It is helpful to notice the order of this teaching. First, we are told that we are loved. Then we are told to remain in the reality of that love. And then we are called to love each other. First, we allow Jesus to kneel before us; we receive his gift of intimate love for us. Then, we respond to Jesus’ call to join him in kneeling in joyful service to all others.

As we begin to take in God’s love and rest in that love, we begin to change. We begin to see others as God sees them, through eyes of love. We also begin to see each task and challenge that lies before us as an opportunity to remain in God’s love, drawing strength and wisdom from God in order to joyfully give of ourselves to others.

Group Discussion. Think of someone you know or have encountered who joyfully gave of themselves to serve and love others. What was it like to be with him or her?

Personal Reflection. Think of a time when you found yourself joyful about serving someone. Describe the experience.

 

In the text for this study we watch and listen to some of the last moments Jesus had with his disciples before his death. In these fleeting moments he demonstrated his love for them and reminded them that the one commandment he was leaving them was to love and serve others. Read John 13:1–17.

1. What was on Jesus’ heart and mind at this time in his life (see vv. 1–3)?

 

2. What was the significance of Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet?

 

3. Notice that Jesus knows who is going to betray him (v. 2), but his love and his act of humble service included all his disciples. What does this tell us about the nature of Jesus’ love and the love of God the Father?

 

4. Describe what happens in the interchange between Peter and Jesus (vv. 8–10).

 

5. In what ways do you relate to Peter’s reaction to Jesus kneeling before him as a humble, loving servant?

 

6. Why was it so important to Jesus that Peter and the others received this gift of love from him?

 

7. Jesus instructed his disciples to do what he had just done for others. What things might be comparable to this act of washing others’ feet?

 

8. Jesus promises blessing when we serve others in love. What blessings often come out of acts of service?

 

Read John 15:9–12.

9. What connection do you see between Jesus’ instructions in chapter 13 and the command he gives in this portion of chapter 15?

 

10. This text suggests that there is a direct connection between “remaining in God’s love,” loving others and experiencing joy. How would you describe the relationship between these three realities?

 

11. How might the focus on being loved, and loving and serving others, affect the way you experience the demands and challenges of your day?

 

Thank God for Jesus’ love and joyful service toward you and toward all others. Ask God to give you the grace to follow Jesus in living a life of loving, joyful service for others.

Now or Later

In a time of quiet, put yourself in the story as one of Jesus’ disciples. Let yourself see Jesus kneeling before you to wash your feet. Notice your responses to Jesus. Notice the effect Jesus’ actions have on you. Make a note of what this experience was like.

In a time of quiet, listen as Jesus says to you, “I love you. I love you with the same tender, intimate, powerful, gentle love that my Father loves me. Live your life from this love. Let the reality of my love for you be the center of all you do and say. Love and serve others from this center. This is the essence of life. This is the source of joy.” Make a note of what it is like for you to hear these words of love and joy from Jesus.

Daily prayer: Lord, you kneel before me in love and joy. Help me take this in. Help me move past my instinct to refuse you. May I receive your love for me. And may I be your love for others today.[1]

 


[1] Ryan, Juanita. Busyness: Finding God in the Whirlwind: 8 Studies for Individuals or Groups: With Notes for Leaders. Westmont, IL: IVP Connect, 2015. Print. A LifeGuide Bible Study.