I would like to invite you to draw closer to God in this Lenten Season.

 

Perhaps now, more than ever, we desperately need to reconnect with God and with each other.  We are living fragmented lives, lives that are supposed to be easier and faster and simpler – yet seem to offer us less joy, peace and love.

During a morning quiet time recently, God reminded me of the immeasurable value and beauty of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul wrote about in the book of Galatians.  In my prayer time over the next several weeks, He showed me the possibilities and benefits of studying the Fruits of the Spirit – and He helped me to see how the growth and maturity of these fruits of the Spirit in each of us could be healing and such a blessing for the world and for all of us.

You may have memorized Galatians 5:22-23, read these verses in the Bible, heard them in a sermon or even seen them on a print or artwork.  I am including Galatians 5:22-23 below.

If you can, take a moment to read the verses out loud, really thinking about each of the fruits of the Spirit and what they look like when we are living them out.  What would the world look like if we were all living filled with these fruits, treating each other as God calls us to?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

(Gal. 5:22-23 NASB)

In thinking about the fruits of the Spirit, I wondered what our world and individual lives might look like if we asked God to use the Holy Spirit to grow these fruits in us through seeking Him, following Christ and loving and serving God and each other.  I thought about which fruits are growing in me that I am able to share and bless others with – and which fruits are not yet mature, not yet of benefit and blessing to those in my life as well as my own soul and spirit.

Bit by bit, in morning quiet times and in meditation and prayer, God helped me to envision what this study might look like and slowly, I tried to put the pieces together to create a study that would be honoring to God, engaging for people from all walks of life and in different places in their journey with God and Jesus — as well as a Bible study that is realistic about time constraints in our busy lives, practical and applicable, but still challenging and inspiring.

I continued seeking God and asking Him to help me design this study and all its different components, and I am very hopeful that it will be a blessing and encouragement for you!  I know it will not be perfect and I sincerely ask for your grace and mercy in advance, knowing there will be days that the questions may not be applicable to your situation or that I will have typos or ramble a bit!  I promise you, I will try my very best to accurately share God’s Word and seek to both teach AND learn from all of you as we fellowship and study together!

We see fruit used as a metaphor throughout the Bible, literally from the first chapters of Genesis through the final verses of Revelation.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught the disciples that we can know people by their fruit – and that good trees bear good fruit, but bad trees bear bad fruit. (see Matt. 7:15-20)

During the Bible study, we will spend time looking at the fruits of the Spirit and we’ll have the opportunity to spend time with God and in honest examination of how we are doing in bearing the fruits that God wants to grow in us so that they can be shared with the world in a real demonstration of His love and power in us.

There will likely be areas where we are walking in obedience and the Holy Spirit has been working in our lives which has resulted in healthy, strong fruit growing in our lives.  And there will be some places where we still have room to grow – where the fruit may be in the early stages of blossoming and where God is calling us to sacrifice and submit so that He can more fully use us to impact and bless this world through these fruits of His Holy Spirit.

I hope and pray that this may be a special study during Lent to focus on how God calls us to live and a time that each of us can spend studying His Word, seeking His will and purposing to live more like Christ, walking with the Father day by day.

Along with each week’s fruit of the Spirit, you’ll be encouraged to pray for a different issue or group of people.  In addition, we will learn about a spiritual discipline that is associated with the Lenten season and/or discipleship (prayer, worship, sacrifice, offering/alms giving, fellowship, memorizing Bible verses, holiness, etc.) 

I thought it might be helpful to select a fruit that is symbolic for the people we will be praying for as well as connected to the spiritual fruit we will be asking God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to cultivate and grow in us.  If you would like to do so, you could incorporate the fruit of the week into your meals as a reminder to pray for our weekly prayer focus, read God’s Word in our study and just enjoy the goodness of God’s provisions in our lives!

We will also have the opportunity to complete Action Item(s) each week.   This is not required, of course.  It’s just an opportunity for each of us to live out the Fruits of the Spirit in a tangible and real way, asking God to show us how we can share His love with others in our family, community and world.

Finally, there will be a Bible verse that we can memorize together each week that relates to that week’s Fruit of the Spirit.  If you already know the verse for that week, you could do a search for another verse about that week’s fruit and memorize that verse in its place.  Please feel free to share ideas and tips about how to memorize Scripture so we can encourage and motivate each other!

I am also including songs related to the different themes that I hope will be an encouragement to you.  The Book of Psalms is kind of like a hymnal in the middle of the Bible, containing the songs of God’s children.  Some of them are joyful, others sorrowful.  Some of them are repentant and seeking God’s forgiveness while others of the psalms are petitions and praises.  Music is very powerful and often helps us to understand or express strong emotions in a very real and personal way.  Most of the songs I will include in the daily lessons are hymns, worship and Christian music, but I will also include appropriate secular music that I hope will also bless our studies.

I will post the study daily, but you can complete the questions as your schedule allows.  If you are joining the study after it has started, feel free to catch up at your own pace.  There is no rush and it is never too late to join the study.  You can continue to go through the lessons in the weeks and months ahead.

Including the Bible reading passages and response questions, there will be about 15 minutes of reading and writing each day, but it can be adjusted for your schedule.  I know today’s entry is quite long since there is a lot of introductory material and information about the study.  Going forward, the entries will be much briefer, I promise!

In terms of supplies, here’s what you will need:

  1. A heart that wants to know God more fully and personally and to grow in your walk with Him.
  2. A desire to live a life that honors and pleases God – and out of which will flow even more love and grace to those around you.
  3. A spiral notebook or binder to write your responses and prayers, for reflection, to write down questions or further study you would like to do, and just for your own meditations and wisdom God is revealing to you.
  4. A Bible, either printed or online. I will often quote from the NASB or ESV translations, but please use the translation you are most comfortable with.

Perhaps you will answer the call to ask, seek and knock this Lenten Season.  To ask God questions that are on your heart.  To seek His will and His power in your life.  And for some, for the first time ever, to knock on the door of heaven and invite Him into your life and follow Christ.

I accepted Christ when I was in high school 31 years ago, during the Easter season.  At the time, I didn’t know what Lent was or why it was observed.  I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer – and I wasn’t even sure how to pray and talk with God.  I didn’t know the books of the Bible and I got nervous when the pastor directed us to turn here or there in the Bible – and I frantically turned to the Table of Contents, hoping nobody noticed.  I didn’t know most of the words to the hymns and I couldn’t have told you the difference between the disciple John and John the Baptist.

Looking back, there was so much I didn’t know.

There was really only one thing that I did know about God back then.

I knew that I needed God – that I was literally and figuratively lost without Him.

I remember one Thursday evening after I had visited my friend’s church several times, a pastor and a small group of church members came to my house for Visitation.  Together, we looked at God’s Word and talked about who God is and how we can know Him.  The Good News of Jesus Christ was shared with me – and I was given the opportunity to accept Christ as my Savior and be born again.

I learned a lot that evening.

I learned that I am a sinner.  That the payment for my sins is death.  That my sins offend our  holy and righteous God.  That Jesus is our Savior, sent by God to save the world.  That He was with God in the beginning and always has been, that He came to earth, died on the cross, was buried and rose again in three days and that He is now with God in heaven and will one day return and reign for eternity – a mystery I admit that I don’t fully understand, but I fully accept and believe.  That Jesus is the Son of God, perfect, holy and without sin.  That He came down to earth to live as a man, being both fully man and fully God.  That He died to rescue us, redeem us, ransom us and reconcile us to God – and that He is the only acceptable payment for my sins.

Quite simply, I knew that I needed Jesus.

When my friend’s pastor asked if I wanted Jesus to be my Savior, I knew for sure that I did.  I said yes – and then he led me through the Sinner’s Prayer.

Humbly and completely, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  And when I did, I remember this sense of peace washing over me – like I was home, I was safe and I was loved.

And you know what?  That same simple and basic knowledge of God’s love and Jesus’s gift is what I carry with me as I walk with God through each good, bad and ugly day.  Because even though I am a follower of Christ, I still have bad days (we all will – it’s just the way life is in a fallen and broken world) but God’s love is what sustains me, guides me and helps me as I press on each day.

I will share more of my testimony with you in the days and weeks ahead and I would be honored to hear about your testimony and how you came to know and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.

You may have been raised in the church and it feels like you’ve been following Christ forever.

Or you may have come to know Him later in life, after struggles and searching.

Perhaps today you don’t yet know Him personally and you haven’t trusted Him with your life.  I pray that as we draw closer to God in this study, that you too might be able to declare on Resurrection Sunday in a very real and personal way,

“He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!”

I am looking forward to meeting with you in the weeks ahead as we study God’s Word and seek His will together.  I will be praying for each of you and praying that God would work in all our lives so that we might share His love even more fully and richly with the world around us, pointing people to our only hope, Jesus Christ!

QUESTIONS

This Week’s Prayer Focus:             

Please pray for the Parkland community and all those who have been affected by gun violence.

Bible Memory Verse:                       

Galatians 5:22-23

Fruit of the Week:                            

Oranges, a fruit grown in Florida, to remind us to pray for all those affected by the school shooting in Florida, including the families, the students, first responders and all of the community.

Discipline:                                         

Sacrifice during Lent – Why do we sacrifice to God during Lent and at other times in the year?

Action Items:                                       

  1. Sometime this week, try to visit the produce section of your market.  Look at the fruits there and consider God’s creativity and goodness in giving us these foods to nurture and nourish us.  Thank Him for His goodness and select a fruit to enjoy this week, such as oranges from Florida.  If possible, make this a weekly habit during the Bible study as a way to be mindful and intentional about celebrating the fruits of the Spirit.
  2. Make a commitment to pray each day for the Prayer Focus.  If you already pray daily, perhaps you can find time to include our weekly prayer focus in your prayers.  If you don’t currently pray each day, try to find a time when you can spend a few minutes seeking God, interceding for the prayer focus and just seeking to begin to incorporate a regular prayer time into each day.   We’ll talk about how to talk to God in the weeks ahead – but for now, just talk to Him however He leads you.  Talk to Him like your best friend, because that’s really who He is!  You don’t have to worry about fancy words – the best news is that He loves you and He would love nothing more than to talk with His precious child!

Study Questions:

If you have a spiral notebook or a binder with notebook paper, that would be a great place to write your responses to the daily study questions. 

  1. If you have time, watch this video by Matt Maher, 40 Days. The video is about the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert as a time of preparation at the beginning of His earthly ministry.    

Here are some things to think about/answer:

Did Jesus look strong or vulnerable – or both – in the video? 

 

How did Jesus’s appearance change over the 40 days? 

 

Did Satan attack and tempt Jesus at the beginning – or did he tempt Jesus at the end of His time in the desert? 

 

Why do you think God allowed Jesus to suffer as a man when He was on earth?

 

  1. Read Matthew 4:1-11.

Who led Jesus into the desert to be tempted?

 

Who tempted Jesus?

 

Jesus was tempted by the enemy with food (the suggestion that rocks could be turned into bread, in response to Jesus’s hunger), safety and pride (daring Jesus to fall and prove that He is the Son of God, suggesting that the angels would catch Him) and power (dominion over the world if He would worship Satan).   

What does Satan use to tempt and deceive you in his effort to draw you away from God?  Some examples could be love, acceptance, security, popularity, fame, power, money, glory, recognition, beauty, career growth, etc.?

 

How did Jesus respond to Satan?  What did He use to rebut Satan’s temptations?

 

Why might God have allowed Jesus to endure this temptation and trial in the desert? 

 

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to experience human emotions like hunger, fatigue, betrayal, worry and sorrow?

 

Does Jesus’s 40 day trial in the desert encourage you knowing that He suffered and was tempted just as we are today?   Do you believe Jesus knew what it was to suffer and struggle while He was on earth as a man, yet still fully God?  

 

  1. When does Satan tempt and distract you? Is it when you are weary, tired and discouraged and he seeks to dilute your faith and trust in God?  Or is it when you are on the mountain top and feeling strong and capable, and Satan seeks to make you proud, arrogant and instill a sense of invincibility in you, as though you don’t need God?

 

Ask God to help you see the patterns of Satan’s temptations so that you can be prepared for the lies Satan uses and you can guard your heart, soul and mind.

Also, ask God to help you use His Word to rebut and respond to Satan’s lies and to protect yourself.

  1. Is there a lie that Satan is speaking into your life even today?  If so, consider doing a search for a verse that might help you to answer Satan with God’s Word, just as Jesus did.  Ask God to show you His truth to rebut and respond to the lies of Satan.  When Satan speaks that lie to you, respond with God’s Word, speaking the hope and promise of God.  
  2. Is there something God is calling you to sacrifice during Lent? It may be a television program, an attitude, how you spend your free time, gossip or cursing, a favorite snack, a hobby or something similar.

Even though Lent has already begun, it is not too late to sacrifice for Lent.  While sacrifice is not necessary during Lent, it can be a powerful way to draw closer to God, to seek His power and strength, to commit to obedience, and to ask the Holy Spirit to develop and grow the spiritual fruits in you that will bless you and the world around you.

By giving up something you enjoy (e.g., chocolate, a favorite tv show, a weekly manicure) or giving up something that you know is bad but you have fallen into a pattern of doing (gossip, cursing, too much time on social media, watching shows that are negative or contrary to God’s teaching), you will be giving control of your life back where it belongs – with God. 

Prayerfully ask God to show you if there is anything you can sacrifice during the Lenten season in an effort to draw closer to Him and to live in submission and obedience to Him.  It may be a good thing which you are choosing to forego during Lent as a sacrifice or it may be a thing which you know is distracting you from God and worship and which you choose to yield to Him and ask Him to take away the power of this activity or substance to make you more like Christ.

This is not meant to be a New Year’s Resolution or a diet plan.  It can be just one small item that is tangible (e.g., soda or ice cream) or even an intangible behavior (e.g., social media, gossiping, watching a weekly tv show). 

If you have any health conditions or are pregnant or under the care of a physician, please check with them before you make any alterations to your diet or fitness plan.  Please do not stop taking medications or give up important food items that you need.  This is not meant to be a total fast from food or beverage.

The idea is simply to sacrifice something – it could be a food or behavior – as a symbol of the sacrifice that Christ made in an effort to draw closer to God and honor Him.  It should not be dangerous or harmful to your health or well-being. 

This is not required during Lent – some people choose to sacrifice, while others do not.  Prayerfully seek God and His leading regarding sacrifice.  If He is not leading you to sacrifice during Lent, He will show you this and you should honor that.  Many people do not sacrifice during Lent – that does not change their love for God or God’s love for them.  It is totally a personal decision and there is not a right or wrong answer to the question. 

As in all things, God will lead you to what is right and best for you.

I look forward to meeting you here tomorrow as we study God’s Word together!

 

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

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