A Summary of Logotherapy

I received my BS from the University of Montevallo in 1981, and my major professor was Dr. Sanford Colley. He introduced me to most of the major theories of counseling and psychotherapy, and I found Existential Analysis (or logotherapy) to be the most intriguing. Upon recently rediscovering the writings of Dr. Viktor Frankl, I wish I had paid more attention in school!

This information is a compilation of my recent reading of three books:

Logotherapy was developed by neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. It is considered the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” along with Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology.

The theory is based on an existential analysis focusing on Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning” as opposed to Adler’s emphasis of “will to power” or Freud’s focusing on man’s “will to pleasure.” Logotherapy is based on the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in life that is the primary, most powerful motivating factor in life.

The name “logotherapy” was created based on the Greek word logos (biblically, this means “word” but Frankl emphasizes the word referring to “meaning”). Frankl’s concept is based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life. These statements are the basic principles of logotherapy:

  1. Freedom of Will: Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  2. Will to Meaning: Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  3. Meaning of Life: We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

In Frankl’s view, the spirit is the will of the human being. The emphasis is on the search for meaning, which is not necessarily the search for God.

Frankl wrote that it may be psychologically damaging when a person’s search for meaning is blocked. Positive life purpose and meaning was associated with strong religious beliefs, membership in groups, dedication to a cause, life values, and clear goals.

According to logotherapy, meaning is experienced on two levels: ultimate meaning and meaning of the moment.

  1. Ultimate Meaning, is found through participation in a universal order of being in which every person has a place. This type of meaning deals with questions, such as, “Who am I?” Ultimate meaning can never be comprehended in its entirety, only pursued to the best of one’s ability.
  2. Meaning of the Moment, is much easier to grasp. In most situations it is nothing spectacular, just the daily tasks awaiting us. Some moments offer bigger choices than others; some moments are subtler than others; none are repeatable.

According to Frankl, people discover meaning in life in three different ways:

  1. Work: by creating a work or accomplishing a task.
  2. Love: by experiencing something in life or encountering someone, through the quality of love.
  3. Attitude: by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering” and that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.

On the meaning of suffering, Frankl gives the following example:

Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive without you?:” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.

Frankl emphasized that realizing the value of suffering is meaningful only when the first two creative possibilities are not available (for example, in a concentration camp) and only when such suffering is unavoidable – he was not proposing that people suffer unnecessarily.

Frankl developed a unique view of determinism to coexist with the three basic pillars of Logotherapy. Though Frankl admitted that man can never be free from every condition, such as, biological, sociological, or psychological determinants, based on his experience during his life in the Nazi concentration camps, he believed that man is “capable of resisting and braving even the worst conditions.” In doing such, man can detach from situations, himself, choose an attitude about himself, determine his own determinants, therefore, shaping his own character and becoming responsible for himself.

Within the domain which belongs such human sufferings, these conditions are in effect:

  • Despondency: Expressed in pain, guilt, and death, which comprises the tragic triad.
  • Despair: Giving rise to depression, aggression, and addiction, which constitutes the the neurotic triad.
  • Doubt and Confusion: Often caused by an inner emptiness when access to one’s spiritual core is blocked, is experienced as existential vacuum.

This existential vacuum is a general sense of meaninglessness and emptiness, an “inner void,” an “abyss-experience.” It manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do: soon he will not know what he wants to do. More and more he will be governed by what others want him to do, thus increasingly falling prey to conformism.

There are various tools the counselor may use in helping people using logotherapy. The major established techniques for intervention described in logotherapy are:

Self-distancing or Self-detachment – When clients present us with their problems or symptoms, the first step—after hearing their story—is to help them gain some distance from the burden they carry, and through which they often identify themselves. This distancing will provide a clearer vision for courses of action open to them or reveal areas of freedom still available to take a stand toward their conditions. Man is capable of detaching himself not only from a situation but also from himself. He is capable of choosing his attitude toward himself. Self-distancing is the capacity to step away from ourselves and to look at ourselves from the “outside,” possibly with humor.

Paradoxical Intention – The means that the patient is encouraged to do, or wish to happen, the very things he fears. It lends itself to the short-term treatment of obsessive-compulsive and phobic clients. Paradoxical Intention is a wish turned upside down. Patients are guided to wish exactly what as phobics and obsessives they have so frantically feared and so desperately tried to avoid. What we flee from tends to catch up with us, and the more we fight a fear the more we become its victims. On the other hand, if we wish to have happen what we fear and support our paradoxical wish with humoristically exaggerated formulations, the fear dissolves.

Socratic Dialogue – This technique is used to help persons use questioning to discover for themselves the meanings of life. Frankl believes it is the task of the logotherapist, not to tell clients what the meaning in their life is, but to elicit the wisdom that is hidden within the spirit of each person. One of the basic assumptions of logotherapy is that, in the depth of our spiritual dimension, we know what kind of person we are, what our potentials are, and what is important and meaningful to us. He states that ultimate questions of human existence are on the lips of every man.

Dereflection – Focusing attention away from the situation. It rests on two essential qualities of human existence, namely, man’s capacities of self-transcendence and self-detachment. The essence of dereflection is substituting something positive for something negative. When turning toward a new interest is successful or is rewarded, turning from intense self-observation is more likely to succeed. Dereflection is intended to counteract compulsive inclination to self-observation. Through paradoxical intention the person tries to ridicule his symptoms, while he learns to “ignore” them through dereflection.

I challenge the reader to find the above referenced books, which bring much clarity to the task of pastoral counseling and guidance.

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Worry Free Decisions

The purpose of this lesson is to help you think about decisions from the perspective of what would please God.

Have you ever given a friend a gift that you knew was exactly right? Remember how good it felt to see the joy in your friend as he or she opened the gift. Wouldn’t it feel good to experience God’s pleasure over a decision you have made, never having to worry whether you have done the right thing?

Describe something you did that brought real pleasure to another person. What has someone done for you that pleased you?

Who have you been attempting to please? How have you been going about it?

When a man came to Jesus upset about an inheritance, Jesus took the opportunity to talk with his disciples about pleasing God instead of worrying about self. Read Luke 12:13-34.

1. Describe the man in Luke 12:13. What were his worries?

Selfish and materialistic: This is especially evident if you consider what Jesus has just been talking to the crowd about in Luke 12:1-11 (concerning hypocrisy, and confessing Christ before men). How would you feel about an uneven distribution of an inheritance? You likely share many of this man’s worries.

Luke 12:13 Tell my brother: Jesus is asked to intervene in a family dispute, as an ancient rabbi would be. The dispute centers around a point of Mosaic law, divide the inheritance with me is likely in reference to the double-portion allotted to the firstborn son (see Deuteronomy 21:17).

2. What do the people of our society worry about?

3. What impact do our worries have on our decisions?

Think about specific worries you have had and what those worries cause you to do. For example, worries about money may cause some people to seek a higher paying job and others to take out a loan.

4. Why wouldn’t Jesus help the man in this story?

“The Lord refuses to fill the traditional role of judge because his mission concerns a more important question, the question of life itself. Jesus points his hearers to the importance of priorities in the quest for ‘life'”

Luke 12:14 Who made Me a Judge: Jesus refuses to enter into a dispute over money, which is clearly dividing a family. Such disputes over money destroy relationships, so Jesus tells a parable that explains the danger of focusing on wealth. Interestingly, the unnamed man mentions dividing the family inheritance, but Jesus states that He only came to divide the family (Luke 12:51–53). Whatever answer Jesus would give would not solve the problem. BOTH brothers had a covetous heart; the YOU is plural (Luke 12:14). BOTH men were greedy. They had an unquenchable thirst for more.

5. To what extent has “the abundance of possessions” been an ingredient in your decision-making process?

“In this parable and these pronouncements the Savior does not condemn the possession of worldly goods as such, but what He disapproves of is the covetous and carnal attitude with regard to earthly wealth, the trust in worldly things instead of in God, and the fault of not regarding one’s possessions gratefully as God’s gracious gifts and using them in His service and according to His will to the glory of His name. It is not only a terrible sin to make earthly riches and worldly pleasures the main purpose in life, but also a fatal act of folly, a deadly error.”

Luke 12:16 And he told a parable to them: Jesus uses this opportunity to move from His discourse about allegiance to Himself (see Luke 12:8–12) to allegiance to material possessions. The parable is meant to illustrate the truth that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (see Luke 12:15).

6. The rich man thought he had made a worry-free decision (Luke 12:19). Why was he called a fool (Luke 12:20)?

Luke 12:19 Relax, eat, drink, celebrate: Recalling Ecclesiastes 8:15; Isaiah 22:13.

Luke 12:20 God’s judgment on selfishness is clear. What did the rich fool have for the next life? He could not take his grain with him. What he owned was no longer of any value after death. In a single day, the rich man became poor. All earthly wealth is temporary and ultimately worthless (Matthew 6:19–21; 1 Timothy 6:6–10, 17-19; James 5:1–6). This night your life is demanded from you: Translated literally, the Greek says, “This night your soul they demand from you.” The plural “they” may be a reference to the rich man’s possessions, which have become his gods—rather than owning them, they own him. Such an allegiance to possessions leads to death.

How do YOU respond to the death of this farmer? Did he get what was coming to him? Right about the time he could REALLY live? The greatest tragedy is not what he left behind, but what lay before him, an eternity without God.

Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time, if our purpose is to honor God (1 Timothy 6:10). Don’t be rich for this world and poor for the next.

7. The rich man did have a problem that needed to be solved (Luke 12:17). What decisions could he have made that Jesus would have found pleasing?

“Notice the repeated MY which points to an ingrained selfishness. The man is not concerned to use his wealth wisely. He is not trying to help other people. He is not even concerned to have a richer and fuller life for himself. He is concerned only with self-indulgence.”

Luke 12:18, 19 Including Luke 12:17, the word “I” appears six times, showing the selfish focus this man has as a result of his fortune. His plan is to store his abundant resources for himself, as though the assets were his alone and should be hoarded. This focus on the self is what Jesus is condemning. The attitude here is to take care of number one.

People should save for the future, and run a business successfully (1 Timothy 5:8), and Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). Life does not come from an abundance of things, so he had a false view of life and death.

8. Why are ravens and lilies so carefree? (Luke 12:24, 27)

Luke 12:24 Jesus describes God’s care of ravens, unclean creatures according to Jewish law and among the least respected of birds (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14). Yet God even cares for them. How much more are you worth: A point Jesus made earlier in Luke 12:7. Here, He conveys that if God takes care of the birds, how much more will He provide for His people?

Luke 12:25 It is uncertain whether Jesus is saying through His rhetorical question that worry cannot add to one’s physical height or that worry cannot add to one’s life span. In fact, worry can sometimes shorten life. What is clear is that worry is utterly useless and shows a lack of faith in God’s plan for our lives.

Luke 12:27–29 Even the wealthy King Solomon did not clothe himself as God has clothed the lilies: The illustration of grass indicates that God cares enough to provide beauty for the parts of His creation that have a short life. Why should we worry if God takes such care of even the smallest blade of grass? The Lord knows our problems and will provide us with what we need. Do not seek … nor have an anxious mind: Since God will provide, there is no need for us to concentrate on mundane things such as food. This should not be our chief concern, but instead our first priority should be doing the will of God (Luke 12:31).

9. What would be different about making a decision from a raven or lily’s point of view?

“They should not make their chief aim or the passion of their lives the hoarding of material things. By this the Savior does not in any way mean that they must be lazy and neglect their ordinary work and duties, but that they must not allow their hearts to become so attached to material things that their inner lives are controlled by these, and they are not to be vexed and anxious about these things. Everyone must perform his daily task, which God gives him, whole-heartedly and to the best of his ability, but the inner life of the believer must not be caught in the clutches of materialism and of anxiety with regard to worldly things.”

10. How does our worry dishonor God?

Worry shows a lack of trust. When we worry about something, it is a statement that we don’t believe God can or will take care of it.

11. What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God (Luke 12:31) and provide a treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

“They are to seek his kingdom, which points to a concentration on all that the kingdom involves. Disciples have pledged themselves to their Master. They must accordingly spend their time in doing His work and seeking His kingdom. This will mean trying to produce in their own lives conduct appropriate to those who have accepted the rule of God. It will also mean trying to bring others into a like way of living, for it is in this way that the kingdom grows. Jesus adds the information that when His followers concentrate on the kingdom, these things shall be yours as well. When men truly honor God, God honors their faith. His servants may not grow wealthy as the world understands riches, but they will not lack.”

12. How have you sought God’s kingdom as you have been making decisions?

Pray about everything that worries you, putting it into God’s hands again.

Now or Later

Doubt can often be the same as worry. Read what James has to say about this in James 1:2-8.

  1. According to these verses, why are some people confused?
  2. Why is a wave an apt description of a doubter?
  3. What advice does James give us for dealing with doubt and worry?

Additional Questions:

  1. What did you like to collect as a child? How about now?
  2. Which situation is more worrisome to you? Overdraft? Gaining 10 pounds? Child expelled from school? Nobody called this week? Mother-in-law stays for two weeks?
  3. What is Jesus saying for the disciples NOT to do? What are they to do instead (Luke 12:22, 33)?
  4. Over what are you worrying? Why?
  5. How can you transfer your treasure from Wall Street to Heaven’s Gate?
  6. How would your life be different if you lived the way Jesus says?
  7. Jesus wants us to be on our guard: Luke 12:15 Guard yourselves from all greediness: Jesus previously warned His disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (see preceding section), but now He warns them of the deceitfulness of riches. Does his life consist of his possessions? For Jesus, life consists of listening to and obeying the word of God (Luke 12:8:21; 10:42). It is interesting that this man’s problem was that he had too much wealth!
    1. What are the perils of prosperity (Proverbs 30:7-9)?
    2. Wealth can choke the Word (Matthew 13:22).
    3. It can set a trap of temptation (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19) and a false sense of security.



Luke 12:22–34 Luke appropriately ties in Jesus’ teaching on anxiety over material provisions with the preceding section. The above parable, then, is directed at the rich (the brother who had many possessions, Luke 12:13), whereas this section is addressed to the poor. (See also Matthew 6:19–21, 25-34).

Destructive: The word “anxious” (Luke 12:22) really means “to be torn apart” and the phrase “doubtful mind” means to be held in suspense” (Luke 12:29). Our English word comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to strangle.”

Deceptive: Worry causes us to focus too much on the means and not the end, which is to glorify God (Matthew 6:33). Worry blinds us to the world around us, how God cares for the world and its beauty. Worry blinds us to itself, thinking that by worrying we can make a difference (Luke 12:25).

Deformative: Worry keeps us from growing properly, and makes us like the lost world (Luke 12:30). Worry is unchristian and is a sin.

Luke 12:33 Sell what you have: In contrast to the world’s hoarding of possessions, the disciple must be generous with what God gives. Money bags which do not grow old: By serving God and others, you can invest in your eternal future. You cannot take possessions with you in the next life, but you can store up an eternal treasure by giving to others (see Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:17).

Luke 12:34 What people consider valuable is where their energy will be spent. Knowing God and investing in His purposes should be the treasure we seek.

Warren Wiersbe

A Fearful Heart (Luke 12:1–12). When you fear people, you start to hide things, and this leads to hypocrisy. You fail to confess Christ openly and depend on the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:8–12), and this silences your witness. When you fear God alone, you need fear no one else; and you can boldly witness for Christ. You are important to God and precious in His sight, so never fear what people can say or do.

A Greedy Heart (Luke 12:13–21). Imagine being so greedy that you would interrupt a sermon to ask for help to get more money! The weeds were certainly growing in that man’s heart (Matthew 13:22). We all need a certain amount of money to live, but money is not a guarantee of security. If anything, it creates a false confidence that leads to foolishness.

A Divided Heart (Luke 12:22–34). The word translated “worry” (Luke 12:22) means “to be pulled apart,” and that is what worry does to you. If your heart is centered on Christ and trusting wholly in Him (Luke 12:31), you will have a united heart that fears God alone (Psalm 86:11). If your treasures are heavenly, you need not worry; no enemy can take them!

A Cold Heart (Luke 12:35–59). We are God’s servants, and He expects us to be faithfully doing our work when Jesus Christ returns. But when we stop looking for His coming, loving it (2 Timothy 4:8), and longing for it (Revelation 22:20), our hearts get cold, and we get worldly. The Lord will deal with careless servants when He returns, so we had better be ready.

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Making the Wrong Decision

The Purpose of this Lesson: To give assurance that God will love us and use us even when we make bad decisions.

A major barrier to making a decision can be the fear of making the wrong choice.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I’m sure everything will work out; 10 = A wrong decision will destroy my entire life), how fearful are you about making a wrong decision? What experiences in your life have contributed to or relieved your fears?

Think of the worst decision you have made. Why was it wrong?

God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have many descendants and become a great nation. On the basis of this promise, Abram had left everything familiar and had followed God to the strange land of Canaan. However, after living there for ten years, Abram and Sarai were still childless (and at eighty-five years old, well past their childbearing years). Impatient with God’s failure to act, they made a desperate decision. Read Genesis 16.

1. Which character in this story are you most like and why?

  1. Sarai-regretful of a decision you have made?
  2. Abram-wondering what went wrong?
  3. Hagar-blamed for someone else’s bad choice?
  4. Ishmael-the product of others’ dysfunction?

2. What decisions do Sarai and Abram make in this story?

Abram and Sarai “decided to resort to surrogate marriage, which was a perfectly respectable practice in the other cultures of the ancient Near East. A child born to a slave-girl could be regarded as the wife’s own child, if she had no children of her own. Many in ancient times saw nothing wrong in surrogate marriage, and surrogate motherhood is still an issue in contemporary society. Genesis, however, clearly does not agree with the practice” (G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson, and R. T. France, eds., New Bible Commentary [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994], p. 72).

3. Looking at these decisions from our perspective, several millennia after the fact, why were these decisions so flawed?

Abram had slipped from faith and allowed himself to be guided by reason and the voice of his wife. “Each of the three characters displays the untruth that is part of sin, in false pride (Genesis 16:4), false blame (Genesis 16:5), false neutrality (Genesis 16:6); but Sarai’s mask soon slipped (Genesis 16:6b), to show the hatred behind the talk of justice” (Derek Kidner, Genesis [Downers Grove, IlL: InterVarsity Press, 1967], p. 126).

4. Why do you think Abram and Sarai believed these decisions to be for the best?

5. What were the consequences of Abram and Sarai’s decisions for themselves? For Hagar? For the world?

“The obvious evils which resulted are. . . the fracturing of otherwise proper interpersonal relationships between Sarai and Hagar with the accompanying damage to Sarai’s dignity and the production of contempt for Sarai from Hagar. Hagar is ‘used,’ but Sarai is not truly benefitted. . . . Contempt, as well as a son who turned from Abram’s way, was Sarai’s heritage for failure to wait for Yahweh to fulfill in His way the promise of seed” (Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976], pp. 161-62). Ishmael is considered to be the father of the Arabs and Abram’s subsequent son, Isaac, to be the father of the Jews-a rivalry that continues to the present day.

6. What have been the consequences of your worst decisions?

7. Where does Sarai place the blame for her troubles?

Notice that Sarai first places the blame on God when she says, “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). Then, when she gets her way, she blames both Abram and Hagar (“You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me” [Genesis 16:5]).

8. Why do you think people are reluctant to take responsibility for their decisions?

9. What good does God bring out of these bad decisions?

God’s mercy brings good out of human folly. A promise was given to Hagar that was similar to the promise given to Abram. When Ishmael is called “a wild donkey of a man (Genesis 16:12),” this is “not in the sense of a boorish, desert yokel, but in another sense. A man would not be derogated by this epithet, for the ass was a prized animal; a man so designated would be a choice person. . . . Yet he will possess something of the character of the wild ass of the desert in that he will be intractable and oppose his neighbors” (Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, p. 162).

10. Why did God intervene instead of simply letting everyone live with the mess they had made?

This passage gives evidence of the love of God who picks us up when we fail. It is also evidence of God’s determination to bring about his plans. He had made a promise to Abram that was an integral part of his greater plan of salvation. Abram’s failure would not frustrate God’s plan-and our bad decisions won’t frustrate it either.

11. After reading this report of Abram and Sarai’s mistake, what can you expect God to do with your own bad decisions?

12. What is comforting about being seen by God, even at our worst moments (Genesis 16:l3)?

Our worst moments are also our moments of greatest need. God is near to point out responsibility and offer aid in assuming it.

Confess to God the mistakes you have made and ask him to bring good from them.

Now or Later

King David seemed to make as many bad decisions as he did wise ones. He tried to hide from King Saul by living among the enemies of Israel and almost had to go to war against his own people (1 Samuel 27-29), he committed adultery and covered it up with murder (2 Samuel 11-12), he contributed to a family feud (2 Samuel 13-14), and he took a census of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24). Read what he has to say about finding forgiveness for our bad decisions in Psalm 32.

  1. According to this psalm, what should we do about our bad or sinful decisions?
  2. What will happen if we do not come to God with our mistakes?
  3. What will happen if we do?
  4. In what ways have you acted like a horse or a mule (Psalm 32:9)?

Warren Wiersbe Outline:

Family adventure and vacations may often include detours, the same was for Abraham and Sarah. The conflict in their home brought conflict into the world, the affects we see to this day. The Arab-Israeli conflict begins right here.

This is also a great lesson on God’s people walking by faith, making decisions about the future and how they respond to adversity, detours and setbacks. We often must wait to see God’s promises fulfilled; while we tend to rush ahead of God’s timing.

Waiting (Genesis 16:1a) Abraham is now 85 years old. Abraham had been walking with the LORD for 10 years. God’s promise a child and descendants. There is a period of waiting and people don’t like to wait. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12). Why did God wait so long? Perhaps for the couple to be “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12) because God needed to get all the credit. Abraham could still father a child (remember Hagar & Ishmael?) so the time for the miracle baby had not yet arrived.

  1. The first evidence of faith is that whatever is done by faith is done for the glory of God (Romans 4:20).
  2. A second evidence of faith is a willingness to wait on the Lord. “He who believes does not walk in haste” (Isaiah 28:16). When we stop trusting, we make haste.
  3. A third evidence of faith is acting on the authority of God’s Word, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Hebrews 11 record the “Hall of Faith” filled with examples of people waiting to receive the promise.
  4. Finally, when we act in faith, God give peace and joy in life, “the God of hope will fill you with joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).

Scheming (Genesis 1b-4a) Sarah knew that she could not bear a child, but Abraham was still capable. God identified the father of many nations but not the mother. Logically it would be Sarah, or maybe God had other plans. Now comes the “second-guessing,” which is dangerous. True faith is based on God’s Word (Romans 4:20) and not man’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Sarah was not concerned with the glory of God; her goal was to get a child (Genesis 16:2). Perhaps there was disappointment with God or even blaming. Delays are not necessarily denials. Maybe Sarah felt that God was holding out on her, which sounds familiar (Genesis 3:1-6).

While multiple wives was legal, it does go against God’s original design (Genesis 2:24). Hagar and Ismael are not declared Abraham’s wife and son, but Sarah’s main, or bondwoman, and her son (Genesis 16:8, 21:10). Hey, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). So, this couple does not faith the tests or evidences of faith.

Fighting (Genesis 16:4b-6) When you follow the world’s wisdom, you end up fighting like the world (James 3:13-18). Family fights are likely the most painful of all. Had Hagar maintained the attitude of a servant, things may have been different, but she became proud (Proverbs 30:21-23). This family turned from faith to the flesh (Galatians 3:3) and the flesh behaves in a certain way (Galatians 5:19-21). They were at war with selfishness in their hearts (James 4:1-10).

Sarah became, or grew, “little” in Hagar’s eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The LORD will show who’s wrong—you or me!”

That last phrase was as close to cursing that believers do in the Bible: harm, contempt, despise: the Hebrew word chamas (related to the Arabic word ḥamas) also occurs in Genesis 6:11 (“the earth was filled with violence [chamas]”). The word elsewhere describes deceit and general disregard for law and human life (Deuteronomy 19:16; Psalm 11:5; Isaiah 60:18; Ezekiel 7:23). Here, it refers to injustice.

  1. Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant (Genesis 16:5-6).
  2. Abraham’s solution was to abdicate his spiritual leadership (Genesis 16:6a).
  3. Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem (Genesis 16:6b) a tactic she learned from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). When Abraham fled to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) there was peace for a time, then trouble.

Submitting (Genesis 16:7-16)

Hagar had to submit to God: (Genesis 16:7-14) After the confrontation with the angel of the LORD (Genesis 16:11), Hagar called him GOD (Genesis 16:13). The angel called her “Sarah’s maid” (Genesis 16:8) so evidently GOD did not accept the “marriage” of these two. “The God who sees me” indicates that he is personal, concerned about abused people and unborn babies. When we submit to God, he helps us to do the tough things that we know need to be done, like returning to Sarah and apologizing for her behavior.

Sarah had to submit to God: How did Sarah feel when Hagar came back and reported that God had talked to her? This poor servant-girl? God concerned with this slave-girl’s baby? The Bible doesn’t say, but we know Hagar came back into the family and was not mistreated again.

Abraham had to submit to God: Throughout this event, he played a very passive role. He let Sarah talk him into marrying Hagar, allowed Sarah to mistreat Hagar, and let Sarah drive her out of the camp. Things went well until Isaac was born. In Genesis 21:9-10, the problems continued. Abraham did not offer any help, but later GOD made up for that (Genesis 21:13), because he was going to make Ishmael a great nation, too.

There is a great theme of life right here: Return and Submit (Genesis 16:9)

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How Does God Speak?

This is the seventh study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

John 14:15-27

Purpose: To learn to identify the means God uses to direct us.

It is very easy for us to confuse our wishes with God’s leading. Is it possible to be certain that it is God who has spoken and not our hearts playing tricks on us?

Be creative as you work together in making a list of “Top Ten Ways to Know God Has Spoken.”

How would your life be different if every decision you made was based solely on the feelings of your heart?

Just before going to the cross, Jesus spoke to his confused disciples and assured them that he would continue to lead and guide them. He said that he would give them two signs to show them that they were going in the right direction: love and the Spirit. Read John 14:15-27.

1. What promise in this passage gives you the greatest sense of assurance?

2. How will we recognize our love for God and his love for us?

Leon Morris suggests: Obedience is the mark of true love. The man who truly loves Christ in this way will be loved of the Father. It might be possible to understand from this that the Father’s love is thus merited. But this is not the thought of the passage. Jesus is saying in the first place, that love to Him is not a thing of words. If it is real it is shown in deeds. The lover keeps the commandments of the loved one. He is also saying that the Father is not indifferent to the attitude men take to the Son. This does not mean that He hands out rewards on the basis of merit. It means rather that love calls to love. Not only will the Father love such a man, but Jesus also will love Him. He further says, that He will “manifest” Himself to them. He does not explain what this means. He simply says that in some undefined way He will reveal Himself to the man who loves Him.” (The Gospel According to John [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971], p. 653)

3. Looking back at your last major decision, how did it demonstrate your love for Christ?

4. What facts are given about the identity of the Spirit?

The Spirit is given the names Counselor (John 14:16), Spirit of Truth (John 14:17) and Holy Spirit (John 14:26). These names reflect his character.

  • His origin is revealed in the phrase, “whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26).
  • His location is given in the words, “he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).
  • His purpose is declared in these words, “will teach you all things” (John 14:26) and “will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

5. What is Jesus’ purpose in having the Spirit sent to us?

Leon Morris focuses on the importance of the Spirit as teacher: “All things” is comprehensive and probably means “all that you will need to know.” The Spirit is to be the guide and teacher of the church. In addition to this he will bring back to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus had told them. John has made it clear that the disciples did not grasp the significance of a good deal that their Master taught them. It seems likely that they let slip some of the things they did not understand. . . . Jesus is now saying that the Holy Spirit will supply their lack. (Gospel According to John, pp 656-57).

6. What help can we expect from the Holy Spirit in making decisions?

Sometimes the Holy Spirit will tell a person exactly what they should do. Many people can tell about a time when guidance has been clear and specific. However, even when we are not given such specific answers, the Holy Spirit will at least teach us everything that God wants us to know in making a decision and will remind us of the knowledge we already have that bears on our decision.

7. Describe a time when you have known that the Holy Spirit was counseling you.

8. How does Jesus answer Judas’s question, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22)?

Judas asks this question with the expectation that the Messiah was supposed to reveal himself in a glorious way to all humankind. Jesus’ statements were causing him to fear that something had happened to disrupt God’s plan. The answer to Judas’ question is that love is the method of seeing. Those who love Jesus will continually be able to see him and those who do not love him will never be able to see him. The problem is NOT that Jesus has not been revealed, but that some do not have the eyes to see him.

9. Describe the special relationship you have with Christ. What has he shown you (How have you felt his love)?

10. What kind of peace is Jesus talking about in John 14:27? How does it differ from the world’s version of peace?

“The peace of which he speaks is NOT dependent on any outward circumstances, as any peace the world can give must necessarily be. Because He gives men such a peace Jesus can instruct them not to be troubled in heart nor cowardly. A Christ-given serenity excludes both. It is worth noting that in the Bible peace is given a wider and deeper meaning than in other Greek writings. For the Greeks (as for us) peace was essentially negative, the absence of war. But for the Hebrews it meant positive blessing, especially a right relationship with God” (Morris, Gospel According to John, p. 658).

11. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis for his faith, said, “Peace is the opposite of security.” What does it mean to have peace about a decision you have made?

12. What have Jesus’ words in this passage taught you about identifying God’s voice?

Pray for the ability to discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Now or Later

Moses had trouble believing that it was really God who was telling him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Read about Moses’ call in Exodus 3:1-12.

  1. If you had been Moses, how would you have reacted to the sign of authenticity that God gave in verse 12?
  2. When have you received God’s after-the-fact assurance regarding a decision you have made?
  3. Read Exodus 4:1-17. What additional signs of assurance does God give to Moses?
  4. Why do you think Moses had so much trouble believing God?
  5. What can you learn from Moses’ struggle?

Believer’s Bible:

John 14:15 The Lord Jesus was about to leave His disciples, and they would be filled with sorrow. How would they be able to express their love to Him? The answer was by keeping His commandments. Not by tears, but by obedience. The commandments of the Lord are the instructions which He has given us in the Gospels, as well as the rest of the NT.

John 14:16 The word translated pray that is used here of our Lord is NOT the same word used to describe an inferior praying to a superior, but of one making request of his equal. The Lord would pray the Father to send another Helper. The word Helper (Paraclete) means one called to the side of another to help. It is also translated Advocate (1 John 2:1). The Lord Jesus is our Advocate or Helper, and the Holy Spirit is another Helper—not another of a different kind, but another of similar nature. The Holy Spirit would abide with believers forever. In the OT, the Holy Spirit came upon men at various times, but often left them. Now He would come to remain forever.

John 14:17 The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth because His teaching is true and He glorifies Christ who is the truth. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it cannot see Him. Unbelievers want to see before they will believe—although they believe in wind and electricity, and yet they cannot see them. The unsaved do not know or understand the Holy Spirit. He may convict them of sin, and yet they do not know that it is He. The disciples knew the Holy Spirit. They had known Him to work in their own lives and had seen Him working through the Lord Jesus.

“He dwells with you, and will be in you.” Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon men and dwelt with them. But since Pentecost, when a man believes on the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in that man’s life forever. The prayer of David, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me,” would not be suitable today. The Holy Spirit is never taken from a believer, although He may be grieved, or quenched, or hindered.

John 14:18 The Lord would NOT leave His disciples as orphans, or desolate. He would come to them again. In one sense, He came to them after His resurrection, but it is doubtful if that is what is meant. In another sense, He came to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This spiritual coming is the true meaning here. “There was something about Pentecost which made it a coming of Jesus.” In a third sense, He will literally come to them again at the end of this age, when He will take His chosen ones home to heaven.

John 14:19 No unbeliever saw the Lord Jesus after His burial. After He was raised, He was seen only by those who loved Him. But even after His Ascension, His disciples continued to see Him by faith. This is doubtless meant by the words “but you will see Me.” After the world could no longer see Him, His disciples would continue to see Him. “Because I live, you will live also.” Here He was looking forward to His resurrection life. It would be the pledge of life for all who trusted Him. Even if they should die, they would be raised again to die no more.

John 14:20 “At that day” probably refers again to the descent of the Holy Spirit. He would instruct believers in the truth that just as there was a vital link between the Son and the Father, so there would be a marvelous union of life and interests between Christ and His saints. It is difficult to explain how Christ is in the believer, and the believer is in Christ at the same time. The usual illustration is of a poker in the fire. Not only is the poker in the fire, but the fire is in the poker. But this does not tell the full story. Christ is in the believer in the sense that His life is communicated to him. He actually dwells in the believer through the Holy Spirit. The believer is in Christ in the sense that he stands before God in all the merit of the Person and work of Christ.

John 14:21 The real proof of one’s love to the Lord is obedience to His commandments. It is useless to talk about loving Him if we do not want to obey Him. In one sense, the Father loves all the world. But He has a special love for those who love His Son. Those are also loved by Christ, and He makes Himself known to them in a special way. The more we love the Savior, the better we shall know Him.

John 14:22 The Judas mentioned here had the misfortune to have the same name as the traitor. But the Spirit of God kindly distinguished him from Iscariot. He could not understand how the Lord could appear to the disciples without also being seen by the world. Doubtless He thought of the Savior’s coming as that of a conquering King or popular Hero. He did NOT understand that the Lord would manifest Himself to His own in a spiritual manner. They would see Him by faith through the Word of God.

By the Spirit of God, we can actually know Christ better today than the disciples knew Him when He was on earth. When He was here, those in the front of the crowd were closer to Him than those in the rear. But today, by faith, each of us can enjoy the closest of fellowship with Him. Christ’s answer to Judas’ question shows that the promised manifestations to His individual followers is connected with the Word of God. Obedience to the Word will result in the coming and abiding of the Father and the Son.

John 14:23 If a person truly loves the Lord, he will want to keep all of His teachings, not just isolated commandments. The Father loves those who are willing to obey His Son without questions or reservations. Both Father and Son are especially near to such loving and obedient hearts.

John 14:24 On the other hand, those who do not love Him do not keep His sayings. And they are not only refusing the words of Christ, but those of the Father as well.

John 14:25 While He was with them, our Lord taught His disciples up to a certain point. He could not reveal more truth to them because they could not have taken it in.

John 14:26 But the Holy Spirit would reveal more. He was sent by the Father in the name of Christ on the day of Pentecost. The Spirit came in Christ’s name in the sense that He came to represent Christ’s interests on earth. He did not come to glorify Himself but to draw men and women to the Savior. “He will teach you all things,” said the Lord. He did this first of all through the spoken ministry of the apostles; then through the written Word of God which we have today. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance all the things which the Savior had taught. Actually, the Lord Jesus seems to have presented in germ form all the teaching which is developed by the Holy Spirit in the rest of the NT.

John 14:27 A person who is about to die usually writes a last will and testament in which he leaves his possessions to his loved ones. Here the Lord Jesus was doing that very thing. However, He did not bequeath material things but something that money could not buy—peace, inward peace of conscience that arises from a sense of pardoned sin and of reconciliation with God. Christ can GIVE it because He PURCHASED it with His own blood at Calvary. It is not given as the world gives—sparingly, selfishly, and for a short time. His gift of peace is forever. Why then should a Christian be troubled or afraid?

Warren Wiersbe


No wonder the disciples were troubled (John 14:1, 27): Jesus was going to leave them, one of them would betray Him, and Peter would deny Him. Jesus encouraged them by telling them about Himself and the Father.

Jesus takes us to the Father (John 14:1–6). We have a home in heaven when life is over, and we shall meet Jesus and the Father. James M. Gray wrote, “Who could mind the journey when the road leads home?” Blessed assurance!

Jesus reveals the Father (John 14:7–11). In what He said (John 7:16) and did (John 5:19) during His earthly ministry, Jesus revealed the Father: “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). How can we not love the Father when He is like Jesus?

Jesus glorifies the Father (John 14:12–18). He does it through His people as they do God’s works and keep His commandments. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, we could never glorify the Lord.

Jesus and the Father dwell with us (John 14:19–31). It is one thing for us to go to heaven and quite something else for heaven to come to us! There is a deeper fellowship with the Son and the Father for those who love Him, seek Him, and obey Him. We experience His peace as we commune with the Father and the Son in love.

Jesus is the way to the Father; He reveals the truth about the Father; and He shares the life of the Father with us. Why should our hearts be troubled?

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Decision-Making and Prayer

This is the sixth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8

Purpose: To encourage us to keep praying about the decisions we face.

Billy Graham has said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.”

What has been your most amazing answer to prayer?

Corrie ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” How would you have answered her?

Although most Christians believe in praying about important decisions, they often make their decisions without prayer. There are many reasons for this: They question whether the particular decision they are facing requires prayer. They do not have time to pray because a decision is needed immediately. They do not know what to ask. They don’t really believe that God will give them an answer. Even Jesus’ closest disciples needed instruction in prayer. Read Luke 11:1-13.

1. What one idea about prayer stands out to you the most in these verses?

2. What kinds of things does Jesus tell us we should pray for in Luke 11:2-4?

The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer include

  • “Father, hallowed be your name” – a request for a proper attitude toward God
  • “Your kingdom come” – a desire for God’s kingdom to be fully realized
  • “Give us each day our daily bread” – acknowledgment of our continual dependence on God
  • “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” – a recognition of the need to forgive and be forgiven
  • “And lead us not into temptation”-a realization of our weakness and the ease with which we give way to the temptations of the world.

3. Which of these has been most prominent and most lacking in your own prayer life?

4. How would you feel about a friend who would be so persistent in bothering you in the middle of the night (Luke 11:5-8)?

5. How would you characterize the awakened neighbor?

Here’s some helpful background information: The setting is a small village where there are no shops. A household would bake its bread each morning. Jesus pictures a man whose household has used its supply and on whom a journeying friend makes an unexpected call. It is at midnight, which probably means that the friend had traveled after dark to avoid the heat. The man must feed his friend, for hospitality was a sacred duty. So he goes to another friend for three loaves, after all, three small loaves which would suffice for one man. But this second householder has shut his door and gone to bed with his children. Evidently he was a poor man living in a one-roomed house. The whole family would sleep on a raised platform at one end of such a room, possibly with the animals at floor level. A man in such a situation could not get up without disturbing the whole family. He raises no difficulty about giving the bread, but the bother of getting up is quite another matter. It is much easier to stay where he is.

6. How does the awakened neighbor differ from God?

The point of this parable is that God is not like the awakened friend. If even an imperfect human being, notwithstanding the inconvenience to which he is put, will arise at midnight to give a friend what he needs if he comes and asks him for help, how much more will God, the heavenly Friend, who is perfect in love, listen to the sincere prayers and supplications of His children who are really in need!

7. In what ways are we to be like the persistent neighbor?

It is important that we should remember that in the parable there is a friendship existing between the one who asks and the one who rises and gives, and that the request arises out of necessity and not out of selfishness.

8. How are we to practice asking, seeking and knocking?

The lesson is clear. We must not play at prayer, but must show persistence if we do not receive the answer immediately. It is not that God is unwilling and must be pressed into answering. The whole context makes it clear that He is eager to give. But if we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much. It is not such weak prayer that is answered.

9. What assurance do we have that God will give us good gifts (Luke 11:11-13)?

No regenerate child of God should ever doubt that when he prays to God out of real need his prayer will be answered. He who doubts this does Him the greatest dishonor, for by not believing that He will give what we really need we in fact appear to regard Him as less sympathetic and less faithful than an ordinary earthly friend. Therefore unbelief in relation to the answering of prayer is not only a weakness, but a serious sin and utter folly.

10. Read Luke 18:1-8. Why would Jesus compare God to an unjust judge? How does this comparison help Jesus to make his point?

Jesus is certainly not suggesting that God is like the unjust judge. This is a parable of contrasts. If a wicked man can sometimes be cajoled into doing something good, then how much more will God do right.

11. When in your prayer life have you felt like the widow in this parable? How do you think that God would prefer that you pray?

The widow stands in “sharp contrast to the elect of God who call upon Him in prayer. In the eye of the unjust judge she is an unknown, troublesome person in whom he takes no interest and about whose fate he does not worry. But the chosen ones of God are well known to Him and loved by Him, and He takes the keenest interest in them.

12. How do the lessons of these parables apply to your prayers concerning your decisions?

Thank God for his past answers to your prayers and ash again for his guidance in the decisions you face.

Now or Later

“Reading a book about prayer, listening to lectures and talking about it is very good, but it won’t teach you to pray. You get nothing without exercise, without practice. I might listen for a year to a professor of music playing the most beautiful music, but that won’t teach me to play an instrument” (Andrew Murray, “The Spiritual Life,” Christianity Today 34, no. 2).

Outline of Luke 11 – Warren Wiersbe

His Generosity (Luke 11:1–13). If Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Twelve all needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray! We must put God’s concerns first (Luke 11:2–4), because prayer is based on sonship, not friendship. God is a loving Father, not a grouchy neighbor; He gives us what we need. He neither slumbers nor sleeps; and He doesn’t become irritated when we ask for help (James 1:5).

His Authority (Luke 11:14–36). More dangerous than open hostility (Luke 11:14–22) is attempted neutrality (Luke 11:23–26), for an empty life is an opportunity for Satan to move in and take over. The only sign we need is the “sign of Jonah,” our Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:22–36). Jesus has won the victory over the prince of darkness. Obey Satan and you let in darkness rather than light, and soon you will not be able to distinguish between them (Matthew 6:22–23).

His Honesty (Luke 11:37–54). He was a guest in the home, but Jesus did not flatter His host or the other guests by avoiding the truth. He exposed their hypocrisy and condemned them for their sins (Matthew 23). They defiled people (Luke 11:44), burdened them (Luke 11:46), and locked the door on them (Luke 11:52), all the while posing as holy men of God. Instead of taking the opportunity of repenting and being forgiven, they opposed Jesus and attacked Him. What fools!

Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in Heaven, but for getting God’s will done in earth. -Robert Law

Outline of Luke 18 – Warren Wiersbe

Confident Prayer (Luke 18:1–8). If an unjust judge helps a poor widow, how much more will a loving Father meet the needs of His children? We have open access into His treasury (Romans 5:2) and can claim His gracious promises (Luke 11:9–10), so we ought to pray with faith and confidence. No need to argue—just come!

Arrogant Prayer (Luke 18:9–17). True prayer should humble us and make us love others more. We should be like children coming to a Father and not like attorneys bringing an indictment. If prayer doesn’t bless the one praying, it isn’t likely to help anybody else.

Ignorant Prayer (Luke 18:18–34). Although the young man had many good qualities, one of them was not spiritual understanding. He did not really see himself, Jesus or the peril he was in because of his riches. The publican went away justified (Luke 18:14) while the young man went away sorrowful (Luke 18:23). What happens at the close of your prayers?

Persistent Prayer (Luke 18:35–43). The blind man was not to be stopped! He had his great opportunity, and he would not let it pass. Our Lord stopped, looked, listened—and healed! Jesus is not too busy to hear you. Just be sure you are in earnest when you pray.

The revelation of our spiritual standing is what we ask in prayer; sometimes what we ask is an insult to God; we ask with our eyes on the possibilities or on ourselves, not on Jesus Christ. -Oswald Chambers

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What About Some Good Advice?

This is the fifth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

2 Timothy 3:10-4:8

Purpose: To learn to distinguish between good and bad advice.

It is said that “advice is cheap,” which is probably due to the fact that there are more people selling it than buying it. The book of Proverbs, however, encourages us to value advice when it teaches, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

What is the best and worst advice you have been given? What happened when you followed each?

How do you normally react to people who give you advice: (a) appreciative? (b) resentful? (c) indifferent? (d) skeptical? What does this tell you about yourself?

Second Timothy is a letter the apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor he had trained. In it, he encourages Timothy to stand strong in a world full of godlessness, false teaching and bad advice. Read 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8.

1. What information does Paul give about his character and suffering?

2. Why is it important to consider the character of those we seek advice from?

John Stott suggests: No, Paul is not boasting. He has reasons quite other than exhibitionism for drawing attention to himself. He mentions his teaching first, and then goes on to supply two objective evidences of the genuineness of his teaching, namely the life he lived and the sufferings he endured. Indeed, these are good (though not infallible) general tests of a person’s sincerity, and even of the truth or falsehood of his system. Is he so convinced of his position that he both practices what he preaches and is prepared to suffer for it? Have his beliefs made him a better man, even in the face of opposition? Paul could answer both questions affirmatively. The false teachers lived lives of self-indulgence, and it would be quite out of character to expect them to be willing to suffer for their views; they were altogether too soft and easygoing for that. The apostle Paul, however, lived a consistent life of righteousness, self-control, faith and love, and remained steadfast to his principles through many and grievous persecution. (Guard the Gospel [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973], pp. 94-95)

3. According to the criteria given in 2 Timothy 3:10-11, who do you know that you might go to for advice?

4. How was Timothy to evaluate the advice he received from others, including Paul (2 Timothy 3: 14-15)?

Timothy is told to evaluate what others say based on the convictions he has built over time. Those convictions have been given to him by Scripture and by people whose character he knows and trusts namely his mother, his grandmother and Paul. A Christian must stand firm on what he knows of the truth, like a rock resists the increasing fury of the waves.

5. Why was Paul such a good mentor for Timothy?

6. Focus on 2 Timothy 3:15-17. What is the purpose of Scripture?

Paul says that Scripture will make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). By this he means, “the Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation. Its over-arching purpose is to teach not facts of science (e.g. the nature of moon rock) which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which no space exploration can discover but only God can reveal” (Stott, Guard the Gospel, p. 102). Paul goes on to show that Scripture teaches us both what to believe and how to behave.

7. How can Scripture be used in helping us to make decisions?

Since Scripture teaches us how to behave, all such teaching will come to bear on our decisions. We should never make a decision that will cause us to act or believe in a way that is contrary to Scripture.

When Paul speaks of all Scripture, he is definitely referring to the complete OT, but also to those portions of the NT that were then in existence.

  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, he quotes the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7) as Scripture.
  • Peter speaks of Paul’s Epistles as Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16).

Today we are justified in applying the verse to the entire Bible.

This is one of the most important verses in the Bible on the subject of inspiration. It teaches that the Scriptures are God-breathed. In a miraculous way, He communicated His word to men and led them to write it down for permanent preservation. What they wrote was the very word (and message) of God. While it is true that the individual literary style of the writer comes through, it is also true that the words are the same as the Holy Spirit intended. So, we read in 1 Corinthians 2:13: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” If this verse says anything at all, it says that the inspired writers used words which the Holy Spirit taught.

The writers of the Bible did not give their own private interpretation of things, but wrote the message which was given to them by God. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

It is false to say that God simply gave the thoughts to the individual writers and allowed them to express these thoughts in their own words. The truth insisted on in the Scriptures is that the very words originally given by God to men were God-breathed.

Because the Bible is the word of God, it is profitable. Every portion of it is profitable. Although man might wonder about some of the genealogies or obscure passages, yet the Spirit-taught mind will realize that there is spiritual nourishment in every word that has proceeded from the mouth of God.

The Bible is profitable for doctrine, or teaching. It sets forth the mind of God with regard to such themes as the Trinity, angels, man, sin, salvation, sanctification, the church, and future events. (This is the way we should live, to walk on the path).

The Bible is profitable for reproof. As we read the Bible, it speaks to us pointedly concerning those things in our lives which are displeasing to God. Also, it is profitable for refuting error and for answering the tempter. (This tells us where got off the path).

The Bible is profitable for correction. It not only points out what is wrong but sets forth the way in which it can be made right. For instance, the Scriptures not only say, “Let him who stole steal no longer,” but add, “Rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.” The first part of the verse might be considered as reproof, whereas the second part is correction. (This tells us how to get back on the path).

The Bible is profitable for instruction in righteousness. The grace of God teaches us to live godly lives, but the word of God traces out in detail the things which go to make up a godly life. (This tells us how to stay on the path).

8. How might Scripture be misused in decision making? How can you avoid this?

This question is not directly answered in the passage, but by understanding the purposes of Scripture, we will also come to understand what it is not intended to do. The Bible generally teaches principles of behavior that will guide us in reaching a decision. For example, if a person is considering whether or not to marry a particular person, the Bible can help the couple examine their motives and desires. The Bible cannot be expected to give a yes or no answer as if it were a crystal ball.

9. What does good advice consist of according to 2 Timothy 4:1-7

Good advice will…

  1. Take into account that Christ is coming back and will judge us for what we have done
  2. Be relevant in that it will correct, rebuke and encourage according to the needs of the one being advised
  3. Be patient so that it will not pressure or attempt to contrive a decision; and
  4. Contain careful instruction which guides a person intellectually

10. Why might some people be motivated to give bad advice?

Paul warns that people will substitute their own desires for God’s truth. They will judge teachers by their own subjective taste instead of by the authority of God’s Word. In order to be popular or to gain an audience, teachers will be tempted to say what people want to hear.

11. How can you avoid having “itchy ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) as you seek advice?

12. How will this study change the way in which you seek advice?

Pray for God’s guidance as you study Scripture and seek advice.

Now or Later

A contrast between people with “itchy ears” and people who know how to accept advice is found in Acts. Read Acts 17:1-12.

  1. In what ways does Paul follow the principles of good advice you discovered in 2 Timothy?
  2. Why did the people of Thessalonica not listen to Paul’s advice?
  3. How is this similar to the people with “itchy ears” in 2 Timothy?
  4. How is it similar to people in your community?
  5. What is commendable about the Berean style of evaluating advice?
  6. Have you been more like a Thessalonian or a Berean in accepting advice?

Warren Wiersbe


Perilous in 2 Timothy 3:1 means “difficult,” “hard to deal with,” or “dangerous.” It is the same Greek word used to describe the demoniac in Matthew 8:28 and translated “exceedingly fierce.” How do we live for Christ in such terrible times?

Expect them (2 Timothy 3:1–9). The person who is looking for a soon-coming paradise on earth is destined for disappointment. To expect these perilous times is to become not a pessimist but a realist. Note the emphasis on the wrong kind of love (2 Timothy 2, 4).

Follow the right examples (2 Timothy 3:10–12). We tend to emulate the people we admire, so be careful about the heroes you select. Modern-day Christian celebrities may not exemplify the life-style God wants us to have.

Stay with the Bible (2 Timothy 3:13-17). Believe God’s Word will…

  1. Save you (2 Timothy 3:15)
  2. Mature you from childhood to adulthood (2 Timothy 3:15, 17)
  3. Equip you to serve the Lord (2 Timothy 3:17).

Satanic deception is rampant today and has infected the church (2 Timothy 3:13), and the only weapon that defeats the deceivers is God’s inspired Word.


Christ is coming (2 Timothy 4:1)! In view of all this(that which he tells us in chapter 3), we must know our task and be faithful to do it. Review 2 Corinthians 5:9–11, and read 1 John 2:28–3:2.

Apostasy is coming (2 Timothy 4:2-5)! Indeed, it is now here. Many professed Christians have no “ear” for the Word of God. They prefer religious entertainment and sermons that will tickle their ears instead of cut their hearts.

Departure is coming (2 Timothy 4:6-8)! Paul saw his approaching death as the offering of a sacrifice to God (2 Timothy 4:6; Philippians 2:17), the ending of a difficult race (2 Timothy 4:7), and the gaining of a glorious crown (2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10). This is the victor’s crown given to winners at the Greek Olympic Games.

Help is coming (2 Timothy 4:9-22)! Paul was greatly disappointed when the people he had ministered to turned away from him and were ashamed of his bonds. He asked Timothy to come as soon as possible and to bring Mark with him. But best of all, the Lord came to Paul and encouraged him! No matter what His people may do, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you (Acts 18:9–11; Hebrews 13:5–6).

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How to Make Wise Decisions

This is the fourth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Proverbs 3:1-26, the purpose is to help recognize the factors that make for a wise decision.

Although knowledge will help us in making decisions, it is even more critical that we choose wisely. Wisdom combines good judgment, knowledge, experience and understanding, but it is different than any of these.

What was created even before the world was founded? Proverbs 8:22-31, 3:19-20

What is a definition of wisdom? After listening to each other, how would you now change your answers?

  1. Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning (knowledge)
  2. Ability to discern inner qualities and relationships (insight)
  3. Good sense (judgment)
  4. Generally accepted belief
  5. The ability to see beneath the surface of things
  6. A wise attitude, belief, or course of action
  7. The teachings of the ancient wise men

What is wisdom? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

The dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” This is a theme that is recurring throughout the Bible. We know that knowledge, on the other hand, is defined as having information through experience, reasoning or acquaintance. God wants us to have knowledge of him and what he expects of us. But equally important is having wisdom. Knowing facts about God and the Bible is not all there is to having wisdom.

Wisdom is a gift from God. James 1:5 says “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Wisdom is what God will bless us with in order for us to glorify Him with the knowledge we have of Him.

The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best book in the Bible to study when seeking to learn biblical wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 also clearly explains what it means to have biblical knowledge: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” When we fear the Lord, which is the most basic form of knowledge, God can then begin to provide us with wisdom through Jesus, whom the Bible says is wisdom itself. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Knowledge is what is gathered over time through study of the Scriptures. It can be said that wisdom, in turn, reveals itself by acting upon that knowledge. In other words, knowledge manifesting itself in any given situation through wisdom. If one lacks knowledge, he will also lack wisdom. The two go hand-in-hand.

Who do you consider to be wise? How has his or her wisdom been demonstrated?

The book of Proverbs offers practical advice through poetry; short, pithy sayings; and vivid comparisons. The main point of the book is that we should always seek the wisdom of God.

1. This passage describes many benefits of wisdom. Which of them are most attractive to you?

2. According to Proverbs 3:1-12, what characterizes a wise decision?

Wise decisions consist of following wise teaching, being motivated by love and faithfulness, trusting in the Lord, going God’s way instead of our way, giving to God generously, and submitting to God’s discipline. A decision made on the basis of these criteria is promised to bring great reward.

3. Why is a commitment to “love and faithfulness” (Proverbs 3:3) important to making a wise decision?

A decision that is based on love and faithfulness is given the promise of winning favor with God and humanity. A decision that is NOT motivated by love and faithfulness will allow us to become self-serving.

4. Some people would argue that it is unwise to trust anyone but yourself. How would you answer them after reading Proverbs 3:5-8?

Proverbs 3:5-8 “are to Christ’s disciples what the wedding ceremony is to newlyweds. They spell out what is and is not to be done within the relationship. They set the terms of what it means to live with God at the outset of our commitment to Him and through every step of our pilgrimage. They are the ‘to have and to hold from this day forward’ of our marriage-covenant with God” (David Hubbard).

5. Why is it wise to “honor the Lord with your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9) instead of spending it on yourself? How have you done this?

The principle of firstfruits comes from Deuteronomy 26:1-15. It is the practice of giving God the first produce to ripen and be harvested. To give the firstfruits is an act of trust because the giver has no guarantee that the rest of the crop will actually be harvested. “Prosperity, gratitude, and charity are an indivisible triad of experiences in biblical thought, and notably in Proverbs” (Hubbard).

6. How do people today “despise the Lord’s discipline” (Proverbs 3:11)?

To “despise” and “reject” God’s discipline is the opposite of the trust that is spoken of in Proverbs 3:5-8. People despise discipline when they live in denial, make excuses or pass blame.

7. What role has God’s discipline played in making you wiser (Proverbs 3:11-12)?

8. What makes wisdom so valuable (Proverbs 3:13-17)?

Wisdom is valuable because it provides understanding, brings prosperity, lengthens a person’s life and gives peace.

9. How can you “embrace” wisdom (Proverbs 3:18)?

10. According to Proverbs 3:19-26, what can wisdom accomplish?

We know that our world is a fruit of God’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:19-20). Since we can clearly see what God’s wisdom has already accomplished, the author now assures us of what it can do for each of us personally. Wisdom will give us life, keep us safe, banish fear and build our confidence.

11. In what ways are you like and unlike the person described in Proverbs 3:2l-26?

12. What can you do to become more like the wise person pictured here?

13. What have these proverbs taught you about wisdom and how to find it?

Pray for godly wisdom in the decisions you face.

Now or Later: Read Jesus’ parable about wisdom and foolishness in Matthew 7:24-27.

The wise and foolish man both faced the same decision where and how to build a house-but they made very different choices.

  1. What factors do you think influenced their decision making process?
  2. Why are so many foundations built on sand?
  3. What does this parable teach you about making wise choices and avoiding foolish ones?

Open Bible Notes:

  • Proverbs 3:1-2 – The connection between keeping God’s commands and enjoying long life is supported by the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12).
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 – These verses, worthy of being memorized, which sum up the biblical approach to life. Wisdom is not the result of mere human insight, but of learning God’s unchanging ways.
  • Proverbs 3:7 – Fear the LORD … depart from evil (see Job 1:1).
  • Proverbs 3:9 – To honor the LORD meant to give Him the portion of material goods that He required (Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 9-13). Firstfruits were the first items harvested, and often the best.
  • Proverbs 3:24-26 – Serving God saves us from many fears.
  • Proverbs 3:27-30 – The wise person does not delay payment. Delay may lead to misunderstanding and strife.

Warren Wiersbe:

Your heart (Proverbs 3:1-8). What you do with your heart determines what you do with your life (Proverbs 4:23).

  • Cultivate an obedient heart (Proverbs 3:1) that
  • Receives God’s Word (Proverbs 3:3, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3) and
  • A trusting heart that obeys (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Proverbs 3:5 does not suggest that you ignore your mind or common sense, but that you not lean only on them and reject God’s way.

Your possessions (Proverbs 3:9-20). Put God first in the way you use His wealth (Matthew 6:33) and major on the things that money cannot buy (Proverbs 3:13-18). When God corrects you, accept it as an evidence of His love (Hebrews 12:5-6).

Your conduct (Proverbs 3:21-26). Let every part of your body be controlled by God’s wisdom (Romans 12:1-2). Restful sleep is one of the tests of faith and true surrender to God (Psalm 4:8).

Your neighbors (Proverbs 3:27-35). If you want God’s blessing on your home, be a blessing to those around you. Share what you have and never plan evil against others (Romans 12:9-21).

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God’s Unique Design

This is the third study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Because each of us is different, God’s plan for each of us is also different. If we are to know that plan, we must know ourselves; our gifts, talents, strengths and shortcomings. So, if we want to make better decisions based on God’s will, it is a good this to look at how we are wired.

In the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans, Paul tells about the facts of the gospel. Beginning with chapter 12, he speaks of the practical implications of the gospel for our behavior. His words have much to say about God’s plan and direction for our lives.

1. After reading this chapter, how would you define a “living sacrifice?”

John Stott makes the following comments about the living sacrifice: It is not to be offered in the temple courts or in the church building, but rather in home life and in the marketplace. It is the presentation of our bodies to God. This blunt reference to our bodies was calculated to shock some of Paul’s Greek readers. Brought up on Platonic thought, they will have regarded the body as an embarrassing encumbrance. . . . Still today some Christians feel self-conscious about their bodies. The traditional evangelical invitation is that we give our “hearts” to God, not our “bodies.” . . . But Paul is clear that the presentation of our bodies is our spiritual act of worship. It is a significant Christian paradox. No worship is pleasing to God when it is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies.

2. Romans 12:2 says that being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” will allow us to “test and approve what God’s will is.” What is a renewed mind? How does it differ from a mind that has been conformed “to the pattern of this world?”

“These two value systems (this world and God’s will) are incomparable, even in direct collision with one another. Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life or the meaning of life, about how to measure greatness or how to respond to evil, about ambition, sex, honesty, money, community, religion or anything else, the two sets of standards diverge so completely that there is no possibility of compromise. No wonder Karl Barth called Christian ethics ‘the great disturbance,’ so violently does it challenge, interrupt and upset the tranquil status quo” (John Stott).

3. How do our minds become either conformed or renewed?

“Because human beings are inveterate conformists, the temptation to simply fit into the picture and fade into the scenery can be practically overwhelming. The committed life, however, is shown by the degree in which the believer stays in the secular world without being trapped by it and without failing to be a witness to it. The tension is aptly described by the Master’s words explaining that we are ‘in the world but not of it'” (Stuart Briscoe).

4. What disciplines are helping you to renew your mind?

5. What responsibility do you have to “test and approve what God’s will is”? How can you take this responsibility seriously?

“[Paul] does not promise that the careless, the casual, and the uncommitted will somehow land on their feet and find out that they did God’s will by accident. Rather he states that those who genuinely do what is required will find in their own experience the reality of the sweet will of God” (Briscoe).

6. What does Romans 12:3-8 teach about God’s plan for the Christian community?

“Diversity, not uniformity, is the mark of God’s handiwork. It is so in nature; it is so in grace, too, and nowhere more so than in the Christian community. Here are many men and women with the most diverse kinds of parentage, environment, temperament, and capacity. Not only so, but since they became Christians they have been endowed by God with a great variety of spiritual gifts as well. Yet because and by means of that diversity, all can co-operate for the good of the whole” (F. F. Bruce).

7. What is meant by making a “sober judgment” of yourself (Romans 12:3)?

“By this expression Paul means that God equips each believer for a particular task and expects him to discover and fulfill his special role in the context of the believing community. Once this is understood, the believer is delivered from a number of potential miscalculations. He will not aspire to be more than God intends him to be, but he will not settle for being less than he was created and redeemed to be. Accordingly, he will be delivered from an arrogance which is destructive of harmony in the body of believers and will be content to make a ‘sober’ evaluation of his own gifts and calling” (Briscoe).

8. How will failure to do this lead you off track in understanding God’s will?

9. As you look at yourself with “sober judgment,” what do you believe to be your function and gifts in the body?

10. How has an understanding of your gifts helped you to “test and approve what God’s will is?”

11. How does Romans 12:9-21 tell us that we should be treating other people?

“Mutual love, sympathy and honor within the brotherhood of believers are to be expected, but something more is enjoined here love and forgiveness to those outside the fellowship, and not least to those who persecute them and wish them ill” (Bruce).

12. Why would it be futile to seek God’s will if we are not being renewed in our love for others?

13. Continue to make a sober judgment of yourself by evaluating whether you have been conformed or transformed according to each of the ethical instructions in Romans 12:9-21.

Read Romans 12:9-21 aloud, pausing after each phrase to respond silently to God. Your response should be either, “Thank you, Lord, for the transformation in my life,” or “I confess that I have been conformed to the world.”

Ask God to continually renew your mind, and confess to him where you have been conformed to the pattern of this world.

Now or Later: Make a list of the spiritual gifts that are mentioned in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31; and Ephesians 4:11-13.

1. Write out a definition for each of these gifts.

2. Which of these gifts has God given you? Remember to take the free online inventory at www.TeamMinistry.com

Warren Wiersbe Writes About Romans 12:

The biblical pattern is to relate doctrine and duty, for what you believe must determine how you behave. In these closing chapters, Paul discusses your relationship with the Lord (Romans 12:1–2), yourself (Romans 12:3), the church (Romans 12:4–16), and your enemies (12:17–21).

Transformation (Romans 12:1-2). The Spirit of God transforms your life by renewing your mind (2 Corinthians 3:18), but He cannot do this unless you give Him your body. When you give yourself to God in spiritual worship, you become a living sacrifice to the glory of God.

Evaluation (Romans 12:3). To think more highly of yourself, or less highly, is sin, so have a proper estimate of who you are and what God has given you (Galatians 6:3–5).

Cooperation (Romans 12:4-16). You are part of the body of Christ with a ministry to fulfill, so do your part lovingly and joyfully.

Vindication (Romans 12:17-21). If yours is a godly life, you are bound to have enemies (Matt. 5:10–12; 2 Tim. 3:12); but leave all judgment to the Lord. If you let the Lord have His way, He will use your enemies to build you and make you more like Christ.


Believers are not of the world any more than Christ is of the world. However, they are sent into the world to testify that its works are evil and that salvation is available to all who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not only be separated from the world; we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind, which means that we should think the way God thinks, as revealed in the Bible. Then we can experience the direct guidance of God in our lives. And we will find that, instead of being distasteful and hard, His will is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here, then, are three keys for knowing God’s will.

  1. The first is a yielded body
  2. The second a separated life
  3. The third a transformed mind

Take a look at the document on the Spiritual Gifts Descriptions found in Romans 12. If you’re up to it, I designed an Spiritual Gifts Discovery inventory years ago, a PDF document that ads your score on the tally sheet at the end.

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Hard & Painful Decisions

This is session two of my study on Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance. This section looks closely at Acts 20:17-21:14

The purpose today is to observe a case study of how God enabled a person to follow his will even when it was painful.

“We are not necessarily doubting,” said C. S. Lewis, “that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Describe a time when God’s best has been painful for you. How has this experience affected you?

Do you ever fear God’s will? When and why?

The apostle Paul made a momentous decision to return to Jerusalem. Even though many Christians urged Paul not to go and warned him that he would be arrested in Jerusalem, still Paul remained convinced that this was what he should do. As he traveled, he made several brief stops to visit friends, explain his decision and say farewell.

1. If you had been in Paul’s position, would you have gone to Jerusalem? Why or why not?

2. For Paul, what were the issues involved in his decision to go to Jerusalem?

“His overriding concern is not at all costs to survive, but rather that he may finish the race and complete his Christ-given task of bearing witness to the good news of God’s grace” (John R. W. Stott).

3. What do you find admirable about Paul’s convictions? The words of Thomas a Kempis may be helpful in answering this question. He wrote:

“Jesus hath now many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross. He hath many desirous of comfort, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions of his table, but few of his abstinence. All desire to rejoice with him, few are willing to endure anything for him. Many follow Jesus unto the breaking of bread; but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. . . . Many love Jesus so long as adversities do not happen. Many praise and bless him, so long as they receive comforts from him.” (The Imitation of Christ).

4. How are your convictions similar to or different from Paul’s?

5. What price have you had to pay for your convictions?

6. If God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, why did the Holy Spirit give so many warnings not to go?

The warnings were given not to discourage Paul, but to warn him. John Stott draws a distinction between a prediction and a prohibition:

The better solution is to draw a distinction between a prediction and a prohibition. Certainly Agabus only predicted that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11); the pleadings with Paul which followed are not attributed to the Spirit and may have been the fallible (indeed mistaken) human deduction from the Spirit’s prophecy. For if Paul had heeded his friends’ pleas, then Agabus’ prophecy would not have been fulfilled! It is more difficult to understand Acts 21:4 in this way, since the “urging” itself is said to be “through the Spirit.” But perhaps Luke’s statement is a condensed way of saying that the warning was divine while the urging was human. After all, the Spirit’s word to Paul combined the compulsion to go with a warning of the consequences (Acts 20:22-23).

7. How did Paul’s meetings with various communities of disciples encourage and prepare him to enter Jerusalem?

Even though Paul’s friends mistook the prophecy of hardship and imminent suffering for a sign that God did not want Paul in Jerusalem, they were still used as God’s agents of encouragement. They gave a message from the Holy Spirit that confirmed the one Paul had already received, they demonstrated that Paul was deeply loved by them and by God, and they prayed with him.

8. How has God encouraged and prepared you for difficult times in your life?

9. Many Christians expect God’s will to be the most pleasant and trouble-free alternative, but from Paul’s experience, that is apparently not so. What would be better criteria for interpreting God’s will?

  • First, to know God’s will we must first accept God’s salvation in Christ. It is God’s will that none should perish.
  • Second, to know God’s will we must be obedient to God’s word as recorded in the Scriptures. We find 90 percent of God’s will right there.
  • Third, to know God’s will we must pray and earnestly seek His direction.
  • Fourth, to know God’s will we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. (George and Donald Sweeting)

10. In your decision-making process, have you usually been more concerned about personal comfort or following God? How has this been shown?

11. Acts 21:14 says that in the end, the disciples “gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.'” Why is it so often difficult to give in to the Lord’s will?

When the people said, “The Lord’s will be done,” they were making a positive affirmation, not a stoic resignation. To make such a statement is a cry of faith and trust that “God is good, all the time!”

12. What are you having difficulty giving up to God’s will?

Pray for each person in your group who is facing a difficult or painful decision.

Now or Later: A vivid description of someone facing a painful decision is found in the story of Jesus at Gethsemane. Read Mark 14:32-42.

  1. Compare and contrast Jesus’ decision to go to the cross with Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem.
  2. What encouragement do Jesus’ and Paul’s examples give you for facing your own painful choices?
  3. What do you learn from these stories about how to encourage a friend who is facing a painful decision?


Acts 20:22-23 Having reviewed his past conduct among the Ephesians, the apostle now looks ahead to the sufferings that await him. He was constrained in his spirit to go to Jerusalem. It was an inner compulsion, which he was apparently unable to throw off. Although he did not know exactly what the turn of events would be in Jerusalem, he did know that chains and tribulations would be a regular part of his life. The Holy Spirit had been making this fact known to him in every city, perhaps through the ministry of prophets, or perhaps by the mysterious, inner communication of divine intelligence.

Acts 20:24 As the apostle weighed this outlook in his mind, he did not think that his own life was the great consideration. His ambition was to obey God and to please Him. If in doing this, he would be called upon to offer up his life, he was willing to do so. No sacrifice he could make would be too great for the One who died for him. All that mattered was that he finish his race and complete the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. No title could better express the good news which Paul preached—the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 21:4b It was during this time that these disciples told Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. This raises the age-old question as to whether Paul was deliberately disobedient in going to Jerusalem, whether he unwittingly failed to discern the mind of the Lord, or whether he was actually in the will of God in going. A casual reading of verse 4b might seem to indicate that the apostle was willful and headstrong, acting in deliberate defiance of the Spirit. However, a more careful reading might indicate that Paul did not actually know that these warnings were given through the Spirit. Luke, the historian, tells his readers that the advice of the Tyrian disciples was Spirit-inspired, but he does not say that the apostle knew this as a definite fact. It seems far more probable that Paul interpreted the advice of his friends as calculated to save him from physical suffering or even death. In his love for his Jewish countrymen, he did not feel that his physical well-being was the important consideration.

Acts 21:10-11 During Paul’s stay in Caesarea, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. It was the same prophet who came to Antioch from Jerusalem and predicted the famine which took place during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28). Now he took Paul’s belt and bound his own hands and feet with it. By this dramatic action, like many of the prophets before him, he was acting out his message. Then he gave the meaning of the object lesson. Just as he had bound himself, hands and feet, so would the Jews of Jerusalem bind the hands and feet of Paul and deliver him over to the Gentile authorities. Paul’s service for the Jews (symbolized by the belt) would result in his being captured by them.

Acts 21:12-14 When the apostle’s companions and the Christians in Caesarea heard this, they pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. But he could not sympathize with their concern. Their tears only served to break his heart. Should the fear of chains and imprisonment restrain him from doing what he considered to be God’s will? He would have them know that he was ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. All their arguments proved of no value. He was determined to go, and so they simply said, “The will of the Lord be done.”

It is difficult to believe that Paul’s parting words were spoken by a man who was knowingly disobeying the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We know that the disciples in Tyre told him through the Spirit that he should not go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). But did Paul know they spoke through the Spirit? And did not the Lord later seem to approve his trip to Jerusalem when He said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11)?

Two things are clear:

  1. First, Paul did not think his personal safety was the main consideration in serving the Lord.
  2. Second, the Lord overruled all these events for His glory.

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Why is God Silent?

This is the first study in my Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance class, Wednesdays at King’s Grant Baptist Church.

The purpose today is to show that our sinfulness has blocked communication with God and to see that he will direct us as we obey.

When have you ever fasted? Why or why not?

What benefit did you experience?

An enemy of Joan of Arc once mocked her by jeering, “She says she hears God’s voice; why don’t I hear his voice?” It is reported that Joan replied, “Don’t you wish you did?”

1. If you could ask God one question and be assured of an answer, what would it be?

2. Why have you begun a Bible study on making decisions? Begin by praying that God will lead you in the decision you are facing.

In the year 537 B.C., Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed a small number of his Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. The foundation for the new temple was quickly laid, but then the political situation became uncertain, circumstances interrupted, and economic troubles became so severe that the operation was discontinued. Isaiah 58 is a message for these confused and off-track people.

1. What frustrations do the people feel with God?

The return to Jerusalem had not proven to be the grand, all-transforming experience the people had expected. Fresh troubles continued to make life just as hard or harder than it had been in captivity. The people were asking for God’s help but felt that he was ignoring them.

2. When have you felt a similar frustration with him?

3. What have the people done to try to gain God’s guidance? In what ways did God’s people seem to do the right things (Isaiah 58:1-3a)?

The phrases “they seek me out,” “ask me for just decisions” and “we humbled ourselves” (Isaiah 58:2-3) indicate that the people have come to God with many forms of worship in addition to fasting. They have also prayed, cried out, put on sackcloth and wept. How did they spoil it (Isaiah 58:3b-5)?

4. In what similar ways do people attempt to discover God’s will today?

5. Why does God declare the people rebellious (or acting so pious) (Isaiah 58:1)?

All of the fasting and praying was only an external form. The people said words and went through motions that would make it look as if they were repentant and humble before God. In reality, the people were absorbed in seeking their own selfish pleasures, even while they appeared to be worshiping God.

6. If the people’s fasting was sincere, how would it have been different?

In fasting that pleases God, actions directed toward God are combined with actions directed toward people. This is expressed in several ways, such as providing food, shelter and clothing. However, of all the conceivable acts of caring, setting people free from bondage seems to be the most important in this passage. The people were to remember that they themselves had recently been living in exile. They had often been told, “Remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” God wanted them to have the compassion for others that had been shown to them.

7. What is the connection between receiving God’s guidance and a concern for justice?

Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” It may be helpful to think of a light switch. Ignoring God’s concern for justice is like turning off the switch and breaking our contact with God. Heeding God’s concern is like turning on the switch and restoring contact.

8. What promises does God make in Isaiah 58:8-14?

For the people of the Old Testament, salvation was not thought of as a state of bliss, but as living in constant dialogue with God. It is this intimacy with God that is being promised here. Notice that some of the promises are for individuals (as in Isaiah 58:8-10), while other promises are for the nation (Isaiah 58:11-12).

9. What are the requirements for receiving these promises?

God wants signs of right character in those whose prayers he answers, for such character is the only guarantee that what he gives is rightly accepted and rightly used.

10. Why might God be withholding his light from us as a nation? How about from you as an individual?

11. What have you learned from this passage that will help you to discover God’s will and direction in your life?

Take time to confess your lack of sincerity and to ask for God’s light to break forth.

Now or Later: This is a fairly lengthy passage. You will want to study it on your own between sessions or take an extra session to discuss it.

The letter to the Ephesians explains why many people have become ignorant of and separated from God. Read Ephesians 4:17-5:21.

  1. What are the results of doing things our own way?
  2. What behaviors are to characterize our new life as Christians?
  3. Which of the commands in these verses are the most difficult for you to keep?
  4. How will keeping these commands help you to hear the voice of God?

Doing what you please is unacceptable

  1. The wrong way to fast (1-5) Boasting and you think it makes God happy?
  2. The right way to fast (6-14)
    1. The facts (6-10) Sharing with others
    2. The fruits (11-12) Guided by God

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