Lesson 7: Be Near, Oh God
1. To help students realize the connections between Christian living and God's presence
2. To provide practical teaching on how to become closer to Christ
3. For students to be challenged to participate in a spiritual discipline to promote spiritual growth
Discipline, Spiritual Growth, Self-Control, Trust
OPENING PRAYER (5 to 10 minutes)
GROUP BUILDING (10 minutes)
Standing On Common Ground (Activity/Icebreaker) Click here
GETTING STARTED (10 minutes)
Compartmentalization, wow, that's a big word. But it's very common, we all do it. Let me ask you all a few questions.
1. How many of you act differently when your parents are not around?
2. In what ways do you act differently when you are with your parents?
3. Why do you think we act differently when certain people are around us than at other times?
We compartmentalize our actions based on who we are around. We all do it, even me. (Give an example: If you are married, share how you and your spouse may act/talk differently when alone together compared to when you are around others at church, or how you may say things when children are not around that you would never say when they are.) Acting differently, or speaking differently, isn't necessary bad. Compartmentalization, right or wrong, is a reality in all of our lives.
DIGGING IN (30 minutes)
In the text we’re going to read today, a lot of cool stuff is said. But the heartbeat of this passage is found in four words, tucked inside the verses, barely noticeable. Everything Paul writes is directly connected to it. Let’s read the passage, and see if you can guess which four words I’m talking about.
Read Philippians 4:2-9
1. What four words do you think make this whole passage stick together? (allow students to guess first. THE LORD IS NEAR)
"The Lord is near” is a vital part of these verses. Although tucked away in the middle of what Paul is saying, everything he says hinges on that single fact, those four little words. God was near to the Philippians, he was near to Paul, and He is near to us. That gives us something to think about.
2. Let’s turn our first question about compartmentalization around. Do you act differently when God is around than when He isn’t? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
3. Does the consistency of your life reflect the nearness of God? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
4. Is there ever a time when God is not around? (No)
It’s true: Jesus is here with us. His spirit is inside those of us who are Christians. His presence is in our midst. God cannot only see everything that we do, He knows our every thought. Let’s sidestep a second to the old testament.
Read Job 38
1. How many things can you name that God did and that He asks Job to do? (There are over 40 things.)
2. What can we learn about God from these verses? (He is infinitely more powerful than us. More than that, He is everywhere at all times, orchestrating all that we see and wonder about.)
Knowing this about God, He surely knows our every thought. He is definitely present in our lives. So, let me ask again, do you live in such a way that relfects the nearness of our God?
Paul lays out some ways that the nearness of God should affect our lives. As we go through each one, I will also introduce a spiritual discipline. At the end of the lesson, you will be challenged to practice one of these disciplines in order to experience the nearness of God more fully. Let’s get started!
A. The Nearness of God Demands Christian Community:
Read Again Philippians 4:2-3
1. What seems to be the problem in Philippians 4:2-3? (There is some dispute between believers.)
2. Not counting their funny names, what is the problem between the women mentioned here? (Again, there is some argument between them. We are not told what, specifically.)
3. What is Paul advising the Philippians to do? (Help them reach reconciliation.)
4. Can living in a community, any community, be annoying, hard, fun, or work? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
Sometimes we don't think of being a part of a church as a discipline, it more or less ends up being something we do and take for granted. When we talk about a Christian community, though, you need to realize it takes work. We don't always get along with other Christians, but when we experience conflict, we must work at resolving it. Some of you are living in turmoil with other Christians, through gossip, backstabbing, and lies. It must stop. God is near; why don't we live like it?
5. What do you think of when you think of discipline? How is discipline good? How is it unpleasant? (Good because it helps you grow or develop abilities, unpleasant because it takes work.)
When we talk about spiritual disciplines, we are talking about things that we do on purpose in order to grow spiritually. When you hear the word "discipline," at first you may think of punishment, but that is something very different. Discipline always has growth in mind. Practicing spiritual disciplines are like doing your homework: it may not always be the most fun thing, but you don’t learn as quickly without it.
B. The Nearness of God Demands Joy
Read again Phillipians 4:4
1. Paul says we should have joy always. Name some times that it is difficult to have joy. (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
2. Why does Paul repeat himself in verse four? (We may not think of joy as a discipline, but Paul shows us that even when it seems like a hard thing to do at the time, we need to discipline ourselves to have joy.)
3. Who can remember, where Paul was when he wrote these words? (In prison.)
4. Do you think it was hard for Paul to have joy as he spent all this time in jail? Why or why not? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
C. The Nearness of God Demands that we Not Worry
Read again Philippians 4:6-7
Not to worry (Optional)
1. What were you most afraid of when you were a kid? Why? How did you deal with it? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
2. What is it about being with someone else that helps us worry less? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
3. If we can realize that our Lord is near, how much easier will it be to face life day in and day out? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
No matter how close Jesus is, we still worry. The disciples worried about what they were going to eat, whether they would survive the storm, etc., and they were with Jesus all the time. Worry is a hard thing to combat, but we must. We must practice the spiritual discipline of trust.
Optional Activity (10 minutes)
Trust Fall (Activity) Click here
D. The Nearness of God Demands Pure Thoughts
We’ve already talked about how God not only sees our actions, but knows our thoughts. His brain is much more powerful than ours is. We can't keep anything from Him. That’s scary to think about, but it’s the truth. The next two verses say we should change the way we think, and they give us real helpful guidance on what to think about, instead of a “thou shalt not” list.
Read again Philippians 4:8-9
1. What does it mean to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy? (It means to be Christ-centered in our thought life, not giving our minds over to ungodly desires.)
2. How do your thoughts affect your actions? (Thoughts are like the diving board for our actions. Our thoughts are the spring board for all the things we do.)
3. What does God think of your thought life? Is He pleased? (Meant to stimulate discussion.)
Think about this. If your thoughts were broadcast on an LCD screen duct-taped to your forehead, how many of the same people would you hang out with? How long would your parents let you remain in their house? Would you be embarrassed at youth group? Would you get kicked out of your classroom at school? We can laugh about it, but the truth is, our thoughts are broadcast to God, and He knows them. The way we think is a discipline. We must train our minds to think thoughts that are true, noble, etc., and some of you need this discipline more than others.
MAKING IT REAL (15 minutes)
Let's review. The Lord is near, and His nearness demands that we have community, that we have joy, that we don’t worry, and that our thoughts are pure. That’s a lot to work on, but every single one of us can think of at least one of those four that we need to grow.
I want to challenge you to participate in a spiritual discipline this week, and next week we’ll share our experiences. I ask you to take this challenge seriously. The Lord is near, and we can experience His nearness more fully through action.
(Explain that in the lesson workbooks there are exersises that cover each discipline discussed earlier. There are two options to choose from. Encourage your students to chose at least one to work on during the week and be willing to share during the next class.)
Living in a Community
Rejoice in the Lord Always
Don’t Worry, be Happy
Think on These Things
CLOSING PRAYER (2 minutes)
Pray the students understand that their thoughts lead to actions. Pray that each of them think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.