Week Three

Week Three: Shift Your Idea of How God Can Use You
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God is establishing his kingdom on earth every day—and his primary plan is to use each of us to bring about this divine task. This week we explore the many ways God desires to use each of us.

Please feel free to adapt these lessons for your congregation’s context.

Sermon Notes by Marco Ambriz

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 57:14
“And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.’”

Isaiah 6:1-7
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'”

SUMMARY

God has revealed in his word that he wants to use us for his kingdom and for his mission. In order for this to happen in our daily lives, we need to make some shifts in how we understand ourselves as God’s forgiven children and as God’s people on a mission.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever been asked to do something and your response was, I can’t do this?

Have you ever been invited to be a part of a task, project, or journey that you believed was impossible?

That was the story of many of God’s people throughout the Bible. It was the story of a prophet named Isaiah, who lived in the eighth century B.C. Isaiah was called by God to lead God’s people and to serve as God’s prophet to Israel in the midst of a very trying time for his nation.

Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III had just invaded the land, including the area where Isaiah and the people of Israel lived, so they were experiencing significant political uncertainty. Financial corruption, social injustice, and apathy toward the things of God were creating internal problems for the people of Israel. In addition, Isaiah, like each of us, also had his own personal struggles, doubts, fears, and limitations that led him to question God’s call.

God was asking Isaiah to do the following: share God’s word with all the people, call the nation to repent for their sins of idolatry and injustice, risk his life by publicly challenging the kings of Israel in their leadership of the country, and commit to standing in the gap for his people by constantly praying for them and loving them regardless of the outcome.

One of the messages that God gave Isaiah to share with the king and the people is found in Isaiah 57:14-16.

“And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.’ For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created.’”

In this passage, God invites Isaiah to call the people to live for him in all aspects of their lives. God encourages the people not to give up in their faith and, despite all the challenges they were facing, to continue to live for his kingdom in the midst of turmoil, sin, darkness, and uncertainty. That meant building up the things that promoted God’s kingdom work and removing the obstacles that impeded God’s kingdom work.

In order for Isaiah to be used by God to preach this message, he had to undergo a major shift in his own life. He had to be open to God building up new things in his faith and removing obstacles that hindered him from freely serving God. He had to experience a significant shift in the way he sensed God could actually use someone like him.

We’re going to look at these shifts and see how they might speak to changes God wants to make in us in order to use us for his good purposes in our world.

SHIFT FROM INCAPABLE TO CAPABLE

One day after receiving an astounding vision of God and his glory in the temple, Isaiah writes,

“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4).

As amazing as this vision was, it led Isaiah to a place of having to deal with the reality of his limitations, shortcomings, and inadequacies. Often in the Scriptures, when someone is given a glimpse of the glory of God, they are first reminded that “all have sinned and fall short” of that glory (Romans 3:23). This realization can lead us to humility, repentance, and confession to a holy God.

That’s how Isaiah responded, exclaiming, “Woe to me!…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). He suddenly realized that his broken standards of religion, justice, and community were not acceptable to God. He was admitting that he was overwhelmed by how incapable he was in his own strength to be an example to his people.

While many of us really do need to learn this humble posture from Isaiah, God did not want Isaiah to stay in that place for long. God wanted him to make the shift from focusing on his weakness and sin to making room to be available for God’s work. That was only going to happen with God’s forgiveness.

Isaiah wrote about that experience. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

This message of the angel is what changed Isaiah’s perspective. He shifted his view from relying on his own fallen abilities to seeing that God had made him acceptable in his sight. By seeing himself as forgiven by God, Isaiah was able to shift how he sensed God wanting to use him.

He later reminded the people of God’s words: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

Now instead of wallowing in their guilt or being hindered by their weaknesses, God’s people were able to see that he wanted them to be humble and contrite in order to “revive their spirit” and to “revive their heart” so that they could live for his glory!

Questions

● Have you (or someone you know) ever tried to do something new and adventurous with an “I can’t” attitude? How did that affect your morale and energy to actually accomplish the task?

● What are some ways the “woe is me!” attitude can become unhealthy and actually hinder us from being used by God?

● What are some ways that humbly remembering God’s forgiveness can actually fuel us to serve him and do his kingdom work?

SHIFT FROM EXPENDABLE TO VALUABLE

“God doesn’t actually need me at all, I’m just lucky that he’s given me the chance to serve him.”

“God the Creator of the universe could reveal his glory without me.”

“God doesn’t need me in order to accomplish his will.”

These phrases are all too common in the church. Some of us may have expressed similar sentiments in our Christian journey.

While such statements do contain some truth, we should be careful not to allow them to shape the way we live out our mission for God. Although they may sound pious, they can actually become obstacles to our participation in God’s work rather than motivating us to serve him. In fact, none of us is expendable or insignificant to God’s plan for the world.

Isaiah had to fight this attitude. After his experience of receiving forgiveness he heard a voice that challenged this notion that he was not needed by God: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).

God was actually calling Isaiah to be his spokesperson. But it was only after Isaiah was assured of being forgiven that he could clearly hear that God really needed him for his purposes and for his mission.

The Scriptures tell us that God has indeed chosen to make a covenant with us as his people and that God desires to use us for his mission and his glory. God doesn’t ask people to do things just to make them feel better or to boost their spirits. The Bible indicates that God really means it when he tells us that he has created us for a purpose in our world:

● God asked us to be a blessing to all other people groups in the world (Genesis 12:3).
● God asked us to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” for the world (Exodus 19:5-6).
● God asked us to declare peace and the good news that he reigns (Isaiah 52:7).
● Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16).
● Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
● Jesus told us, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
● God told us that we are his “handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

Such verses reveal that God has entrusted us to proclaim his good news and to demonstrate his justice in our world. Could God have created a world where he didn’t operate through humans? Yes, he could have, but the Scriptures tell us that he didn’t. He designed a world where we participate in bringing his kingdom through men and women submitting to his Holy Spirit.

“Our mission…means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation” (C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God, p. 23).

If we are going to shift the way we see God using us, we need to stop seeing ourselves as insignificant to God’s kingdom. We need to shift our thoughts from “I’m not really that important to God’s overall mission” to, “God has uniquely gifted and invited me to be a vital part of his redemptive mission in the world.” We need to shift our view of ourselves from “expendable” toward extremely “valuable” to the One who called us “the very people I have created” (Isaiah 57:16).

Questions

● What are some ways that “I’m expendable and God doesn’t need me” statements can hinder our vision of how God wants to use us?

● What are some ways that we can remind ourselves of our worth to God while still remaining humble?

CONCLUSION

● Share a story where you have sensed God asking, “Who will go?” in some area of your local church, family, work, community, or world.

● Address other obstacles that need to be removed in order for us to shift how we sense God using us. Take some time to ask God to help us have courage to identify and remove these obstacles.

● Share a story of where we have already seen God “building up” and “preparing a road” for us to serve him. Take a moment to testify and give thanks for those glimpses, whether great or small.

BENEDICTION

This week, may we pray along with God’s word through the prophet Isaiah: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people” (Isaiah 57:14). May we ask God to continue to remove the obstacles of thinking of ourselves as incapable and expendable. May we continue to be built up and to build up those around us as we pursue and proclaim God’s truth: that by his mercy, he has made us acceptable and that in his mission, he sees us as valuable. May we daily allow God to be the one who shifts our sense of how he can use us. Amen!

RESOURCES

• J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (InterVarsity Press, 1993)
• C.J.H. Wright, The Mission of God (InterVarsity Press, 2007)

 

Adult Bible Study by Shaun Marshall

SCRIPTURE

Exodus 6:7
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Isaiah 6:1-8
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

Isaiah 57:14-16
“And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.’ For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created.’”

OVERVIEW

What do you think when you hear the statement, “God wants to use you”?

Many of us say, “I’m too broken, sinful, or wicked for God to do anything meaningful with my life.” Or some of us might say, “If God wants to use me, then I need to work hard to get my life together first so I can be good enough.”

The truth is that we are sinful, broken people. There is nothing we can do that will ever make us good enough for God. But the good news is that God has already solved our problem of being separated from him with the finished work of Jesus. No matter how many mistakes we make or how broken we are or how far we think we are from God, he has made a way for us to be restored to him. The Lord himself has purged our sin, removed our shame, and called us righteous. And when we humbly embrace his amazing gift of grace, realizing how he has received us as his beloved sons and daughters, we can shift our sense of how God wants to use us, and surrender our lives to be used for his glory.

STUDY

God doesn’t need us, but God wants us.

When God brought the children of Israel out of bondage to the Egyptians, he gave them this message: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 6:7).

The Lord repeated this message throughout the Old Testament. God has always wanted Israel to be his people; the problem is that, because of sin, the children of Israel could not fully sense God’s plan for them. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Israel’s desire for idols and sinful things would cause them to be defeated by their enemies and carried off into exile, where they suffered under the bondage and oppression of ungodly kingdoms.

But because God loves us so much, he made a promise to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah that gave them hope. Even though they would find themselves yet again in captivity, God promised that the obstacles between him and his people would be removed and a new road would be built, making a way for the people to return to him.

Questions and Considerations
● Has there ever been a time when you believed you were too far away from God to be restored, or that he had “given up” on you?

● Have you ever gotten so carried away by sinful distractions that you felt like there was no way for you to see God’s plan for your life?

● What encouragement have you received in those moments from God’s word that reminded you that he still loved you and had already made a way for you to return to him?

STUDY

The prophet Isaiah describes an incredible experience that shifted the way he thought about God…and himself.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty’” (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Isaiah’s experience with God helped him to see how holy God is. In that moment, Isaiah realized how sinful he was. But there was also good news:
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (Isaiah 6:6-7).
Touching the live coal to Isaiah’s lips symbolized God’s response to his sinfulness. When Isaiah saw God more clearly, he saw how hopeless he was to change his own condition. Isaiah had no way to justify himself in the presence of God. But God extended mercy to Isaiah.

That makes Isaiah’s words in chapter 57 all the more powerful: “For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (v. 15).

When we consider our disobedience to God, we may wonder whether or not God really wants anything to do with us. We may not understand how a God so pure and holy could stand to come near us. As a result, we remain distant from God, allowing the guilt and shame of our sins and mistakes to convince us that we are too messed up and broken to be used by him.

But because of God’s grace and mercy extended to us through the finished work of Jesus, we, like Isaiah, are cleansed from the guilt of our unrighteousness. God has justified us, allowing us to experience his transforming presence in our lives when we approach him with humble hearts. We no longer have to keep our distance from him or doubt whether he wants to have anything to do with us. God dwells in a high and holy place, but he also dwells with us as we humbly recognize his incredible mercy .
When we realize who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us, we also realize that God’s love and grace shifts our perceptions of relationship with him!

Questions and Considerations
● In what ways have your past sins, failures, or mistakes caused you to believe that God couldn’t use you?

● Share a transforming moment in your life that helped you to experience God in a new and different way. What impact did that experience have on you?

● How has God’s grace and mercy in your life shifted the way you think about yourself and your future?

STUDY

In Isaiah 57:14-15, we see a tension between the people of Israel and God, a disparity between his holiness and their disobedience. That tension is resolved because God gives them new hope—that they might be restored through humility, recognizing with broken, repentant hearts that the Lord himself will make a way for them to return to him and perform a work of justification in their lives. And now, through the prophet Isaiah, God reveals his embracing heart for sinful Israel.
“I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me—the very people I have created” (Isaiah 57:16).

The Lord’s desire is not to see his creation faint away. We were fearfully and wonderfully made, uniquely formed for a specific purpose: to have fellowship with God and enjoy the goodness of his creation. However, sin caused a separation between God and his people, and the children of Israel experienced the pain and sorrow of that separation.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God affirms his desire for his created people to be restored to their intended purpose. He wants to turn things around for a people who have fallen away from God. He wants to see the children of Israel healed, restored, and living again in fellowship with him.

Isaiah knew God’s heart from his own personal experience. Having seen God in a more clear and perfect way, Isaiah had realized that while God was incredibly pure and holy, he was woefully sinful and unclean. It was only by God’s gracious and merciful act of the seraphim carrying the hot coal to his lips that Isaiah received the gift of justification. That justification cleansed Isaiah of sin, removed his guilt, and allowed him to enjoy fellowship in the presence of a holy God.

Almost as amazing as Isaiah’s justification was Isaiah’s invitation. Isaiah knew that he was too sinful to be in God’s presence, but God’s act of mercy shifted his thinking and helped him realize that God wanted him to be in his presence. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8).

Isn’t it strange to see God asking a question? God is omniscient—there is nothing he doesn’t know—so why does he need to ask this?

In fact, it is clear that God isn’t asking for information. He is asking for Isaiah’s revelation. Isaiah had realized God’s holiness, he’d recognized his own sinfulness, and he’d received God’s forgiveness. With the question, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” the Lord was giving Isaiah the opportunity to respond to God’s call.

Isaiah responds quickly and wholeheartedly, saying, “Here am I. Send me!” He knew that he could not go in his own ability. He
had a heart that was willing, but he knew he needed to be commissioned by God to carry his message to a people desperately in need of God’s love and renewal.

Questions and Considerations
● Why do you think Isaiah was so eager to respond to God’s call?

● When you humbly think about what God has done to restore us to fellowship with him, how does that shift the way you think about yourself and your value to God?

● As you consider God’s heart for the lost, what questions to you believe he is asking of you today?

● In what specific ways do you sense God might be inviting you to share his message of love with others? How have you have been uniquely created to serve the mission of God?

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS

As God promised in Isaiah 57, he has made a way for us to return to him. He has removed the obstacles that kept us from enjoying his presence. He has received us back to him because of his incredible love. But it doesn’t stop there! God wants us to respond to the call to share his message of love and restoration with others.
● Describe what was most challenging for you in this study.
● Describe what was most inspiring for you in this study.
● Identify any ways you might still be struggling to believe that God wants to use you for his glory.
● Identify at least three people who can challenge and encourage you as you continue to sense how God wants to use you for his glory. You might include a pastor or counselor, a spiritual director, and a prayer/accountability partner.

PERSONAL AND COMMUNAL COMMITMENTS

1. Identify any behaviors, habits, or mindsets that form obstacles and distractions for you as you seek to serve God.
2. Confess the items that you listed to someone you trust, who can help you avoid those behaviors but who will also remind you that God has set you free from the power of sin!
3. Make a habit of humbly remembering and celebrating God’s grace and mercy in your life.
4. Continue to process how God might be specifically inviting you to join him in sharing his message of love and reconciliation with others. What role might your passions, talents, and spiritual gifts play in responding to God’s call?

PRAYER REFLECTION

In your time of prayer, reflect on the Scriptures we have studied here. Remember that God’s deep desire is to be in relationship with you—so much that he gave his only son, Jesus, that you might have life and be restored to him (John 3:16). Not only does he want you in his presence, he wants to use you to help others know how much he loves them, and he wants them to find the way that he has made for us to be restored to a right relationship with him.
The following is a prayer of response to God’s call, commonly attributed to St. Francis:
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

 

Youth Discussion Guide by David Washington

SCRIPTURE

Isaiah 57:14-16
“And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.’ For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created.’”

SUMMARY

Perception is a powerful force—how we view ourselves and our place in the world does a lot to shape our potential to achieve goals. Our perception can leave us passive and unwilling to act in accordance with God’s work in our lives. As believers, we must be careful not to allow our own negative views of ourselves to have the final say regarding who we are and what we can accomplish. Rather, God’s perspective as shared with us in Scripture should be our guide.

OVERVIEW

The Bible reveals to us a God who uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. Noah built an ark that God used to preserve creation; God used David’s slingshot to deliver Israel from the Philistines; Jesus used the lunch of a small boy to feed 5,000 hungry people. What do these stories (and others like them) have in common? First, everyone used by God cooperated with God. Second, everyone used by God focused on God’s ability rather than their own.

Today we will explore Isaiah 57:14-16 and learn that failure is not final with God. In God, our mistakes can be mended, our faults can be fixed, and our wrongs can be made right. We are used by God not because we are worthy but because we are chosen.

STUDY: REMOVING OBSTACLES

God desires to use each of us. This was true in Isaiah’s time, and it is still true today. So, if God wants to use us, what might stand in the way?

More often than not, it’s our perspective. Too often we feel unworthy or unqualified. Being used by God is not an exclusive privilege for a special group of elite super-Christians. God will use anyone open to his call and willing to act upon it. Yet it’s important to understand that being used by God can be uncomfortable at times.

Isaiah’s call to share God’s message with the Israelites was double-edged. On the one hand, his calling was difficult because there was bad news in the message. Israel had ignored God’s commands and instructions for years. They had ignored the messages of other prophets and they had done things their own way. Now God would allow them to bear the consequences of their wrongdoing. Ultimately, they would lose their land and their freedom, experiencing captivity in a foreign land. That was the bad news.

But the good news was that their fall was not their finish. God promised to restore Israel and renew them through an uncomfortable, agonizing, and challenging process. Sometimes God can teach us more through our failures than through our successes. Failure and trials often have a way of drawing our attention toward God. Such situations may help us to humbly recognize our desperate need for the Lord.

Isaiah foretold Israel’s fall, but he also declared that it would be said of them, “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people” (Isaiah 57:14). So the question in all of this is, how do we prepare ourselves to be used by God? We do not have to be flawless or complete; we only need to be receptive to God’s work in us. As the Spirit leads us, we must follow. We must do as God instructs us and we will see God using us in mighty ways through our obedience.

REPENT OF FAILURES

Did Israel ever make another mistake? Absolutely! Did God ever use Israel again? The answer is definitely yes. Even as we listen to God’s call, we can be blindsided and fail. The problem is that failure can cause us to lose our motivation to be used. Mistakes are inevitable and letdowns are inescapable, but they are not incapacitating.

Not only did Isaiah tell the Israelites to remove the obstacles out of the way of God’s returning people, but God promised to be with all who are “contrite and lowly in spirit.” God promised to be with those who humble themselves and are sorrowful for their shortcomings. God also promised to “revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). Revival will come from our perception, not our perfection. We must humble ourselves and recognize that all are unworthy. Yet even so, God promises to dwell with us and to revive our hearts again. We must not let our faults stop our faithfulness. God will be with us and will continue to work in us.

RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

God told Isaiah, “I will not accuse them [the Israelites] forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me” (Isaiah 57:16). God is promising to hold no grudges with those who belong to God. We cannot make it without God’s grace, which means those who faint away forget the grace that keeps them. The Lord is not some distant cosmic force or a divine being who has no interactions with humans. God is a parent to all who are in this relationship. We can be adopted into God’s family simply by placing our faith in him and becoming children of God. God does not hold a grudge against us when we fall and does not remain angry about our mistakes. Our hope and our help are built upon our relationship with God. Our holiness, goodness, and usefulness come from God’s love for us. God is with us and will never leave us. Our perspective should be one of cooperation with what God is doing in our lives with total dependence upon the Lord’s ability to use us.

APPLICATION POINTS

  • What obstacles are in the way of your relationship with God?
  • In what area(s) do you struggle to cooperate with God working in your life?
  • How do you demonstrate dependence upon God as you serve others?

CONCLUSION

It is a common misconception that God only chooses to use great people, but the reality is that people are great because God chooses to use them. God doesn’t need our perfection; he needs our cooperation and dependence on him. Whether the Spirit is working in our conscience or there is a task that God requires of us, we must yield to God and trust the Lord’s wisdom above our own. What is God currently leading you to do? How is God calling you to serve today? Remember, God doesn’t call the qualified—he qualifies the called. Our flaws should only point us towards our need for God. In total dependence upon God, any ordinary servant can be used in extraordinary ways.

CLOSING PRAYER

God, we stand in need of you, totally aware of our imperfections. We know that your will is to love and heal humanity by the work you are doing through your people. Liberate us with from feelings of unworthiness, deliver us from our fears, and give us the courage to yield to the leading of your Spirit. Reveal how you would like to use us, and empower us to make a difference wherever that may be. May your Spirit give us peace. May your presence give us strength and may your word give us guidance! In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.

REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS

  1. How important is self-perception to you and why? In what ways has your view of yourself hindered or helped you serve God?
  2. In what specific ways can you identify God leading you to serve him? What obstacles can you identify as a hindrance to your compliance?
  3. What patterns of failure have you noticed as you attempt to follow God’s leading in your life? How can you recover from such setbacks?
  4. How do you believe God wants to use you in this season of your life? What do you perceive as threats to your fulfilling God’s will in this area?

CHALLENGE AND DISCUSSION

  1. Consider the last time you remember being asked to serve. What was your response to the request and why?
  2. List at least three things you would really like to do for God. What do you think will make these desires challenging or simple?
  3. What do you think God meant in Isaiah 57:15 when he referred to “the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit”? What does it look like for God to dwell with the lowly and contrite in spirit?
  4. The people of Israel eventually were exiled from their homeland because of their unwillingness to submit to God. What are some of the pros and cons of this reality?
  5. In what ways do you think Israel’s situation in Isaiah 57 is relevant to the experience of God’s people today?

APPLICATION

How does God want to use you?

Come up with at least one way you will seek to allow God to use you within the next three weeks. Pray and seek God’s direction in prayer. Be sensitive to how God speaks to you during your devotional time in the Scriptures as well as what you hear at church (or other contexts). Name a leader and a friend who you will share this with and who will hold you accountable to your commitment. Yield to God’s Spirit, depend on God’s ability, and allow God to use you.
 

Children's Ministry Lesson by Jessica Springer

SCRIPTURE

Galatians 5:22-23
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Acts 9:36-40
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’ Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.”

SUMMARY

God has created us to be active partners in redeeming all of his creation. Will we lean into this calling, or will we resist the Holy Spirit’s direction? As we continue this journey in our Shift curriculum we are challenged by the idea that what we do matters. God seeks to use our gifts and abilities to further his kingdom. When we respond with passion, we leave a lasting legacy that can impact and spread the gospel even further. As we shift our sense of how God can use us, God’s glory is revealed and our only objective is to authentically live out a theology of love.

MEMORY VERSE

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23a, NAS).

(The NASB translation uses “patience” instead of “forbearance,” which might be less familiar to children.)

BIBLICAL BACKGROUND

• Read Luke 8:49-56 to see the parallels between Jesus’s healing of the little girl and Tabitha’s healing in Acts 9. Unlike Jesus, who simply commands the little girl to get up (“talitha, koum”), Peter prays first, then speaks with similar authority (“Tabitha, koum”)
• Read Acts 9:32-36 to discover how Peter was able to heal the paralyzed man. It was only through the “name of Jesus Christ” that the man was healed. This becomes significant as we enter the story of Tabitha. Her miracle must be read in this context of Peter praying in the “name of Jesus” for this miracle to take place. It is the power of Jesus Christ that heals, not Peter.
• Read Song of Solomon 2:9 and 8:14 to understand the full meaning of the name Tabitha/Dorcas. In both Greek and Hebrew her name meant “gazelle,” which was a metaphor for beloved.
• Read Galatians 5:16-26 to see the entire discussion of life in the Spirit versus life of the flesh and its implications.

PREPARATION

Around the room, set up some tables or stations with various props or activities for children to engage once they enter the room. (See Entering Activities for specific supply list.)

In the center of the room create space where the Shift theme is displayed with the weekly topic posted. Have a large bulletin board or dry erase board available where children can attach or post various responsive activities.

Place a candle near the center of the room where the lesson will take place. If possible, decorate a stage or location where the Bible lesson will be told with various pieces of fabric and cloth.

KEY CONCEPTS

When we shift our thinking to be more like Christ, our behavior changes from doing things for ourselves to doing things for others. As we shift, the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, bearing fruit that helps us further God’s mission to love and serve others.

The goal is to help children understand:
• When we live in the Spirit there is no limit to how God can use us.
• Without the Holy Spirit we aren’t able to accomplish much.
• Tabitha demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit in her life in how she gave and cared for the poor and the marginalized.
• As we lean into the Holy Spirit’s direction, the same fruit will be revealed in our lives.
• As this fruit is revealed in our lives, we will be able to reach out and impact even more people as we demonstrate authentic loving relationships.

At the end of the class, the children will be able to:
• Talk about the impact Tabitha made on the people in the community of Joppa.
• Communicate various ways we see the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives.
• Respond with tangible ways they can walk in the Spirit in the upcoming week.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Map of Israel (Lydda and Joppa distance)
• Story (or live testimony) of a local “saint” in your church who has demonstrated passion for serving Christ like Tabitha’s.

ENTERING ACTIVITIES

Shift— With a white crayon write the word “shift” on a piece of thick white paper or cardstock. Encourage children to paint over the picture with watercolors as they discover how this word is still revealed through the other colors.

o Connecting Point: When we shift our focus toward God, nothing can separate us from him. We become resistant to all other distractions or temptations, just like the word was resistant to the watercolor paints.

Talent Show— Encourage kids to share or perform a special talent that they have.

o Connecting Point: Think about how you can use these gifts to bring glory to God.

Straw Snakes— Very carefully take a wrapped paper straw and crinkle the wrapper (accordion style) down the straw until it comes off into a small tight tube. Dip the straw into a small cup of water and place your finger on the top of the straw. Slowly release the pressure and allow one or two drops to roll out of the straw and onto the wrapper. As the water hits the wrapper it should begin to expand and grow.

o Connecting Point: As God calls us to shift and change, God’s Spirit will provide us with blessings to help us grow bigger and deeper in our ability to follow him.

OPENING

Introduction
We are journeying together through this Shift series, where we are able to see how God can call and move us to become more like him in how we love him and serve others. As we continue to draw closer to God, we see that we need to continually make changes, or shifts, in our lives in order to be faithful to follow him. Today we are going to look at what happens when these changes begin to be displayed in our lives.

Light a candle. Begin by reminding children that this is a place of worship and that everything we do here is an act of worship. Remind them that the way they listen, answer questions, sing, and pray are all ways in which we can give glory to God.

Share with kids that this flame is a reminder that God is with us. Invite them to repeat this small litany:

Leader: The flame is a symbol of God’s presence found in the Holy Spirit.
Kids: God is with us.
Leader: God is with us! Isn’t that great news? Let us continue to center our hearts toward God as we begin our service in prayer.

Prayer
As you move into a time of prayer, encourage children to pray that their hearts and minds may be opened to hear and respond to God’s word. Pray that the Holy Spirit will anoint our time together and that each of us may be a recipient of its direction.

Depending on time or your practice, encourage children to share their prayer requests or to pray for one another. If children share prayer requests, it is good to write these down and share them with a prayer team so they can pray for these requests throughout the week. Depending on the size of your group, break into small groups and have leaders pray and bless each child.

OBJECT LESSON

This object lesson is a great lead-in to the Bible story especially if you choose to have a storyteller tell the story of Tabitha from the perspective of a widow.

Hold up a large sheet of fabric.

“What do you see when I hold this up?” (Allow for various answers.)

“While some of you might just see a piece of fabric, a tailor sees a variety of possibilities. They can look at this fabric and know that they can create many different things.”

Wrap around waist to show that it can become a skirt.

Wrap around neck to show that it can become a scarf or a necktie.diagram.001Fold in half and cut a large hole in the middle of the folded section.

Fold Line Cut semi-circle.

Place over your head and tie around your body with a belt or string to show that it can become a tunic.

Explain that there are many possibilities with something like a piece of fabric. As we get into our story today, we are going to meet a seamstress who had a passion and desire to help others. Tabitha saw the possibilities of how each piece of fabric that she sewed could change another person’s life. She saw how this gift could help others, and she desired to do her part to make a difference. Let’s take a moment to hear the story of Tabitha.

BIBLE EXPLORATION

Begin by having children open their Bibles and reading Acts 9:32–40 as a group or by calling on a few readers. Encourage them to read these Scripture passages out loud.

Then reinforce the story by providing the following details and using images or pictures to help bring the story to life. You could also use the monologue below as a way to hear the story of Tabitha from the perspective of a widow.

The Story of Tabitha
• Peter first heals a paralyzed man in Lydda (Acts 9:34). This healing happens in the “name of Jesus Christ.” This idea is important as it will be reinforced in the miracle of Tabitha (v. 40).
• Tabitha was a disciple of Christ. She reminds us that God calls both men and women to be disciples (v. 36).
• Tabitha spent her days caring for others, especially those who were marginalized and poor. We see evidence of this in her willingness to make robes and clothing for the widows in her town (vv. 36, 39).
• Because she cared so deeply for the least of these, when she died many people grieved (vv. 37-39).
• Peter responds to the disciples’ request and travels the ten- to twelve-mile journey from Lydda to Joppa (vv. 38-39).
• Peter’s first response is to pray (v. 40).
• After Peter prays, God heals Tabitha. It is only through the name of Jesus Christ that Peter was able to do this miracle (v. 40).

The Widow’s Monologue
NOTE: Ideally the storyteller who is sharing this story should be wearing the tunic made earlier in the object lesson section so the children can envision the setting of this story.

“I still can’t believe my eyes. I mean, I was there. I saw her body, and I couldn’t stop crying. Dear Tabitha. It was just so sudden. She had done so much for me. She helped me. She made me these clothes. It may not seem like much now, but I didn’t have anything. As a widow I had very few opportunities to provide for myself. People walked past me each day trying not to look at me. But not Tabitha. She looked at me and saw me. She helped us, she met our needs.

“But then she was gone so quickly, so suddenly. We cried and cried out to God! Who was going to help us now? Who could provide for us like Tabitha did?

“Then the disciple Peter came. He came bounding up those stairs so quickly and loudly. We began to tell him our stories about Tabitha. We showed him our clothes, and we told him of the good things she had done. He listened for a while, then he politely asked us to leave the room. I figured he just wanted to say his final goodbyes. But after we left, he knelt down and began to pray. We could hear his words from downstairs, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Surely we misheard him, we thought. What was Peter saying? But moments later, Tabitha was running downstairs and wrapping her arms around me in a hug! She was alive! We immediately began to praise God for this miracle.

“I am grateful for Tabitha, for what she’d done for me and for what she continues to do for me. When I look at Tabitha I see what it looks like to love.”

Take some time to reflect on this story with some of these questions.
1. What part of this story did you like best?
2. What words would the widows have used to describe Tabitha?
3. How do you think the widows felt when Peter arrived? Do you think they believed Peter could bring Tabitha back to life?
4. What stories do you think Tabitha would have shared after she was resurrected?

Life in the Spirit
Our next Scripture passage offers us some specific words that could be used to describe Tabitha’s life.

Begin by having children open their Bibles as a group or by calling on a few readers to read Galatians 5:16–26 out loud.

• There are two ways we can live. We can either live by the flesh, doing things the way culture or society tells us—or we can live by the Spirit (vv. 16-17).
• When we choose to live by the Spirit, fruit is revealed in our lives (vv. 22-23).
• There is freedom when we allow the Spirit to guide our lives (vv. 18, 23b-25).

Be sure to discuss what it means to have fruit of the Spirit—that this is about the Spirit producing certain qualities and characteristics in our life.

Create symbols for each fruit of the Spirit. Place them in a bucket and ask the children to pull each one out and discover which fruit each symbol matches.

Fruit of the Spirit Symbols
• Love = Heart
• Joy = Happy face
• Peace = Peace sign
• Patience = Clock
• Kindness = Friends hugging
• Goodness = Emoji with a halo
• Faithfulness = Infiniti sign (You may need to help kids recognize that this symbol means “forever.”)
• Gentleness = Lamb
• Self-Control = Kid taking a deep breath

If time allows, divide children into groups and create scenarios demonstrating what it looks like to be exhibit this fruit.

MEMORY VERSE ACTIVITY

Write a fruit of the Spirit on a piece of plastic fruit or on picture cutouts of fruit. Place fruit words in consecutive order. Place an empty basket at the other end of the room and have children run down pick up a piece of fruit and add to basket. Each time a child returns with a piece of fruit the entire group repeats the memory verse until the basket is filled. For example: “The fruit of the Spirit is love…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Continue until you complete the verse.)

Now that we have explored these fruits of the Spirit, let’s take a moment to go back to the story of Tabitha.

• Which words do you think would best fit the life of Tabitha? Why?
• Is it easy to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Why or why not?
• What are some ways we might see this fruit revealed in our lives?
• Which fruit of the Spirit is the hardest for you?
• Which fruit of the Spirit comes the most naturally to you?

If there is time, ask a “saint” of your church who exemplifies living in the Spirit to come talk to the children (or someone else from your church to talk about this person). After their testimony, include time for Q&A for kids to ask questions about this person’s life.

GROW EXPLORE

G=God’s Word: Pass around some paper and crayons or markers. Invite children to re-create a part or entire passage of this Bible story. Then give them an opportunity to share what they wrote or drew and how God is speaking to them through these stories. If you created space on a bulletin board or on a wall, hang up these pictures for the rest of the church to experience.

R=Relationships: Have kids form a circle. Pass a string yarn ball to one another while instructing each child to keep holding onto the string so that it makes a tangled web around each other. As they toss the ball to each other, ask children what relationships they see in these stories. What do these relationships teach us about how we are to love God and others? How does the fruit of the Spirit help us build better relationships with one another? Continue until every person is holding a piece of the tangled web. Then say, “In our Bible stories, we see how living in the Spirit builds close connections and relationships. God calls us to be in community with one another just as we are all connected by this yarn.”

O=Outward Action: Is there anything in the Bible story that shows us how we can help or serve God or others? Tabitha gave her possessions and made clothing for those who were poor in her community. She served those around her. What things can you do to help or serve God this week? Take a small fabric square and write or draw how you can serve others. Ask children to write the Scripture verse on this fabric, and encourage them to place it in their Bible as visible reminder of how Tabitha served and how they can serve.

W=Worship: We have taken time to explore how Tabitha’s life was changed by how she expressed and responded to her faith in God. We see the power of God at display in these stories. What words come to your mind as you reflect on how God is revealed in these passages? Let’s take some time to respond by finishing this statement, “God, you are…” If there is time, choose a worship song that centers around praise and worship of God.

CLOSING

As you finish, gather children around the candle again. Remind them that the candle shows us that God is with us in this church, but as we leave this building God leaves with each of us too. God is calling and sending us out into our schools, neighborhoods, and homes to be the light to this world. But God doesn’t leave us empty-handed. He leaves us with his Holy Spirit to guide and direct our lives. Encourage children to hold their palms up and receive this final prayer and benediction.

“Now may God bless you. May you go and spread the good news to those around you. May you have the same spirit as Tabitha as you seek to love others around you. May you have the strength and courage to listen to God’s voice and choose to follow God’s way. Amen.”

Close by blowing out the candle.