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Experiencing God's Presence
By Janet Kobobel Grant
ZondervanCopyright © 1998 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCelebrate Him!
Most of us use any excuse for a party. One woman threw a Spring Is Coming Picnic to deal with midwinter doldrums. Her green living room carpet served as the lawn, and she even purchased plastic ants to toss onto the tablecloth spread with springtime treats. Another woman gave her dog a birthday party and invited friends over to play Pin the Tail on the Puppy (a paper puppy, not the real item) and other canine-related games. Why, the whole concept of Thank God It's Friday sounds like a party waiting to happen once a week!
Yes, we're always on the lookout for reasons to celebrate. God seems to approve, for the Bible reports a number of festivities: David's celebration when the ark is moved into the city (dancing, music, and food abounded); the wedding feast with the finest wine money couldn't buy; the regular family fetes Job's children had; the end-of-sheep-shearing party Nabal refused to invite David to; the Passover feast to celebrate God's mercy.
Despite our propensity to party and God's institution of some celebrations of his own, we seem to spend little time experiencing God through celebration. How do we establish a personal tradition of praising him? We'll take a look at a couple of ways people in the Bible did just that. One is a Grand Opening that included weeping and rejoicing; the other shows us how to throw a grand opening in our own hearts.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. Isaiah 25:6
A Moment for Quiet Reflection
1. Find a quiet corner in which you can relax, maybe sip a cup of tea, and jot down thoughts as they occur to you. View this time and place as the setting to meet with and experience God.
2. List the different types of celebrations you can recall ever attending.
3. What were your favorites? Why?
4. How could you incorporate your favorite aspects of a celebration into your relationship with God? (Remember, you don't have to celebrate your spiritual relationship by yourself. That's what the term "corporate worship" means.)
5. Make a plan to include some of those ideas into your times with God in the weeks ahead.
Knowing God's Heart
1. Share a celebration idea from your reflection time with the group. This is one way you can begin to get to know each other, and you might just pick up some ideas that hadn't occurred to you.
2. Praising God is a key element in celebrating your relationship with him. Psalm 147 provides us with a list of reasons to praise him. Read over the entire psalm, and find ten reasons it gives to praise God.
3. Discuss five ways to praise God suggested in this psalm.
4. What are some of the specific ways you have praised God and how have they led you to experience him more deeply?
5. Brainstorm ideas for creatively using the five ways to praise God described in the psalm during your personal times with God.
6. In Ezra 3, a corporate time of celebrating God takes place when the Israelites have a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the laying of the temple's foundation. The temple had been destroyed decades before when Israel was overrun by the Babylonians, and the Israelites were carted off as prisoners. Those who attended the ceremony were returning exiles or the children of exiles. According to verses 10-11, what elements were used to make the celebration special?
7. Verses 12-13 report the crowd expressed a mixture of joy and tears. What occasions today can you think of in which people feel such a range of emotions?
8. What does this passage's scene tell us about "appropriate" emotions when we praise God?
9. List as many reasons as you can think of that these people had to praise God.
10. What does the psalm and the passage from Ezra teach you about the meaning of "praising God"?
11. How can you enrich your relationship with God through praising him?
Have you noticed that we are laughter and tears, Dirges and dances, jubilations and consternations, Hallelujahs and woes?
Declare the upcoming week Celebrate Friendship Week. Exchange phone numbers and addresses. Keep your eyes open for little tokens of friendship (a bookmark or a card), quotes about friendship, or cartoons or jokes about friends. Each day call a different person in the group and tell her what you've discovered. Start out by calling the person who sat on your right and work your way around the circle. Or send that person the item. Use this week to concentrate on growing closer to one another.
Just for Fun
Plan a time to attend a local celebration together. It could be a store's grand opening (ooh, sales!), an ethnic group's festival, a circus, a chili cook-off, or whatever is happening in your community. Use your imagination and dare to do something you haven't done before. Pay attention to the various emotions within and around you and what they tell you about the nature of celebration.
When I was a child, my Sunday-school teacher always told me, "God's blessing bucket is bottomless." Barbara Johnson
Name some songs of praise you especially like. As a group, pick two of them and sing them as your prayer together. If you have trouble choosing, you might want to sing a couple of familiar Christmas songs such as "Joy to the World" or "O Come All Ye Faithful."
Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, Asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence. The Book of Common Prayer
Making It Real in Your Own Life
1. Nature is a luxurious place to look for reasons to celebrate God. It's loaded with lovely sights-and sometimes silly ones, too. (Ever watch a squirrel and a dog having a "discussion" over whom the backyard belongs to?) Keep a list this week of what you see in nature that causes you to celebrate.
2. At the end of the week, look over your list and write a psalm, praising God for how wonderfully he has expressed himself in nature and how this enriches your personal experience of him. To get in the right frame of mind, you might want to read Psalm 19 and Psalm 95. Relax and think of this as a way to let God know you recognize how awesome he is.
Excerpted from Experiencing God's Presence by Janet Kobobel Grant Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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