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living crazy love
AN INTERACTIVE WORKBOOK FOR INDIVIDUAL OR SMALL-GROUP STUDY
By FRANCIS CHAN, Mark Beuving
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
All rights reserved.
SESSION 1 STOP PRAYING
For more information on the material in this session, read the Preface and chapter 1 of the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.
If you have the Crazy Love DVD Study Resource, watch the video for session 1 now, particularly if you are meeting with a group. After the video, work through the rest of this session.
One of the most frightening aspects of the Christian life is that we can actually become apathetic about speaking to God! This isn't about getting bored while talking to an economics professor, an old friend, or even your spouse—we have the privilege of talking to God through prayer, and yet most of us pray regularly without thinking about what we're doing. I'm convinced that our relationships with God would be absolutely transformed if we all took the simple step of considering who God is.
Even though you're just beginning this session, stop right now. Take a few minutes to actually consider who it is you're talking to. Then write down some thoughts in response to the two questions below.
1. What do you think would come out of your mouth the moment you first saw God? What would be the first words you would say?
2. How has your relationship with God and your prayer life been different as a result of reading chapter 1 and considering God's glory? If your life hasn't been different enough, how would you like to see it change?
Prayer is a unique privilege. We actually get to come before God, enjoy His presence, and ask Him to work in our lives. Yet I'm amazed at how quickly I forget the significance of prayer. I often approach prayer as a given and halfheartedly throw my requests at God without giving it (or God) a second thought.
Solomon has some heavy words for those of us who are quick to rush into God's presence:
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Eccl. 5:1–2)
We have a tendency to rush into God's presence irreverently—speaking our mind and rarely stopping to enjoy His presence or consider what He may want to say to us. I can't say that I ever consciously developed my prayer life, but I can tell you that I didn't build my prayer life around an appropriate view of God. I grew up praying because I was told to do so; my prayer habits were deeply entrenched before I stopped to consider what I was actually doing.
Take some time to pause and think through two things. First, spend some time meditating on Solomon's words. What is he getting at? Why is he saying this? How would your life look different if you made these words fundamental to your approach to God? After you've thought this through for a bit, analyze the way you pray: when you pray, how often, what you ask for, how you address God, etc. When you're ready, continue with the questions below.
3. Describe your prayer life. Do you find yourself talking at God, or do you take time to consider who you are talking to and enjoy being awed by His presence? Why do you think you tend to pray the way you do?
Inherent in Solomon's argument is an incredibly high view of God. If God is exactly like us, then we may not see the need to approach Him with a sense of awe. But if God is who He says He is, then Solomon's words are especially poignant: Only fools rush into the presence of God.
4. How often do you stop to consider how great God is and how insignificant you are by comparison? When you do, what leads you to this point? If you never do, why do you think you've never done this?
5. How can you build these times of reflection into your lifestyle?
Perhaps you're convinced at this point. Maybe all you needed was a reminder of God's greatness, and everything you've been reading has reinspired you to view God in all His glory. Even if that's the case, you still have many obstacles to overcome—not just now, but on an ongoing basis. It's all but impossible to escape the incessant distractions in our lives. There are so many things—many of them good things—that keep us from thinking about that which is most important in life.
Take some time to think about your specific lifestyle and context. Think about what this sort of awareness of God's greatness would look like as a part of your daily life.
6. What things in your life distract you from loving and worshipping God the way He deserves to be loved and worshipped?
What can you do to overcome these obstacles?
In addition to the obstacles and distractions we all face, there is a more subtle and potent aspect of our lives that would keep us from living in light of God's absolute greatness. Even if we believe that God is greater than we are, we all have to overcome our tendency to view God as an all-powerful genie. In other words, it's possible to view God as powerful but to misunderstand His purpose, to believe that God exists to grant our wishes and make us happy.
This is an extremely important concept to explore. When you think about the whole point of the universe, do you see God at the center of everything? Or do you see yourself and your happiness as the ultimate goal? Try to move beyond your intellectual answer and analyze your emotions and core commitments. And don't stop there. Examine your life and consider what your lifestyle might reveal about this. What do your priorities and actions say about the way you view God?
7. Which aspects of your priorities, thoughts, and actions declare that you exist for God's service and glory?
8. Which aspects of your life declare that God exists for your benefit and service?
9. If there are aspects of your life that declare that God exists for your benefit and service, how can you begin to reorder these aspects of your life around the reality of God's greatness and your dependence on Him?
I think the best way to end this session is to push you to stand in the presence of God. In just a minute, I'm going to ask you to read Revelation 4. In this passage, John finds himself standing in the throne room of heaven. His language and tone reveal that he is not prepared for what he sees. Everything about John's vision is stunning: the physical layout of the throne room, the flashing lightning and roaring thunder, the bizarre creatures before the throne and their strong response to God's glory, and especially the picture of God Himself seated on the throne.
Read this passage, and try to imagine yourself standing where John stood and watching this scene unfold. It may seem fanciful, but John is describing reality. As you place yourself in the midst of Revelation 4, allow yourself to experience all of the surprise and awe that John must have experienced. After you've spent some time reading and thinking about this passage, continue below.
10. Which details in this passage strike you the most? Why?
Recalling the scene in Revelation 4 would be a great place to start before you pray. But there are many other things you can do to remind yourself of God's greatness. Maybe it's stepping out under the stars and considering the immense size of God's creation, or meditating on the greatness of God's love for you, or considering the intricate design of the human body. Whatever it is, we should be reminded of God's greatness on a regular basis. This is His world after all, and it is literally shouting about His greatness at every moment (see Psalm 19).
But even though reminders of God's greatness are all around us, we still need to pay attention to them. We still need to develop a habit of noticing God's glory and reminding ourselves of why He's so great.
11. What can you do right now to ensure that you will pause before every prayer to consider the God you are praying to?
12. Spend some time in prayer. Before you begin speaking, however, put into practice some of the realities you've been considering. Take time to picture God on His throne. Consider the angels shouting about His holiness and the twenty- four elders throwing their crowns at His feet as they fall on their faces. After you've taken some time to remind yourself of who God is and to enjoy the greatness of His presence, then begin talking to Him. But even then, heed Solomon's warning, and let your words be few.
WRITE SOME REFLECTIONS ON ... STOP PRAYINGCHAPTER 2
SESSION 2 YOU MIGHT NOT FINISH THIS CHAPTER
For more information on the material in this session, read chapter 2 of the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.
Do you want to make an impact on your world? There's no way you're going to answer that question negatively. Some are more consciously driven by this goal than others, but we all want to make a difference; we all want to influence people for good.
But if this is what we're all striving for, why do we seem to get stuck in a rut of mediocrity? I'm not suggesting that if you're not a missionary or a millionaire, then your life doesn't matter. I'm simply saying that we all get caught up doing things that don't really matter. We all get distracted. And I think we all know this is the case. We want something more. We long to make a difference, to devote ourselves to something bigger and better.
Sadly, most of us have been taught to settle. We've come to accept that the Christian life is about being somewhat moral, attending a church service, and saying our prayers. But we all know this is shallow. We were meant to live for a much greater purpose than personal comfort. Christianity is about taking broken people, transforming them, and then using those transformed people to transform the world. It's always been this way, from the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon the early church in Acts 2.
So what keeps you from pursuing greatness? What holds you back from seeking everything God wants for you and is calling you to? My suspicion is that most Christians settle for less simply because they get busy and distracted with so many other things. Of course, there are many distractions in our lives that shouldn't be there—I'm thinking here of actively engaging in sinful activities or pursuing things that God has clearly directed you away from. But there are many good things in our lives that also end up distracting us from pursuing the things we know God is calling us to.
Even things as good as jobs, kids, spouses, church programs, etc., can take our eyes off of what is most important if we begin to view them and use them in the wrong way. There is a healthy, appropriate, and incredibly important side to each of these good activities, and pouring huge amounts of time and energy into them may be the best way for you to serve God. But the subtle deception of idolatry pushes us to take that which is good and use it in ungodly ways. So while investing in our kids and teaching them to love God and serve the people around them would bring glory to God, our twisted desire to have perfect, high-achieving kids who make us look good in public would not.
1. List the elements in your life that keep you distracted. Include both good things and bad things in this list.
Once you have identified some of these things, it's important to evaluate why you got distracted in the first place. As I said, good things can take our attention off of the most important things. But why do these good things end up being distractions? God wants you to be diligent and creative in your job. If you're married, God wants you to devote time, attention, and love toward your spouse. If you have children, God wants you to invest time into their lives, loving them and teaching them how to function in the world that God created.
But if you find yourself so focused on these things that you aren't enjoying God's presence in the midst of it, consciously trying to honor God through the way you do these activities and pursuing the things that you know God wants you to pursue, then these things have become distractions. It's helpful to evaluate how these good things ended up pushing you in the wrong direction. By thinking this through, you will be setting yourself up to restructure your life in a way that does not neglect the good things that God has given you, but also allows you to stay focused on God's purpose for your life.
2. How is it that the good things in your life have come to distract you from what is most important?
3. What would it take to adjust your lifestyle and mentality in order to put the most important things back in their proper place?
It's incredibly important that we keep our lives in the proper perspective. For one thing, we go to great lengths to avoid thinking about death. We all know that life is fragile, but who wants to think about the end of their life? It's easy to get people to visualize wealth and success, but nobody wants to acknowledge that they could die today.
We also like to live as though we were the center of the universe. Most of us would deny this, but when we examine the way we spend our time and money, it sure looks like we are the kings of our own mini-kingdoms. Our lives are focused on our goals, our desires, and our decisions.
We know that we could die at any moment and that we're not really the center of the universe. But what does it take to put everything in the proper perspective—to see the world as God sees it?
Start by reading James 4:13–17. It's a short passage with a simple point. But don't read it too quickly. Take some time to meditate on what James is saying. After you've considered the passage for a while, continue by answering the questions below.
4. Make a few notes on this passage. What is James warning against? What is he calling us to do?
5. If James were to say these words specifically to you in the midst of your current life situation, what do you think he would tell you to avoid? What do you think he would tell you to pursue?
One telltale sign of misplaced priorities and a misunderstanding of your role in the universe is stress or anxiety. Of course, stress is a pervasive aspect of our modern culture. A "successful career" is just another way of referring to a stressful lifestyle. The more we are responsible for, the more we feel that weight and the more anxious we get.
Even though stress and anxiety are givens in our culture, a stressful lifestyle carries a certain amount of arrogance. It's not wrong to be appropriately busy, but it's wrong to be anxious about the things in our lives, as if we have control over how things will turn out. Even though Paul tells us to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4), we think that our circumstances are more important and that if we work hard enough, we can make everything turn out all right.
Getting rid of the anxiety in your life doesn't necessarily mean that you should quit your job or stop every activity that keeps you busy (though it may mean one or both of these things). You may well keep doing the exact same things you're doing now, but keeping everything in perspective is absolutely essential. And this means that you have to put even yourself in perspective. Again, we have to remember that we're not in control of our lives. We are absolutely dependent on God. We have a responsibility to act and obey God, but we're not going to change the world on our own by simply trying harder.
6. What are the sources of stress and anxiety in your life?
It's easy to simply say, "Stop being anxious; just trust God." Unfortunately, that's often the council we give and receive when it comes to anxiety and stress. It's good advice to some extent: We do need to stop being anxious, and we do need to trust God. But what would that really look like in your life? Don't settle for an easy answer here—try to wrestle with this. Think about your proper place in the universe and the everyday situations that you find yourself in. Make some notes below to help you begin putting your stressful situations in the right perspective.
7. What can you do to remind yourself of God's care and your dependence on Him in the midst of these stressful situations?
The Christian life is all about dependence on God. Again, this is something that we'd probably all agree on, but most of our lives look more like demonstrations of our own independence than humble attempts to rely on God in every situation. If this is God's world, if every moment of your life is a gift from God, and if your life is about God's kingdom rather than your own, then those realities ought to be reflected in the way you live.
8. How can you structure your life to reflect the fact that your every second is dependent on the grace of God?
Excerpted from living crazy love by FRANCIS CHAN, Mark Beuving. Copyright © 2011 Francis Chan and Mark Beuving. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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