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A Life Without Worry
By MARGARET FEINBERG
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson
All rights reserved.
Noah's Big Boat Adventure
Noah was a brave man to sail in a wooden boat with two termites.
Noah didn't have a single reason to worry—he had hundreds of furry and scaly reasons. God selected this unsuspecting man for an unusual task: he was asked to go into the boat-building business.
Noah didn't know the first thing about seafaring, so the request must have caught him by surprise. Build a boat. Fill it with animals. Prepare for rain. However, through his obedience, Noah would save himself, his family, and a boatload of animals from a worldwide flood.
Why did God select Noah? We don't know all the reasons, but Genesis tells us that God regretted He had made humankind (Gen. 6:6). In fact, God actually grieved and felt sadness in His heart. However, when God looked across the earth, He noticed one man who was different: Noah. This blameless and righteous man not only walked with God but found great favor with God. So God approached him with some good news and some bad news. God chose to deliver the bad news first. Everything on the earth was going to be destroyed. But the good news was that Noah and his family were to be saved. All they had to do was build a boat and climb aboard. Sounds crazy, right?
The Bible tells us Noah did everything God asked of him—which was no small feat. God was specific about not only the dimensions of the boat but also the kind of wood Noah should use. When he finished the boat, Noah gathered the animals, just as instructed, and he and his family climbed aboard. They waited. Noah's neighbors must have thought he was crazy.
When the first raindrops hit the wooden deck, Noah and his family knew he wasn't crazy after all. Noah had obeyed God and responded with faith. As the waters rose, worry probably set in. How long would the storm last? Would the boat hold together? Had he packed enough food for all the animals? For his family? Yet Noah discovered that the same God who had instructed him to build the ark was still leading and guiding and providing as they all waited for the waters to subside. When Noah and his family finally stepped on dry ground again, Noah had only one response: to worship God.
Through Noah's life, we're reminded that faith challenges us to push aside our worries and our stress and trust God no matter how unusual the circumstances. Though we may face unexpected situations, we can choose to live by faith. We can be people like Noah who are righteous and who walk with God.
1. Read Genesis 6:5–8. How was Noah different from the other people on the earth?
2. What do you think differentiates the righteous from the unrighteous? Make a list of characteristics for each in the space below.
3. Which of the characteristics listed above best describe you? Are there any changes in your attitude or actions that you need to make to become more righteous?
4. Read Genesis 6:9–21. What emotions do you think Noah felt when he heard God's instructions (Gen. 6:13–21)? What worries and doubts do you think Noah experienced as he built the ark? Make a list below.
5. Reflecting on your list of the emotions, worries, and doubts Noah experienced, which ones do you tend to wrestle with in your own life?
6. Read Genesis 8:14–21. What was Noah's priority once he emptied the ark (Hint: Gen. 8:20)? What does this reveal about Noah's relationship with God? What does it teach us about our own priorities?
7. What does the story of Noah's adventure aboard the ark reveal to you about the nature of God?
8. How are you challenged and encouraged by Noah's story to trust God more in your own life right now?
Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Hall of Faith—where a handful of characters from Scripture are commended for their great faith and trust in God. Read Hebrews 11:1–7. Who are the first three people commended in the listing of faith heroes? What do they all have in common? What do you think are some of the greatest qualities of Noah that you want to emulate in your own life?
Use a search engine like BibleGateway.com to find other places where Noah is mentioned in Scripture (Hint: Matt. 24:36–44 and 2 Peter 2:4–6). What insights do you gain about Noah and about God as you reflect on these passages?CHAPTER 2
Isaac's Unforgettable Love Story
Trust the past to God's mercy, the present to God's love, and the future to God's providence.
Augustine of Hippo, Christian theologian
One of the greatest love stories of all time is tucked into the book of Genesis and displayed in the unlikely meeting of Isaac and Rebekah. So many circumstances had to align perfectly for these two individuals to come together. What if just one what-if didn't work out?
Abraham had fallen in love with Sarah, his wife of many years, and longed for his own son Isaac to experience the same kind of loving and intimate relationship. Abraham also knew that if the promises God had given were to come true—namely, that he would be the father of many nations—Isaac needed a baby. But before a baby, he needed a bride. What if he fell in love with a foreign woman who did not share his love for the one true God? What if he found no one suitable back home with his old clan? With all the pressures, Abraham was tempted to worry.
Abraham wasn't the only one who felt the pressure. Instead of sending his own son to search for a bride, Abraham turned to his trusted servant to find the perfect wife for Isaac. Abraham asked the servant to find a wife who was not a Canaanite but was instead one of his own relatives. Think of the poor servant and the endless refrain that ran through his mind as he crossed every dusty mile: What if the woman won't come back with me to this land? (Gen. 24:5, 39) The what-ifs flooded his mind.
Even after the servant identified a very special woman, Rebekah, at the well, the what-ifs didn't end. What if Rebekah was tired and didn't want to water a stranger's camels? What if her father refused to allow Rebekah to her leave her native land? Those familiar with the story know that all the what-ifs worked out because a powerful, sovereign God was in control all along. The word sovereign means that God has absolute control over everything, all the details of life—even the circumstances that led to the marriage of Rebekah and Isaac.
We all face a barrage of what-ifs every day. If left unchecked, they can wreak havoc with our hearts, minds, and emotions. What if I end up alone? What if my rebellious child never learns to harness his actions? What if the doctor says it's serious? But there are greater what-if questions we can ask ourselves. What if we choose to trust God with all the details? What if we choose to pray? What if we choose to walk in faith? What if we choose to follow God's instructions fully and faithfully?
What if the same sovereign God who brought Isaac and Rebekah together is still sovereign over our lives today? What if God has something better than we ever expected waiting for us around the next corner?
1. Take turns reading Genesis 24:1–9. What was the servant's immediate what-if question regarding the oath his master asked him to take (Hint: Gen. 24:1–5)? When in the past week have you responded to a situation or person with an immediate what-if question?
2. Read Genesis 24:10–14. When in the last week have you asked the Lord for something specific as the servant did? What was the response?
3. Stressful situations are always less stressful when we turn to the Lord in prayer instead of turning inward with worry. How often do you turn to the Father when you are facing what-ifs? Place an "x" along the continuum below. What prevents you from turning to the Lord more frequently?
4. What are three great what-ifs you are facing in your life right now?
5. How are you handling each of the three what-ifs you listed emotionally? Spiritually?
6. Use the space below to write out a personal prayer to the Lord about the what-ifs you listed in question four. Be specific in your request so you will recognize how and when God answers.
Many times throughout Scripture, God is described as being sovereign, meaning He has absolute authority over everything. The story of the extraordinary meeting of Isaac and Rebekah displays a beautiful facet of God's sovereignty—the knowledge that we can find God at work even in the smallest details.
7. Take turns reading Genesis 24:15–67. What does the story of Isaac and Rebekah reveal about the sovereignty of God? When in your life have you seen evidence of God's sovereignty?
8. Which what-if questions in your life do you need to surrender to God knowing that everything is under His control and nothing escapes His notice? Which what-if questions have been holding you back from growing in trust and walking in obedience to God?
Read Luke 22:39–46. How did Jesus respond to the big what-if before His arrest? What is the biggest what-if question you have ever faced? How did you respond? What can you do now in your daily spiritual walk that will prepare you for the big what-if moments in life?
Spend some time researching other men and women in the Bible, such as Jonah, Mary, Moses, Peter, and Thomas. Make a list of the what-if questions they faced. Compare and contrast the what-if questions in their lives to those in your own.CHAPTER 3
Hagar Is Pursued by God
One day we will meet beside the river and our Lord will dry every tear. For now, we must live in the joy of that promise and recall that for every generation life is hard, but God is faithful.
Bodie Thoene, Author
Hagar wasn't just Sarah's maid; she helped run the household. Whenever Sarah needed something, Hagar was quick to respond, ready to serve. One day Sarah approached Hagar with an unexpected request—would Hagar bear Abram a son since Sarah was barren?
Hagar agreed and probably believed she was honoring Abram and Sarah. But after the conception of her son, Ishmael, everything changed. Tensions at home began to rise. Sarah's attitude toward Hagar was cold, her tone harsh, and her demands unfair. Hagar tried to do what was right, but everything seemed to be going wrong.
Layered with worry and stress, Hagar felt as if she had no choice. She fled. She knew deep down that running away wouldn't solve anything, but what else could she do? She found a spring in the desert and sat alone in her misery. Hot sun beating down; tears probably streaming down her face. She had no way out. Hagar had done everything she knew to do. No one on earth understood the pain and isolation she felt. But God did. In the hot, dry, dusty desert, Hagar learned one of the greatest lessons any human can ever learn—God sees us. We are never alone.
God met Hagar in her lowest moment. When she was at her wits' end, running away from problems that were too big for her to bear, God met her in a profound way. But the truth is that God had been by her side through it all. In an incredible desert meeting with God, Hagar didn't experience the slightest judgment or condemnation for the way she was feeling. Instead, the Lord met her with compassion and a promise for a better tomorrow.
There is little doubt that the encounter with God in the desert stuck with Hagar for the rest of her life. In that place, Hagar met God and gave Him a very personal name: The God Who Sees Me.
Isn't it comforting to know that when no one seems to notice the heavy burden you bear or the stress and worry you feel inside, there is a God who sees you too? He will meet you in moments of misery and speak words of promise to you just as He did for Hagar. Lift up your eyes; see the One who sees you.
1. Read Genesis 16:1–6. If you asked both Sarah and Hagar to give their perspectives on what happened in this passage, they would probably tell wildly different stories. Why is it important to always hear the other side of the story?
Overwhelmed by her overbearing and cruel mistress, Hagar fled into the wilderness. She had nowhere to turn and no one who seemed to be on her side.
2. When was the last time you felt hopeless, as Hagar did? What restored your hope?
Hagar didn't just continue wallowing in her sorrows—someone met her in her time of greatest need.
3. Read Genesis 16:7–16. Place a check mark by each statement that you imagine Hagar wished the angel had said to her. Then circle the promise the angel actually gave to Hagar in the desert.
___ Sarah would be nicer to her now.
___ Hagar would have a son.
___ Circumstances at home would improve.
___ Abram would defend Hagar.
___ Hagar would have too many descendants to count.
4. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation like Hagar's, where the instruction or encouragement you received from the Lord wasn't exactly what you wanted to hear? How did you respond?
Years later, Hagar ended up in the desert again. This time she was sent away by Sarah rather than running on her own.
5. Read Genesis 21:8–21. What are the similarities and differences between the two trips to the desert?
6. What do both journeys reveal about the faithfulness of God?
7. What comfort from Hagar's encounters with the Lord do you find in your own life right now?
8. Look up each of the passages in the table below. In the second column, write down the promise each verse makes. Which of these passages gives you the most hope for your life right now?
The book of Jeremiah was written thousands of years ago to a people living in exile. Read Jeremiah 29:11. What promise does God give to His people in this passage? What encouragement does this passage bring you right now? How do you think Hagar would have responded if she had read this passage in the desert?
Take a survey among your friends or fellow church members to see what their favorite promise of God is. Write down all the promises in one place and keep them in your journal or Bible. Bring them out and read them for encouragement the next time you experience a middle-of-the-desert moment as Hagar did.CHAPTER 4
Sarah's Echoing Laughter
All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
Julian of Norwich, Christian mystic and theologian
As the wife of Abraham, Sarah spent years hoping, praying, and yearning for a baby. Sarah may have even eaten a few unusual foods that well-meaning friends suggested would help her become pregnant. When you really want a baby, you will do nearly anything to make your dream come true.
Sarah grew old waiting for a child. Though so much was at stake—her family's future, the promises of God, her own reputation—Sarah finally came to terms with the fact that she would never have children. She was barren. Somewhere along the way she allowed herself to stop being a lady who hadn't had children yet to a disgraced and disappointed old woman who couldn't give her husband a son. The one thing she had hoped for all those years was never going to happen. All hope was gone as far as she was concerned.
But as far as God was concerned—and He always had been concerned about his daughter, Sarah—the impossible for her was more than possible for Him. God had a master plan, not only for her life but also for the life of her unborn son and an entire nation. The Lord sent messengers to speak to Sarah's husband, Abraham, about the barrenness. These men showed up out of nowhere and promised she'd become pregnant. When they suggested something so absurd, Sarah couldn't help herself; she literally burst out with laughter. Becoming pregnant at her age was silliness.
For God, however, this was no laughing matter! An aged body was no barrier for a God who specializes in the miraculous. God didn't need any help or manipulation from Sarah. All He needed was room to be God. Sarah needed to surrender her hopes and disappointments and lost dreams to the One who had the power to change her broken, barren heart into a fertile breeding ground of faith.
In some ways Sarah's story is every woman's story. We all have hopes and dreams in our hearts. Some come true with relative ease. Others require hard work on our part. Yet others are impossible for humankind, but somehow by the grace of God our hopes and dreams are fulfilled when we least expect them and in ways we never imagined.
Regardless of whether our desires land in the fulfilled or not yet category, we can always be certain that God sees and understands our hearts. It may be that He chooses to wait to fulfill our hope, or it may be that God will turn our sorrow into laughter just as He did for Sarah.
Excerpted from Trusting God by MARGARET FEINBERG. Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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