Every life gets messy at times. Sometimes these messes are literal, like a house that would be easier to condemn than to clean. But sometimes they are intangible messes such as illness, conflict, depression, abuse, bankruptcy, divorce, and job loss. And these messes can be painful, hurting our hearts and our homes. But as we see in the Bible, God loves to use messy people!
In this six-week study, we will dig into the lives of biblical heroes who were messy people just like us but who were used by God in powerful ways. Together we will examine the stories of five wonderful but messy people and one messy parable character: Rahab, the Prodigal Son, Josiah, Mary, David, and Daniel. From their stories, we will learn how God can use broken people, restore damaged hearts and relationships, give us power to handle our critics, and help us deal with the hard moments of life. Along the way we’ll discover that we don’t have to just endure messy lives but can actually learn to thrive with God’s guidance and help. In the hands of God, our messes can become His masterpieces!
The participant workbook, to be used along with the study's DVD, includes five days of lessons for each week, combining study of Scripture with personal reflection, application, and prayer.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a Leader Guide and DVD with six 10-15 minute sessions.
About the Author
Jennifer Cowart is the executive pastor at Harvest Church, a United Methodist congregation in Warner Robins, Georgia, that she and her husband, Jim, began in 2001. Today Harvest serves about 2,500 people in seven worship services weekly. With degrees in Christian education, counseling, and business, she oversees a wide variety of ministries and enjoys doing life and ministry with others. As a gifted Bible teacher and speaker, Jen brings biblical truth to life through humor, authenticity, and everyday application. She is the author of the Bible study Messy People: Life Lessons from Imperfect Biblical Heroes. In addition, she and her husband, Jim, have co-written several small group studies including Hand Me Downs and Living the Five. They are the proud parents of two children.
Read an Excerpt
Changing Your Messy Story
Joshua 2; 6
DAY 1: GOD CHOOSES MESSY PEOPLE
Take a deep breath and release it slowly. You may want to do this a few times. As you breathe, allow the stresses of your day, the messes of the moment, to disappear. If only for these few minutes of your day, leave behind your struggles and give God your whole self.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession.
(1 Peter 2:9 NIV)
Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, "Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho." So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.
Read all of Rahab's story in Joshua 2 and 6.
God chooses messy people!
I used to believe that if God needed something significant done, then He would choose someone who had it all together. Do you know those women? They have well-behaved children, dress beautifully, and never lose their cool. They plan their meals in advance and come to Bible study with the homework done and the key verse memorized. They order a salad at lunch and then pick off the croutons. If God wants to do something important, then that gal is the one for the job. Right?
Maybe. But then along comes a Bible hero like Rahab, and the perfect image is shattered. Rahab gives me hope that God can use messy people — maybe even me. In fact, her story teaches me that sometimes God chooses women with rough résumés and imperfect pasts to get His tough tasks done. Our heroine this week fits this description well. In fact, the idea that she is considered a heroine at all probably would have been a joke to those who knew her personally. You see, Rahab was a prostitute.
As we explore her story this week we will see how God chooses to use messy people. Isn't that amazing! The God of the universe chooses to use people with damaged reputations, broken hearts, and sinful pasts. That is good news for us. He knows us, redeems us, and longs to bring us into His family, just as He did for Rahab.
Think back to when you were a little girl. Who was your favorite princess: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, or another?
Mine was always Cinderella. Still is. I like the singing, sewing mice, "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," the carriage, the glass slipper — all of that stuff. But what I really love is that she was the princess who was chosen. Many of the other princesses of my childhood were great and beautiful, but they had been born into the right household; their parents were royalty. Cinderella, though, was ordinary. That I can relate to.
At the heart of most women is the deep desire to be chosen. As middle schoolers in the lunchroom, we worry that we won't be chosen to sit with the other kids. In high school we want to be chosen to go to prom. As adults we want to be chosen for the promotion, the team, the club — we just want to be chosen! Great news: you are! No matter how messy your life has been, no matter what you've done or how your story has unfolded so far — God loves you, and you are chosen. Rahab's story is a great example of how God chooses to love and use messy people.
When have you felt chosen in life? How did it make you feel?
So let's get to our Bible story. Rahab lives within the walls of the world's oldest continually inhabited city, Jericho. She makes a living at the world's oldest occupation, prostitution. Jericho is the first city that Joshua comes to as God leads the Israelites across the Jordan River to conquer the land promised to the Israelites. The people who live in Jericho have heard of God and the miracles He has done for His people, but they worship pagan gods — not at all honoring the one true God.
Joshua, who has taken over leadership from his mentor, Moses, sends spies into Jericho on a reconnaissance mission. We read: Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, "Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho." So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab.
Now let's stop here for a moment. "A prostitute named Rahab." That's quite a title. Wouldn't you hate to live with a label like that? It would be like being known as "Sarah the liar" or "Rachel the drunk." Ouch! It would sting to be known by your worst quality.
What labels have you been given in life, and how have they affected you?
Have you ever felt disqualified from being used by God? Explain your response.
The men stay at Rahab's for the night. Not a bad place for men from out of town to blend in. But the king gets word that there may be spies in his kingdom, so he sends out soldiers to find them. Rahab agrees to cover for them in exchange for protection when the Israelites invade the city.
After the soldiers leave Rahab's home, she says to the Israelite spies:
"I know the LORD has given you this land. ... We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. ... For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.
"Now swear to me by the LORD that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you."
The spies agree, and when the Israelites conquer the city, Rahab and everyone in her household are spared (Joshua 6:22-23).
Was this a divine appointment that the spies would end up at Rahab's brothel? Maybe. Truthfully, we don't know. But we do know that God chose to use Rahab in a very difficult situation; she was an unlikely accomplice to God's plan.
This pagan woman, a prostitute living in a Canaanite town, recognizes and has faith in the God of Israel. She believes in a God she does not personally know but respects because of His amazing miracles. She even goes so far as to declare "the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below" (Joshua 2:11).
Read the verses below, and write your name in the blanks:
Even before he made the world, God loved ________________ and chose __________________in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
You did not choose____________________, but I chose _________________ and appointed____________________so that____________________might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever ____________________ ask[s] in my name the Father will give____________________.
(John 15:16 NIV)
What do these Scriptures teach you about God's view of you?
Do you have a mirror handy? Take a look into it. (Really, go ahead and take a look!) Describe what you see:
But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
(1 Samuel 16:7 NRSV)
When I look into the mirror, I see the flaws, the zits, the imperfections, and most recently, the wrinkles! But God doesn't. When God looks at each of us, He sees a masterpiece! Is it because the imperfections aren't really there? No, it's because He looks at things differently than we do.
Read 1 Samuel 16:7 in the margin. What does this verse tell us about how God sees us?
God looks beyond the flaws and sees who He created each of us to be. He sees someone He has chosen.
As a new mom, I looked at my tiny daughter, and all I saw was perfection. Still today, that's all I see. She may look in the mirror and want to lose a few pounds or wish she were taller or had longer hair, but I see who she was created to be. And she is beautiful! I see her potential and her beauty in ways that she may never be able to grasp. She is God's masterpiece. She is a gift in my life.
Are you able to look deeper than the outward appearance and see yourself as God does? Why or why not?
God looks beyond the flaws and sees who He created each of us to be. He sees someone He has chosen.
What do you think God sees when He looks at you? Explain your response.
What does it mean for your life to know that God chooses you?
As you look in the mirror today, reflect on 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV): "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession." God loves you! You are beautiful in His sight, and He wants to use you in great and wonderful ways!
Take a deep breath and focus your thoughts on God.
Thank God for seeing beyond your past and focusing on your potential.
Take time to praise God for making you in His image — which is beautiful, by the way!
Song suggestion: "Broken Things," recorded by Matthew West.CHAPTER 2
DAY 2: GOD USES MESSY PEOPLE
As you slow down, listen to Kari Jobe's recording of "Be Still My Soul" or another song of your choice, and allow the melody to calm you and center your heart on Christ.
For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
2 But someone told the king of Jericho, "Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." 3 So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: "Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land."
4 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, "Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn't know where they were from. 5 They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don't know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them." 6 (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) ...
8 Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. 9 "I know the Lord has given you this land," she told them. "We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. 10 For we have heard how theLORD made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. 11 ... For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below."
I grew up in church. I attended Sunday school, went on youth retreats, and dated Christian guys. By most people's standards I was a pretty good kid. So it's not surprising that my testimony is not that dramatic. In fact, it's a little boring. Now, I've come to appreciate boring, because it often leavesyou with fewer messes; but again, it doesn't make for a very remarkable faith story.
But take someone like Rahab — now, there's a story! It reads like a major motion picture: a prostitute on the rough streets of Jericho who shelters spies and then engineers a daring escape. Later she is rescued along with her whole household when the city is attacked. Where is Emma Stone or Sandra Bullock? We need to make this film!
She is an unlikely heroine. Some may even wonder how God could use someone like Rahab, who had made so many mistakes and had such a messy past. But for me, I've often wondered the opposite. How could God use someone who has an ordinary story? As a teenager I had heard testimonies of how people far from God had dramatic conversion experiences and used their transformation to reach others who were like their former selves. If only I had a dramatic story too!
The truth is that messy people come in all shapes and sizes. Our churches are full of them, because when we get right down to it, messy people are simply people with sin in their lives.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.
Read Romans 3:23 in the margin. Who are the messy people who sin?
Sin is a condition that affects us all, yet God chooses each of us and wants to use us if we will let Him. God uses sinners. Of course God uses sinners; it's all He's got to work with, right?
Reread Ephesians 2:10 (page 17). According to this verse, why does God make us new creations in Jesus?
This verse teaches us that we have been created to be used by God to do amazing things, and Jesus makes this possible! It tells us that, in Christ, we are masterpieces in God's eyes, and He wants to use everyone for His purposes.
We know this at one level; but when He chooses to use someone with a notorious past, it usually gets our attention. The spies didn't show up on the doorstep of a priest or a "good person" in Jericho. They chose a brothel. They ended up at the home of Rahab, a sinner. But she was much more than that. She was clever and worldly, and she handled stress well. Under pressure, she had the presence of mind to keep cool and devise a way to save not only the spies but also her entire family in the process. The lessons that a hard-lived life had taught her were not wasted when God called upon her to help His people. God uses messy people. God also uses those who respond in faith.
We have been created to be used by God to do amazing things, and Jesus makes this possible!
When and how have you noticed that God often uses unlikely people to accomplish His will?
Consider the disciples. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were fishermen. They were tough and calloused men who worked demanding jobs. Not being candidates for priestly training, they probably had received little formal education and, instead, had taken to the family business of fishing. When Jesus called them, everything changed. They were no longer rejected; they were chosen. Matthew, another disciple, was a tax collector. He was perhaps educated but surely not well liked as a tax official in the Galilean region. These are some of the men Jesus personally chose as His closest companions. Their lives are recorded for us to see thousands of years later, but how were they qualified?
Let's look at a few of their stories and see what stands out.
Read the following verses and underline the descriptions of how the disciples responded to Jesus.
18 ne day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers — Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew — throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!" 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
21 little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
(Matthew 9:9 NIV)
What does this reveal to us about their one qualification?
We don't see any perfect pedigrees here. There are no qualifications that seem to set them apart from others. What we see are messy people with a willingness to respond to the call of God. They were willing to alter their plans for God. In fact, the words at once and immediately almost jump off the page. These men responded at once, immediately, in faith! Just like Rahab.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Messy People"
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author 6
Week 1 Rahab: Changing Your Messy Story (Joshua 2: 6) 10
Week 2 The Prodigal Son: Restoring Messy Relationships (Luke 15:11-32) 38
Week 3 Josiah: Breaking Messy Family Cycles (2 Kings 22-23: 2 Chronicles 34-35) 68
Week 4 Mary: Surviving Life's Messy Plot Twists (Luke 1: 26-38) 102
Week 5 David: Overcoming the Mess of Criticism (1 Samuel 16-18: 2 Samuel 12; 15) 132
Week 6 Daniel: Thriving in Messy Circumstances (Daniel 1-3) 168
Video Viewer Guide: Answers 202