(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
A Holy Interruption
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
A large crowd gathered around Jesus as his boat landed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jairus, a local leader, desperately pressed through, begging Jesus to heal his dying daughter. As Jesus moved through the unwieldy crowd to respond, he sensed that another desperate person had touched him in a way that tapped his healing power. He confirmed for her that her faith had made her whole. Then he restored Jairus’ daughter to life. Two interruptions—and both gave Jesus a chance to exercise his healing, redemptive power.
“A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him,” Luke wrote. But any original reason for going to Nain was forgotten when another large crowd came through the city gates, not to greet Jesus but to support a grieving widow and mother whose only son had died. Jesus’ compassion led him to promptly lay aside any other agenda until he brought the woman’s son back to life, and restored him to his mother.
Jesus met a woman bound by a disability for 18 years, and acted decisively to set her free. The synagogue leader objected— tradition bound him, and he saw only a broken rule, not a healed person. Jesus firmly challenged the man’s rule-bound point of view. Although “those in the crowd” rejoiced at what he was doing, the story leaves us to wonder what it might have taken to set the synagogue leader free.
Every life has challenges—sometimes minor, other times trials that test the very fiber of our being. James urged Christians to meet life’s tests as “occasions for joy.” He didn’t mean the tests were pleasant, but rather that times that test us, in small or large ways, are chances to grow our endurance. God will use that endurance, James went on, to “complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”
Even in a world without smart phones or tablet computers, James was aware that many people believed their own plans and schedules meant that they were fully in control of their own lives. Often it takes interruptions, illnesses or other kinds of life challenges to puncture that illusion of control, and remind us that God, not us, ultimately is the king of our world and our lives.
Every life runs into obstacles and challenges. Jesus met those challenges, not with despair or frustration, but with hopeful anticipation of the holy moments they might lead to. The apostle Paul sketched the spiritual growth process through which every Christ-follower can develop a character filled with that kind of hope. Rooted in God’s grace (“Therefore”—verse 1), and saturated with God’s love poured into our hearts (verse 5), all of us can walk the road from trouble to endurance, from endurance to character, and from character to hope.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord God, replace the darkness of our weakness with the light of your love, joy, peace, faith and hope. While we diligently plan, let us trust our future to your wisdom and will. Help us to grow in endurance and trust. Grant us courage and fortitude to stay the course even when alone we might stumble. Guide our lives and interrupt our lives with your heavenly intervention. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
This week, an airline pilot died in mid-flight. If the situation was worse while you were on a leisurely airline flight and it was announced that the plane was going to have to make a crash landing, what thoughts would go through your mind? How much effect would your faith have on those crisis moment thoughts?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Mark 5:21-43. What was it that made the woman approach Jesus in such a timid way? What do you suppose she felt when Jesus asked who had touched him? Have you ever approached God in a timid way? Did God reject you upon your approach, or did you sense a different reaction from God? Why did Jesus say to Jarius, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting”? When have you had to keep trusting God after a prayer of yours was not answered in the way you had hoped?
Read Luke 7:11-17. How would you react if you went to a hospital, saw someone touch a dead person and that person sat up and climbed out of their bed? Can you imagine this scene? What need drove Jesus to do what he did? What effect do you suppose Jesus’ power had on the life of the grieving widow? Can the power of God have effects beyond the immediate and the obvious? Can we always anticipate the extent of the effect of Christ on our lives? What do you think the people were thinking when they said, “A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to help his people”?
Read Luke 13:10-17. This woman was set free from her infirmities. Was the synagogue leader set free from his thoughtless rules? How did the woman react to her healing? Has God ever freed you from something that had bound you for a long time? Has God ever given you the privilege of being part of the process of freeing someone else from a long-standing burden? Are there any customs, traditions or social barriers that you’d be angry about if God ignored them? Are you open and flexible enough to be free of similar “sin definitions” and the burdens those attitudes place on others?
Read James 1:2-5. How have the trials you have faced in life produced perseverance in you? Is your perseverance contributing to your becoming “fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing”? What should our attitude be when we face the trials of life? How can our faith shape the way we view these trials? What have you learned from facing a hard trial in your life? James says that God will freely give wisdom to anyone who asks. To you, what is wisdom? Has God ever given you wisdom to face a tough challenge?
Read James 4:13-17. How far ahead do most of us try to plan our lives? Is James’ message here that none of us should do any planning? How many of us consider, daily, what God’s plan might be for our lives? How many of us consider that we might have precious little time to complete our Godly missions in life? Do you know anyone who, facing illness or impending death has, as a result, completely turned their life around? Why does this sometimes happen? We all enjoy free will, but to what extent are any of us really in charge of our lives? What role does humility play in James’ message?
Read Romans 5:1-5. What does “justified through faith” mean to you? Discuss the logic and meaning of “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” What does it mean for us to have character? What makes hope such an important attitude to have? How do we go about opening ourselves to God’s power to change the core of our being so that we can develop perseverance, character and hope?
From last week: Did you review the article on dying well and consider the reality of your own death with the goal of having a healthy attitude about the process of living and dying in calm assurance for God’s glory? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, September 29, 2013:
One of my favorite interruptions actually happens in Mark 5…
In Mark 5, Jesus is on his way to Nazareth, to visit his hometown. As he makes his way, a very large crowd gathered around him and emerging from this anxious group was one of the leaders of the synagogue named, Jairus. Jairus came forward and when he saw Jesus, Jairus stood in his way, fell at his feet and begged him, He cried, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Her life is hanging in the balance. Won’t you come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live?”
Jesus is once again on this mission…he’s going to Nazareth to preach and teach and once more he’s interrupted. This time it’s a high ranking official. It’s an important person and he needs help. His twelve year old daughter is dying. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
Sensing Jairus’ desperation…Jesus chooses again to change directions. This, of course, sends his GPS into a tizzy of recalibration…as Jesus starts off toward Jairus’ house, his GPS starts crying…recalculating, recalculating…
Jesus begins walking with Jairus to save his daughter, and together they take off on this life saving mission…however, as He goes, an even bigger crowd sets in behind him and as they surround him and press in on him, another interruption emerges. This time it’s a woman who has been suffering for 12 long years. Mark 5: 26-29: “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
For 12 years this woman had been suffering. She had been bleeding. She had been to the doctor, she had changed her diet, she had done everything in her power to get better, but she wasn’t getting any better. In fact she was getting worse. She was out of options and didn’t have any hope left…you almost get the sense that she viewed Jesus as her only chance at getting better. So this bleeding woman sees Jesus walking with the masses in the distance, and with everything she has and all that she has left, she gets close to this man. She reaches out and touches his clothes. Maybe that’s all it will take? Maybe all I need to do is touch him? Maybe he won’t even notice?
As the crowds pressed in on Jesus, Jesus feels something tugging at him, in fact what he feels is so powerful that it causes him to stop in his tracks, turn around, and then ask a question. Mark writes: “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” (Mark 5:30)
In the middle of this life saving mission, Jesus stopped, turns around and asks…”who touched me?” The disciples heard Jesus and said, “Are you serious…with all these people here, the crowds pressing in and with a dying girl waiting our arrival, you’re going to stop and ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
Mark writes: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman knowing what had happened to her came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:31-34)
Can you picture the chaos of what’s going on here? Can you imagine how you would feel? If you were Jesus? If you were Jairus? If you were the hemorrhaging woman who was just healed?
At what cost did all of these interruptions come? What would you do in these kinds of situations?…
William Willimon says that these stories are intended to shake us loose from our own story, our own path, our own preferred ‘point b’s.’ These holy interruptions are supposed to loosen physicians pressured by specialization and overwork, parents harried by the demands of neighborhood children or even their own, professors distracted by students with problems, and preachers interrupted in the middle of sermon prep.
Henri Nouwen tells the story of a teacher who once remarked, “You know … my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
When I think about what the life of discipleship requires, I immediately think that the life of discipleship, following Christ, requires an openness to viewing interruptions as holy opportunities to do your best work. The life of discipleship requires a mindset that allows us to push past the predictable and reliable formulas that speak to efficiency and timeliness and instead focus on the circuitous and paradoxical rhythm of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
It is not that Mark the gospel writer wanted to tell a coherent, orderly, sequential account of Jesus’ life and kept getting sidetracked. It’s that Jesus rarely ever traveled directly from point A to the expected point B. Jesus had this uncanny ability to see the holy interruptions, insertions, surprises, the people whom we did not expect to meet, the lessons we had not planned to learn and he lived into them with everything he had, maybe even with reckless abandon. In fact, I think it might be fair to say that Jesus himself is the greatest, most unexpected interruption of all…
A lowly carpenter’s son, born in a manger who through death gave us life, through love conquered hate, and in his life revealed that it is only in losing it that we can find it.
C.S. Lewis on Life’s Interruptions
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”
(from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis)
Note: C.S. Lewis was the author of the books, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and numerous other faith-based books. To learn more about this still-popular author, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis
Interruptions and the Stuff of “Real Life”
Like to be “in control’ of your life? To give this attitude the best spin, we could say it’s because we’re “disciplined” and like to map out our time. But that’s not the reality. Truth is, we like to be in control because it makes us feel powerful and secure. The heart issue is that we’re looking for security in something other than God. So, it’s idolatry, not discipline.
If you like to be in control of your circumstances, then you know what interruptions are like. They’re frustrating. They get in the way of your plan. They need to be avoided or discarded or dealt with as soon as possible so you can get back to being in control, right?
Those of us who follow Jesus shouldn’t act this way when interrupted. We shouldn’t see interruptions as obstacles to our plan but opportunities to embrace God’s plan.
Many of us think interruptions get in the way of “real life.” That’s why we don’t like them. They remind us we’re not in control.
• Traffic is heavier than usual, and you miss an appointment.
• Unforeseen circumstances cause you to miss a deadline.
• Your kid comes down with the flu at the very time you’re supposed to be going on vacation.
Interruptions are not obstacles to our plan; they are opportunities for us to embrace God’s plan.
So, the next time real life comes crashing into your idea that you are “in control,” look for the opportunity to show Christ’s compassion. Instead of being frustrated at the presence of other people, look for the opportunity to reflect the compassion of our Savior.
As edited from the source: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/01/07/lifes-interruptions-are-divine-opportunities/
This week, make notes on the occasions when your plans are interrupted. Big interruptions or small, write each occasion down and also note how you react to the interruption and the effect that the interruption had on your life. Next week, share with the group whatever you discover.