An excerpt from
Lists to Live By: The First Collection: For Everything that Really Matters
WHAT IS SUCCESS?
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one's self;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived...
This it to have succeeded.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
POET, ESSAVIST, AND PHILOSOPHER
Group Study Guide for Risking Faith
This study guide is meant to accompany Dr. Steve Stephen's book, "Risking Faith." Click a link below to jump to that week. For a small group or weekly study guide go through each week as follows:
Week 1: Let the Adventure Begin (Intro)
Week 2: Sail Beyond (1-6)
Week 3: Get Real (7-10)
Week 4: Discover the Wonder (11-16) & Go to the Desert (17-21)
Week 5: Welcome Hardships (22-29)
Week 6: Plunge Deeply (30-36)
Week 7: Give Back (37-40) & Epilogue
Week One: Let the Adventure Begin
- What does the word “Christian” mean to you?
- Are there times that the way people use the word “Christian” make you feel uncomfortable, angry or embarrassed?
- What churches or clichés or theologies or popular authors have disappointed you lately? Why? What did you do about it?
- Which of the following are most important to you right now? Which do you long to do today?
- Look at God’s creation
- Listen for God’s voice
- Study God’s word
- Feel God’s heartbeat
- Celebrate God’s goodness
- Embrace God’s lessons
- Wonder at God’s mysteries
- Accept God’s ways
- Dance with God’s grace
- Love with God’s passion
- When do you feel closest to God or in the words of Theresa of Avila when do you feel “that God is on this journey too”?
- What is the hardest thing about the Christian faith?
- What image does the phrase “risking faith” bring to mind? In what ways does this phrase scare or excite you?
- In what ways does fear limit your faith? In what ways does faith chase away fear?
- What do the following verses tell you about fear?
- Matt 9-28-29
- Matt 17:20
- Mark 9:23-24
- Luke 12-27-28
- Heb 10:38
- Heb 11: 8
- Heb 11:33-34
- James 2:17
- How do you start a journey toward risking faith? How can each individual in this group help or contribute to your journey during the next 40 days?
Week Two: Sail Beyond
- What is the greatest adventure you’ve ever experienced? What made it such a great adventure? How did it change you?
- What are you afraid God might ask of you if you fully jump into Him?
- When you read through Habakkuk 3:16-19, in the Old Testament of the Bible, what strikes you about his experience? If you were about to experience attack or loss or failure how would you deal with it? How did this man move beyond his own fear?
- What does it say about you to have to admit that there is much which you do not, and possibly can not, understand? How hard is this to admit to yourself? To others?
- What sort of things do you believe in even though you have never seen them? Why do you believe these things without seeing them? What are the limits of vision?
- Why does the author write “Everything seen originates in what is unseen, for the invisible is the real power behind the visible”? Is this true? Why or why not?
- What three things have you experienced or even heard about that seemed impossible?
- If you truly believed in the reality of miracles and impossibilities, how would you live your life differently? What new things would you explore? What new dreams would you dream? What new risks would you take?
- What do you think God is calling you to find beyond your current faith? What is keeping you from doing this? What would help you to cut the moorings and set sail?
Week Three: Get Real
- Why is it so hard for you to be totally honest about your weaknesses and failures? How would others respond and relate to you if they knew your dark side or deepest secrets?
- What does St. Paul mean when he writes from the perspective of God, “My power works best in your weakness”? Have you ever seen a situation where this proved true?
- What exactly is humility? Who do you know that is humble? What are some examples of their humility? When have you been humble? What keeps you from being humble more often?
- Which of the following traps are you most likely to fall into:
How often do you fall into these traps?
- Advertise your deeds?
- Defend your position?
- Cherish your opinions?
- Repeat your words?
- Cling to your rights?
- Dwell on your appearance?
- Worry about your reputation?
- Compare your strengths?
- Fear your weaknesses?
- What stands out in your mind when you read Philippians 2:3-8? In what ways was Jesus humble? In what ways can you demonstrate humility this week?
- What exactly is sin? Why do people react so negatively against the word “sin” and the concept of “sin”?
- What does confession accomplish? How does it impact or change you? When is the last time you confessed something? Is confession easy or hard? Why?
- What keeps you from being 100% honest with God? When have you slipped into either denial, defensiveness or simply avoidance regarding “desperate vulnerability” before God?
- Is Jeremiah right when he declares “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked”? When have you seen this to be true? What explains those times when it does not appear to be true?
Week Four: Discover the Wonder/Go to the Desert
- Where and when is it easiest for you to see the wonder of God? Has it gotten easier or harder as you’ve grown older?
- Do you agree with the author when he writes, “God is everywhere and his mark is on everything”? When and where might this not be true? What have you experienced in the past few days that might confirm the author’s words?
- What did David mean when he wrote “The heavens proclaim the glory of God”? And what did Isaiah mean with “The whole earth is filled with his glory”?
- What do mysteries and miracles tell you about…
- Who God is?
- How God works?
- How God interacts with people?
- How you see life?
- What God is doing in you?
- What God wants to do in you?
- What real faith is?
- In reading Ezekiel 1, how would such images of wonder have impacted you? What would you have thought? Or felt? Or done?
- Why would people go to the desert? What drew the following people into the desert:
How did their desert experiences affect each of these?
- Where is your favorite place to seek a bit of solitude? What do you like to do when you’ve snuck away to this peaceful place? How do you feel after some time spent like this?
- If peace and stillness go hand in hand, what do the following verses mean to you?
How can you incorporate peace and stillness into your everyday hectic life?
- Psalms 23:2
- Psalms 34:14
- Prov 14:30
- John 16:33
- Phil 4:3
- II Pet 3:14
- Do you agree with G.B. Duncan who wrote, “God still comes where he can find someone quiet enough to listen…”? When are you quiet enough to listen? What have you heard God say to you?
- How is God calling you into the desert? Where and when would you be willing to meet him there? What excuses would keep you from meeting him there? Are these excuses legitimate?
Week Five: Welcome Hardships
- How and why would anyone consider troubles “an opportunity for great joy”? Why is the concept of embracing hardship as a positive thing such a foreign concept to most people? How difficult a notion is this for you to fully accept?
- How would you interact with the following concepts from the Bible?
Which ones of these are the hardest and the easiest to accept?
- This world is full of trouble.
- We need not be fearful of trouble.
- Trouble will crush us only if we let it.
- Trouble is temporary.
- God walks beside us through every trouble.
- Every trouble holds potential growth.
- How have hardships improved who you are? In what ways have they cleansed and purified your soul? What have you done in the past that might have blocked your hardships from having their greatest positive impact on you?
- When Solomon writes about God testing the heart through the refiners fire, how does this make you feel? Does it feel fair or right or compassionate that God would value character over comfort? How does this allow God to refine and mold who we are and what we want to be?
- Have your own adversities made you more or less compassionate to others? Why and in what ways? How do you reach out and show your compassion? How does your reaching out impact you?
- How did Jesus show compassion to those he met? Such as:
How has God shown you compassion? Where and when?
- The crowd (Matt 15:32-38)
- The children (Matt 19:13-15)
- The two blind men (Matt 20:29-33)
- Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10)
- The woman at the well (John 4:4-26)
- The woman to be stoned (John 8:1-11)
- Lazarus (John 11:1-44)
- His accusers (Luke 23:33-34)
- How hard is it for you to seek help when the troubles get tough? What keeps you from seeking help from others faster? When is the last time you humbled yourself and asked for help? Who did you ask? What was their response?
- When in your life have you been most motivated to pray? What motivated you? What impact did prayer have on the situation? On you? On your faith?
- How hard is it for you to see hardships as having benefits and blessings? What specific difficulty have you experienced which seems to have no redeeming value? How do you cope with this? What do you say to yourself about it?
- When has your adversity caused you to reach up to God and when has it caused you to reach out for help? How have your struggles given your life meaning, direction and even beauty?
Week Six: Plunge Deeply
- How is plunging into water like plunging into God? Why is there a call to go deeper? What are the benefits and the risks? Is deeper really better?
- What exactly keeps you from going deeper? When is the last time you felt the pull to go deeper? What is the strongest factor that kept you from going as deep as you could? How can you deal with this factor next time it keeps you shallow?
- How do you seek God? How do people you know or have read about seek God? What happens when you finally find God?
- In what ways is God constantly baiting, prodding and luring you to him? When is this most likely to work with you? When is it least likely to work?
- Would you agree with the statement, “There must be at least a hundred ways to find God”? In what ways can the following help people find God?
- serving others
- hard work
- What does Paul mean when he writes “…you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Col 1:9-10)? In what ways do you grow as you know God? How do you learn to know God better and better?
- In what ways does knowing God help you to…
- trust him?
- respect him?
- reach to him
- love him
- lean on him?
- fear him?
- follow him?
- listen to him?
- What do the following verses tell you about walking with God?
- Deut 26:71
- Josh 22:5
- Isa 2:3
- Jer 6:16
- Mic 6:8
- John 8:12
- How is embracing God related to loving him? How do you show that you love him? Jesus tells us to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matt 22:37), but how do you do this in each of these individual areas?
- How does closeness to God define who you are and all you
experience? Why is this important? How does this impact…
- your thinking?
- your feelings?
- your dreams?
- your activities?
- your relationships?
Week Seven: Give Back
- Why is it that people can be so cruel? What is it that causes you to ignore, mistreat or misjudge others? Who have you done this to lately? How do you think it impacted them? What valid excuses are there to treat others poorly?
- What do the following verses say about God’s love and acceptance?
What will help you to be more like God by being more loving and accepting?
- How important is compassion to a risking faith? Why? Do you think churches make too big or too little an issue of compassion in today’s culture? What sort of limits should there be on compassion?
- How is compassion different than love? How are both of these concepts related to acceptance? Which of these is the hardest to do? Which of those have you done in the last week? How?
- What is it that keeps you from being more outward focused? Who do you know that is strongly outward focused? What is it that they do to meet the needs of those around them?
- Which of the following people is easiest to care about and meet their needs? How would you order these from easiest to hardest? Why?
What would be something you could do for each of these groups?
- The poor
- The needy
- The weak
- The widow and orphan
- The children
- The foreigners
- In what ways can you “Always be a little kinder than necessary”? When was the last time you were kinder than necessary? What was the response of the receiver?
- What types of gifts do you give people?
Which of the above have you given recently? Which of the above are you the best at giving?
- quality time
- full attention
- physical gifts
- physical touch
- What exactly is faith? When you think of the word “faith” what comes to your mind? What is risking faith? What does this look like in your life? What could you do in the next year that would involve a risking faith?
- In what ways is faith…
What words would you use to describe your faith as it is right now? Why? What words would you use to describe what you wish your faith would be