Grow. Pray. Study.
Whether you’re just starting to explore the Christian faith, or you’re a long-time Christian, we want to do everything we can to help you on your journey to know, love and serve God. The GPS (Grow, Pray, Study) Guide provides scripture and insights to enhance your journey.
Daily Scripture: Joel 2:28, Acts 2:14-17, 16:6-10
28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions
14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. 8 Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead. 9 A vision of a man from Macedonia came to Paul during the night. He stood urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the Passover on which Jesus was crucified, God sent the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way. Some skeptics in Jerusalem claimed the Spirit-filled Christians had just started drinking early. Peter forcefully told them this wasn’t inebriation—it was God pouring out the Spirit, as promised in Joel 2:28. Later, during the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, the Spirit guided in a much quieter way. On his first journey, Paul had planted churches in Asia Minor, and now planned to visit them. But Paul’s night vision of a man calling “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” changed his direction. It expanded the church’s reach by sending Paul into Greece, and on into Europe, to preach.
- In Acts 1:4, Luke wrote that Jesus told his followers “not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, ‘…in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 2 recorded how that promise came true. When have you needed to wait on God? Were you able to wait, or not? What did you learn through the experience? How good are you at moving, as Paul did, into unknown territory (physical or mental), if that’s what it takes to carry out the mission God calls you to?
Lord Jesus, you kept your prophetic promise on Pentecost, as in the end you keep all your promises. Help me, like Joseph, like Paul, like millions through the ages, to trust and move forward, holding to your promises. Amen.
When Joseph learned Mary was pregnant, he may have felt confused, discouraged and even hopeless. Then, in a dream, an angel restored Joseph’s hope. Everyone feels hopeless at times, but because of Jesus, people can always have hope. As a family, create a collage of hope. Gather magazines, markers, glue, scissors and a piece of poster board. Look through the magazines and cut out pictures of images that bring hope to your family. Use the markers or crayons to draw pictures and write words that communicate hope. Include images and words representing what brings hope to the whole world. Place your collage of hope in your home where everyone can see it, or give the collage to someone who needs hope. Pray and thank God for your family and for hope.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Daily Scripture: Colossians 1:9-14, James 1:5
9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.
5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.
The apostle Paul prayed fervently for believers in Colossae to know God’s will. It never makes sense to rely blindly on dreams, signs or other messages without submitting them to God in prayer. Paul’s prayer pointed to the kinds of results we can expect when we have accurately discerned God’s will: “producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.” James, Jesus’ brother, said God will certainly give us wisdom when we ask.
- Paul’s prayer for Christians to know God’s will dealt with the big picture rather than a lot of specific details. “Producing fruit” (verse 10) was a way to describe a new, wholly different lifestyle. In what ways do most of your specific choices grow out of your larger decisions about your lifestyle? In what ways will a lifestyle oriented to God’s will shape your life differently from a lifestyle built solely around pleasing yourself? How did Jesus’ earthly father Joseph model that kind of life for us?
- James 1:5 promised, “Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score.” In what ways do you believe God has given you greater wisdom for living a life that steadily follows God’s will? Where are the “raw edges” of your life right now, in which you yearn for a clarifying dose of God’s wisdom?
Dear Jesus, this day I come to you, “asking that I be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” May my thoughts, my words and my actions all be consistent with your will. Amen.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Daily Scripture: Jeremiah 23:16-18, 25-27
16 The Lord proclaims:
Don’t listen to the prophets
who are speaking to you;
they are deceiving you.
Their visions come from their own hearts,
not from the Lord’s mouth.
17 They keep saying to those who scorn God’s message,
“All will go well for you,”
and to those who follow their own willful hearts,
“Nothing bad will happen to you.”
18 But who has stood in the Lord’s council
to listen to God’s word?
Who has paid attention to his word and announced it?
25 I have heard the prophets prophesying lies in my name. They claim, “I’ve had a dream; I’ve had a dream!” 26 How long will deceitful prophecies dominate the minds of the prophets? Those prophets are treacherous. 27 They scheme to make my people forget me by their dreams that people tell each other, just as their ancestors forgot me because of Baal.
The prophet Jeremiah’s assignment from God was a difficult one. He had to tell the Israelites that their wicked choices made it impossible for God to keep protecting them, that they’d save lives by surrendering to the invading Babylonian army. To make things even harder, he found false “prophets” claiming that they’d had dreams telling them that all would be well for the Israelites, counter to Jeremiah’s warnings of the dangers of their disastrous spiritual course.
- It’s not hard to understand why many Israelites preferred to listen to the message of the false prophets. There are times when God’s message is “All will go well for you,” but not when we are following our own willful hearts. It’s important that we validate that our sense of God’s message to us is not just a projection of our own wishes. What are some of the best ways of double-checking how well a dream or “inner nudge” fits with God’s purposes?
- Our technology, which can enrich our lives in so many ways, can also add to the challenge Jeremiah addressed. If we choose, we can look only at web sites that affirm what we already wish to believe, that never challenge any of our biases or self-righteous attitudes. Jeremiah never saw a computer—but in what ways did his warnings also speak to your heart and your reading and viewing patterns today?
Lord God, protect me from visions that come from my own heart, not from your mouth. Help me to pay attention to your word, when it comforts me and when it makes me uncomfortable. Amen.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Daily Scripture: 1 Kings 3:5-15
5 The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”
6 Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. 7 And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. 8 But I’m here, your servant, in the middle of the people you have chosen, a large population that can’t be numbered or counted due to its vast size. 9 Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had made this request. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment— 12 I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward. 13 I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life.”
15 Solomon awoke and realized it was a dream. He went to Jerusalem and stood before the chest containing the Lord’s covenant. Then he offered entirely burned offerings and well-being sacrifices, and held a celebration for all his servants.
When King David, Solomon’s father, died, he left an enormous vacuum in Israel’s national life. (So great a king had he been that even today the nation of Israel’s flag bears “the star of David.”) So as Solomon, David’s chosen successor, took the throne, he knew he faced big leadership challenges. His interview with God in a dream showed his awareness that just wearing a crown did not equip him to meet that set of challenges.
- If God said to you (in a dream, or in any other way), “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you,” what do you believe you would be most likely to ask for? Now, on second thought, would you stick with that request, or can you think of one or more things that might be of greater significance? What did Solomon’s dream request show about the character with which he began his reign?
- Like Jacob, Solomon responded to his dream by offering praise and worship to God. If you have a particularly vivid or impactful dream, do you tend to shrug it off as soon as you awake? Have you ever considered taking the dream to God in prayer, asking if there is anything that God was seeking to communicate to you or invite you to do?
Lord God, I join Solomon in praying, “Please give your servant a discerning mind… to distinguish good from evil.” Help me to discern the paths you want me to take. Amen.
Daily Scripture: Genesis 28:10-17
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. 12 He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. 13 Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven.
Fleeing his angry twin Esau (cf. Genesis 27:41), Jacob had showed no vision greater than his own survival. He stopped at what the text calls “a certain place” to sleep. Alone in the wild, with only a stone for a pillow, he had a dream in which God promised him heirs who would bless the whole earth. That dream gave him a life-changing, awed sense of God’s presence. When he awoke, he worshipped, and named the place Beth El (Hebrew “God’s house”).
- Can you recall a time when you especially needed reassurance of God’s presence? What was going on in your life? In what way(s), big or small, did you find a renewed sense of God’s presence? What places or experiences make God’s presence real to you? How do you remember to seek God, and respond to God’s presence?
- What are some ways you might deepen your experience of God in weekly worship? What about the rest of the week? Identify one step you will take to draw closer to God through the act of worship, corporately with others and by yourself on days that do not have corporate worship.
God, build a bridge between my heart and yours, like the stairway in Jacob’s dream. Help me to daily remember your trustworthy promise to never leave or forsake me. Amen.
Daily Scripture: Matthew 1:19-21
19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
We learned last week that Joseph (no doubt deeply hurt by Mary’s hard-to-explain pregnancy) planned to cancel their marriage. But God had a different idea. Joseph’s Old Testament namesake had been famous for having and understanding dreams, an ability he always credited to God (cf. Genesis 41:15-16). Now, in a dream, an angel told this latter Joseph that Mary’s child really was from God. The carpenter trusted the dream, and believed its message.
- Luke 2:48-52 told of 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple. His worried parents asked why he was there, not traveling home with them. Jesus replied, “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” “My father’s house” clearly didn’t refer to Joseph, and the text implied that Joseph accepted that without protest. Skip Ewing’s song “It Wasn’t his Child” said that “like a father [Joseph] was strong and kind and good…. But it wasn’t his child; it was God’s child.”* Joseph’s model reminds us that God calls us to care about all children, not only our own (cf. James 1:27). How can you respond to that call?
- God used dreams at several points to guide Joseph. We often tend to dismiss dreams as simply the result of too much late-night snacking—and sometimes they are. Yet many Christians believe it makes sense that God can communicate directly with our brains, without needing sounds or external cues. When have you sensed an “inner nudge” from God? Are you open to receive God’s direction, however God delivers it to you?
Lord Jesus, give me the same openness to receive and live out your purpose that Joseph showed. Thank you for the carpenter’s quiet, modest courage and determination to do what was right. Amen.
* “It Wasn’t His Child” – songwriter: Skip Ewing, Lyrics © SUSSMAN & ASSOCIATES. You can watch Mr. Ewing sing the song here.
Matthew 1:18-21: When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
We are in the middle of a season of Advent, but what are we anticipating? I love remembering the vision of the Messiah that Isaiah 11:1-10 presents:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
I have to be honest in saying that waiting for fulfillment of these promises has left me exhausted, impatient and anxious.
Has trying to trust in the promises of God ever you left you feeling this way?
- When I experience pain and suffering in my own life and the lives of those around me – grief, illness, depression, broken relationships, addiction, loneliness, anxiety, I feel anxious.
- When I think about all of those in the world who are oppressed and beat down in the world – the poor, hungry, the widows and orphans, those discriminated against, the homeless – I feel impatient.
- When I think about how much work I have left to do, how much work we the church have left to do in order to work with God to bring about more hope, joy, peace and love in a world that sometimes seems like such a mess, I feel exhausted.
I am under no false pretenses that Theo is the long-awaited Messiah. Instead, Andy and I are oh-so-aware that we have a blessed pastors’ kid on the way – even though Andy has a theory that the double-pastor’s kid thing reverses adverse effects. That being said, I have never felt so much anticipation around any hope in my entire life. I hear people try to talk about what it is like to have a child – the love you feel, the way it can change you for the better, the hope children offer the world… most people can barely describe what it is like to become a parent (biological/foster/adoptive or spiritual) or even a relative. This Advent season, growing pains have helped me get in touch with the height of anticipation that surrounds coming to have a baby…. Sometimes the anticipation feels unbearable…
If God’s gift of new life is this amazing in an ordinary baby… how much more extraordinary is it in God’s love incarnate – this one that the passage hints is on the way. I have no doubt that God understands our spiritual anxiety, exhaustion and impatience. To me, this has become one of my favorite parts of Advent – this season of anticipation – it provides us space to identify with the difficult parts of anticipation. We live in a world where God is present but God’s plans are not completely fulfilled. In Romans 8:18-22, I ran across an affirmation of this reality: “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
I love that: “the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth” for God’s promises to be fulfilled. What do you think are the labor pains of the universe? What are they in your own life? What about in the life of your family? Your neighbors? Your enemies? I believe that God can bear our angst in this strange in-between time we live in. It isn’t unfaithful to acknowledge this, instead, it makes the gift we are anticipating all the more important.
To me, the enemy of Advent anticipation isn’t strong emotion, but apathy. Christmas is so exciting to children. How does it feel like drudgery to many of us as adults? Perhaps we have grown apathetic. When we no longer feel discontent with the state of the world as it is… when we no longer have the energy to hope in the promises of God, when they no longer seem real to us, then we are in trouble.
Maybe you are in the 9th month of waiting spiritually speaking… the light, the wonder, the hope, the joy has left you and you are looking somewhat, well, like a pregnant woman (me) after a long day at work.
This Advent, my challenge to you is to re-engage with the promises of Christmas. Figuring out how to do this in authentic way can be really hard, but I think it’s possible.
My pregnancy has given me some ideas as to how. They say pregnancy is a labor of love. It’s no surprise that re-engaging depends on re-engaging with the love of God.
- In pregnancy, when I felt overwhelmed, I have need to share my feelings honestly with Andy and close friends and family: Are you honest with God through prayer about the areas of your faith life in which you feel anxious, exhausted or impatient? Do you set aside time to receive God’s love for you through prayer?
- Whenever pregnancy has stopped feeling real to me, I have had to make a choice to remember just how real it is. We bought a onesie in the first trimester that we could look at to remember to make way for Theo. Are you finding ways to serve God in the parts of the world you are discontent with? Do you believe that God uses you to bring about more love in the world?
- At the end of the day, I couldn’t make it through pregnancy without community. My co-workers have guarded my office door so I could lay down. My mom made me a carrot cake when I told her I had a craving. Other parents have taken time to tell me they relate to what I am thinking and feeling – that I am not alone. Are we honest with each other about the areas in our lives we are desperately needing Jesus to show up? Do we encourage one another to hang on spiritually?
Peace to you,
– Rev. Katherine Ebling Frazier, Pastor of Prayer
Daily Scripture: Matthew 1:20-21, Acts 5:27-32
20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
27 The apostles were brought before the council where the high priest confronted them: 28 “In no uncertain terms, we demanded that you not teach in this name. And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And you are determined to hold us responsible for this man’s death.”
29 Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than humans! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. 32 We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
We come back to Joseph, engaged to Mary, doubting her story that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and planning to break the engagement quietly. But in a dream, an angel told him to believe Mary, to proceed with the marriage plans. Joseph found himself in a story much bigger than just one wedding. The angel said to name the child “Jesus” (the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua,” which meant “Yahweh is salvation”). Many Hebrews wanted salvation from the occupying Roman army. But the angel didn’t talk about the Romans. This child, he said, would save people from humanity’s greatest enemy: sin. The angel’s announcement became central to how Christians from the earliest days expressed their faith.
- Scholar N. T. Wright wrote that “Matthew sees Jesus as the one who will now complete what the law of Moses pointed to but could not of itself produce. He will rescue his people, not from slavery in Egypt, but from the slavery of sin, the ‘exile’ they have suffered not just in Babylon but in their own hearts and lives.”* In what ways has missing God’s path led your heart and life into a kind of “exile”? What are the benefits of letting Jesus save you from that exile? How confident are you that Jesus can in fact save you from any life missteps, that he is the savior from sin that we all need?
Lord Jesus, though I sometimes forget it, I need a savior. Thank you for coming to be that savior. Redeem my inner and outer way of life from the sin, that I may walk daily in your light. Amen.
Joseph was present and supportive throughout Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of Jesus and in the early years of Jesus’ life. When someone in your family needs support and care, to whom do they turn? Think about grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, even close friends. How can you connect with them and grow spiritually and personally from their insights and experiences? Consider asking them about significant moments in their lives, then learning from their stories. Share a difficult experience of your own and ask for their help in working through it. If you live close, meet for a meal or dessert and share time together. If you live far apart, consider using Skype, talking on the phone, writing letters, or recording your voice on tape. Praise God and pray for those who support and care for you.
* N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002, p. 8.
Daily Scripture: Luke 11:11-13, Mark 14:36
11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12 If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
We gain a sense of how Joseph went about being a father figure to young Jesus by looking at how Jesus spoke about fathers in his teaching. The failure of too many human fathers, and increasing awareness of the sexism built into many Western cultures, lead us to be cautious in using words like “father” to identify God. But Jesus’ parable after teaching the Lord’s Prayer showed fathers as giving. When Jesus prayed, he used the term “abba” (Aramaic for “dad”).
- Jesus’ words in Luke 11 assumed that it was unthinkable that a father would respond to a child’s needs with anything other than an effort to give the best possible gifts. Was that a realistic assumption for you to make about your father or other father figures in your life? If so, how has that shaped the ways you relate to others? If not, how have other people (and God) helped to fill in the gaps left by your father’s failures?
- The apostle Paul adopted the prayer practice that Mark reported of Jesus, encouraging believers to cry out to our heavenly “abba” in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. What are your prayers like? Are you able to speak with God comfortably and trustingly, as you would to an infinitely wise and caring father, or do your prayers tend to be more stiff, formal and limited to “safe” subjects? How can you become more at home with your heavenly abba?
O God, sometimes in church we say, “God is good—all the time, All the time—God is good.” Help my relationship with you to keep growing, so that my trust in you is not just church talk, but a living reality. Amen.