THE FATHER'S HEART
In the middle of a frenzied school year, a small group of women gathered
week after week to grow in Christ. Marci told the group that her sister-in-law,
Meg, was struggling with cancer. None of the other women knew Meg.
Marci's heart was broken over Meg. Meg had never pursued any type of
relationship with God, and Marci feared her eternal destiny was hopeless.
Also, the cancer was immobilizing her life.
As Marci talked about Meg, the group began to see Meg with the heart
of God. Many of the women visited Meg in the hospital, read to her, and
prayed for her. One woman made a poster filled with inspirational thoughts
to encourage her. Another told Meg Christ loved her and died for her. Weeks
passed, and Meg was released from the hospital. She decided to attend Marci's
group because of the love she had received from women she didn't even know.
Each week Meg learned more about who Jesus was and why he died on the
cross for her.
Meg's cancer has resurfaced. Although she hasn't committed her life to
Christ, she continues to learn about his love for her. "For the first time in my
life," she says, "I want to see more of who Christ is and why he came, because
when these women cared for me in the hospital, I saw that something in their
life was different from mine. I saw a commitment to me beyond anything I
had seen before."
Amazing things happen when we let ourselves feel the Father's heart for
others, especially when we respond as a group.
CONNECTING WITH GOD'S FAMILY 15 min.
1. Think of one person in your life who doesn't know Christ.
Briefly describe your relationship with him or her. (Close?
Friendly but distant? Chilly?)
2. Whether your group is brand new or ongoing, it's always important
to reflect on and review your values together. On pages
76-77 is a sample agreement with the values we've found most
useful in sustaining healthy, balanced groups. We recommend
that you choose one or two values-ones you haven't previously
focused on or have room to grow in-to emphasize during
this study. Choose ones that will take your group to the
next stage of intimacy and spiritual health.
For this study, we suggest you focus on spiritual health.
Spiritual health means living all five biblical purposes of the
church in your group. We've found that fellowship and Bible
study are easy elements to establish in groups, but service and
outreach are much harder. Yet healthy groups do all of these
things! So for the next six weeks, we hope you'll emphasizedoing things that reflect God's heart for unbelievers.
GROWING TO BE LIKE CHRIST 30-40 min.
As with everything else in the Christian life, God wants evangelism
to well up from within us because our hearts are taking on the
character of Jesus. Just as compassion for the lost compelled Jesus,
the same concern ought to compel us. God doesn't want pressured
performance. He wants inner transformation that affects our
thoughts, feelings, and automatic behaviors toward others.
Disciples who share their faith just because of a pep talk or nagging
guilt will lose interest when progress takes time and obstacles
emerge. In training his disciples, Jesus focused on their hearts so
they would spend the rest of their lives spreading their faith despite
intense opposition. He told stories that provoked them to understand
his Father's heart. When people asked Jesus why he did something,
he often told a story that explained, in effect, "I do this
because this is what my Father cares about."
3. Read Luke 15:1-10. What situation prompts Jesus to tell the
stories about the lost sheep and coin?
4. How do the stories explain Jesus' behavior in this situation?
5. What impression of God's heart (thoughts, passions, priorities,
character) do you get from the two stories in Luke 15:1-10?
6. Read Luke 15:11-32. How would you describe the younger
son's feelings and beliefs about his father at the beginning of
7. What are the older son's feelings and beliefs about his father?
8. In 15:11-32, what impression do you get of the father's heart
from the way he deals with:
his younger son's departure?
his younger son's return?
his older son's response?
9. These three stories are about the hearts of Jesus and the Father.
Why do you suppose they are so passionate about the lost, the
runaways, the sinners?
10. How do you view the lost people in your life? Is your heart similar
to the Father's heart or different?
11. What hinders you from seeing people with God's heart?
FOR DEEPER STUDY
Read Jeremiah 50:6-7 and Ezekiel 34:11-31. What was God's attitude
toward the lost sheep of Israel? What would it look like for you
to live with that attitude toward the lost?
Read Matthew 9:9-13. Why did Jesus invest his limited time with
immoral people? What would happen if you did that? What would
your Christian friends think? How would it affect you and your
Read Galatians 2:11-21. Like Jesus, Peter and Paul were criticized
by fellow Jews for eating with "sinners." How did Peter handle the
criticism? How did Paul? How would you handle such criticism?
SHARING YOUR LIFE MISSION EVERY DAY 10 min.
We have found that time alone with God is essential for developing
a heart for the lost and sustaining it through life's ups and
downs. The Bible is full of ideas about how to pray for ourselves
and our friends (see Colossians 4:2-6 for example). In prayer we
can tell God our fears, frustrations, and dreams, and listen for his
For the next six weeks, we hope you'll make it your goal to cultivate
your heart for the lost through personal prayer and Bible reading.
Below are several ways to choose from.
12. Prayer will stretch your heart. Who are the lost sheep and wandering
sons and daughters in your life? Think of family members,
neighbors, work associates, your friends, your kids' friends
and their families, and service providers (such as store clerks or
your hairdresser). The "Circles of Life" diagram on page 16 will
help you think of people in various areas of your life. Prayerfully
write down at least three or four names in the circles.
Here are two options for prayer during this study:
Commit to praying for these people throughout this study,
both with your group and on your own. Also, ask God to
show you his heart toward them. Write notes in your calendar
to remind you to pray.
For a deeper experience, fast and pray for someone on
your prayer list. If you've never fasted before, skip one
meal and spend at least twenty minutes in prayer during
that time. Allow your hunger to remind you how hungry
the lost son felt before he left his pig-keeping job and
went home to his father (Luke 15:16-17). Ask God to
increase your spiritual hunger, and the hunger of the person
for whom you're praying.