1. When Lazarus became seriously ill, his sisters Mary and Martha felt free to call upon Jesus to ask for His help. How will you form that kind of relationship with Christ? What things or attitudes in your life will be a help or a hindrance to this?
One definite help will be to make sure that our regular conversations with Jesus are filled with words of praise and celebration. These should be a natural part of expressing our inner most thoughts. When we build a lasting relationship with Him this way, we will avoid having what we may call a “spare tire” religion: “Use only in emergencies!”
Malachi 2:17 lists a possible hindrance: “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say. . . Where is the God of judgment?” This verse should make us gasp! Undoubtedly part of the weariness that we bring to God stems from questions about His judgment, questions such as, “why doesn’t God do something about such and such?” Causing weariness in God will be a definite hindrance to prayer.
2. Our timetable isn’t always the same as God’s timetable. What are some reasons that God may have for not responding immediately to your prayer requests?
One good way to approach this question is by asking the reverse: What would the world be like if God responded to all prayer requests immediately? The results would be almost too bizarre to contemplate.
As is the case in today’s text, God knows the best way to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes we ask for things that we are not really prepared to accept. What we think is good for us may not be good for others. What may benefit us in the short term may be harmful over the long haul. God is in the position to know all this. Many of us can look back and say with all honesty, “I’m sure glad that God answered my prayer in His way instead of the way that I requested. I can see now that He knew some things that I didn’t.” Reflecting on how God has answered prayers in the past helps us to understand how the Lord’s way is better.
3. Jesus expects our faith and obedience even when (or especially when!) He doesn’t reveal His plans to us. What was a time or circumstance that you can look back on and say, “Ah, now I see what God’s plan was”?
This kind of question can lead to some lengthy and emotional stories. Be sure to ask this follow up question at the conclusion of each anecdote:”How did your faith grow stronger as a result of how God worked?”
4. Mary and Martha weren’t alone when Jesus arrived; many were there to comfort them. What are some things we can do as a church or as a class to minister to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one?
Remember this principle: someone suffering grief needs your shoulder more than he or she needs your mouth. The presence of a friend can be of great comfort during a time when many emotions are vying for attention. Just to be there and not say too much is so important. We can show care also by taking away the burdens of everyday chores. Certain helpful acts like bringing covered dishes or mowing the lawn flow from a servant’s heart. For this kind of ministry to be most effective, your church needs to have an advanced plan of ministry action. Having an ongoing plan to help during such times can ensure that the ministry is most effective when it is needed.
5. Martha’s testimony expressed her confidence in the lordship of Christ, in spite of her grief. In what ways can you use tough times to reinforce your reliance on Jesus?
Several New Testament passages tell us to expect tough times (for example, John 16:1-4; 1 Peter 4:12-19). These times of trouble may refine us (1 Peter 1:7), they may help as serve as examples to others (1 Peter 2:21), or they may come as a test from Satan to determine how firmly committed we are to the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:7).It is especially during tough times that we must keep our focus on Jesus. Others are watching to see how we handle ourselves during tough times. God may want our struggles to serve as a witness to how much we trust Him.