• Tony Birkhead

Simplify Week - 1



Kingdom Focused!



INTRODUCTION

How can you tell where a person has given priority in their life?


Why is it easy to go off-course in life and give priority to things that do not ultimately matter?


A person’s priorities can usually be recognized when observing where they give the most time and attention. A person may say that their family or church is a high priority in their life, but if they fail to give much time or attention to these things, then their claims will ring false. In order to rightly prioritize our lives, it is helpful to reflect on what is truly most important so that we are motivated to live in accordance with this truth. In Ephesians 5, Paul reminded his readers to recognize their brief amount of time on earth and make the most of it. The way that we do this is by seeking the kingdom of God above all things.

KEY SCRIPTURE

Ephesians 5:15-17

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Read Ephesians 5:15-17.

Why is wisdom necessary if we want to use our time to bring glory to God? Give some practical examples of what it looks like to live as wise people.


According to verse 15, what’s the first step to living a life of wisdom with the right priorities?


Why do you think the first sign of wisdom that Paul gave was the careful use of time?


Paul’s charge for us to live in wisdom comes on the heels of the previous verses in Ephesians 5, which help us understand what lives changed by the gospel look like. Living in wisdom means taking every opportunity to glorify God and reflect the gospel to those around us. When we resolve to live in the light, we choose to pursue Christ above all worldly pursuits. Part of the reason we do this is so our lives will testify to others about God’s grace, mercy, and love.


What does it mean to “be careful” or “look carefully” when it comes to time and living?


What’s the difference between living carefully and living fearfully?


The verb rendered “making the most of” is literally, “redeem” or “buy back.” Once gone, wasted opportunities can never be recovered. Thus, we are called to take advantage of the moments as we are given them. Foolish persons have no strategy for a disciplined use of time. Believers are to take care to use opportunities to the full because the days are evil.


What is the casual approach toward using time? What is the careful approach?


Paul’s concern was for believers to think carefully about how they walk. He had used this same verb earlier in the letter as a way to speak about lifestyle or behavior (see Eph. 2:2,10; 4:1,17; 5:2,8). The apostle noted two contrasting ways to live. One is the way of the unwise; the other is the way of the wise (sensible or prudent). God’s wisdom has already been lavished on believers (1:8; see also 1:17; 3:10). Thus, to live wisely is simply to live in accordance with the principles for success God has made clear through His Word.


What command did Paul give the Ephesians in verse 17? Why is this an example of wise living? How can we know if we’re being “foolish”?


Living under the influence of the Holy Spirit is the primary characteristic of “children of light.” Being filled with the Spirit also explains how we’re to “be very careful” with how we live, the command that begins verse 15. This reiterates our need for the Spirit’s help to live as imitators of God.


How can we be more careful in how we use our time? What does “wise” time management look like? What does it have to do with God’s will? Would you consider an over-scheduled person to be wise or unwise? Why?


Do you think our problem with God’s will is understanding it or obeying it? How can we be intentionally careful when it comes to the Lord’s will?


Read Matthew 6:33.

How does seeking the kingdom of God above all things help us prioritize the rest of our lives correctly?


If you seek first the kingdom of God, what are some things you currently prioritize that may become less important?


In the passage where this verse is found, Jesus was addressing anxiety. Typically, we give priority to the things that concern us most. So many of our anxieties would be solved if only we trusted the Lord with what is best for us. Jesus said that whatever we need for life—food, clothing, and drink—will be provided for by Him. Further, the Lord doesn’t simply want to keep us functioning at bare minimum. Jesus said that He came so that we “may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). Certainly, that does not mean that life will be without difficulties for us, but it does mean that we can trust the Lord to always have our best interest in mind.

As we recognize this central truth, we are able to better ascribe or remove value from various priorities in our lives. Seeking the kingdom of God first in our lives will enable us to better give time and attention to the things that truly matter for His glory.


MOVING FORWARD

  • Where specifically have you been convicted that your priorities need to change? What next step will you take?

  • How would the church look different if all believers sought the kingdom of God first together?

  • How does prioritizing our lives correctly connect to the value we place on evangelism?

PRAY TOGETHER

Pray and confess the things you have prioritized above the things of God. Ask Him to help you recognize the brevity of life and the urgency to seek His kingdom first above all things.

COMMENTARY

Ephesians 5:15-17

5:15-17. The world in which we live is filled with dangers and deceptions. It is not always easy to live an enlightened life even when we want to. We can get tripped up or ambushed by events and people without even being aware of the danger. We must be very careful to live our life rooted in wisdom, using our time wisely. Not to do so would be foolish. The will of the Lord is that we live carefully, cautiously, always matching our lifestyle with the teachings of Scripture.

Matthew 6:33

6:31-33. With these three verses, having illustrated and supported His theme, Jesus built His case. In verse 32, He made two more points about anxiety. First, it was downright pagan; anxiety was the attitude of those who were not a part of God’s kingdom. Second, it was totally unnecessary to worry about what to eat or drink or wear, because your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Three times in verses 32 and 33, we find the phrase all these things. We might imagine Jesus using it somewhat disparagingly. This was not to belittle the importance of basic necessities, but to place them at the back of the mind of His disciples, far behind His kingdom and righteousness in importance. “All these things” are what pagans (and the Pharisees) scrambled after. “All these things” are thoroughly known by the Father. “All these things” will fall into place when we put God’s kingdom and righteousness in its proper place and serve the kingdom’s interests.


DAILY QUIET TIME GUIDE


HOW TO HAVE A DAILY QUIET TIME

The QT Guide is designed to help you MOVE with God through Bible Reading, reflection and prayer. It can be completed in about 9 minutes.

UPWARD: 1⁄2 Minute Preparing Your Heart:Invest the first 30 seconds preparing your heart. You might pray, “Lord, cleanse my heart so You can speak to me through the Scriptures. Make my mind alert, my soul active, and my heart responsive. Surround me with Your presence during this time.

FORWARD: 4 Minutes Listening To God:Take the next four minutes to read the Bible. Your greatest need is to hear a word from God. Allow the Word to strike fire in your heart. Meet the Author!

INWARD: 2 1/2 Minutes Talking To God (Prayer):After God has spoken through His Book, then speak to Him in prayer.

OUTWARD: 2 Minutes Preparing your Action:Ask yourself this question: How can I take today’s Quiet Time and put it into action throughout my day?


DAY 1

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.”

Haggai 1:7-8

Haggai was about 70 when he delivered this message to God’s people. But over the course of just four months, he reinvigorated Israel to return to God and build his Kingdom instead of their own. This is absolutely remarkable; especially when we zoom out and look at what the state of Israel was.

THE STATE OF ISRAEL- Haggai entered the scene of a super frustrated Israel. Eighteen years earlier, a remnant had returned home from exile in Babylon. This was a big deal, and is the main story of the book of Ezra. It was time to rebuild God’s temple…but almost 20 years later, God’s house was an unfinished heap. Somewhere along the way, their enthusiasm turned to apathy. To be fair, they had faced constant opposition (Ezra 4) from hostile neighbors. Political forces far greater than themselves maneuvered around them. And they had been the gully conquering armies marched through on their way to topple Egypt. This would have meant compulsory food, water, shelter, and who knows what else offered to the soldiers.

CONSIDER YOUR WAYS- But still, God’s word comes to the people, and he says: “Consider your ways.” Reflect on where you’re at. Think about what you’re doing and compare it to what I called you to do. Judge for yourselves whether you’ve pursued my Kingdom, or your own comfort. What’s most incredible is that through this reflection, the leaders, priests, and people turned to God. They obeyed.

FOUR MONTHS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD- Haggai’s ministry lasted only four months. But in that time, God “stirred up” the people and reignited their fire for his glory (Haggai 1:14). They completed the temple. And though this one didn’t even come close to matching the glory of the first temple that Solomon built (Haggai 2:3), God promised that its glory would be “greater than the former,” and through it he would “give peace” (Haggai 2:9).

What happened five hundred years later? Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, died, was buried, and resurrected, reconciling us to God through his blood. Those four months changed the course of history, because God’s people simply shifted their focus, work, and worship from their own houses, to building God’s. Has your passion cooled for work God has called you to? Do you need to be reinvigorated and refocused, like the Israelites?

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com


DAY 2

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

Luke 4:42-43

Ministry success is easily attributable to Jesus. He captivated thousands because he taught “as one with authority” (Mark 1:22). He was like no one they had ever heard. He would preach to thousands, heal the sick, and spend time with the untouchables. At one point, his renown was so great that people tried to make him king by force (John 6:15). Jesus could have stayed where he was and regularly had large crowds gather in his presence. But what did Jesus do with this “ministry success?” Did he set up headquarters, hang up signs, pass out flyers, and increase seating capacity? Did he stay with the people begging him to remain and bask in their adoration? Absolutely not. That’s not how Jesus defined ministry success.

REAL MINISTRY SUCCESS- Jesus focused only on his God ordained purpose: to teach the truth. Jesus says this in passages like John 18:37 and Mark 1:35–39, as well. Jesus didn’t look to the crowds as proof of his success in ministry. He didn’t pull his identity from people flocking to hear, see, and touch him. He did and said only what the Father led him to do (John 5:19). It can be tempting to look at success in ministry as a numbers game. The more people that come to our church or ministry, the more successful we are in the kingdom. Jesus is a great example for what success looks like as his followers. Jesus teaches us that success is not merely defined by popularity or crowds, but by obedience to God and his purpose for our lives. Simply put, by faithfully following Jesus himself.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t define faithfulness as merely plodding along, barely making a ripple for the Kingdom of God…not even close! What’s the root word in faithfulness? Faith! Jesus didn’t simply bumble along. He had absolute faith in what the Father had called him to do. So much faith that he bet his entire life on it.

To faithfully pursue God’s purpose means two things:

To desire his will more than your own glory.

To believe he will accomplish his mission in you and through you.

ARE YOU PURSUING GOD’S MISSION? So, are you pursuing God’s mission for you? Your mission field might be:

Your family, Your workplace, Your school, Your neighborhood, Your vocational ministry, Your volunteer work, Or anywhere else. Define your mission field. Refine your measurement of ministry success. And above all, have faith God always accomplishes his will—and he will do so through you, too.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org


DAY 3

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Luke 11:1-4

Notice that Jesus’ instruction on prayer does not end with “lead us not into sin” but instead “lead us not into temptation.” You may wonder, what’s the difference? Many times we like to approach sin as an imaginary line. As long as we stay on the right side of the line we’re OK. But, as soon as we cross to the wrong side of the line we’re sinning. The result of this mentality is that we often attempt to get as close to this imaginary line as possible without crossing or sinning. Most of us eventually learn that if we keep walking up to the edge of this line, we’ll eventually cross it.

The motivation of this prayer isn’t merely trying not to cross an imaginary line, or avoiding sin, but avoiding anything that would draw us away from pursuing God. In other words the motivation in avoiding temptation is to have one’s heart, mind, and entire life fully focused on living for God. As the Apostle Paul challenged the young man Timothy, whom he was mentoring: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Adapted From: http://shortdailydevotions.com


DAY 4

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34

In everyone’s life, there tends to be one central issue around which all else revolves. Perhaps it is family, financial security, or a career. In a believer’s life, however, the first priority should be to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33). People sometimes say, “I’ve made Jesus a part of my life,” but that is not enough. Jesus is life for His followers. Without Him, the believer’s life has no purpose or meaning.

Our top priority is where we invest our time, effort, and money. Therefore, to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness means we make the pursuit of Christlikeness our primary goal. Obedience is a sure indication that we are growing in an intimate relationship with the Lord.

Seeking God’s will requires perseverance. Rather than simply taking life as it comes and reacting to each situation, we must make our decisions according to the principles of Scripture. In personal prayer and Bible study, we learn to discern God’s will as we become more familiar with what He desires. If we find ourselves veering away from the Lord, we quickly get back on track through confession and repentance.

When you honestly think about your priorities, you may discover that you’ve been distracted or sidetracked by lesser pursuits. Although Scripture tell us to care for our families and work diligently, putting those things ahead of God is idolatry. Look at your calendar and ask yourself, What is my priority in life? If the answer is Jesus, it will be evident because everything else will take a back seat.

Adapted From: http://intouch.org


DAY 5

The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Mark 4:14-20

Temptation comes to everyone, but the enemy focuses many of his attacks on those who are young in the faith and those who are making a difference in the kingdom.

After our conversion the devil is there, tempting us to doubt our own salvation. He whispers in our ears, “You think you are saved? You think Christ really came into your life? Are you crazy?” This is just a tactic the enemy keeps recycling again and again.

The Bible tells us that when we are young in the faith, we are especially vulnerable. We see in the parable of the sower that young believers are immediately attacked. Jesus said, “And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts” (Mark 4:15). He is there to attack those who are young in the faith.

Temptation also comes to those who are making a difference in the kingdom of God. First of all, he doesn’t want you to come to Christ. But once you have made that commitment, his next strategy is to immobilize you, to get you to compromise yourself and be ineffective. He doesn’t want you to be a threat to his kingdom.

If you want to make a difference, if you want to reach people who don’t know the Lord, then don’t expect a standing ovation in Hell. The enemy won’t take it lightly. He will attack you. You had better expect it. Brace yourself for it, and pray for other believers, whether they are new in the faith or are already making a difference.

Adapted From: http://harvest.org


MOVING FORWARD

One of the best ways to fight temptation and grow in your daily walk with Jesus is to memorize His Word. Begin to commit His words to your memory this week.

Memorizing may be as simple as repeating the passage aloud 10 times each day or writing it 5 times each day. It may be that you place a 3x5 card on your mirror to remind you each day. Whatever it takes you won’t be let down with His Word in your mind and heart. Consider this…

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33

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