Note to Leaders
As part of this lesson, your group will discuss what spiritual next steps they need to take during this season of life. Helping people those steps is one of the most important responsibilities that group leaders have. We would encourage you to take some time to review this training on how to help your group members take a next step before your group meeting. It should take about 20-30 minutes to read through and answer the questions.
We would also encourage you to prioritize this discussion in your group. It may take some time for people to dialogue and consider their response. It’s towards the end of this discussion guide, so if you feel like you might be running short on time please skip some of the earlier questions so that you can make sure to have enough time for this exercise.
Some stories remind us that no matter how tough life gets, how big the giants are, how impossible our circumstances appear, God has the power to intervene and write a better story for our future.
Right now, what in your life brings you a sense of meaning and purpose?
What keeps you up at night? Maybe it’s heartburn? Your bladder? Maybe it’s hot-flashes or restless leg syndrome. Some of you live with a snorer that keeps you up at night.
A lot of people say, “I can’t sleep at night…and in the morning I can’t wake up!” Does your mind ever get swirling with all kinds of thoughts that you just can’t shut down? Ever have ‘one of those nights’?
Have a volunteer read John 3:1-15.
It’s interesting that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night. It’s as if his restless mind wouldn't let him sleep until his questions were answered. There was something missing in his life.
A good night's sleep is elusive to many of us. Statistics show that 1 in every 3 struggles with getting a good night's sleep. Everyone has those nights when our problems and challenges keep us from sleeping. We stare at the ceiling. We toss and turn. In the middle of the night, everything seems scarier and our problems seem insurmountable.
Like Nicodemus, many of you are at the same spot right now. To the world you look like everything is going great. People look at you from the outside looking in and think you've got it all. You might be financially solid and feel grateful for everything you have…. but deep down you have this gnawing sense that something's missing.
When you can’t sleep, what keeps you up at night?
Nicodemus goes to Jesus and says, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin, the intellectual ruling elites, so when he says “we all know,” the we he’s talking about aren’t your average, everyday Joes, these guys are a big deal.
But while others might have been wondering what was up with this Jesus guy, Nicodemus was the one who had the courage to go ask, to take a risk. Jesus respected that and jumped right in and addressed Nicodemus’ questions.
This story shows us that we can approach God with our questions. He has always honored and even embraced skeptics, explorers, questioners, and doubters. Time and time again we read in the Bible about people having honest conversations with God. We don't have to be afraid to ask. God wants to hear your questions. He loves explorers, and He loves you!
Some of us have intellectual arguments against or questions about the existence of God. And sometimes those arguments and questions are legitimate questions. Other times we are simply building a wall of false intellectualism around a heart that’s been wounded somewhere along the way, and we need to couple our intellectual pursuit of truth with a willingness to open ourselves emotionally to the idea that there is a God.
Some of us grew up going to church, and even though we believed in Jesus at an early age, Jesus was an idea, a concept, a truth, but not someone with whom we had a relationship. As teenagers, some of us attended churches that were all about the laws of the Bible. We rebelled and experienced judgment. There was no grace there, and even today some of us are exhausted from doing good things and striving to earn God’s favor. We need healing, and want real answers.
If you were being honest with God and with yourself, what questions would you ask Him?
Together, read John 3:16 out loud: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
That night sitting with Nicodemus Jesus offers these life-giving words.
There is a chatterbox that plays in our heads and tells us we are worthless, but Jesus says that we are loved. In our world, value is determined by what someone is willing to pay for something. Jesus says God loves you so much that He gave His only son for you. He paid the ultimate price for us.
But this isn’t the end of Nicodemus’ story.
Have volunteers read John 7:50-51 and John 19:38-44.
Nicodemus not only defends Jesus before the religious leaders, after Jesus is crucified—at a time when Jesus is viewed as a criminal worthy of death and his closest followers have scattered out of fear—Nicodemus helps to bury Jesus’ body.
Nicodemus journeyed from being a doubter to a fully devoted follower of Jesus. When he started he understood the Scriptures on an intellectual level. He kept the laws, but deep down he knew that wasn’t enough. Like Nicodemus, we need to allow Jesus to transform our hearts, to allow Him to write a better story in our lives.
Right now, where are you spiritually? Have you allowed God to begin writing a better story in your life? Are you somewhere in the middle of that journey? Have you undergone significant life transformation?
No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, we all need to take a next step. None of us have arrived. None of us are completely like Jesus.
What is one next step you need to take in your spiritual journey during this season of life? Leaders, you may want to talk about some of the examples discussed in the training mentioned above.
Take 10 minutes right now to make a plan for taking your spiritual next step. We don’t do the things we intend to do, “I intend to read the Bible more.” We do the things we plan to do, “I will read two chapters of the Bible at 6:30 AM before the kids get out of bed.”
Here are some tips for making this plan.
Be specific. Describe exactly what you plan to do. (i.e. “I will get baptized in two weeks.”
Do something that you can measure whether or not you’ve achieved it. Don’t say, “I will be nicer,” but rather “I will avoid raising my voice when I am angry.”
Be realistic. If you aren’t currently setting aside time to pray each day, don’t start by planning to pray for two hours every morning like Martin Luther.
Stretch yourself. While we want to be realistic, we don’t want to make the goal so easy that it’s meaningless. If you’re goal involves generosity, giving away five dollars a month isn’t a goal worth setting unless you are someone living on the streets.
Make the commitment for a defined period of time. This will help keep you from giving up when you get tired or bored or frustrated, or whatever. When that commitment is up, re-evaluate whether you should continue, shift your focus a bit, or try something totally different. If you’re going to go to couples counseling with your spouse, commit to it for three months, don’t give up because session one wasn’t great.
Pick someone to discuss your spiritual next step with regularly, and make a plan for when and where you’ll do it. You might even pick someone from the group. For example, you could decide to grab coffee with John every other Sunday before church.
Write down your plan. You can write it in a notebook you carry around or keep it in your phone, but make sure you’ve got a record of what you’re planning to do.