This devotional guide is part of Beyond Ourselves, a capital campaign and church renewal ministry of Irvine Presbyterian Church. During 28 days in October and November of 2004, the members of the Irvine Presbyterian family will be meditating upon and praying through 28 different biblical passages. If you are not a part of the church, you are more than welcome to use this guide in your personal devotions. If you want to use it in some ministry setting, that's fine too, as long as you're not charging money for it. All we ask is that you acknowledge the source. If you want to use some part of this guide in something that will be sold, please contact Pastor Mark Roberts at Irvine Presbyterian Church to get permission.


Drawing Near to the God Who is
Beyond Ourselves:

A Guide to Prayer

by Pastor Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2004, Mark D. Roberts and Irvine Presbyterian Church
If other churches would like to use this Guide to Prayer or portions thereof, we are glad to share. We ask only that you give credit where credit is due.


Table of Contents: Click to jump to day

Instructions for Guide      
Sun, Oct 17 Sun, Oct 24 Sun, Oct 31 Sun, Nov 7
Mon, Oct 18 Mon, Oct 25 Mon, Nov 1 Mon, Nov 8
Tue, Oct 19 Tue, Oct 26 Tue, Nov 2 Tue, Nov 9
Wed, Oct 20 Wed, Oct 27 Wed, Nov 3 Wed, Nov 10
Thu, Oct 21 Thu, Oct 28 Thu, Nov 4 Thu, Nov 11
Fri, Oct 22 Fri, Oct 29 Fri, Nov 5 Fri, Nov 12
Sat, Oct 23 Sat, Oct 30 Sat, Nov 6 Sat, Nov 13

Instructions for Using This Devotional Guide

A capital campaign can be just that – a campaign to raise capital for buildings. If the buildings are tools for God’s ministry, then such a capital campaign is a worthy endeavor. But I believe that a capital campaign has the potential to be so much more, both in the life of our church and in your own life. We can realize this potential if we present ourselves before the Lord, openly, honestly, and prayerfully, with God’s Word guiding us into a deeper, truer relationship with the Savior.

I have written this Guide to Prayer in the hope that it will help you, and every member of the IPC family, draw near to God. I want to lead you to read and meditate upon some of the most stunning passages of Scripture. And I want to help you pray in light of these texts, letting the Word of God shape your own words. As this happens, I believe that the Holy Spirit will transform both your heart and the heart of our church.

Here are some practical suggestions for using the Guide to Prayer:

1. This guide suggests a focus for Bible study and prayer for each of the next 28 days. Though I have put the passages in somewhat of a logical order, if you miss a day, don’t feel as if you have to go back and make it up.

2. I have written this guide for use either in private or in corporate settings. I plan to use this guide each day in my personal devotions. I also plan to use in groups where appropriate: with my family, with my staff, etc. You might find it helpful to do the same.

3. If you’re a parent, you may want to use this guide with your children. Though I haven’t written the questions for children, you can easily translate them into words your kids can understand.

4. On most days, you will read relatively few verses of Scripture. Therefore I’d encourage you to read the text more than once. Take time to savor the words, images, and ideas. Let them sink into your heart.

5. Begin each session by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you, fill you, and help you to pray. Prayer is not merely a human effort. It is God’s work with us.

6. The questions to ponder or discuss are only suggestions. If God impresses other issues or truths upon your heart, follow his lead, not mine!

7. The last section of each day’s guide is called “A Prelude to Your Prayers.” This is not meant, to be your entire prayer, but simply to get you going. I’d encourage you to let this be the beginning of your personal or corporate prayers, and then take off from there as the Spirit leads.

8. Any other disciplines you wish to use in conjunction with this guide (fasting, journaling, etc.) are great.

As you use this guide, remember to pray for your sisters and brothers in our church family. And feel free to share with others what the Lord is teaching you as you encounter him in a fresh way.

My prayer is that this guide will help you go deeper with God. May you be astounded by his greatness, humbled by his mercy, emboldened by his Spirit, and encouraged by his love! May God help us – individually and as a church family – to see just how great he is, and what great plans he has for us. The God who is far “beyond us” is able to do so much more than we could ever ask or think. He will do in us and through us more than we can possibly imagine.

May God’s grace and peace be with you!

Pastor Mark Roberts

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Faithfulness Beyond the Clouds

Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
(Psalm 36:5, NLT)

Before You Read

How do you think of God’s goodness? God’s glory? What words do you use? What on earth could ever faithfully represent the all-surpassing greatness of God? Psalm 36 uses a variety of visual images to capture aspects of God’s nature. Pay close attention to these images as you read. Let them sink into your heart.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Psalm 36

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why do you think David begins this psalm by talking about the wicked? How does his reflection on the wicked help him to see God more clearly?

2. How do the visual images in this psalm help you to understand God’s nature?

3. Take time to reflect upon the images in this psalm, relating them to what you have seen in your own life. When have you seen the vast heavens, or billowing clouds, or mighty mountains? As you remember what you have seen, let these memories help you to meditate upon the awesomeness of God.

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious God, there is no limit to your love! Your faithfulness to us cannot be measured. It extends far beyond the clouds. How wonderful you are! And how gracious to us! You hide us in the shadow of your wings. You pour out abundance upon us. In your Son you give us life, living water bubbling up to quench the yearning of our hearts. O God, expand our vision of you! Help us to see you more truly, to trust you more fully, to delight in you more consistently, and to live for you more boldly!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Worship the God Who Is Beyond Our Searching

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
(Romans 11:33, NRSV)

Before You Read

We want to understand God, to know about God and to know God personally. By his grace, God has made himself known to us, in history, in Scripture, and preeminently in Jesus Christ. But sometimes we try to put God in a little box, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, forgetting that God cannot be contained by our words and thoughts. When we remember the greatness of God, we are humbled and called to worship.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Romans 11:33-36

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. The Apostle Paul has just finished a long exposition of God’s ways with humankind, showing how God’s righteousness has led to our being brought into right relationship with God. So why, after so much truthful theology, does Paul end with Romans 11:33-36? What difference do these verses make?

2. Verse 36 says “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” What does this mean? Why does it matter?

3. Verse 36 ends on a note of worship. But if you look ahead to Romans 12:1-2, you’ll see where Paul goes next. How does 11:33-36 flow into 12:1-2?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

O God, you have so wondrously made yourself known to us because you seek relationship with us. Yet even though we know you truly, we have barely begun to know you. You are so much more than we could ever comprehend. So stretch our minds! Enlarge our hearts! To you, O God, be all the glory, in our lives, in our church, and throughout your creation!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Knowing the God Beyond Knowledge

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                  so are my ways higher than your ways
                  and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:9, NRSV)

Before You Read

When we realize that God is so far beyond our understanding, we might despair of ever really knowing God at all. But God himself invites us to know him, to have relationship with him. He promises that if we seek him, we will find him. Moreover, we will join all creation in praising God.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Isaiah 55

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Perhaps no verse of Isaiah 55 speaks more directly to us than verse 2: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” How does this verse speak to you?

2. How does Isaiah 55 connect God’s “thoughts not being our thoughts” with his mercy? How have you experienced God’s unfathomable mercy?

3. Isaiah is filled with invitations and promises. Pay close attention to these. How would these invitations and promises play out in your life today?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Merciful God, how often have we spent money for that which is not bread, investing our time and money in things that have no lasting significance, and that really don’t satisfy our hearts. Forgive us, cleanse us, and create in us clean hearts. Give us a passion to seek you first and foremost, that we may truly find you and live each day with you. Dear Lord, we are thirsty! Lead us to your waters, to the living waters that Christ alone offers. May we drink deeply of his salvation, being refreshed each day by your presence!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Blessing Far Beyond Ourselves

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse;
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed
(Genesis 12:3, NRSV)

Before You Read

Abram (later known as Abraham) is introduced in Genesis 11 as the son of Terah, who lived with his family in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern day Iraq). Terah decided to take his family to Canaan, but ended up in Haran (southeast Turkey). There God called Abram, forging a covenant with him.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Genesis 12:1-4

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. We don’t know much about the religion of Abram prior to Genesis 12, but there’s no reason to think that he actually believed in the one true God. So how do you think Abram felt when God spoke to him? How would you have felt if you had been in his shoes?

2. Why did Abram follow God’s call, especially given its curious non-specificity (“to the land that I will show you”)? What does this tell us about Abram? Can you relate to this sort of response? How do you respond when God calls you, through his Word and by his Spirit?

3. Notice the breadth of God’s vision. It’s far beyond merely blessing Abram or making from him a great nation. What difference does this make for us?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

You are the Sovereign Lord, the One who holds all of history in your hands. You do according to your will, calling people as you see fit. We are humbled by the fact that you have called us to yourself through Christ, and that you have called us to make disciples throughout the world. O God, may our vision be stretched by the magnificence of your vision for the world! Enlarge our hearts, we pray!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Called to a Purpose Beyond Ourselves: Reconciling

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;
we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:20, NRSV)

Before You Read

So what did the death of Christ really accomplish? This question doesn’t have a simple answer. Yet one of the biblical texts that explains the impact of the cross is found in 2 Corinthians 5. This passage not only clarifies the meaning of the death of Christ, but it also connects this meaning to our ministry.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How have you experienced the new creation in Christ?

2. Consider the astounding truth of 5:21: For our sake God made Christ to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. How do you respond to this truth?

3. How are you an agent of reconciliation in your world? How is IPC an agent of reconciliation in our community? Could we do more? Could you?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, merciful Savior, what can we say in response to your sacrifice for us? Not only did you die a painful death in our place, but, in a sense, you became sin. You bore in yourself the penalty for our sin as the Father rejected you. And you did this so that we might experience the right relationship with God that is yours. How we thank you and praise you! Yet our response to your grace should include more than this. You have called us to be ambassadors of reconciliation in our world, to share the good news of what you have done with our neighbors, and to live out this good news each day. Help us, Lord Jesus, to deliver and to demonstrate the good news of reconciliation.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Called to a Purpose Beyond Ourselves: Shining

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see
your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:16, NRSV)

Before You Read

Scripture teaches us that Jesus is the Light of the World (Isa. 49:1-6; John 8:12). Yet Jesus makes an astounding assertion in the Sermon on the Mount. He goes beyond saying to his disciples “Try to shine in the world.” Indeed, he says, “You are the light of the world.” What does he mean by this? And what are the implications for us as individual believers, and as a church?

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Matthew 5:14-16

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Do you ever feel like the light of the world? If so, when? If not, why not?

2. Honestly, do your good works ever shine before others in such a way that God receives the glory? If so, when and why? If not, why not?

3. How does God want you to shine in your world?

4. How could our church be more faithful as the light of the world in Irvine?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world, the one promised long ago who would shine God’s saving light to the whole world. How we praise you for revealing the Father to us! Yet in our text today you draw us into your light-shining ministry in an astounding way. Are we truly the light of the world? O Lord, you know the darkness in our hearts. You know how often we try to hide our light from others, out of fear of embarrassment. So forgive us, cleanse us, and purify us, so that we might truly reflect your light into our world. And help our church to be, even more than ever before, a light to our neighbors. Teach us how to shine with your truth and love into our community, so that you might be glorified in us.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Called to a People Beyond Ourselves: Disciple-Making

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.
(Matthew 28:19, NRSV)

Before You Read

During Jesus’s earthly ministry he focused his attention almost exclusively upon ministry among the Jews. But, after his death and resurrection, a new era in God’s plan began. Now the followers of Jesus are to make disciples of people from all nations. We who believe in Jesus are called to a people beyond ourselves, that we might help them become disciples of the one true Master.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Matthew 28:16-20

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Who are the people in your life who helped you to be a disciple of Jesus?

2. How faithfully do you live under the all-encompassing authority of Jesus? Where do you struggle to submit to his Lordship?

3. How can we make disciples in this place where God has sent us (Irvine and South Orange County)? How can we flesh out our calling to reach others right here?

4. What is your role in the disciple-making community? Do you think God may be calling you to something more?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Jesus, you are indeed the Lord, not just my Lord, but also the Lord of heaven and earth. All authority has been given to you. How blessed we are, not only to know you, but to have been called into your ministry of disciple-making. Help us, dear Lord, as we try to make disciples for you. Help our church to reach out even more faithfully and energetically to our community. May many, many people become your disciples in this next year because of Irvine Presbyterian Church. And help each one of us to find our rightful place in this disciple-making enterprise. To you be all the glory!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Praise Our God Whose Greatness is Beyond Discovery

Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise!
His greatness is beyond discovery!
(Psalm 145:3, NLT)

Before You Read

Why do you praise God? Because you should? Because it’s a habit? Or . . . ? Do you sometimes find that your lips are praising but your mind is wandering? Do you worship in body yet sense that your heart is cold? Psalm 145 is meant to rekindle your passion for praising God. It will stretch your mind and heart as you remember the all-surpassing greatness of the LORD. Be sure to read this Psalm slowly. Let the words, thoughts, images, and feelings sink in.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Psalm 145

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Psalm 145 is expansive. For one thing, it contains the word “all/every” more than almost any other psalm (same word in Hebrew). Go back and look for the instances of this word. What is David’s point?

2. As you read this psalm, which of the descriptions of God resonate with your heart? How has your experience of God matched the affirmations of Psalm 145?

3. On the other hand, which of the descriptions of God do you find less accessible? Where do you need to grow in your understanding and experience of God?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

O God, indeed you are great, and greatly to be praised. Your greatness is far beyond our understanding. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of who you really are, and we are blown away by your majesty – and your grace. You are infinitely mighty . . . and infinitely merciful. You raise us when we fall. You draw near when we call out to you. You watch over us tenderly. What can we say, Lord? All praise is to you, forever and ever and ever! You are worthy!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Filled with Power Beyond Ourselves

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.
(Acts 1:8, NRSV)

Before You Read

Acts of the Apostles is the second volume of a two-volume work written by Luke, the author of the gospel named after him. The first chapter of Acts is a transition between the earthly ministry of Jesus and the continuation of Jesus’s ministry through his disciples. Even as Jesus himself ministered in the power of the Spirit, so shall all who believe in him.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Acts 1:1-8

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why is it necessary for us to be empowered by the Spirit?

2. If you really believed that power of God’s own Spirit had been given to you and dwells with you today, what difference would this make in your life?

3. What is your Jerusalem? What are the relationships in your life through which God wants to share his love and truth?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

O God, here is a wonder! That you would actually give your own Spirit to us . . . what a miracle! And yet how often we forget what you have done. How often we live by our own strength. How small our dreams for what you will do in our lives. How tiny our expectations for what you will do through our church. Forgive us, Lord, for underestimating and shortchanging you. Give us new confidence in your power! Give us new boldness to share your love and truth with others! Help us to find our own “Jerusalem”! And help our church to bear witness to our community as never before! To you be all the glory!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Strength Beyond Human Limitations

I can do everything with the help of Christ
who gives me the strength I need.
(Philippians 4:13, NLT)

Before You Read

What in your life is overwhelming to you right now? What challenges do you face which you just don’t have the wisdom or energy to master? Are there areas of your life in which you feel defeated? The passage we read today was written by the Apostle Paul, a man who had experienced the miraculous power of God many times over in his ministry. Yet, as he writes, he is in a Roman prison, a place of discouragement and deprivation. Nevertheless . . . .

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Philippians 4:12-13

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why do we have to learn how to have plenty? What could possibly be the secret of being well-fed?

2. What sense does it make to say “I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need”? Surely we can’t fly or make the world peaceful. So what is the “everything” that we can do with the help of Christ?

3. Where do you need the strength of Christ today?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, how grateful we are for your presence with us through your Spirit. You give us comfort. You give us confidence. You give us courage. When we are blessed materially, fill our hearts with gratitude and generosity. When we have less than we’d like, may we still be grateful. Help us to rely upon you each day. Give us boldness as we live for you. And do the same with our church. Inspire us to reach out beyond ourselves to our community, and then to the world, knowing that we can do all things through you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Challenges Beyond Ourselves

Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said.
“We can certainly conquer it!”
(Numbers 13:30, NLT)

Before You Read

God had promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites. So Moses sent men to spy out the land, to take stock of its benefits. The time of great blessing for Israel had drawn near, if only they would continue to trust the Lord when facing challenges beyond themselves.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Numbers 13-14

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why did so many of the spies, and then the majority of the Israelites, lose heart? Can you relate to their reaction?

2. What do we do when the ministry challenges in front of us seem overwhelming? Do we back away? Do we let “conventional wisdom” dictate our behavior? Or do we go out on a limb, trusting God, realizing that only his power will give us success?

3. Will IPC have confidence in God to step out into even greater ministry in our community? Will we reach beyond ourselves, trusting God, even when it’s not safe?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious God, this story from Numbers is such a sad one. Your people, having experienced your mighty power in the past, gave in to fear. The challenges in front of them seemed overwhelming, and they caved in. How easy it is for us to be just like the Israelites. We like the safe road. We want everything to be secure and predictable. Yet you are laying before our church a great opportunity for far greater ministry. Lord, help us to trust you, and in your strength, to “take the land.”

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Provision Beyond Ourselves

“God will provide a lamb, my son.”
(Genesis 22:8, NLT)

Before You Read

You are about to read one of the most shocking, tender, and moving stories in all of Scripture. God had blessed Abraham with a miraculous gift of his son Isaac. Through Isaac God had promised to bless all nations on earth. But then the Lord stunned Abraham with an impossibly difficult directive. What would Abraham do?

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Genesis 22:1-19

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why in the world would God have done this to Abraham, not to mention to Isaac? What was God’s point? And what does this tell us about what God desires from us?

2. What has God given you that you find difficult to give to him as a “sacrifice”? What do you want to keep in your control?

3. When have you experienced God’s provision, far beyond yourself and your own resources?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious God, you expect – you demand – wholehearted faith. You want us to trust you completely, to take you at your word, to obey you even when it doesn’t make sense to us. And you have proven yourself worthy of our trust, utterly worthy. After all, you gave us yourself in Christ, dying in our place so that we might live forever with you. Yet, in spite of all we have received from your gracious hand, sometimes we are afraid to trust you. Sometimes, Lord, what you ask from us seems too hard. You ask us to surrender the things in life we want so desperately to hang onto. You tell us to step out in faith when we’re afraid. Dear Lord, give us the faith that we need. Help us to trust you with everything in life, knowing that you will provide.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Worship Beyond Ourselves

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship.
(Romans 12:1, NRSV)

Before You Read

The Apostle Paul has just finished laying out in detail the matchless grace and faithfulness of God. The first eleven chapters of Romans show how God, through Christ, has brought us into a right relationship with him. Chapter 12 begins to lay out the implications for how we live each day: “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God . . . .”

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Romans 12:1-2

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why is it important that this appeal to present our bodies is a response to God’s mercies? Why does this matter?

2. This passage offers a very different picture of worship from the one we ordinarily envision (i.e., what we do in the sanctuary on Saturdays and Sundays). If you were to take this different picture seriously, what difference might it make in your life?

3. How can you offer your body – indeed, your whole self – to God in worship today? How can you glorify God in your daily tasks? What else might you do for his glory?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Your mercies, dear Lord, are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness! Above all, you have faithfully offered right relationship with yourself through Christ. So help us to receive your mercy and be transformed by it. May we learn to worship you, not only in our corporate gatherings, and not only in our private devotions, but in every word and deed of every day. May we offer our bodies to you each moment as a living sacrifice. Be glorified in us today, and every day!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Generosity Beyond Ourselves

Their abundant joy and their extreme poverty
have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
(2 Corinthians 8:2, NRSV)

Before You Read

The Apostle Paul had taken on a special “fund raiser” for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He asked all of his churches to participate. In 2 Corinthians he encouraged the Christians in Corinth to support his ministry, partly by relating the astounding story of what God had done among the Macedonian believers.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How can it be that “abundant joy” and “extreme poverty” can produce “a wealth of generosity”? What makes this happen?

2. What is the relationship between our giving to God’s work in the world and the example of Christ?

3. What would God need to do in your heart to help you grow in generosity?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Mighty God, what a miracle you did among the Macedonians, pouring out your grace upon them to such an extent that they abounded in joy even in the midst of affliction, and that they abounded in generosity even in the midst of poverty. Do this same work in our hearts, Lord, and in our church! Touch us so profoundly with your grace that we can’t help but give away to others the blessings that you have showered upon us. Help our church to be faithful and generous stewards of the riches you have given us, riches not only financial, but of talent, education, people, and facilities. May we share abundantly with others, just as you have shared with us in Christ!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Praise the God Beyond All Measure

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
        his understanding is beyond measure.
(Psalm 147:5, NRSV)

Before You Read

It’s easy for us to emphasize certain aspects of God’s character, while minimizing others. These days, it’s common for Christians to delight in God’s approachability and grace, but to neglect his awesomeness and majesty. Yet biblical texts like Psalm 147 keep us in balance. They stretch us to consider the breadth of God’s greatness, one that is both infinitely big and yet concerned with matters very small. They remind us that we can’t ever measure God’s goodness or glory.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Psalm 147

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Consider carefully verses 1-6. What picture of God do these verses give us? Pay special attention to the contrasts, and what they say about God.

2. How do verses 10-11 speak to our church as we are in the midst of a capital campaign? What does God want from us in this season of our church’s life?

3. How do verses 10-11 speak to you personally in this season of your life? What is God seeking from you?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

O God, you can never be measured. Your greatness exceeds every scale; your mercy has no limit. You are the God who has given names to each of the stars, and you are the same God who lifts up the downtrodden. No matter the words we use to exalt you, you are always higher and greater. Nothing we can give to you will ever match what you deserve. Yet you delight in our worship. You rejoice in our praise. And you are honored in our obedience. May we give you all that we are, without reservation. How good it is to praise you, Lord, with our lips and with our lives.

Monday, November 1, 2004

Blessed Beyond Measure to Be a Blessing

God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance,
so that by always having enough of everything,
you may share abundantly in every good work.
(2 Corinthians 9:8, NRSV)

Before You Read

As Paul continues his “fund raiser” among the Corinthians, he helps them to see their financial participation in light of God’s abundant provision. The questions for us: How do we really see our giving of tithes and offerings? Do we see it through God’s eyes?

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 2 Corinthians 9

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why should giving to God’s ministry be “not reluctantly or under compulsion” (v. 7)? Why does God love a “cheerful giver”?

2. According to 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, what are the rewards of giving financially to God’s work?

3. What in this passage speaks to you? What is God wanting you to hear as you meditate upon this text?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Infinitely gracious God, you have indeed given us every blessing in abundance: physical comforts and luxuries, dear friends and family, freedom and opportunity in this nation, a church devoted to you, and, most of all, abundant life now and forever in Christ. We have been blessed beyond measure so that we might bless others. In fact, you enrich us so that we may practice great generosity. And what is the end of this process? You receive overflowing thanksgiving. You get the credit. You get the praise. Dear Lord, as we consider our giving to you, remind us of your generosity to us. Help us to give, not because we must, but in joy and gratitude.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Sacrifice Beyond Appearances

Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than
all those who are contributing to the treasury.
(Mark 12:43, NRSV)

Before You Read

It was just the same in the time of Jesus as it is today. Many who were wealthy gave large sums in order to be recognized by people for their generosity. How easy it was to ignore or even to scoff at the insignificant gift of a poor widow. Yet Jesus saw things in a radically different perspective.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Mark 12:41-44

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How does Jesus look upon our giving? What does he value?

2. How do you respond to this passage personally? Does it encourage you? Worry you? Challenge you?

3. What does it mean for you to give to God everything you have? What sense does this make when you have lots of financial commitments to fulfill? How can you give as the widow once gave?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Dear Lord, how easy it is for us to think in worldly terms and not in your terms. We too can get caught up in the material size of a gift, whether large or small. We can envy those who have the means to make large gifts. “If only we had such resources,” we think, “then we could really be generous.” But you see things so differently. You weigh our giving in such a different scale. You look, not upon the size of the gift, but upon the size of the sacrifice. You look, not upon outward appearances, but upon the heart. So help us, gracious God, to see our own giving beyond mere appearances. Help us to see what we give through your eyes. And then, help us to be like the widow, giving sacrificially out of gratitude to you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Loving Beyond Words

Little children, let us love,
not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
(1 John 3:18, NRSV)

Before You Read

How easy it is to speak of love. How much harder to love, really to love in tangible ways. Real love takes effort. Often it requires sacrifice. Those of us who have been blessed with abundant material resources have been given the chance to love others in the way we use our money. But with this blessing comes a responsibility and high calling. This is what John explains in his first letter.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 1 John 3:16-18

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. What enables us to give when we see people in need?

2. Why do we sometimes refuse to share our goods with those in need? Why do we hold back from giving to God’s work in the world?

3. Are there specific actions of love that God wants you to take, from which you have been holding back?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Loving Lord, may our hearts be like your heart. May we feel what you feel even as we seek to think what you think. May our hearts be broken by the things that break your heart. Give us a new sensitivity to those around us, and then a willingness to reach out to them with tangible acts of love. And Lord, when it comes to our money, help us to give it away freely and generously when there are needs. May we be more faithful in caring for the poor. May our church continue to grow in our generosity to our mission partners, many of whom have far less than we do in financial resources. Teach us to imitate Jesus as we give, not only our possessions, but ourselves, for the sake of your kingdom.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Calling Beyond Comfort

If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
(Mark 8:34, NRSV)

Before You Read

Our passage begins with one of the most shocking scenes in all of Scripture. Jesus is finally recognized for who he truly is, the Messiah of Israel. But then he says that his calling is not to lead a victorious rebellion against Rome. Instead, he will undergo great suffering and ultimately be killed. If this were not shocking enough, Jesus then applies this same logic of calling to those who would follow him.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Mark 8:27-38

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. What does it mean for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus today? How can we lose our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel?

2. So much in our day encourages us to “gain the whole world,” so to speak. Many of us labor hard for years and years to accumulate some small measure of worldly wealth. Yet Jesus suggests that we may be forfeiting our life in the process. How can we truly live for Jesus and the kingdom in such a materialistic world?

3. Is God asking you to give up anything so that you might follow Jesus better?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, sometimes your words comfort our hearts; sometimes they stir us up. This is one of those unsettling passages, one that leaves us with more questions than answers. Frankly, we have a hard time with denying ourselves. And a part of us wants to gain the whole world, or at least some small chunk of it. We struggle with the idea of sacrificing to follow you. We want you, and the rest of our life more or less as it is. Forgive us, Lord. Transform our hearts so that we might be more like you, so that we may follow you more completely.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Love Beyond Understanding

May you experience the love of Christ,
though it is so great you will never fully understand it. 
Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
(Ephesians 3:19, NLT)

Before You Read

The first three chapters of Ephesians lay out in broad scope the work of God in the universe. They show how Christ is at the center of God’s plan to unify all things under his lordship. Chapter 3 focuses on the central role of the church in this process. Then, in response to this marvelous revelation, Paul offers a prayer for the church, one whose breadth matches the wideness of God’s glory and grace.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Ephesians 3:14-19

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. What would it mean for you to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ? What difference would this make in your life?

2. If the love of Christ surpasses knowledge, how can we know or experience it?

3. Are you willing to pray this prayer faithfully, not only for yourself, but also for our church?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, we will never begin to fully comprehend your love. The more we understand your love, the more it exceeds our grasp. The more we experience your love, the more we realize how much we have yet to experience. Your love saves us, comforts us, reassures us, and transforms us. And so we long for more, to know your love more truly, to experience your love more fully. Indeed, we yearn to be filled with you. So hear our prayer, dear Lord, and reveal more of your love to us. Help us always to be rooted and grounded in your love. And may our church be, above all, a church of your love, as we receive it and give it away.

November 6, 2004

Possibilities Beyond Ourselves

Now glory be to God!
By his mighty power at work within us,
he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.
(Ephesians 3:20, NLT)

Before You Read

Yesterday we focused on the first section of Paul’s conclusion to Ephesians 3. Before you read verses 20-21 today, be sure to go back and read verses 14-19.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Ephesians 3:20-21

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How do you limit God? in your praying? in your dreaming? in your living?

2. Why, if God is so powerful, do we limit God?

3. If you really took seriously the fact that God is able to accomplish infinitely more than you would ever dare to ask or hope, what difference would this make in your life?

4. If Irvine Presbyterian Church really believed Ephesians 3:20, what difference would this make in our life and ministry together?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

O Lord, we confess today that we underestimate you, not just once or twice, but all the time. When you do great things, we are surprised. But rather than learning to trust you more, we easily slip back to our old equilibrium. Forgive us, Lord. Give us a fresh, truthful vision of who you are as the One who is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. And give us boldness, Lord, to ask you for great things. Give us courage to hope for the best in you. Help us to live each day, trusting that you are with us both to protect us and to empower us beyond our wildest imagination. Open our minds to new possibilities, to opportunities that lie far beyond ourselves and our limited vision.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Worship Beyond Our Walls

Sing a new song to the LORD!
Let the whole earth sing to the LORD!
(Psalm 96:1, NLT)

Before You Read

We often think of worship as the function of the covenant community, and, indeed it is. We worship the God we know, the God who has entered into covenant relationship with us through Christ. So worship is “our business,” so to speak.  But this isn’t the whole story, as we’ll see in Psalm 96.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Psalm 96

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. In Psalm 96, who is called to worship God?

2. According to this psalm, what is the role of the covenant people in helping the nations to worship the Lord?

3. Practically speaking, how can we help our neighbors to worship God?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

What a privilege we have to worship you, Lord. As we come before you in truth, we tremble because you are so glorious, so mighty, so holy. Yet as we come before you in Jesus Christ, we come also with boldness and confidence, knowing in advance that you will give us mercy and grace. Great you are, Lord, great indeed! Therefore you deserve great praise, not only the praise of your covenant people, but also the praise of all peoples, all nations. Give us a passion for your glory, Lord, so that we might tell our neighbors about you. Help us to invite them into your presence. Surely they need you more than anything else in life. But you deserve, not just our worship, but theirs as well. May Irvine Presbyterian Church become a center for your worship in our community. May hundreds and thousands of people come to worship you because we have declared your glory among the nations!

Monday, November 8, 2004

Proclamation Beyond Ourselves

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,
in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
(1 Peter 2:9, NRSV)

Before You Read

In Exodus 19 God entered into covenant relationship with the Israelites, promising that they would be his “treasured possession out of all the peoples . . . a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (vv. 5-6). Through the new covenant in Christ, we who have put our faith in Jesus receive this same promise and calling. Yet our task, in light of Christ, is focused very specifically. See how Peter explains it in his first letter.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 1 Peter 2:4-10

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. As God’s holy priesthood, what do we do? What does this really mean? How do we actually fulfill our priestly calling?

2. How can we, as a church sent by God to this place, proclaim his mighty acts in such a way that our neighbors can really hear and understand?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious Father, thank you for the invitation to come to Christ. Thank you for calling us to yourself, so that we might be a holy priesthood for you. Thank you for choosing us, not because we are especially worthy, but because you are a gracious, merciful God. Help us, dear Lord, to serve faithfully as your priests, by proclaiming your mighty acts in our world. Give us wisdom and creativity as we seek to communicate your good news to our neighbors. Help us to live out that good news in our daily lives. May Irvine Presbyterian Church be known in this community as a church that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that lives what it preaches.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Worship Beyond All Barriers

To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever.
(Revelation 5:13, NRSV)

Before You Read

In the last couple of days we have considered the broader scope of worship, our calling to proclaim God’s greatness in such a way that all peoples come to worship him. Now the picture of worship in Revelation 5 stretches our vision still further.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Revelation 5:11-14

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Take time to reflect upon Revelation 5:11-14. Let the imagery sink into your mind and heart. How does this picture of heavenly worship impact you intellectually and emotionally?

2. What is the significance of the elders falling down in worship (v. 14)? Is this a posture you associate with worship? What might it mean to worship God face down?

3. How can our church be part of drawing the whole universe into worship?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Worthy are you, O Lord Jesus Christ, to receive all worship from all people, and from all beings throughout the universe. You are the Lamb of God who was killed for our salvation. You chose to humble yourself by dying on the cross so that we might live forever with you. Therefore you have been highly exalted. Someday your name, so often taken in vain today, will be lifted up. Someday all creation will bow before you and acknowledge you as Lord. In the meanwhile, we are practicing for that day by offering you our worship. And we are eager to see you worshipped by all of those who live around us. Glory to you, Lord Christ!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Joyful Giving Beyond Obligation

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours;
yours in the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
(1 Chronicles 29:11, NRSV)

Before You Read

King David dreamed of being able to build a house for God. But God decided that David’s son, Solomon, should do the job. Nevertheless, David was able to prepare the materials from which the temple would be constructed. His personal example encouraged the Israelites to join him in sacrificial giving for the “temple building fund.” As the people freely gave, they all rejoiced and praise God.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: 1 Chronicles 29:1-22

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. Why did the people give so freely and joyfully?

2. Why does David emphasize the fact that everything belongs ultimately to the Lord? What difference does this make in the way you think about your personal property?

3. What needs to happen in your life – and in our church – so that we might give freely, joyously, and generously?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Indeed, Lord, to you belong the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. All things in heaven and on earth are created by you and belong ultimately to you, including those things we call our own. When we give to your work, we simply give back some of what is already yours. Yet you allow us to do this so that we might have the joy of sharing in your work in the world. Gracious Lord, may our church have a 1 Chronicles 29 experience this week, as we give freely and joyously. Stir in our hearts, that we might be cheerful givers!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A Home Beyond Ourselves

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:1-5, NRSV)

Before You Read

The Greek verb often translated as “abide” is closely related to the Greek word for “home.” ”To abide” often means “to make a home in something.” In John 15 Jesus mixes metaphors, combining the idea of his being the true vine with the notion of being at home in him, like a well-connected branch.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: John 15:1-11

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How can you abide in Christ, really? What does this involve? Do you do these things? Why or why not?

2. What could you do to abide in Christ, to make your home in Christ, more consistently?

3. If you were to abide in Christ each day, what difference might this make in your life?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Lord Jesus, you are the one true vine, the one who nourishes us, the one who gives us life. Yet often we look for life in other places. We “abide” in family, or friends, or work, or school, or success, or wealth, or . . . . Forgive us for making a home in anything other than you. Help us, Gracious Lord, to find our meaning, purpose, energy, and joy in you. Help us to be at home in you so that we might live fruitful lives of true significance. And help our church, Lord, to make our home together in you. May we trust, not in our wisdom or cleverness, not in our own resources, but in you and your resources. Help us to be at home together in your love.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Blessed Beyond Time

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world . . . .
(Ephesians 1:3-4, NRSV)

Before You Read

When did God first think of you? When did God decide to love you? When did God decide to choose you for himself? Ephesians 1 provides an astounding answer, an answer that can change your life.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Ephesians 1:3-7

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. So when did God first think of you? When did God choose you for himself, and what difference does this make to you? Think about it! Let the truth sink into your heart.

2. Why, according to this text, did God choose you? What does God get out of it, so to speak?

3. According to this passage, how are we to live in light of the fantastic news about God’s love and grace? What does this really mean?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious Father, the good news of Ephesians 1 is more than our minds can truly grasp, that you chose us even before the foundation of the world to belong to you, so that you might love us, and so that we might be your special people. “Amazing love! How can it be?!” May this truth penetrate our hearts, by the power of your Spirit. May we live each day in the confidence of your love and grace!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Destined for Praise Beyond Ourselves

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance . . . so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 1:11-12, NRSV)

Before You Read

Yesterday we began to study one of the most amazing texts in all of Scripture. Today we continue that passage, coming to an astounding conclusion. Ephesians 1:8-12 tells us why we’re alive, why God has chosen us to belong to him, and what our chief purpose in life should be.

Passage for Reading and Reflection: Ephesians 1:8-12

Questions to Ponder or Discuss

1. How can you live for the praise of God’s glory? Really? What would this look like in daily life?

2. How can our church live for the praise of God’s glory? If we were really doing this, what would our life together look like?

3. How might this passage from Ephesians impact the way you think about your pledging to “Beyond Ourselves”?

A Prelude to Your Prayers

Gracious Father, what would it mean for us to live for the praise of your glory, not just in corporate worship, not just in our private devotions, but each and every moment of each and every day? What would be different in our thinking, our dreaming, our feeling, and our acting? How would we envision our lives, both today and in the future? O dear Lord, stretch our thinking! Expand our hearts! Transform our lives! May we – as individual believers and as a church – truly live, not for ourselves, but far beyond ourselves, for the praise of your glory!