At the Crossraods of Fear and Faith

From the first moments of creation in Genesis to the last triumphant promise recorded in Revelation, God continually works in the business of redemption. He brings light out of darkness, order out of chaos, hope out of despair, and life out of death. We often forget that our God really can do anything. The stories recorded in the Bible are tender reminders that God comes to the rescue of weak, imperfect people to bring to completion His ultimate act of redemption—the creation of a new earth and a new heaven in which Jesus can live forever with His people—His bride.

Breaking the Ice

10-15 Minutes

LEADER: These "Breaking the Ice" experiences are designed to get people talking. Encourage each group member to participate, but be sure to keep things moving. The activity helps get group members acquainted with one another. Pass out paper, pens, colored markers, and crayons.

  1. Write your first name vertically along the left margin of a sheet of paper. Using the letters of your first name, create an acrostic that describes you. For instance:
  2. Decorate your acrostic by drawing pictures that also identify something about you.
  3. Share your acrostic with the group. Then, as others share, try to memorize at least one new thing about each of the other group members.

Discovering the Truth

30-35 Minutes

LEADER: For "Discovering the Truth," ask various group members to read the Bible passages aloud. Be sure to leave time for the "Embracing the Truth" and "Connecting" segments that follow this discussion.

EXPLORING OUR EMPTY PLACES

Two women who experienced God's redeeming power in intimate and life-changing ways were Sarah (who begins our study with the name Sarai) and Hagar. Sarah, the wife of a wealthy man, thinks the greatest blessings in life have passed her by. When God calls her husband to a new country and gives him a spectacular promise, she finds her life turned upside down. Hagar, a woman forced to play a role in Sarah's story, is an Egyptian slave. In their entangled lives, both women experience tragedies because of pride and lack of trust in God. But God does not allow their stories to end there.

We first meet Sarai in Genesis 11:27-31. In these four short verses, we learn vital things about Sarai that give us a revealing glimpse into her life.

27These are the family records of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran fathered Lot... 29Abram and Nahor took wives: Abram's wife was named Sarai, and Nahor's wife was named Milcah... 30Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran's son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.

Genesis 11:27, 29-31, HCSB

LEADER: Discuss as many discovery questions as time permits. Encourage participation by inviting different individuals to respond. It will help to highlight in advance the questions you don't want to miss. Be familiar with the Scripture Notes at the end of this session.

  1. Names of people and places hold significant meaning in the Bible. Judging by Sarai's name (which means "princess"), to what sort of lifestyle might she be accustomed? What sort of expectations do you assume she may have had for her life?

The first revealing thing we notice about Sarai is her name, which means "my princess." With it come connotations of royalty, privilege, strength, independence, and even stubbornness. Another significant fact is that Sarai and Abram are half siblings; Sarai is the daughter of Terah and a different wife. This was a common practice in ancient times, and it will become an important point as the story unfolds.

  1. With what significant issue is Sarai struggling (verse 30)? Do you know anyone who has struggled with infertility? How did the struggle affect that person's identity? Relationship with God? Relationship with others?
  2. In Sarai's day, a woman's identity and status were measured by her ability to bear offspring. How is a woman's status or identity established in our culture? In what ways do we tell women that they are not "measuring up" as women?

In ancient times, barrenness was considered a shameful, possibly even a God-forsaken, state for a woman. Sarai had no greater purpose in that time and place than to raise children and carry on the family name, a purpose she had little hope of fulfilling.

  1. Barrenness was the key, defining trait for Sarai. How would you expect her barrenness to affect her emotions? How about her perceptions of herself, God, and other people?

In his book The Mystery of Love, Rabbi Marc Gafni shares the one lesson that he most emphasizes to his students: "Life is what you do with your emptiness." Emptiness, as we will see, presented a defining problem for Sarai—just as it does for millions today. All people experience emptiness and seek to fill it. God, speaking in metaphor, highlights two approaches we can take...

"For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water."

Jeremiah 2:13, HCSB

  1. What do the cisterns in Jeremiah 2:13 represent? What happens when we fall into relying on our own resources rather than taking our emptiness and deepest thirsts to God?

35Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. 36I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you really don't believe me. 37Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don't let go.

John 6:35-37, The Message

  1. What are the results Jesus promises in John 6 if we take our heart needs and emptiness to Him? How does His offer differ from those things to which people typically turn to fill those empty places?

At times, our arms feel empty, our work feels empty, our relationships feel empty. Too often, we choose to deny the emptiness, or we try to fill it with unsatisfying substitutes. The course of our lives depends largely on this choice of how to fill our emptiness. And, as we'll see in Sarai's case, some attempts to fill it prove far more successful than others.

Principle for Living
As you acknowledge and explore the empty places in your heart, you'll begin to recognize the deepest desires and thirsts you long to satisfy. Embracing Jesus and His living water is the only thing that will ever fill your empty places.

STANDING AT A CROSSROADS

Sarai, her husband, Abram, and extended family had recently moved from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran, a region whose name literally means "crossroads." In Haran, God visited Abram and challenged him with Sarai and take a great step of faith into the unknown.

LEADER: Invite two or three volunteers to divide the reading of Genesis 12.

1The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. 5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people he had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the site of Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7But the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "I will give this land to your offspring." So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.

8From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped Him. 9Then Abram journeyed by stages to the Negev.

Genesis. 12:1-9, HCSB

Bible scholar John MacArthur tells us that the journey from Ur to Haran would have been around 700 miles, and the journey from Haran to Canaan totaled around 350 miles. Abram's caravan was large, including Sarai, Abram's nephew Lot, and all the menservants and maidservants and animals that were part of a wealthy man's estate. To Sarai fell the responsibility of overseeing the caravan and maintaining the "household" as they traveled these many miles.

  1. What were the key elements of God's vision for Abram (verses 1-3)? How, specifically, do you think God's vision would affect Sarai?
  2. Given Sarai's barrenness and advanced age, how do you suppose she would have responded to Abram's report about God's promises to him?
  3. Why do you think God withholds from us complete, detailed outlines of our futures? What benefit is there in asking us to "live by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV)?

Principle for Living
When you reach a life crossroads, it's easy to give in to fear. Remember decisions based on fear are almost always regrettable because fear blinds us to the opportunities and blessings God plans for us.

Decades passed before Abram and Sarai arrive at one of the most significant crossroads in the life of their family. But God does not leave Sarai and her family at a crossroads for long. After Terah's death, God calls upon Abram to move to a new land. With this new move comes a new vision for the future. In this case, the couple walks by faith rather than giving into fear of the difficult and unknown path ahead.

Embracing the Truth

10-15 Minutes

LEADER: This section focuses on helping group members integrate what they've learned from the Bible into their own hearts and lives. Invite volunteers to read the Bible passages.


Many of us, like Sarai, have found ourselves standing at the crossroads between fear and faith. God is calling us to a new way of life, a new identity, and a new challenge. We often desperately desire God's guidance, while at the same time refusing to give God control over our futures. The end result is a nagging sense of fear, confusion, and, ultimately, regret as we look back over our lives and realize that we have literally fought against God's ways.

  1. Contrast our common attitude with that of the "noble wife" described in Proverbs 31. Verse 25 is an especially vivid description of a faith-filled woman: "She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future" (NLT).

The gnawing anxiety that so often overshadows our journey of faith does not come from God. The desperate need to control our destinies comes from within. We would love to be women who live with strength and dignity, laughing without fear at the days to come.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

2 Timothy 1:7, HCSB

3Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. 4Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires. 5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, 6making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday. 7Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him.

Psalm 37:3-7a, HCSB

  1. How has fearfulness at times interfered with your ability to live with "power, love, and sound judgment"?
  2. According Psalm 37:3-7, how does God respond to us when we take our fears to Him? From what fears do you need God to deliver you?
  3. What in your life needs to change so you will make the time to be silent before God and wait expectantly for Him? What attitudes do you need to change so you can wait without complaining, fear, cynicism, or despair?

Principle for Living
During your crossroads times, it is imperative to remember that God always has your best interests at heart. He delights in giving you the true desires of your heart, so wait with expectancy.

Connecting

10-15 Minutes

LEADER: Use "Connecting" as a time to begin to bond with, encourage, and support one another. Invite everyone to join in the discussions. Provide a kaleidoscope. Pass it around, encouraging each participant to enjoy its many images as you discuss the following questions.

Fragmented Vision

A kaleidoscope is a beautiful thing, especially when you consider that its many wonderful images are made by loose pieces of colored glass and mirrors. The colored glass pieces tumble around in a seemingly random manner, creating the beautiful images we see. Multiple small mirrors and lenses inside the kaleidoscope contribute to the picture, making an orderly pattern out of what would appear to be random pieces.

We are much like Sarah, who had a fragmented vision of God's glorious future plans for her. Because she didn't fully trust God and apply His promises in her life, she struggled under her own power and made many tragic mistakes—mistakes that would drastically affect her family.

  1. Have you ever looked at the many facets of your life and seen only randomness? Describe a recent time of barrenness when you couldn't make sense of your past, didn't know where God was leading, or worried that you might not be up to His challenges.
  2. Why do you think we so often define ourselves by our barrenness—those areas where we come up short?
  3. How do the people around you try to cope with their emptiness? How do you tend to cope with yours?
  4. What do you believe God might be trying to accomplish through your emptiness? How would your life be different if you allowed God to fill your empty places?
  5. How do you discern God's will for you in crossroads times? Where do you find support, wisdom, and comfort in your crossroads times?

Principle for Living
God's followers continually face the challenge of living in fear or living in faith. Your response in these times is the clearest indicator of what you truly believe in your innermost being about God's character.

LEADER: Take some extra time to go over the Group Covenant at the back of the book (page 97). Now is the time for each person to pass around her book to collect contact information on the Group Directory on page 104.


Share and record group prayer requests that you will regularly pray over between now and next session. In addition, pray together that God will strengthen and encourage each participant as she takes her heart's questions to God this week. How can the members of this group pray for you?

Taking It Home

LEADER: Explain that the "Taking It Home" sections contain introspective questions as well as questions to take to God. Encourage each person to set aside quiet time this week so she can make the most of this study and group experience. Be sure to highlight the importance of writing down thoughts, feelings, and key insights that God reveals. Journaling is a powerful tool.

Studying God's truth is not an end in itself. Our goal is always heart and life change. To take the next step of integrating the truth into our lives, we need to (1) look honestly into our hearts to understand the true motivations that drive us, and (2) seek God's perspective on our lives. Psalm 51:6, NASB says God "desire[s] truth in the innermost being."

Questions to Take to My Heart

The following question asks you to look into your heart and focus on your deepest feelings about yourself. Our behaviors are the best indicators of what we really believe deep down. Look deep into the underlying beliefs in your heart where your truest attitudes and motivations live. Spend some time reflecting, and don't settle for a quick answer.

What does my fear of the future reveal about my relationship with God? In what areas of my life am I failing to apply God's promises?

What big decisions am I facing? How will I make these decisions from a core of faith, not fear?

A Question to Take to God

When you ask God a question, expect His Spirit to guide your heart to discover His truth. Be careful not to rush or manufacture an answer. Don't write down what you think the "right answer" is. Don't turn the Bible into a reference book or spiritual encyclopedia. Just pose a question to God and wait on Him. Remember, the litmus test for anything we hear from God is alignment with the Bible as our ultimate source of truth. Keep a journal of the insights you gain from your time with God.

Lord, how is my fear keeping me from sincerely loving and serving You? What barriers or false beliefs prevent me from turning over full control of my life and my emotions to You, so that I may honor you with faithful and cheerful obedience?

Scripture Notes

Genesis 11:27-31; 12:1-9

11:26 Abram, Nahor and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot, one of the main characters in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction. The Bible records the fact that Haran, Lot's father, died. According to custom, Abram became responsible for his nephew.

11:28 Ur of the Chaldeans. The starting point for Sarai and her extended family was either (1) the famous Ur in modern Iraq or (2) Ur in Anatolia or modern Syria/Turkey. Since Abram's servant, and later Jacob, went to Paddan Aram to their kinfolk (Gen. 25:20; 28:2), the second Ur in the north might be correct. If it's the first option of the ancient city of Ur, now in modern Iraq, is described by archeologists and biblical scholars believed it was a "flourishing and prosperous society" located along a prominent trade route.

11:30 barren. Sarai was unable to have children. This foreshadows God's provision. God would soon promise to make Abram the father of many nations by miraculously giving his barren wife a child.

11:31 Haran. This city played an important role in Abram's family. It became Abram's first home on his way to Canaan. Generations later, his descendants Isaac and Jacob would find their wives in Haran.

12:1 Go out from your land. Before there was a promising future, Abram needed to renounce his past. He had to leave the familiar in order to find his future. Abram left Ur to head to Haran. And from Haran, he eventually settled in Canaan.

12:2-3 I will bless you. God did not predict Abram's future. He promised it. His promise to Abram assured him of a land, a nation, and a blessing. At 75 years of age, who would not long to receive such a promise? However, at that time, Abram could not have imagined the extent of God's promise. Out of his descendants the entire Jewish nation, the land of Israel, and, eventually, the Savior Himself would arise.

12:4 Abram went. Delay was not in Abram's vocabulary. Although he was short on specific instructions, Abram packed up his belongings, gathered his nephew Lot, and got going. Despite his shortcomings, Abram's life is often a model of faith in action.

12:5 people he had acquired. Abram's response to God's promise affected several people in the immediate picture. Of course, his family members were included. But his extended "family" of servants and workers who tended his wealth of flocks and herds were also affected by the news.

12:7 The Lord appeared. While the Lord's appearance would be an unusual event to most modern readers, it was not an uncommon experience for Abram. The altar became a special symbol between God and Abram. When God appeared to Abram and affirmed His promise to him, Abram often built an altar to remember the experience. The stone and earthen altar would remain as a visible reminder of his journey of faith.

12:8 Bethel. About 12 miles north of Jerusalem is Bethel, a landmark in Jewish history. The site of another of Abram's altars, the city of Bethel also marked the future place of Jacob's dream and housed the Ark of the Covenant for some time as well.

12:9 Negev. Abram's route took him through the Negev, literally "dry land"—referring to the southern desert wasteland. At the end of this desert trip, Abram would be eager for the resources found in the lush landscape of nearby Egypt.

Jeremiah2:13

2:13 cracked cisterns. Note the contrast between God and the pagan deities represented by idols. God was the source of life-sustaining water while the cisterns could not hold even a drop for the people to drink.

2 Timothy 1:7

1:7 spirit of fearfulness. Paul makes this sort of appeal because Timothy is not a forceful person (1 Tim. 4:12). Power, love, and sound judgment. The resources the Spirit gave Timothy leads not to fearfulness, but to these positive characteristics. All Christians have been given this same spirit of power, love, and sound judgment.