This week's theme

Earning one's living

Today's reading

Genesis 30:25-43

Today's prayer

God of Jacob, release in me an active imagination so that my struggles may lead to blessings.

From Fresh From the Word 2015

For further thought

With so many distractions in life, where could I go to imagine God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven?

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Compare Songs of Songs 8:5-14 and 1 Corinthians 13. In what ways do the passages agree and in what ways do they differ?

Do you think all human longing is an expression of our need for God?

Does not even the spiritual life require embodiment for its expression?

Do you think the Christian tradition too often associates sex with shame?

If you are in a long-term relationship, are you giving it the time and attention it deserves?

Are you listening carefully to women’s voices and paying proper attention to the opinions and thoughts of women?

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A notorious evildoer comes into your church and says ‘I want to change. Can you help me to get to know God?’ How would you react?

How good are you at sharing God’s compassion and forgiveness with everyone you meet, not just those you approve of? How can you do better?

Which of the sons in the parable do you most resemble?

If God spares evil people who repent, what does this say about God’s justice?

Can you recall an occasion when you were disobedient, careless or stupid and God started again with you? What happened?

How difficult do you find it to trust God to care for you in hard places?

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What are my blind spots? Where do I fail to see, as my Creator sees, with a loving and kindly vision?

Reflect on time as gift from God. Do I need to change my attitude to its use?

Are we aware of the burdens that weigh others down? Where do we fail to notice and to act?

Where can I make time for myself? Where do I need love and attention?

Reflect today on the true meaning of Christian hope and trust.

Reflect on Ecclesiastes 3.4: ‘A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ Do we fail to pay attention to the griefs that inhibit our flourishing?

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Do you pray for justice for the most vulnerable? How are you involved in seeing justice come?

Consider your own attentiveness to Jesus: are you more like Martha or Mary?

How do we love God with all our heart, soul and strength

Is there someone you know who might gain hope from hearing your testimony to God’s love and power today?

Remember that the people you meet today may be struggling in some way that you might not know, but God does. Pray for them.

Gratitude forms hearts of awe. Take time today to consider your gratefulness for God’s presence in your life, and to rest a little in that mystery.

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Pay attention to what is happening around you. Take responsibility for changing it. Make a conscious effort to be present to the God who is present to you.

Consider the places, spaces and moments you wish to name as wisdom-encounters. Imagine a ‘come dine with me’ TV show with Proverbs 9:5-6 as a strapline!

Consider the subtle and overt ways in which God is being marginalised in our lives. Name some of the events/happenings/people for which you wish to give God thanks. What would your version of Hannah’s prayer be like?

‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it’ (Jeremiah 6:16). Where and how is the call of God working in your life?

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). Consider scheduling a resting time in your diary. As communities of rest, what are spaces for rest that churches create/offer?

How does the knowledge of this all-attentive God who loves each of us intensely, shape your relationships and response to what you may be currently wrestling with?

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Ask yourself how the truth of Christ’s overall authority should be reflected in the way you think and live in the world.

Ask yourself how much you accept to be modelled by the word of God.

Reflect on how much the sacrifice of Christ conquers the power of sin in your life, and give thanks.

Reflect on the ways in which the lordship of Christ should be expressed in different domains of your life. What will be different?

How aware are you of the fact that God hears our cries and knows our needs?

What is the model you follow in your journey of discipleship and in ministry to others? How can Jesus’ self-emptying model inform the life of your community?

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What do I hold on to that is no longer life giving at this point in my life? Are there things that hold me back from exploring my faith more deeply?

Do I see groups and organisations that help children in need as co-builders of the kingdom of God here on earth?

Is it possible to let the hard questions we face become an opening into a deepening sense of God’s grace and protection in our lives?

Take time to recall moments when you have seen the hand of God in the most unexpected places, and give thanks for that memory.

When do you find it easier to look for recognition rather than recognising where Christ is in the ordinary encounters of your daily life?

How hard do we find it to trust God with what seem to be the impossible situations we encounter in our lives?

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Choose one difficult relationship you are experiencing. How can you bring about peace in it?

Are you doing anything in your community to eliminate violence in public media or to eliminate war toys for children?

In failed relationships, is it because one or both parties didn’t try hard enough?

Is there a peace or justice issue that threatens to bring social conflict in your community? What can your group do to redress the underlying injustice?

Unity is God’s purpose. What can we do to help bring people together? Write a letter to someone within your church, urging forgiveness and reconciliation.

Instead of judging, what should occupy our energy? What do you need to do to promote unity in diversity?

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What might it mean to seek the peace and prosperity of where you are? Remember those for whom shalom/peace is a distant hope.

Pray for a place of conflict; pray for true peace with justice. Consider how you might seek others’ prosperity. What might that mean for you?

How can you not just seek peace but pursue it? What could you change in your life, community, or the wider world to pursue peace?

What might be the barriers to true, ‘whole life’ worship of God? What in your life might need changing? (Don’t dwell on guilt; seek forgiveness!)

How in harmony with your fellow human beings are you? How in harmony with God’s world are you? What could you change?

If you could have God change or transform one thing in your life what might it be? What tools do you have to work for peace?

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Take up the challenge described above and resolve to pray for politicians in more depth.

Research what it’s like to be a Christian in a hostile environment, and commit to holding those people in prayer.

Investigate the latest anti-corruption or anti-tax evasion campaigns and pray for the contexts in which this is an action.

Think of an area of your life that you need to entrust to God. Write it down and, over the course of the day, read it over again and lift it up in prayer.

it. For the last three years, I’ve been training for ordination, learning all the things a church leader is meant to know. As an ordinand in a church placement, I’ve had some responsibility but always with the safety net of two ordained people

Spend some time thinking about your various responsibilities and those who support you with them. Pray for each area and all those involved.

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Stand up for the powerless and the powerful will move against you.

Power without accountability is like bricks without straw: it doesn’t work, the house will fall. Where do I see power that must be challenged?

In what ways, in my time, is it given to me to speak truth to power?

In my circumstances, are there orders that I must never obey?

We take Jesus as our model for private life. Is he our model for public life and leadership too?

Good leaders from time to time may look to their people for forgiveness. When last did a leading politician do this? When last did I?

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Are we ready to make any sacrifices today? Reflect on what modern society ‘preaches’ today and what it means to follow Jesus now.

Read the newspaper today, on paper or on the internet, and look for positive news. Can you see there any signs of God’s goodwill for all of us? Take a moment to reflect and pray.

What about Jesus’ compassion? We live in a society that seems to have lost those sorts of feelings. Instead of compassion, blame and fear take the lead. Reflect on what the Gospel is telling us about this.

Have you ever thought of volunteering to help in community or church services? Are you ready for that? Talk about it with your friends or church group. Don’t hesitate. There’s always lots to do for those in need!

Do you believe Jesus can change your life? In what ways? Talk with your church group and friends about it.

Plan how to get involved in community organisations that help those in difficulties. Is your church ready to open its doors without prejudices and judgement?

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Are we discouraged because of the size of the task ahead? Is it because we think it’s up to us, not up to Jesus?

Do we live lives different enough to disturb people, and are we confident enough not to mind if they don't like us because of it?

Have Christians been too willing to try to impose their views on people rather than just offering them?

Are there times in our lives when we have grieved too soon and missed God’s blessing of resurrection?

Do we make faith too complicated and give people the impression they have to jump through too many hoops to become Christians?

Restoration and healing are sometimes costly. How do we make them worth it?

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Which relationships create space for you to be in the presence of Jesus? What are the broken relationships you need Jesus to help you restore?

What are the distractions around you that are stopping you from hearing God? How can you make space in your life to hear God?

In what areas of your life do you feel inadequate? How might God transform those inadequacies and turn them into small wonders?

What is stopping you and your faith community from seeing growth? How can you keep the expectation of reproduction and growth central to your faith?

Who are the ‘small’ people in your sphere of influence that are overlooked? How will you and your faith community seek to serve that group?

What do you and your faith community do when confronted with needs? What are the issues around you that small acts of kindness could transform?

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The next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, remember there is always room at God’s holy table for more hungry people. Invite them in.

Learn the names of the children in your church and pray for them. If there are no children in your church, pray that God will send some soon.

When you next take Holy Communion, remember that people from east, west, north and south are welcome at the Lord’s feast.

Make a list today of all the signs of God’s kingdom at work in your community.

Can a diverse range of people find a home in your church? What more could you do to make all feel welcome?

Who are the young people in your church or fellowship? What more could you be doing to encourage them?

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Take a moment to give thanks for those who raised you in Christian faith either as a child or as an adult, and for those whose lives you have touched with your faith.

How do or might you live out the values of the kingdom, to which you belong, by your commitment to the world, to which you don’t?

Which questions are a potential stumbling block for your faith? Is your faith strengthened by the wrestling, or challenged by the lack of answers?

Whom do you find it especially hard to love? With whom do you never agree? Understanding is not always easy, but start by praying for them.

Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9). How might you be a peacemaker, locally or globally?

How does it make you feel to know that Christ is glorified in you? How will you show that glory in your life this week?

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In the world we will have trouble and face persecution. But don’t worry! Jesus has overcome the world. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

By the resurrection and ascension power of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, let us powerfully share God’s word always.

Make your ‘joy be complete’ by committing yourself to help a needy person in your church or community this week. Challenge your peers to join you.

Is it right to question God about the death of a loved one? Is it truly possible to experience permanent joy after temporary grief?

The Christian’s life is not free from trials, troubles and challenges. While we are experiencing them, we are being rescued by Christ. Discuss, giving examples.

Read again verses19 and 20 and compare with Romans 8:38-39. What did you learn from the comparison? How can you live out what you have learned?

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Is there something God is wanting to say to you? What truth does the Spirit want to guide you into?

What do the words, ‘sin, righteousness and judgement’ mean to you? Can you love more without being aware of what hinders that love?

Is there anything in our own church culture that we think serves God, but isn’t really doing so? How can we be sure of what service God wants? How can we help those who are misguided?

How might people pick up the wrong idea about who Jesus is? Have you ever misunderstood his works or his words? How can you help people to know Jesus?

Have you ever been unjustly treated, and repaid evil for good? How do you feel about it now? How can you protect yourself while still loving that person?

Do you have a clear sense of what God wants you to say? What frightens you when you talk about God? How can you overcome this fear?

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Seek out opportunities to thank your closest friends for the trust and at-home-ness they give to you. Review your list of virtual friends and either take steps to make the friendship genuine or else weed out those who are included only to make up the numb

Who are the unacknowledged heroes in your community? How can you support them?

Set aside a day for personal retreat and use this prayer as your focus.

Do we sometimes limit our perception of the work of the kingdom to those activities that have the unhelpfully limited label, ‘full-time Christian work’?

Consider what ordinary, mundane encounters in your life today might in truth be unlikely but real steps along your own pilgrim way.

Practise approaching the Bible with an attitude of listening before attempting to analyse or interpret.

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Sometimes sitting and praying without words brings our thoughts and emotions in sync with God’s peace. Stop, and listen to God speak.

Do we need to see to believe? Faith means trusting God wholeheartedly. We do not see God, however we see the many works of God’s love.

Can you see the underlying love behind the instructions to obey? If not, what is clouding the love? It is awesome that someone truly cares!

Do you make promises you feel that you may not be able to keep? Promises made need to be realistic, simple, and – most important – kept.

Do you forget at times that we are just like our parents? Do you forget at times that children imitate what parents do?

Do you feel at times you are always ‘poking in the dark’? The answer is nearby. Faith in Christ will show you the way.

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Wisdom on full stops from comedian Gracie Allen: ‘Never place a period where God has placed a comma.’

Some church members refer to themselves as ‘followers of Jesus’. This implies confession of faith and adherence to Jesus’s teachings. Might such a claim also resonate with Jesus’ depiction of the sheep–shepherd relationship?

When unexpected good fortune finds us, do we perceive something at work beyond what we can explain?

Some say doubt is the opposite of faith, others say the opposite of faith is certainty. Which is closer to your understanding?

According to the principles of community organising, there is a clear preference for ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ to bring about change. How might that relate to this scene of Easter evening?

Read Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Mindful’ from Why I Wake Early – a fine poem that explores the art of seeing.

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When Perfect Love reigns, people who formerly lived in fear find themselves called out with linen and spices. Let us follow Joseph and Nicodemus and do likewise.

If you make one step towards God today, he will walk across the universe to meet you.

‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ (verse 17). How could knowing this truth about God change the way you do things?

They say, ‘Keep your enemies close,’ but can enemies be flipped? What can we learn about how God changes hearts that can mend relationships in our world?

In John’s Gospel ‘glory’ refers to the cross. Is this paradox true in your story? Can God be glorified in outcomes that feel like utter failure? I hope so!

Do you ever wonder what the people who walk past your church pray about? How might your faith community respond if God asked you to love your neighbours with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18)?

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What more can you discover about how the targets that make up the Millennium Goals have been met?

Take an opportunity to do something today that consciously responds to the needs of those you see around you.

See what you can discover about the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiatives (MDRI). You could start at www.one.org/international/issues/debt-cancellation

Notice today your use of water: for drinking, cooking, washing, cleaning and other sanitary needs. How much water do you think you use each day?

Try to find out who the biggest land-owners in your own neighbourhood are. How do they use the land they occupy?

Where are your sabbath places? When are your sabbath times?

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How can we identify with the global scope of the Millennium Development Goals? Scripture helps open the personal stories behind statistics quoted in millions.

Today take a moment to imagine Jesus calling you to him, before sending you out. What gifts does he see? What might he say?

Today investigate any of the charities that combat disease, such as The Leprosy Mission or Rotary International’s campaign to end polio. Can you help in some way?

Sit and hear the question the guide asked Ezekiel: ‘Son of man, do you see this?’ What does God want to make sure you see today?

What is your government doing about health care for the most vulnerable, who can’t afford the care Namaan can?

How has HIV/Aids affected your community, or not? How have you seen people of faith respond, or not? Join a discussion on our Facebook group today.

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Being ‘born again’ uses a feminine image for God. How might this image broaden our understanding of God’s concern for the health of infants and mothers?

What are the specific needs of little girls in your community, like the one Jesus took by the hand? How can your community nourish them?

Who are the untouchables in your community? *Lyrics by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh © Chrysalis One Music

What are the gravest dangers threatening the health of infants and pregnant women in your community?

Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu is an African proverb that says that a person becomes a person because of people; or, more personally put, I am because we are.

We are all wonderfully made by God. How will you appreciate today that all your fellow human beings are so wonderfully yet so differently made?

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Work with others to gather an archive of the stories of women who have offered leadership and ministry in your faith community.

In your faith community are there some people who are never offered leadership roles or whose vocation is denied? Why? What might you do to encourage them?

Visit a local art/craft gallery or exhibition and consider what spirituality might be revealed.

Search out and meditate upon other biblical texts that use feminine imagery to describe the divine nature.

What do you know about migrant workers in your community? How might you engage in the practice of radical hospitality?

Are there barriers to female leadership in your church? In the community? What action could you take?

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International
community

The Fellowship of Professional Workers in India hosted a Christmas get-together for visually challenged children.

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This week's writer

Stephen Willey is a Methodist minister involved in mission to the working world.

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About us

The International Bible Reading Association is part of Christian Education and serves the church in five continents to encourage regular Bible reading.

Introducing Charles Walters, bank manager and Sunday School teacher – not a scholar, preacher, or public speaker – who had a gift for organisation and a vision for making the Bible accessible to all.

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