Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

Discussion Groups

Enjoying the Presence of God: Discussion Groups

These additional discussion questions for groups studying Enjoying the Presence of God were developed by Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor of Congregational Life, Laguna Presbyterian Church.

Welcome to our group!

We are on a journey of learning to relish being God's much-loved child instead of trying to be wonderful; to accept our inability to control people and circumstances and surrender them to God (p. 9).  It's more about a relationship than a method.

"Rules" of the group

  1. Each group will meet 6-7 times; we will agree to make attendance a priority in our busy lives.
  2. We commit to read before each meeting 2-3 short chapters from Jan's book and come ready to discuss them.
  3. Jan reminded us, "It's about God, not about us." The group's focus is on God through discussing the book and praying.  The focus is not on us, so sharing personal problems will be kept to a minimum.
  4. A 1-day or overnight spiritual retreat with Jan Johnson may be planned when our study is finished.
  5. (Additional)  We will agree to spend time each day enjoying God & or attempting one of the  weekly experiments with God.

Reading and Discussion Schedule  

Group Meeting #1:  Read chapters:

  1. Trying Too Hard
  2. Practicing the Presence of God
  3. Thinking about You Becomes Praying for You

Group Meeting #2:  Read chapters:

  1. Talking to You Means Praying for You
  2. Weaving Prayer with Activity
  3. Praying without Words

Group Meeting #3:  Read chapters:

  1. Focusing on What's in Front of You
  2. Finding God in Irritating Moments
  3. Loving God in Anguished Moments

Group Meeting  #4:  Read chapters:

  1. Enjoying God between the Big Moments
  2. Asking God Questions
  3. Dreaming God's Dreams

Group Meeting  #5:  Read chapters:

  1. Hearing God
  2. Being Present for Others
  3. Removing Stones in the Path

Group Meeting #6:  Read chapters:

  1. Addressing Deeper Fears about God
  2. Believing God Loves Me
  3. Revamping the Quiet Time

Epilogue: What to Expect on Your Journey

Week 1 Chapters 1-3

I.   Icebreaker and Get-To-Know You Exercise

  1. Jan describes herself as a "can-do go-getter" (p 9).  In what areas of your life does that describe you (or are you a doer)?
  2. Jan makes the distinction between being and doing (p 9).  At what time in your life (or what time in the last year) has it been easiest for you to "be" rather than "do"?

Read "Rules" of the Group

  1. Each group will meet 6-7 times; we will agree to make attendance a priority in our busy lives.
  2. We commit to read before each meeting 2-3 short chapters from Jan's book and come ready to discuss them.
  3. Jan reminded us, "It's about God, not about us." The group's focus is on God through discussing the book and praying.  The focus is not on us, so sharing personal problems will be kept to a minimum.
  4. A 1-day or overnight spiritual retreat with Jan Johnson may be planned when our study is finished.
  5. (Additional)  We will agree to spend time each day enjoying God.

Chapter 1   Trying Too Hard

  1. In what ways do you work at your relationship with God?
    If "work" doesn't describe your efforts, what word does?  Why?
  2. How do you feel about having a quiet time?  How have your quiet times worked out?
  3. Anything else in chapter 1 that especially struck you?

Chapter 2  Practicing the Presence of God

"It isn't a matter of achieving God's presence, but surrendering to God's presence that is already within the Christian" p. 16  "Without this surrender of life, someone might trade in a works-oriented quiet time for an equally frantic constant conversation with God." p. 17

Extra question:  "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4).  How do you react to Jan's allegation that this verse has been hijacked as a formula for getting what we want from God--rather than realizing that delighting in the Lord is the thing that fills our desires?  (p 15)

  1. Have you become aware of ways you already practice God's presence without realizing it?
  2. Think of a place in which you are usually bored, and consider praying for someone or some circumstance nearby.  For example, waiting in the doctor's  office can prompt us to pray for the doctors and medical personnel or for patients receiving bad news or even for integrity in medical research.
  3. Consider for a moment what might have motivated the disciples to ask Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).  What motivates you?
  4. Jan says we must avoid the trap of knowing God only through the two avenues of (1) information and facts, and (2) inspiration and feelings.  Which of these feels the most at home to you in trying to know God?  (Instead we invite God to dwell in every part of us -p 20)
  5. Anything else in chapter 2 that especially struck you?

Chapter 3   Thinking About You Becomes Praying for You

  1. Consider asking God to show you what breath prayers you may already use.  What favorite Scripture verses could you turn into breath prayers?
  2. What events or people in your life do you think of but have never prayed for (committee meetings, coworkers, government or school officials)?
  3. Anything else in chapter 3 that especially struck you?

Prayer

"Prayer isn't a performance, but a "climbing up into the heart of God" as Martin Luther said.  Enjoying God's presence places us squarely in God's lap, where God enjoys us:

     The Lord your God is with you,
     He will take great delight in you,
     He will quiet you with his love,
     He will rejoice over you with singing. Zeph 3:17 (quoted from p 15)

"To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you." p. 20

As you pray, read these quotes and spend several minutes in silence all owing yourselves to "descend" with the mind into the heart and stand before God.

Experiment for week 1

  1. Practice the presence of God--take time each day--even for a few minutes to be aware of presence of God.
  2. Breath prayer:

Fine & list scriptures you can use as breath prayers.  Choose 2 to pray for 1 specific person all week.

  1. Choose 1 person for whom you will offer a breath prayer whenever you think of him/her this week.
  2. Ask God what to pray for that person.

Additional questions for any week

  1. Leader briefly summarize Prodigal Son story. 

If you had to pick one of the characters in this story, which would you be most like:  the son who's been in a far country and is turning back to the Father; the older brother who is tired of doing the right thing without getting credit for it; the Father who longs for reconciliation to a wanderer whom he loves?

  1. I Spy game.  Where did you see God at work this week?

Enjoying the Presence of God Groups
Week 2 Chapters 4-6

Suggestion:  Consider using a scented candle this week or next as a focal point of the group.

Getting started:

  1. From last week, what scriptures did you find that you want to use as breath prayers?  (Group might want to photocopy these for one another)
  2. How did it go when you tried to use breath prayers for a specific person all week?

Chapter 4  Talking to You Means Praying for You

  1. What would be a good breath prayer to offer when someone makes a comment or tells a joke you don't like?
  2. Think of someone you admire.  What breath prayers could you offer in your conversation with that person?
  3. {Don't use Jan's question 3 on p 34 now;  save it for prayer time.}
  4. "Prayer does not equip us for greater works; it is the greater work." p. 32  How do you respond to the idea of prayer being so important?  When (or on what subject) have you found prayer to be that important?
  5. Richard Foster (p. 33) wrote about trying to lift each person he saw one day into the light of Christ.  Did you try that this week?  If so, how did it go?  Continue to try it this week.

Chapter 5  Weaving Prayer with Activity

  1. What, if anything, sounds too difficult about talking and listening to God while you're doing something else?
  2. A Filipino farmer told Laubach, "I used to farm with my hand on the plow, my eyes on the furrow, but my mind on God."  If you were to paraphrase these words, how would you change the italicized phrases that follow to fit your lifestyle?  I farm with my hand on the plow, my eyes on the furrow, but my mind on God.
  3. If you were going to pray before beginning a task, which of the following prayers might you say?
  4.  *God loves me  *I delight in you  *This task is for you, God
     *Receive my work  *your own prayer

  5. How can you personally go against the hurry, hastiness, and greed of a culture that urges us to pack as many useful tasks into a day as possible? (p. 39)
  6. How does your body show signs of needing to slow down and be aware of God's presence.? (p. 39)  What can you do about it?
  7. What do you do that you tend to think is too ordinary or boring for God?
  8. Look at Ernest Boyer's 4  steps for weaving prayer through our tasks (p. 40).
  9.  *reflect before beginning each task
     *repeat a short prayer as you work
     *reflect after you finish each task
     *turn thoughts & feelings to God as you work

When (with what task) have your tried this or are you willing to try these steps this week?

Chapter 6  Praying without Words

  1. What kinds of activities seem like prayers to you (p. 43)?
    Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) said, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure."
    When have you experienced God's pleasure in physical activity?
  2. When, if ever, have you had the kind of experience embodied in the following sentence?  "Any work done for love is an act of worship.  It becomes a special devotion, a prayer."
  3. What phrase within the following prayer, if any, expresses your response to this chapter?  "God, creator of my body, I've never been sure how to 'glorify God in the body.' Show me how to retrain it to become a vital part of my relationship with You.  Help me follow Your leading."

Prayer Time

Explain before you pray: Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) writes of a simple way to pray with the body.  Hold your hands out palms down as you relinquish things to God; turn your hands over palms up as you pray to receive what God has for you.   We'll use this exercise later today as we pray.

As the group waits silently before the Lord, play the recording of "And the Father Will Dance" ( from Jubilate recording by Azusa Pacific Choir).  Allow yourselves to feel the pleasure God has for you.

Hold your hands palms down as you give to the Lord all that you need to get rid of.  (allow a minute of so of silence)

Now turn your hands palms up and silently ask God to fill your hands with what he has for you.

After a minute or so of silence, use parts of the prayer on p. 34.

Experiments for week 2--choose from the following

  1. Richard Foster (p. 33) talked about trying to lift each person he saw one day into the light of Christ. Try it this week.
  2. Experiment with a reminder of God's presence this week:  a scented candle, a cross to wear, a stone in the pocket, a scripture verse on the mirror, or?
  3. Try Ernest Boyer's steps this week with at least 1 task; tell us about it next week.
  4.  *reflect before beginning each task
     *repeat a short prayer as you work
     *reflect after you finish each task
     *turn thoughts & feelings to God as you work

  5. Do a small act of kindness this week in secret for God. (p. 42)
  6. Experiment with palms down, palms up prayer this week.

Enjoying the Presence of God Groups
Week 3   Chapters 7-9

Getting Started

  1. What breath prayers did you find yourself using this week?
  2. How did you pray without words this week?
  3. Share how you helped yourself remember God's presence this week.

Chapter 7   Focusing on What's in Front of You

  1. What is in front of you on a regular basis that provides a topic of conversation with God?  What's going on in world or national or local news that you could pray about?
  2. Which leaders in fields you care about (art, education, religion, music, technology, sports) would you like to pray for?
  3. Pick out a few lines from the prayer on p. 53 that express what you have wanted to say to God, but haven't.
  4. Jan wrote of praying for retreat attendees as she mingled with them, asking God to show her how to react to each person.  When have you ever done something like that?  What were the results?
  5. What is your experience with a wandering mind?  How have the distractions sometimes led you into what God wanted you to think/pray about? 

Chapter 8  Finding God in Irritating Moments

  1. Think of an irritating person in your life (without telling us who it is!). What does that person need?  What common object in your house or workplace could you use to remind you to pray for that person's need to be met?
  2. What prayers, thoughts, or feelings have you hidden from God?
  3. In what ways can you see practicing the presence of God as a help in working through the irritations of life?

Chapter 9    Loving God in Anguished Moments

  1. In what circumstances are you most tempted to stop talking to God?  If you were to talk to Him in those circumstances, what would you want to hear from Him?
  2. When, if ever, have you felt perplexed by God (or by what was happening in the world)?  In what ways did you lay that confusion before God?  How could you do that in the future?
  3. Which words on p. 67 give words to anguish you have felt?

Prayer time

  1. As the group bows in silent prayer, ask "What prayers, thoughts, emotions have you kept from God that you want to give to him?  Use the palms down prayer (see prayer from week 2) and silence as you give them to God.  With your palms down, also give God the difficult people you want to hand over to him.
  2. You might want to continue the palms down position as leader prays the prayer on pp. 52-53, pausing for silent prayer several spots.
  3. Use the palms up position to ask God to fill you in each of these needy areas of life.

Experiments to try-choose from the following

  1. Jan wrote of praying for retreat attendees as she mingled with them, asking God to show her how to react to each person.  As you arrive at worship (or other activity) this week, ask God, "Whom in this place do you want me to talk to?  to listen to?  to laugh with?  to reach with your words?"
  2. Pray parts of the prayer on pp. 52-53 this week.
  3. Play the "I Spy game" (watch to "spy" the hand of God at work this week and share with us next week what you have seen).
  4. From the previous weeks, what does your group want to be sure to continue?  breath prayers?  reminders of God's presence?  secret acts of kindness?  other?

Enjoying the Presence of God Groups
Week 4 Chapters 10-13

Getting started
Share the results of last week's experiments and/or these questions

Last week's experiments

  1. As you arrived at worship (or other activity) this week, did you ask God, "Whom in this place do you want me to talk to?  to listen to?  to laugh with?  to reach with your words?"  What were the results?
  2. Where did you "spy" the hand of God at work this week?

Additional questions

  1. What breath prayers did you find yourself using this week?
  2. How did you pray without words this week?
  3. Share how you helped yourself remember God's presence this week.

Chapter 10  Enjoying God between the Big Moments

  1. What in-between moments are most boring for you?
  2. Jan writes of relishing the present moment, including the process, not just the product.  She gives the example of gardening on p. 70.  What activity do you do (or would you like to do) in which you enjoy the present by enjoying the process, not just the product?
  3. Do you have a rhythm of prayer in place already--a time of relief during the day when you utter informal prayers?  Do morning and evening work for you--or do you have another rhythm?
  4. How could you put into your day tiny Sabbaths, as the Daily Office calls for prayer 7 times a day?

 What things in your day could be markers for such times with God?

Chapter 11  Asking God Questions

  1. What would be a good breath prayer to let yourself and God know that you are alert and actively waiting for answers to your questions?
  2. On p. 76 & 78 Jan lists several ways that God answers questions of guidance.  What has been your experience with God answering in these ways?
  3. What are some of the noises of the world that confuse you as mentioned in the prayer on p. 80?

Chapter 12  Dreaming God's Dreams

  1. Describe a time when you felt led by God--when you had a sense of God's hand reaching back to lead you while God's other hand stretched forth into what He wanted for you.
  2. How have you grown away from using God as a magic vending machine? p. 83
  3. How has your growing intimacy with God changed the way you spend your time?  Where might God be calling you to spend less time (the mall?) so you can spend more time with him and doing his work?
  4. "The Loving Presence does not burden us equally with all things," (Thomas Kelly, p. 84) What burden has God given you?  or what breaks your heart that you suspect breaks the heart of God?

Experiment for week 4

  1. Prayers to try this week:

the prayer on p. 73 when you first awaken in the morning.
"Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend," p. 71.
"Holy Spirit, think through me till your ideas are my ideas." p. 86

  1. Questions to ask God,

 "What next?" rather than drifting into goals or activities.
 "What do I need to know that I already know?"
 "What are your dreams for me?"

Enjoying the Presence of God Groups
Week 5 Chapters 13-15 

Suggestion:  Decide this week whether your group will meet 1 more time (discuss 3 chapters + epilogue) or 2 more times to finish the book.

Getting Started

  1. When this week did you focus on enjoying the present moment?
    What moments will you try to enjoy in the present this week?
  2. Did you use any of these this week?  If so, how did it change the week or day?

    *the prayer on p. 73
    *"Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend," *"Holy Spirit, think through me till your ideas are my ideas." p. 86

  3. Have you asked God, "What next?"  What were the results?  Have you asked him "What's next?"  for our church?

Chapter 13 Hearing God

  1. The Bible is one way to hear God.  When have you seen in yourself either "Bible deism" (p. 89) or the habit of coming to the Bible "searching for what we already understand or agree with", rather than with "What do I need to know?" p 88
  2. Name some people through whom God has spoken to you.
  3. When have you had a recurring thought which was a "candle of the Lord"?
    Are you willing to share with us any recurring thoughts that you are pretty sure are not from God?
  4. Through which unconventional means (fiction, kinesthetic experiences, and so on) has God  spoken to you?  Describe them.
  5. Discuss the potential difficulties of hearing God, beginning on p. 92.
  6. In what ways do you need to obey, meaning listen, better?

Chapter 14 Being Present for Others

  1. Which of your roles (soccer mom, party planner at work, neighbor, usher, cook) give you interesting vantage points for prayer?
  2. Think of situations in which you normally push your self-interest.  Consider how you could pray for the people you talk with in these situations.
  3. Which committees or groups that you belong to could benefit from your praying throughout the meeting?

Chapter 15 Removing Stones in the Path

  1. Which of the substitutes or sources of static mentioned in this chapter have you dealt with to some extent?  How have you reacted to the One Year Bible reading plan this year? 
  2. Which, if any of the confessions below, written by John Baillie, strike a chord with you?
  3. I confess, O God--...
    that often, by concealing my real motives, I pretend to be better than I am:
    that often my honesty is only a matter of policy:
    that often my affection for my friends is only a refined form of caring for myself:
    that often my sparing of my enemy is due to nothing more than cowardice:
    that often I do good deeds only that they may be seen of men,  and shun evil ones only because I fear they may be found out.

    I bless Thee, O most holy God, for the unfathomable love whereby Thou hast ordained that spirit with spirit can meet and that I, a weak and erring mortal, should have this ready access to the heart of Him who moves the stars.

Prayer

One person in the group read aloud slowly John Baillie's prayer, with long pause at end of each line so group can respond to God silently after each phrase.

Experiments for this week--choose

  1. When you encounter the Bible in Bible readings or studies or sermons this week, intentionally ask God "What do I need to know?" rather than listening for what you already agree with or for more information.
  2. This week, pray throughout the meeting of one group or committee to which you belong.
  3. Be a safe place this week for someone.  Be present and really listen for their needs.
  4. Remove from your path for this week 1 substitute for God or source of "static" .
  5. Pray John Baillie's prayer daily (pp. 108-109).

Enjoying the Presence of God Groups
Week 6 Chapters 16-18, Epilogue

Suggestion:  If you are running short on time this last week, be sure you allow plenty of time for the Summary section and prayer time.

Getting Started

  1. What experiments with God did you try this week?  What happened?

Chapter 16: Addressing Deeper Fears About God

  1. If you could ask God any question about his mysterious ways, what would it be?
  2. How do you respond to the Psalm on p. 116?
  3. What truths do you understand about God that you need to focus on more?

Chapter 17: Believing God Loves Me

  1. What, if anything, do you need to say to God that you've never said?
  2. When do you feel most loved by God?

Chapter 18: Revamping the Quiet Time

  1. If you changed your quiet time in some way, what would that be?
  2. If God were to change your quiet time in some way, what would that be?

Epilogue: What to Expect on Your Journey

  1. In what ways is your relationship with God "accomplishment driven" p. 134?
    Which suggestion on p. 134 do you think could help you let go of your need to perform?
  2. How in the past has your relationship with God been fueled: by information, by inspiration, by the person of God himself?  How is that changing?  p. 135

Summary

Allow plenty of time for the following questions to sum up your 6 weeks together

  1. Practicing the Presence of God is not an instantly learned skill, but a life-long journey.
    The sub-sections of Jan's book are Moments to Turn Over; Skills to Develop; Questions to Ponder.
    Take 1 of these areas at a time and share how you have grown & changed in this area:
  2.   What moments have you learned to turn over to God?
      What skills in practicing God's presence have you developed?
      What questions stand in the way?

  3. What experiments have you tried that you want to make a regular part of your life?

Prayer

  1. Open your prayer time by using the palms down, palms up posture as described on page 128.
  2. Sit together in silence for at least 5 minutes, offering only breath prayers aloud to God.
  3. By now your group has developed a favorite prayer or way to pray.  End your group with that prayer.

Please hand out the evaluations to be turned in to the CE Office within the next week.

 Evaluation & Survey

The church is committed to expanding our small group possibilities in the next year.  Your opinion is valuable to us as we formulate plans.

Name (optional, but important if you want to be contacted!)    

I was in the small group which met (circle) Tuesdays Wednesdays Thursdays

What was helpful about the group?

What needed improvement?

What suggestions would you make for the leader/leaders of your group? (this is anonymous)

What kind of group would be most helpful to you in the future? (circle)

  • Bible study discussion book discussion (like this one)
  • sharing/prayer only
  • mixed male/female group
  • recovery or other (please explain)

I would like to be in a small group that meets at the following time (circle all that apply)

    Mon morning / Tuesday morning / Wed morning / Thurs morning / Fri morning / Sat morning / Sun morning
    Mon afternoon / Tues afternoon / Wed afternoon / Thurs afternoon / Fri afternoon / Sat afternoon / Sun afternoon
    Mon evening / Tues evening /Wed evening / Th evening / Fri evening / Sat evening / Sun evening

Leadership

I would consider being a small group leader for (circle)

  • a women's group
  • other (explain)

Training will be available.  If you are interested in leadership, please tell us about your experience/past training in small group leadership:

Upcoming Small Group Plans so far:

{insert your church’s plans}

Please return these surveys to {insert name} by folding them in half and {insert, for example, slipping them through the mail slot in the CE Office door}.

 

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