Key Scriptures: John 3:1-21, John 7:50-51, John 19:39-42, Acts(various passages), James 4:13-17, Proverbs 19:21, Romans 8:28
Guiding Question: When we have a decision to make about where to go or what to do, how do we make a choice that is most likely to be within God’s plan for our lives?
Introductory Activity:Before class collect house plans from Southern Living or other magazines, separating the sketch or photo of the finished house from the plan for it. Have more than enough for the class – even if there are duplicates. As students enter, ask them to choose the drawing of the house they would like to build as “their” new house. If they don’t like any of them, tell them to pick the one that’s the least objectionable. After every student has chosen a house, give them random plans for houses….do whatever you can to give them the wrong plans without actually letting them know that’s what you are doing. Ask them if they have everything they need to give a builder to start building the house (other than money of course!). See how long it takes them to figure out they have the wrong plans. Ask them how important it would be to have the correct plans if you wanted to build a specific house.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Explain to students you want to explore the life of a man in Jesus’ time whose name was Nicodemus. We don’t know a whole lot about Nicodemus because he is only mentioned in the book of John. We do know he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, which meant the average person in Israel would have viewed him as a member of the Jewish ruling class. It sounds like he was a member of the Great Sanhedrin which means he would have had power similar to our Supreme Court judges. The primary difference being that they reviewed so many cases from lower courts that they met every day except for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Read John 3:1-21, John 7:50-51 and John 19:39-42.What do we learn about Nicodemus from these passages? When Nicodemus was your age, he probably had a pretty good idea what his life would look like. Young people didn’t have as many options as they do now. Their occupation was often inherited from generations of their family. Nicodemus was born into an elite Jewish family. His father was probably a Pharisee and very likely could have served on the Sanhedrin himself. Nicodemus was probably educated by the most famous rabbis during his childhood. Even his eventual marriage, though technically not arranged, would have been controlled by his and his future wife’s families. He probably thought he knew exactly God’s plans for his life even from a very young age.
But then Jesus came into his life. The world of Nicodemus was turned upside down! Jesus claimed to be the long awaited Messiah and it sure looked like he might finally be the real Messiah, based on his teachings and the miracles he was performing. The Messiah was a threat to the elite classes of the time….he was preaching things that would take away much of their power and wealth. Nicodemus needed to be sure for himself Jesus was the Messiah. It appears the first conversation may have convinced Nicodemus, because he was speaking out for fairness by the second time we encounter him. By the death of Jesus, Nicodemus seems to be a full believer. He and Joseph of Arimathea spent a lot of money on burial spices (enough for a king!) and he risked being removed from the Sanhedrin by burying the body of Jesus – something only a supporter would do. We don’t know for sure what happened to Nicodemus after that. We have to wonder though if John included him in his Gospel because he and Nicodemus had become close over the years and he had heard the stories from Nicodemus himself.
Nicodemus, like the Apostle Paul later, was willing to turn his own plans for his life upside down in order to please God and follow His plan for his life. Read James 4:13-17 and Proverbs 19:21. What do these verses teach us about the intersection of our plans for our lives and God’s plans for our lives? When our plans don’t match God’s plans for our lives, things can go off track. Of course our best course of action is to check everything by scripture to make sure we are doing things of which God would approve.
Sometimes though, we may have two good options – or at least two options that seem good on the surface. Nicodemus might have thought initially that he had two good options – continue life as it had been as a member of the powerful Sanhedrin or find out Jesus really was the Messiah and follow him. He may not have realized at first whichever one he chose meant rejecting the other entirely (although he may have suspected since he snuck to see Jesus at night!). It wasn’t u til he did his research that he realized God wanted him to follow Jesus – no matter what.
So how do we know whether or not God wants us to go to a specific university or follow a specific career path? How do we figure out who God wants us to marry? How do we know we are following God’s plan for our lives when we make all of the other decisions we have to make. We’ve talked about it a bit in previous lessons. This time let’s just look at the book of Acts and see all of the many ways the early Christians figured out what God wanted them to do when they had a choice. Not every way may be an option for us today, but it’s still interesting to see all of the different ways God communicated with people when He had a definite opinion about a choice they had to make.
Read the following scriptures. How did the people in each passage learn from God what He wanted them to do?
- Acts 1:20 – scripture (Psalms)
- Acts 1:24 – prayer
- Acts 1:26 – cast lots
- Acts 2:3-4 – tongues of fire
- Acts 4:8-12 – indwelling of Holy Spirit
- Acts 5:34-40 – words of others (Gamaliel)
- Acts 8:26 – angels
- Acts 8:39 – whisked by Holy Spirit to a location
- Acts 9:10-12 – visions
- Acts 10:10 – trance
- Acts 11:25 – Christian brothers and sisters
- Acts 11:27-29 – prophets (Agabus)
- Acts 13:2-3 – worshipping, fasting and praying
- Acts 13:42 – invitations from others
- Acts 13:49-51 – rejection by others
- Acts 14:5-7 – exposed plots to harm
- Acts 15:22-23 – letters from Christian leaders
- Acts 27:21-22 – shipwreck (and imprisonment)
It is important to note that the tongues of fire were seen only on the Day of Pentecost and the conversion of Cornelius as a visible sign of the first Christians receiving the Holy Spirit and the first Gentiles. The first Samaritan Christians received a similar visible gift of the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them to gift the Holy Spirit and confirm Samaritans could become Christians (Remember they were not considered to be “real” Jews, so it is understandable the first Jewish Christians would want confirmation Samaritans and later Gentiles were welcomed by God as Christians.)
There is much debate amongst Christians as to whether or not God ever uses dreams or visions to communicate with us today. While it seems unlikely, the scriptures are a bit unclear. Today casting lots would be considered gambling by some and may not be the best choice for making wise decisions today. Any direction you believe you receive from God using any of the above ways should be confirmed by scripture and preferably more than one of the ways above if it is a major decision. Sometimes it is necessary to take first steps towards a particular choice before the Holy Spirit clearly communicates through any of the ways above. To further confuse matters, don’t forget Satan may want you to do the opposite of God’s plans and could be sending people to give you the wrong advice.
In the end though, if your heart is truly trying to follow God’s plans, there is a comforting verse. Read Romans 8:28. What does this verse imply? Many Christians think this verse doesn’t mean everything will always turn out perfectly for Christians, but rather that if you have in good faith mistakenly gotten off the path God intended for you (not in obedience to commands, but let’s say you didn’t notice a good work He had planned for you or moved to a different city) that God will smooth over those bumps and help us get back on track. We don’t know exactly what it means, but isn’t it comforting to know we don’t have to be frozen in indecision?! We can do our best to figure out God’s plans and make what we believe is the wisest choice – the one God wants us to make. If we are wrong, God will make it work out somehow anyway.
Skills Activity: Review the main points from the lesson. This is another great class to have mentors work with individual students. You might want to have one student share an example so everyone understands the exercise. Have each student think of one or more significant decisions they will have to make in the near future. For each decision, they should list the various methods they can use to try and find God’s plan for that decision. It is important to remind students that sometimes there is more than one acceptable choice and God will bless either choice (in the story of Abraham and Lot, God would probably have blessed Abraham regardless of what Lot chose). Their goal should be to make the most informed, wisest choice possible and then trust God to use them in wherever that choice places them.
Application Challenge: Read the scriptures from the lesson. Go over the methods you plan to use to determine if God has a plan for you regarding that decision. Start using the various methods. Are they all pointing to the same answer? If you are more confused than ever, ask your parents or a trusted Christian adult to help you sift through all of the information in case there is something you missed. Sometimes our own desires can make us see things the way we want them to be, rather than the way they really are.