Lost in the Middle The struggles of midlife begin long before midlife Don t wait until you re lost.

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1 Lost in the Middle The struggles of midlife begin long before midlife Don t wait until you re lost. By Paul David Tripp Michael E. Breece contributor Discussion Guide to be used with the conference on DVD (10 25 minute sessions) for Church wide Events, Classes, Small Groups, or Personal Study This is a resource of: Paul Tripp Ministries 7214 Frankford Ave. Philadelphia, PA19135 (800)

2 Lost in the Middle INTRODUCTION The following study guide provides practical discussion and application based on a biblical perspective of common mid-life issues. The best way to interact with the material is within a small group or class where discussion with others can stimulate ideas and questions you may not have otherwise considered. You will probably find in your discussions and answers that your trials are not unusual, and a small group can provide encouragement and accountability. If you do not have a small group to participate in, consider inviting others to join you in going through this material. Nonetheless, this material can also be beneficial as an independent study. The study is intended for you to think deeply and honestly about the questions posed. Take the time to examine your life, your thoughts, and your feelings; and take the time to write down your answers and thoughts. It is useful to write out answers and not just think about them. Writing deepens and clarifies your thinking, and writing it down acts as a stronger form of commitment than just saying it in your mind. You will also gain the most from the study by being honest and open about your struggles, your disappointments, and your weaknesses. Growth and freedom come from the truth and the light; not from continuing to hide or pretend. At the end of each session are suggested Scripture passages or sections that could be read from the book, Lost in the Middle [Tripp, Paul David. Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA: 2004], that can deepen your study and understanding of each topic. A time of prayer after answering the application questions can be a good way to reinforce them and to make further application. Prayer can be a way for you to make a commitment to God with what you want to apply and a good way to hear what God may be saying to you. As you share your thoughts, feelings, struggles, and accomplishments, speak humbly, honestly, and in love. We all have sin; we all have great value in God s sight; and we all are on a journey, growing and becoming more like Christ. May God bless you greatly! 2

3 Lost in the Middle SESSION 1 Opening Discussion: Why is the middle of an activity sometimes more difficult than the beginning or end? How honestly do you think God wants you to share with him your thoughts and feelings? How honest are you? Read Psalm 88. What emotions is the psalmist bringing to God? Scripture: Psalm 88 Notes: Key Points: We are all in the middle between the salvation we received from Christ s death on the cross (past) and the salvation we will receive when we live in the eternal kingdom (future). We can bring our deepest moments of darkness to God. To those in darkness God gives the greatest gift Himself. Hope is not found in understanding; it is found in God Himself. Review Questions: 1. Why does God include Psalm 88, such a depressing song, as part of his worship service? 2. When life becomes difficult and painful, how can we find hope in God? 3

4 Group Discussion Questions: 1. Explain the differences between seeking hope by trying to understand a problem and seeking hope by remembering who God is. Why is real hope found in who God is? 2. What do you think prevents people from being honest with God about their pain and darkness? 3. How can we encourage others during times of darkness? Personal Reflection: 1. When you feel confused about what God is doing or feel hurt about a situation you are in, do you, a) seek hope by trying to understand the problem or b) seek hope by remembering who God is? Explain how where you find your hope may make a difference in your life. What is an issue right now in your life that you wish you understood but it is requiring you to focus more on who God is? What aspects of who God is will help you find hope in the midst of this situation? 2. What prevents you from being honest with God about your pain and darkness? 4

5 3. What causes you, or has caused you in the past, to feel cut off from God s care? To feel overwhelmed? To feel trapped? To feel rejected by God? To feel abandoned? How does God want you to deal with those feelings? Further Study: 2 Corinthians 1:3 11; Hebrews 4:14 16; Psalm 73 Lost in the Middle, Two Midlife Psalms, chapter 2 pages

6 SESSION 2 Opening Discussion: What tends to cause you to feel overwhelmed or anxious? In these situations, what do you believe will provide rest and peace? Read Psalm 4. What is similar about this Psalm and Psalm 88? What is different in this Psalm from Psalm 88? Scripture: Psalm 4 Notes: Key Points: True peace and rest should come from who God is and not what the situation is. The Bible s diagnosis and cure can be applied to the struggles we find in mid life. Our words, responses, and behaviors are the result of what is in our hearts and not the result of the situations. Review Questions: 1. How could David s situation, as found in 2 Samuel 15:13 37, lead to anxiety and frustration? Why is David, as revealed in Psalm 4, able to feel distress yet sleep in peace at the same time? 2. How can the Bible help us through mid life when it does not specifically address the topic? 6

7 3. What is prepared spontaneity? Group Discussion Questions 1. What is the danger of making our situations the roots of our behaviors and responses? 2. Share a situation where you or someone you know felt and displayed peace in the midst of distress? 3. What aspects of who God is can allow us to have peace and rest in the middle of our struggles? Personal Reflection: 1. How often do you look inward at your own heart and perceptions when you feel overwhelmed, trapped, anxious, or distressed? 2. On the next page, write a prayer to God. Be honest. What difficulties and frustrations do you face? How would you like the situation to be? What have you been seeing as the cause of this anxiety or frustration? What are you asking from God? What can you praise God for even in the midst of the pain? 7

8 Further Study: Philippians 4:4 9; Colossians 3:15 17 Lost in the Middle, Two Midlife Psalms, chapter 2 pages

9 SESSION 3 Opening Discussion: What positive and negative descriptions do you think sometimes characterize mid life? How is midlife different from being young or from being old? Notes: Key Points: We never respond to life based on the facts of the experience; we respond based on our interpretation of the facts. We are all living in the mid life of God s plan. Mid life is often characterized by dissatisfaction, disorientation and discouragement. 9

10 Review Questions: 1. What is meant by the idea that we live between the already and the not yet? 2. In what way can dissatisfaction be a good thing? 3. What is a cause of feeling disoriented in mid life? 4. What can lead to discouragement? Group Discussion Questions: 1. What things in life do you think God wants you to be satisfied with? 2. What things in life do you think God does not want you to be satisfied with? 3. What do you think keeps people from truly desiring and seeking more than this life has to offer? Personal Reflection: 1. Where do your investments lie: Do you invest your time, money, and resources more to the hereand now or to your future home? Start small: what is one comfort or resource you could shift from being a temporary investment to an eternal investment? 2. What do you think keeps you from truly desiring and seeking more than this life has to offer? 10

11 3. What shifts have happened in your life that have caused disorientation? Can you identify whether any of these things provided you with a sense of identity? 4. In what areas of your life have you sought your own will and desires? Are you willing to submit these desires and expectations to God s will? Further Study: Romans 8:16 25; 2 Corinthians 5:13 21; Matthew 6:19 24 Lost in the Middle pages 27 38; Lost in the Middle, Finding the Real You chapter 10 pages

12 SESSION 4 Opening Discussion: What parts of your life have not ended up as you had expected or hoped? How have your hopes and expectations shifted as you consider the second part of your life? Notes: 12

13 Key Points: Mid life is often characterized by dread, disappointment, disinterest, distance and distraction. God will use things that are not easy to remind us of things that are very important. God uses the characteristics of mid life to draw us to our true need himself. We were designed to seek glory. Review Questions: 1. How can dread, disappointment, disinterest, distance and distraction lead us to God s grace? 2. What evidence in everyday life supports the idea that we were designed to seek glory? What two types of glory exist? Group Discussion Questions: 1. God uses things that are not easy to remind us of things that are very important. What are important things we need to be reminded of? Why are these truths important? 2. Based on what you have learned, what might you say to encourage someone who is feeling that life has lost meaning or purpose? 13

14 Personal Reflection: 1. Which glory do you most often live for or seek: God s ultimate glory or the glories that are meant to point you to him? 2. In what areas of your life is God making you uncomfortable and/or discouraged? What change does God want to make in you? Further Study: Hebrews 12:7 11; John 6:25 59 Lost in the Middle pages 38 52; Lost in the Middle The Death of Invincibility, chapter 3 pages ; Lost in the Middle The Leaves are Off the Tree, chapter 4, pages ; Lost in the Middle Towers to the Sky, chapter 5 pages

15 SESSION 5 Opening Discussion: What thoughts and feelings come to mind when you think about spiritual warfare? Make a list of just five things that are most important to you. Scripture: Read Ephesians 6:10 18 Notes: 15

16 Key Points: The continued presence of sin makes this life a war. The majority of spiritual warfare exists in the normal moments of life. The internal conversations we have and the interpretations we make determine our actions in this spiritual war. Review Questions: 1. How does Paul s section on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 connect to his instructions about marriage and family and the church in the rest of the letter? 2. How does this spiritual war within us often begin? 3. What then are important interpretations to have when we face difficulties? Group Discussion Questions 1. What evidence exists that there is spiritual warfare being fought in our everyday moments? 2. What difference does it make to remember that we are involved in spiritual war within our hearts? 3. What part do our thoughts play in this internal battle? 16

17 4. What can be good about having our hearts, sins, and weaknesses revealed to us? Personal Reflection: 1. If someone watched the video of your past six weeks, what would that person conclude is important to you? Are these the things you think should be most important? 2. Whose kingdom usually has victory in your inner battles: God s kingdom or yours? Why? 3. Are you willing to have your own heart, sins, and weaknesses revealed? What scares you about this? What would be good about this? Further Study: 1 Corinthians 9:24 27 James 1:2 18 Ephesians 4 Lost in the Middle, May I Speak to the Manager Please chapter 8 pages

18 SESSION 6 Opening Discussion: Describe a time when God brought you to a place in your life where you were made more aware of your own sinfulness. When you think of having a good day, what does that look like to you? Notes: Key Points: God is working to expose your heart. We are always living and seeking to obtain what we value. The spiritual war we first face is not a war of our behavior but a war of what we value. You are never alone in fighting the war you have God s Spirit living and fighting on your behalf! 18

19 Review Questions: 1. Why does God want and need to expose our hearts? 2. How are the hidden, unobservable idols of our hearts a danger? 3. Why should we, as Christians, be both mournful and celebratory? Group Discussion Questions: 1. What impact does sin s deceitfulness have on our spiritual battle? How would the battle be different if our sin was always obvious and clear instead of deceptive? 2. What role does faith play in spiritual warfare? 3. If someone most valued God s kingdom and God s glory, what would that person be like? 4. What help has God given us to be victors in the battle? Personal Reflection: 1. Think back to how you defined a good day. What values and desires does this reveal? How do/could these values and desires become idolatrous? 2. Are you unbalanced when you consider your own sin? Do you tend to focus on your sinfulness more than God s grace and forgiveness, or do you tend to focus on God s grace and forgiveness more than the reality of your own sinfulness? What can you do to have a proper balance in these truths? 19

20 How can this balance help you in the spiritual battle? Questions to Ask Yourself to Identify Your Idols 1. What is it that keeps me going? 2. As I look at my life, what, to me, makes my life worthwhile? 3. What dreams have tended to capture my heart? 4. Right here, right now, how am I making sense out of my life? How am I interpreting the events of my life? 5. What is it I tell myself I cannot live without? 6. Where do I tend to look for identity? 7. Why do I call one day good and another day bad? 8. What in life do I really crave most? 9. Why do I do the things I do? What values and desires drive my behaviors? 10. What am I hoping to get from my choices and decisions? Further Study: Luke 16:1 15 Romans 8:5 17 Lost in the Middle, Golden Calves chapter 9 pages ; Lost in the Middle, Last Chapter, First Values chapter 11 pages ; Lost in the Middle, Grace That is Greater chapter 12 pages

21 SESSION 7 Opening Discussion: Explain what you think is the best age to be. Notes: Key Points: Physical aging, regret, and the death of our dreams are inescapable occasions for mid life struggles. Your dreams the combination of your imagination and your desires have had great influence over you and your desire to control your life. Review Questions: 1. What is the struggle we can face as a result of our physical aging? 21

22 2. How can regret be a good thing used by God, or a bad thing? 3. How do our dreams have a tendency to raise in us a desire for control? Group Discussion Questions 1. What influence has our culture had on the shaping of our dreams and desires? 2. What biblical dreams and desires should we have? 3. What is the difference between being honest with God about our struggles and judging God? Personal Reflection: 1. How does the time you spend on your physical appearance compare to the time you spend on the condition of your soul? 2. What regrets do you have? What changes and actions will you pursue now and in the future as a result of these regrets? 3. What dreams for your relationships and life do you possess that cause you to be controlling? 4. How can you shift your dreams to be in line with God s vision and desire for you? Further study: Matthew 16:21 28 James 4:1 10 Lost in the Middle, The Death of Invincibility chapter 3 pages ; Lost in the Middle, The Leaves are Off the Tree chapter 4 pages ; Lost in the Middle, Towers to the Sky chapter 5 pages

23 SESSION 8 Opening Discussion: How do you most think of the Bible: as an instruction manual, a story, God s journal, God s letter to us, something else? Notes: 23

24 Key Points: Our unwillingness to be honest and to look our struggles in the face is damaging to ourselves and God s kingdom. God uses our physical aging, our regrets, and the death of our dreams to push us to submit to Him as Lord. God has given us the Bible to help lead us through the struggles of life. We need to be students of his Word. Review Questions: 1. How is our unwillingness to be open and honest about our struggles damaging to ourselves and to God s kingdom? 2. How are physical aging, regret, and the death of your dreams tools of God s grace? 24

25 3. How does God s Word help us in the struggles of life? Group Discussion Questions: 1. How has God used struggles in your life to cause you to grow in Christ? 2. What passages in God s Word provide you with hope, comfort or strength as you face difficulties? Personal Reflection: 1. Identify one struggle that you tend to keep hidden. Talk to God about this struggle. Ask God to reveal to you someone you can share this struggle with so that you might experience God s grace of healing and freedom. 2. Are there any areas in your life that you struggle to allow God to have complete control over? Will you allow God to be sovereign in that area of your life? Will you allow God s will to be done? What is the fear that discourages you from allowing God to have full control over that area of your life? What truths from God s word can help you overcome those fears? 3. Do you need to be a better student of the Bible? What can you do so that you continue to grow in your understanding of God and his Word? Further study: 1 John 1:5 10; Psalm 73; 2 Peter 1:3 11; Amos 4:

26 SESSION 9 Opening Discussion: In what areas of your life or thinking has God transformed you or do you want God to transform you? Notes: 26

27 Key Points: There are themes in God s Word that are present to provide wisdom, guidance, and comfort and to create change, restoration and purpose. The information in God s Word is intended to transform us so that we care about what God cares about. o The theme of suffering teaches us that we should expect to suffer and that God uses our suffering in our lives and then in the lives of others. o The theme of God s sovereignty teaches us that nothing happens outside of God s control and purpose, and to live within our limits. o The theme of worship teaches us that everything we do is an act of worship. o The themes about our identity teach us that we owe our lives to the Maker, and that our identity in Christ should shape how we live. o The theme of eternity teaches us that we can have hope because everything will be made new, and it teaches us to value what will last forever. Review Questions: 1. What is the purpose of the Bible? 27

28 2. How does our understanding of suffering bring hope, guidance, change, and purpose to our struggles? 3. How does our understanding of God s sovereignty bring hope, guidance, change, and purpose to our struggles? 4. How does our understanding of our identity bring hope, guidance, change, and purpose to our struggles? 5. How does our understanding of worship bring hope, guidance, change, and purpose to our struggles? 6. How does our understanding of eternity bring hope, guidance, change, and purpose to our struggles? Group Discussion Questions: Select one of the case studies below and describe how an understanding of suffering, God s sovereignty, our identity, worship, and eternity can help through the struggle. A. Devon has worked in the IT department of a large corporation for the past 20 years, but was recently permanently laid off. He has searched for work for the past year and a half and is confused as to what he should do. He has spent his life savings. B. Audrey has become bed ridden from an unidentified illness. She can no longer even care for her house and family as she once did. She struggles to even maintain her friendships. She finds herself often asking God, Why? C. Bill and Stacy were enjoying the change in lifestyle after their children had grown and moved out. Their home was often used for ministry purposes and they were able to devote themselves to a variety of projects. However, their one son has struggled to find work after college and has a family of his own now to support. They have struggled to pay their bills and are not only now in debt but have also moved back in with Bill and Stacy. Bill and Stacy now have had to figure out how to accommodate another family of three in their house. 28

29 Personal Reflection: 1. Think about struggles you are currently facing. What might God want to teach you and how might God want to transform you through these struggles? 2. What about God and your struggles do you wish you understood better? Ask God to give you understanding and transformation. Talk to someone else who may be able to help you understand what the Bible says in relation to your question. Further study: Jeremiah 9:23 24; Lost in the Middle, Lost in the Middle: Don s Story chapter 6 pages

30 SESSION 10 Opening Discussion: What are some ways we experience God s grace? Scripture: 1 Peter 4:1 2 Notes: Key Points: The theme of grace teaches us that God s grace includes refining us. God begins to mold us into the image of Christ by bringing us to the end of ourselves. Review Questions: 1. What is God s refining grace? How is it different from God s redeeming or releasing grace? 2. What is meant by the statement: True righteousness only ever begins when I come to the end of myself. 30

31 Group Discussion Questions: 1. Can you share any situations you have been in that you would not have chosen for yourself but can see God s grace and care in taking you through it? 2. Why do we tend to think unbiblically when we experience suffering? What is the danger of this? 3. What has God taught or revealed to you through this study? Personal Reflection: 1. Place a mark next to the statements that describe the desires of your heart: I want to be made into the image of Christ holy and pleasing to God. I want to be able to welcome God s refining grace. I want to trust in God s sovereignty and goodness. I want to be more honest and open as I speak with God and others. I want to show grace to those who are honest and open about their weaknesses and short comings. I want to allow and seek God to be Lord of my life. I want to seek to grow in my understanding of God s Word and allow it to transform me. I want to allow God to do whatever is necessary to expose the idols of my heart. I want to begin to seek God s kingdom s purposes in every area of my life instead of my own purposes. I want to invest in eternity and not just the here and now. Pray to God, asking him for grace to fulfill the desires above. 31

32 2. In Session 2, you wrote a prayer to God. Reread your prayer. Write another prayer or add to the first one whatever you think you need to say to God at this time. Further study: 2 Corinthians 3:5 18 Lost in the Middle, Painful Faith: God s Story and Suffering chapter 7 pages ; Lost in the Middle, Grace That is Greater chapter 12 pages

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