Here’s my adapted version of session 1 from the Winchester Lent course on The Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:1-11) for 11-18 year olds:
Mission Outcome: We commit to living the mission of Jesus, working with him to reveal the kingdom.
We are going to spend the next few weeks discovering and learning more about what it means to love and follow Jesus with lots of different churches near and far will be!
Do not touch
Before the young people arrive, set out plates of cakes, sweets, chocolate, etc. on the table, and then put up a big sign that reads ‘Do Not Touch’. It’s up to you how long you leave the temptation there.
Ensure each team has a chair. One person is picked from the team. A person from one team stands on a chair, facing away from the other team. They then bend over, put their hands on their knees and move their legs and hips to ‘spell’ a word with their bottom. The other team has to guess what the word is and gets a point if they guess it correctly. Vary the length of the words to make it interesting. Give a prize to the team with the most points.
Lost and found
Buy or make a Find It jar. You will need a large plastic jar (the kind that sweet shop sweets come in would be ideal), enough rice to fill the jar and a load of small objects that you can mix in with the rice: a die, a feather, a toy soldier, a paper clip, a pin, a sim card, etc. Put the items in the jar, and then fill it up with the rice, mix it up well and seal the lid. While your group arrives and has a drink or whatever you do to start your session, set them the challenge of finding the number of objects you’ve hidden, without removing the lid. (The original Find It game website is here: www.finditgames.com.)
The idea is to show that the kingdom of God is something we have to work to find and see. Sometimes it’s hidden and sometimes it’s in plain sight – theologians talk about the ‘imminent’ and the ‘immediate’.
Illustration: The highest rollercoaster in the UK is located at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It is 213 feet high, and is classified as one of the longest out- and-back roller coasters in the world. First opened in May 1994, it still thrills people today.
We join Jesus at the start of his public ministry, and we know as we look forward that he will have to face many highs and lows in those three years. From the top of the Mount of Transfiguration to the failure of the disciples to heal the boy, from the peak of the calling of his disciples and their success as they are sent out in his name, to his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, from the power teaching on the Sermon on the Mount to the failure of his closest friends to stay awake as he prays on the Mount of Olives, how did Jesus stay focused and balanced through the ups and downs of his life? What can we learn about what it means to reveal the kingdom today? How can we use this Lent to help us grow closer to God?
One of the key issues we need to face is that Jesus did not fulfil his calling and vocation as the Messiah of God by simply wishing it to be true. There was a pattern and a rhythm to his life that sustained him and kept him focused on what he had come to do. As we look at how he faced up to the temptations in the wilderness, we can see clues to how he managed them that help us to fulfil our own calling today.
A pattern of withdrawal
Those few words at the start of chapter 4 belie a deeper significance. ‘Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert.’ And the implication is that Jesus went!
The Father needed some time with Jesus, time away from the others, from his family, for him to be formed and shaped for his future ministry. And Jesus went. Whatever ministry we have, wherever God calls us, we are called first and foremost to be a disciple. And if we are to grow in our calling, we need a pattern of withdrawal.
When couples today choose to get married, one of the key issues is what they are going to do to invest in their marriage in the future. Yes, they love each other now, and they are excited by what the future will bring, but what investment are they making on a regular basis to keep that relationship fresh and vibrant?
The same is true of our life in Christ. We need time away from our regular rhythm to focus on our love of God, away from the distractions of daily work and life.
So how can you do that? John and Charles Wesley’s mum, Susanna, found a way to withdraw in the middle of the rhythm of daily life: she put an apron over her head as a signal to the rest of the household that she was taking time with God. Yes, it’s not easy to do – but if we plan it in, and work out a practical way to withdraw, we can make it happen. And for those of us in leadership roles, this becomes even more vital. There is a danger that we relate our busyness to a presumption that we have our focus and priorities right. It’s actually in our busyness that we need to be more attentive to our need for God’s wisdom; our need to be recreated grows larger. Our service for God comes out of our encounter with Christ.
A pattern of prayer and fasting
Jesus alone in the high mountains, withdrawn from the world of family and friends, practises fasting.
There’s something about keeping the desires of our body under control that helps us to keep our basic drives in check where they belong. For 40 days Jesus fasted, just as the people of God had wandered in the desert for 40 years. Jesus is fulfilling the role of the perfect Israelite, following the path of obedience where they failed. And he does so by keeping close to the Father and his purposes.
- ‘Use your power to serve yourself, Jesus,’ the evil one taunts, ‘as you are the Son of God.’ ‘No,’ Jesus responds, ‘what’s more important is being fed from the mouth of God himself.’
- ‘Do something spectacular – make a big entrance. Get the angels to come and save you.’ ‘No,’ says Jesus, ‘I won’t manipulate the Father. I won’t make him intervene.’
- ‘You could be great, Jesus, if you would only let me help you – worship me and you will have the whole world as your kingdom.’ ‘No,’ Jesus replies, ‘my power will be shown in great weakness and sacrifice through the cross, not as a triumphant King.’
What’s your pattern of prayer? Later in chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, the writer collects together Jesus’ teaching on giving, praying and fasting. So what about fasting and giving too? These disciplines help us to keep our basic drives in check.
A pattern of remembering
Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of the story of Scripture enabled him to stand firm.
Alone in the desert, with only the wild animals as company, Jesus wrestles with his future work. As he does so, the evil one comes near, to tempt him to fulfil his calling in a different way. And without all the scrolls of the Old Testament at his fingertips, he was able to fend these off through his knowledge and memory of God’s work with his people in the past.
In 1987, Terry Waite travelled to Lebanon on a mission to free hostages. Through a contact’s betrayal, Terry himself was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for nearly five years. While his family agonised, Terry received what news he could through fellow hostages tapping in code through his cell wall. He survived that awful experience by drawing on his time as a choir boy, when he had unconsciously memorized the Book of Common Prayer. He said he especially remembered the words of the evening collect: ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…’ How apposite that was for a man held in captivity.
One of the key rhythms for Jesus too was regularly to read and study the Scriptures, and to hear them read and explained. So how do you study and memorize Scripture? As we play our part, God the Holy Spirit brings what we have learnt to mind as we face challenging and difficult situations. And through this knowledge we are able to stay close to God. And how regularly do you come together to remember with other disciples the greatest sacrifice of all made through the cross? How important is it to you to worship together at the Eucharist and reflect on the sacrifice that Christ made for us all?
An intentional life
Mo Farah, Britain’s’ Olympic long distance runner, did not achieve greatness by wishing to be great and successful. Everything he did was planned so that he could maintain a rhythm and pattern of life that would deliver what he wanted – double Olympic gold. If we have responded to the call of King Jesus and accepted him as our Rabbi, we need then to live his mission. And that comes only by choosing to follow him day by day, by ruthlessly shaping a rhythm and pattern of life to serve our goal – to be more like Christ and to serve him.
Jesus the Messiah spent just three years preaching, teaching, healing and serving others before fulfilling his vocation to be the Suffering Servant King through his passion and death. His life has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on people today. But it did not just happen. Luke’s account of his life expresses that through the phrase ‘he set his face towards Jerusalem’. He knew what the cost was going to be, but he went anyway, confident that the Father had called him, and would provide all he needed to walk the way of the cross. He lived out his calling through an intentional pattern and rhythm of life. And we are so grateful that he did, as we benefit from his obedience.
As you go through Lent this year, consider what patterns and rhythms will sustain you as you go forward in your calling and vocation, as you play your part in bringing in the kingdom of God.
Illustrator Si Smith has produced an amazing set of drawings of Jesus in the wilderness – 40 in total, one for each day of Lent:
You might want to read the passage through once (or ask a strong reader to read it) and then watch the images together, before moving into the questions. Feel free to watch the video again at the end if your group wants to.
Images of the kingdom
Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time. While Matthew 13:24-34 isn’t a lectionary reading for this week, the images it contains about the kingdom are quite breathtaking. You may want to use this passage as an additional time of Bible study if your group is up for it.
Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?
Small Group Questions:
- What do you think might God be saying to us through these words?
- What do Jesus’ choices reveal about the kingdom of God?
- How can we use Lent to help us live the mission of Jesus?
4.How will these words change the things we think, do and pray this week?
What am I going to think about?
It just doesn’t seem quite right. When we think about the world we live in and the world that Jesus described, there’s a massive disconnect. Trouble is, we are so used to the world that we live in that much of the injustice and so on just passes us by. This would be a good opportunity to give your young people a journal to use throughout your Lent course to record what they’re discovering. School exercise books make good (cheap) retro journals! Ask them to record all the things that just don’t sit quite right – they may find it uncomfortable.
What are we going to do?
A question that is going to come up time and again throughout the Lent course is ‘what difference can we make?’ Your group is going to be challenged to do something, to join God’s mission, to get involved in kingdom building.
At this early stage, why not make plans for how you will work as a group to make sure that this Lent has real impact? Rather than giving up sweets or chocolate, are there habits or practices that members of your group are involved in that they know are unhealthy? Can they help each other to face some of those down and commit to living closer to God’s plan this Lent?
Or are there things that you can all commit to take up this Lent? Maybe commit to reading the Sunday Gospel passage every day? Or commit to praying for one minute on day one, two minutes on day two … all the way up to 40 minutes by Easter. Maybe you could all just commit that, if at all possible, you will all stop at a set time each day and be quiet for five minutes.
Whatever you choose, make it achievable but challenging. Expect Lent to be life changing.
What am I going to talk with God about?
Signs of spring. One of the things that is great fun with little children is going on a signs of spring walk – ask your group if they ever went on a walk like this when they were in infant or junior school. What kinds of things did they look for?
Encourage them to look out for signs of spring over the coming week – buds on trees, new leaves, mown grass, rabbits. Encourage them to use these spots as triggers to spend time talking to God – it might be a really simple prayer like ‘help me notice signs of your kingdom’. Ask them to think of a prayer they could all share.