Copyright © 2017 Ken L. Hagler All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This study guide is available for free for individuals or group study. No need to be paying for it and you can feel free to share with anyone who you think might find it helpful.
You’ll definitely want to have a copy of the book, Life Sucks Seek God. It is available as an eBook for download on Amazon for the Kindle App. The electronic version is always available for 99 cents. You can get the App for phone, tablets, and computers/laptops. If you purchase a paperback version, you’ll get the the Kindle eBook for free.
If you’re doing this study guide as part of a group, keep in mind that if members of your group are grieving or stressed to their limits because of life situations, give people space. The goal in the group is to practice “active listening.” People should listen to one another and not try to provide advice or persuade others to a particular point of view.
Instead, encourage each person to listen to others and their answers. If someone is going to speak after someone else has shared, it would be good if at least one group member share what they heard from the first speaker. Let this be a good guide:
“Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
At the end of each session is a breath prayer. A breath prayer is a short prayer designed to be memorable and able to be prayed over and over again through each moment of each day. You are encouraged to use these prayers or write your own as you reflect on the thoughts of each week. To learn more about breath prayers, you can get my book: Prayer Simply Breathe, available on Amazon for Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.
Don’t feel you have to do this guide in order. If in week 2, you feel like you want to work on a “faith hack” chapter about prayer (session 6 in the study guide), do it!
If at any time, you’d like to reach out and contact the author, you are more than welcome to do so! Ken can be reached through his website at www.kenhagler.com but also on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as “jedipastorken.”
Session 1 (Chapters 1-3)
If you can read the introduction and first 3 chapters for this session.
1. In chapter 1, Ken asks simply, “Why are you reading this?” (Consider for a few moments what your motivation was for being part of a study group or just taking time to reflect for yourself on this book. ) What can you share with the group about this?
2. What have you heard people say during a difficult time that was more hurtful than helpful? Are you aware of something you have said too? What was it that was said?
3. Does misery really love company? Do you find comfort in knowing other people might be facing difficult situations?
4. Is it difficult to talk about your experience of pain and suffering, the valley of suck, with other people? Do you find it hard to talk to God about your circumstance?
5. In chapter 3, Ken writes, “Seeking God is a matter of the heart.” He goes on to note “the heart” of humankind is the center of our being and can be compared to “the soul” and “the spirit.” Take a moment to look up Psalm 16:9, Psalm 143:4, and Proverbs 17:22, 1 John 3:20. How do these comparisons help you understand your heart? (See if you can write in your own words, one or two sentences to explain this topic.)
6. What has your faith meant to you? How have you explained faith in the past? Can you see in your life where suffering, pain, grief, and the like, has changed your faith in God? In what way?
7. Ken uses the example of a chair (page 9) as one way we demonstrate faith on a daily basis. Then he shares the quote from Grace Brame, “ Faith is the yielded will, a gift given by the grace of God.” Why do you think times of difficulty have caused you to stop yielding your will to God?
8. In time, have you yielded your will back to God? Is your relationship with God different now? How?
9. Take a moment and think about this verse Ken shares: “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)” What makes this verse uncomfortable for you? If not, that is fine but if so, what is it? What is in these words to give you hope?
10. What would you like your relationship with God to look like in the weeks and months ahead? What are you willing to do to participate in God’s grace?
Prayer for the Week
“God of mystery, I do not understand all things. Remove the walls around my heart and give me grace.”
Session 2 (Chapters 4-6)
1. What are some of the “useless trivia” things you know? Name a few things. If you’re in a group, take time to share about these.
2. Ken makes the point in Chapter 4 humankind seems to obsess on knowing everything there is about God. The contradiction is that we don’t yet know all there is to know about humankind, not our most intimate friends and not even ourselves! How does that make you feel? Relief? Worry? Hope? Frustration? Or something else?
3. Chapter 4 focuses on the creeds, specifically The Nicene Creed found on page 12. This creed was written over 1,500 years ago. Why do you think the writing of the creeds was so important? Why is it important to the Church today? How about to you personally?
4. Take sometime to read the creed over again if you need to. Read it silently and then read it out loud (definitely do this in a group setting). As you do, make note of those words or phrases to catch your interest. What new understandings, ideas, or questions do you have about God?
5. Again and again, the author stresses, “Knowing about God is not the same as knowing God.” Why do you think he makes that distinction? Do you think it matters?
6. The verse that the author cites states, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) This is an important point going forward. Is it hard to have conversations about spirituality? What is your response to talking about things that are spiritual? Why do you think this is your response?
7. What have been the experiences that most challenged your faith in God?
8. In chapter 5, Ken points to two stories in the Bible, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. Both have to deal with death. If you have time. read the two passages (2 Samuel 12:14-23 and John 11). Before going farther, take time to consider what do you learn about God?
9. The author writes, “Knowing about God can help us know God, but it is not the same thing.” In these two stories, God is consistent - he does not rush to prevent death or stop the order of things. Jesus (God in the flesh) grieves the death of Lazarus and the pain of Mary and Martha. It reveals God’s own grief over the infant son of David. Ken’s conclusion is God is present with us in our pain and grief (and was present with him and Heather) and this is what matters more. What is your response?
10. In chapter 6, on page 19, we are introduced to the idea of “the Jesus Tea Strainer.” Jesus’ teachings (what he talks about and what he doesn’t talk about) become a filter to allow us to pick and choose. The author says Jesus isn’t a strainer but the lenses by which we view the Bible and life. What do you think about the two ideas?
11. On page 20, Ken makes note of the promise of assurance available to us. We can truly know if we are in God’s family. How would believing assurance change how you live?
Prayer this week:
“Jesus, Son of God, clean my sight so I might know myself and see you in all circumstances.”
Session 3 (Chapter 7)
1. What are the biggest time wasters in your life? (This does not mean hobbies and recreation, though they can be.) No, what are the things that just “suck” time with no meaningful return in your life?
2. Ken notes specifically, “We all have time to do exactly the things we need to do and a whole lot of time to do the things we want to do.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
3. What are some of the “stupid simple” habits in your life? What are some of the things you just can’t do without, things that will bug you till you get them done? (One of mine is a clean kitchen. I can’t go to sleep without the counters being clean). Why do you think this is so important to you?
4. On pages 21-22, Ken tells about the book, “Mini Habits,” and then writes, “Take Five is the same idea. You won’t get to know God without making time to engage and create spiritual habits.” How well do you do with making time to spend with God? Why do you think that is?
5. What are the main obstacles you find in your life that keep you from God?
6. Honestly, it isn’t much of a verse, it is part of a verse the author quotes: “When you pray…” from Matthew 6:6. The author takes that to mean Jesus is expecting us to be in prayer, engaging in spiritual practices. What are your thoughts - is that too big an assumption? Why or why not?
7. Knowing that the great spiritual men and women spent a great deal of time in prayer and using other spiritual practices is good to know. Reading about Theresa of Avila, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Hannah Whitall Smith, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, can be both encouraging and discouraging. Even if you are struggling with little time in your day, where can you start adding 5 minutes to be with God?
Prayer for the Week:
Holy Spirit, search me and show me my secret motivations. Lead me in your ways.
Session 4 (Chapter 8)
1. What is the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with in doing a group project? Was it related to the project or personality? What did you learn from the experience?
2. Based on the history of both Judaism and Christianity, the author makes the statement, “Faith is a group project” (pg 23). Is that an easy or difficult idea to accept? Why do you think that is the case for you?
3. Now, take a moment to read or quickly scan the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5. Make note of how many times Jesus is recorded saying, “You have heard that it was said…” Do you recognizing what Jesus is referring to in these verses? It is Old Testament law and Jesus is giving us more detail on how to live it out by faith and grace. A devotional reading is definitely NOT authoritative but it often provides examples of real-life experiences for us.
4. How helpful do you think devotional reading could be for you? If you’ve done them before, what has been positives and negatives?
5. At this point in the book, Ken introduces the idea of spiritual practices, what he also terms, “faith-hacks.” He compares using a devotional reading as similar to looking over someone’s shoulder, cheating is the description. How do you feel about hearing from someone else’s knowledge and experience to grow in your faith?
6. During times of great stress in our lives, short-term or long-term, a devotional can be just the thing to keep you connected to the larger Church (all Christians regardless of denomination). Is it helpful to know that other people are reading the very same thing you are each day? What would be helpful?
7. This week, pick one of these devotionals and “test-drive” it. What important learnings do you have? What do you like about it? What do you not like? Does it work for you or not?
The Upper Room: http://devotional.upperroom.org/
My Utmost for His Highest: https://utmost.org/
Prayer for the Week:
God Almighty, humankind is your creation. Teach me to learn from others and love others as you do.
Session 5 (Chapter 9)
1. Did you ever keep a diary as a kid? Do you still have one as an adult? What is it that is meaningful to you about the record of your life? Would you ever let anyone read it?
2. Ken notes that while pictures are nice, “There are pictures you keep only in your mind’s eye...a journal allows you to record those moments.” What are some instances where you think writing in a journal is a better record than a picture?
3. In many ways, the Bible is a huge journal of the acts of God in the history of the world. What are some of the most meaningful stories of the Bible for you? Why do you like them? How do you find them helpful?
4. The author shares (pg 26) about his wife’s journals as well as his public and private journaling. Consider going to www.kenhagler.com and searching the phrase: “valley of suck.” Read a few excerpts from some of those blog entries. What do you learn? Do you find it helpful? How do you think this was helpful to the author? If it was difficult to read, why do you think that is the case?
5. How might a journal help you during times of high stress or difficult situation? If you have a journal, how has it helped you in the past?
6. Ken talks about using your journal as a way to learn from your devotional reading or Bible reading. Have you tried this before? If so, was it helpful? Why or why not? (Consider doing your devotional reading and writing your thought in a journal to see what you learn over time.)
7. On page 27, Ken admits that in his early journaling, he was sporadic with journaling (and he still is). Like any faith-hack, the practice is there for YOU to use, not because you are being graded on it. Is it helpful to hear those words? Why or why not?
8. The author makes another point that facing pain and suffering changes us. Here he shares a quote, “Don’t be a politician. Be a human who can admit he changed his mind.” A journal is an important faith-hack for seeing how we change. What would you hope to discover and learn through the practice of journaling?
Prayer for the Week:
“Gracious Spirit, make me alert to your leading and the learnings you have for me.”
Session 6 (Chapter 10)
1. Let’s get right to it here: On a scale of 1-10, [1 being not at all and 10 being the most referred to book in your life] How important is the Bible in your life?
2. The author gives a few aspects to consider when it comes the Bible. What is the one thing that surprised you or that you found interesting (page 28)?
3. During a difficult time in your life, has anyone said to you what others said to Ken, “You need to read the Bible more?” How did it make you feel? How did it make you feel toward the person who said it? What was their reasoning do you think?
4. Take a moment to look up and read 2 Peter 1:3-8. Most of the time people think about the Bible as one book even when reading the New Testament. But the books in the New Testament today were not in the Bible when they were written. It was referring to what we call the Old Testament. Even so, how does 2 Peter encourage you to read the Bible?
5. Ken takes a totally different approach about reading the Bible, encouraging you to read certain books and not trying to tackle the whole book. Let’s look at the reasoning for what he suggests.
a) Pick a Gospel. Why are Gospels important to knowing God?
b) Proverbs. Why do you think short and simple sayings would be helpful during rough times?
c) James. How might a book on Christian living guide your life when times are tough?
d) Ecclesiastes. Why is Ken hesitant? Why does that make it a helpful book to read?
6. Before reading through any one book, consider taking a day and read a chapter from each book and journal what strikes you as important. Pray about where to begin your reading too. What book do you think is the best place to start and why?
Prayer for the Week:
Jesus, you are the Word made human! Guide me as I read and help me hear your voice to me.
Session 7 (Chapter 11)
1. Talking to God when your world is unraveling is a two-edged sword. You need God on one side and on the other, you’re not sure you can talk to or trust God. What is most common for you? Why do you think this is the case?
2. Ken makes a rather bold claim: “You can say whatever you want or need to, to God.” He goes on to talk about both crying to God and yelling at God. How do you feel about that thought? Is it hard to hear or helpful to hear? Have you yelled at God? (If you’re in a group, be sure to just listen and not judge others responses)
3. Have you ever read much from the Book of Psalms? Have you ever prayed from the Psalms?
4. Starting on page 31, Ken notes a number of passages from the Psalms that share different feelings and emotions. Which verse from the Psalms best describes you right now? Which might become a prayer you would pray? Why?
5. Ken says the most important thing he could say about prayer is, “Keep it short.” What reasoning does he give to come to that conclusion? What do you think about this for you and your life?
6. What do you think about the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18 as a model prayer? Does it surprise you it is one of the most important prayers in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity? Is it a prayer you might pray? Why or why not? What do you think about the way Ken changed it to a prayer for Heather?
7. In Chapter 12, Ken writes, “‘Life sucks’ and ‘God works all things for good,’ are not mutually exclusive. I love God and believe God is going to work this for good. But it does not mean it all happens on the same day (pg 34).” How does this give you hope for dealing with times your life is out of control? How will it help you deal with other people? How does this balance help you, give you hope, for your relationship with God when life sucks?
Prayer for the Week:
Loving God, in my struggles and grief, come close to me and comfort my heart; my soul.
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