God Is Searching
The purpose of this study is to teach youth that God desires a relationship with them so much that He will go to great lengths to show His love and get their attention, but He will never force His love on anyone.
Activate Your Audience
We’re All Losers
Ask several people in your group to respond to these questions. Have you ever lost anything that was really important to you, and then you found it later? It could be a thing, a pet, or even a person. How did you feel when you lost it? How did you feel when you found it? How long did you have to search for it?
Bring them Closer
Find the Five
You will need one five-dollar bill or other prize. Before the youth arrive, hide a five-dollar bill somewhere in the area. Make it hard to find, but not impossible.
Youth will almost always understand a biblical principle better if they experience the emotions involved in that principle. For instance, in this activity, they will experience frustration, anticipation, hope and finally victory or dejection — all feelings God must have when He searches for the lost.
Explain that somewhere in this room is a five-dollar bill. It has been lost. Whoever finds it may keep it. You have five minutes to find it. Watch the youth as they search for the prize. If time allows, discuss how it felt during the search. Ask how the finder felt and how the losers felt.
Transition: Those of you who participated in the search for the prize just became more godly. How? Because God is a God who is looking for something that is lost. Tonight we’ll find out what He is searching for and what lengths He’s willing to go to find it.
Lead your group to sing some songs that focus on salvation — being found.
Communicate the Word (Luke 15:3 – 31)
You will need a Christian music CD or cassette to give away (or anything of value that comes in a package).
I. What is lost and how did it get lost? You are / were.
A. You are like a lost sheep (15:3 – 7)
Illustration: Ask: What’s the dumbest thing you have ever seen an animal do? Allow for responses. Share your own story if you have one. Explain: If you think that was stupid, you ought to see what sheep do.
Explain: Sheep, by most standards, are just plain stupid. If they see what they think to be better grass for grazing, they will sometimes stray from the herd for it. Then, the herd moves on and the sheep returns to find that it is lost. A sheep by itself, without a shepherd or a herd, is an easy target for wolves and other predators.
Some sheep do not wander very far from the herd, but they still become lost. They step just off the path of the shepherd and the rest of the herd looking for something interesting, intending to get right back. But, before the sheep knows what has happened, it’s thick wool has become entangled in the bushes and it cannot move. The rest of the herd moves on, and now the sheep is lost.
Finally, some sheep do not realize the danger of a moving stream of water. A thirsty sheep may head for a stream that the shepherd has deliberately avoided. When the sheep wades out into the water to get a drink, the water weighs down the wool and then it is carried downstream. If it is not found soon, it will drown. The sheep needed the water, but he tried to find it on his own in stead of going where the Shepherd led Him. The Shepherd would have led His sheep to still waters, where there was no danger of drowning.
Application: You are like these sheep. Some of you wander far from God looking for greener grass in other pastures besides the one God — the Great Shepherd — has placed you in. You intend to come back, but by the time you return from your adventures the other Christians you depended on have moved on with the Shepherd. You are alone and lost. You don’t know where to go now.
Some of you don’t ever wander far. You come to church and think you’re there with the other Christians, but in reality you are really checking the side trails for something better. You figure it will be okay to cheat on that test, laugh at a dirty joke, or make fun of someone else. After all, you’re just right off the path. Right? The danger is that you could become entangled in your sin. You may cheat your way through school and then cheat on your income taxes. You might begin to tell those dirty jokes yourself. You may learn that hurting other people’s feelings makes you feel better, so you begin to hurt them physically as well. Whatever the sin, you may find yourself so entangled that you can’t get out. Now you find yourself lost and you don’t know how to get out.
Or, some of you may have genuine needs, but you choose to go after them yourself instead of waiting for God to provide, like the sheep in the water did. You may hear your body tell you that you need sex, but instead of waiting for God to provide you with a spouse, you choose to go after sex now with someone else. Before long, the sin of lust weighs you down and you get swept away. You may need money, but instead of waiting for God to provide you begin to steal from your parents or your employer, and you sure don’t give an offering to God. Before long, you are trapped in greed and swept away.
Transition: Some of you have just wandered away from God, like these sheep, and you are lost. Some of you, though, may have become lost another way.
B. You are like a lost coin (15:8 – 10)
Illustration: Ask someone to give you one coin. Take the coin and hold it up. Explain: I am going to drop this coin from over my head. Then ask: Who can tell me which way it will roll after it hits the ground? Allow your group to try and guess. Drop the coin and watch where it rolls. Explain: You can’t really ever predict where the coin will roll — it’s chance. Sometimes chance or dumb luck causes something to be lost.
Explain: The woman had ten coins, each worth about a day’s wages. From our point of view, this coin was probably worth $100 or more (calculated from an annual salary of $24,000). Somehow, she dropped one of the coins in the house and it rolled out of sight. The coin was now lost.
Application: Some of you are lost, but you don’t really know how you got there. You just had bad luck, took a fall, and rolled out of sight. You didn’t do it on purpose, but it happened, and now you are stuck. Maybe you blame your parents — for splitting up or for treating you badly. Maybe you blame your circumstances — the amount of money you have, the way your hair looks, or the neighborhood you live in. Maybe you even blame God. After all, He could have made things better on your life. Regardless of who you blame, now you feel lost and worthless. Like a coin under a couch, it is dark. You see people walk by and you try to get their attention, but no one seems to care. You are stuck here, and you feel like life is just passing you by.
Transition: Some of you feel like life has dealt you a raw deal, like the coin that fell, and now you are lost. Some of you, though, may have become lost another way.
C. You are like a lost son (15:11 – 31)
Illustration: Give away a Christian music CD like this. Beforehand, remove the CD from the case and keep it hidden. Ask: Can I have a volunteer from the audience? Call someone forward, and explain: I have this CD that I would like to give to you. You can either take it now, or you can take it sometime in the future whenever I choose to give it to you. I would prefer you wait until later, but the choice is yours. Let the person respond by taking the CD. If they suspect a trick and refuse to take it now, ask if anyone else wants to take it now. When the person who took the CD sits down, ask him/her to open the CD case. Of course, it will be empty. Explain: If you had waited until later, I would have given you everything. But because you chose to take it now, you only get the case.
Explain: The son in this story demanded his inheritance from his father. He made a conscious and deliberate choice. He wasn’t stupid like the sheep, and it wasn’t chance like the coin. He didn’t want to live on his Father’s farm any longer. He didn’t want to do the work his father wanted him to do everyday. He made up his mind and he decided to take his father’s inheritance and go live the good life. He went to another country, spent his money on (probably) prostitutes, wild parties, drinking, gambling, a nice camel, etc. But, before long, he found himself completely out of money and forced to feed pigs for a living. He was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pig food. He went to find himself, but he ended up lost, lonely, and hungry.
Application: Some of you know what God wants you to do. But you have decided that there is more to life out there. You don’t want to live your life doing what God says everyday. You want to live the good life now. So, you have deliberately turned your back on God and begun to live each day in another country — another way of living, far from God’s place. You date whoever you want, go wherever you feel like, choose your own friends, and live life on your terms. For awhile you had fun (or maybe you still think you are), but it didn’t take long to realize that everything you thought was so great is actually boring. Now you are lost, blaming yourself for leaving in the first place, and wondering if God would even consider taking you back. You find yourself staring at an empty package, like the person with the CD case, wondering what to do next.
II. How do you get unlost?
A. You’ve got to realize you are lost
Explain: The sheep may be stupid, but it knows when it is lost. It knew it didn’t belong by itself, or caught in a bush, or drowning in the stream. The coin, if it had thoughts, would know it was lost because it wasn’t being spent or hanging around with the other coins. It knew it didn’t belong under the couch. The son realized he had done wrong, and he knew he was lost in another country. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be feeding pigs.
Application: God will never force you to be found. If you want to be found, you have to know you are lost.
B. You’ve got to know that God is searching for you
Explain: When a sheep is lost, the shepherd leaves the other sheep and goes searching for the lost sheep. He will call the sheep’s name, crawl through bushes, wade through streams, and give all He has to finding the sheep. When he finds it, He will lift it up gently on His shoulders and carry it back to the herd and throw a party.
When a valuable coin is lost, or a five-dollar bill, the person searching for it will go to great lengths. She will find a light, turn over the furniture, and crawl through the dirt to find it. Then, she will pick it up, put it with the others, and throw a party.
When a son leaves home, the father will not force him to stay. But he will wait patiently by the door. He will lay awake nights, wondering when the boy will return. He will look down the road every day, hoping that figure in the distance is his son. And on the day that his son realizes he is lost and begins to return home, the father will recognize him from a long way off and run out to meet him. He will take him home and throw a party.
Application: God is calling your name. He left His home in heaven to come down to earth and crawl with humans, hoping they would listen to Him. He went all the way to the cross, hoping that some would choose to accept His free gift of love. He won’t take you home if you don’t want to go. If you want to stay lost, you will. But if you let Him find you, He will pick you up, take you where you need to be, and throw a party. At this point, call the person who took the CD case back up to the front. Pull out the hidden CD. Ask: Would you rather have this CD to go with that case, or do you want to just keep what you have? Let the person respond and take the CD.
III. Do Something About It
IV. Explain: Some of you are lost and you have never let God find you. You have never realized you were lost and that God was searching for you. You are hiding from God. Today, right now, you can choose to have a fuller life. Just like an empty CD case is better with a CD, your life is better if you let God inside. You are an empty package without Him. If you realize you are lost, then just ask God to come into your life. If you do, He will throw a party in your honor. Use your best judgement in leading any individuals to Christ who may want to respond.
V. Some of you are Christians, but there are parts of your lives that are lost. You have given God certain areas, but not others. You’ve told God He can have some parts of your life, but not all. You’ve told Him that you will obey Him in some areas, but not in everything. God, because He loves you, is searching for the parts of your life that need improvement. He will never stop searching until He finds you willing to give him your music life, your sex life, your dating relationships, your friendships, your relationships with your parents and siblings, etc. He won’t stop until He finds you having a regular quiet time, obeying His Word, telling others about Jesus. What part of your life are you holding back? Think of at least one area of your life that you have hidden from God. Realize you are lost and give that area of your life back to God. Let Him be the one in control. If you do, He will throw a party in your honor.
VI. Pray for all the decisions your youth may make. Ask God to help them keep their commitments. Follow up as much as possible with any decisions that your youth have shared with you.