XP3 is a series of small group lessons published for teenagers by The reThink Group, Inc. My wife and I have a senior in high school, and we are helping lead a small group of juniors and seniors that meets on Sunday nights for a lesson, meal, and fellowship. I’ve been tasked with the lesson the last couple of weeks.
We started back in the fall teaching the Ray Vander Laan material, which went well with most of the kids. But that was last semester. This semester we’re doing the XP3 material.
Now, the approach I’ve taken, which seems to be working (with teens, who really knows?), is to begin with a silly activity and then teach a lesson built on the activity. I’m going to post the entire lesson plan, but most readers will want to skip the silliness to get to the lesson material, which I promise is suitable for adults.
Activity: Bunny Toss
I set up a series of small plastic buckets — from last year’s preschool Easter egg hunt — about 12″ in diameter, about 4, 8, 12, and 16 feet from a stripe on the sidewalk. We’d practiced before the event, and so we knew we needed to weight the buckets so they wouldn’t flip over. We used 2 1/2 lb weights from my son’s weight set.
My wife found some bean bag bunnies — literally hand-sized bean bags with bunny ears and tails — also from last year’s Easter egg hunt.
I lined the kids up and pulled out a roll of dollar bills. Here are the rules:
- Three bunny tosses per bucket
- If you get a bunny in the first bucket, you win $1 on the spot, yours to keep forever
- But you may toss 3 bunnies for the second bucket (8′ away) for double or nothing. But you don’t have to.
- Process repeats up the fourth bucket — with a potential prize of $8
Everyone made the first bucket and tried for the second. Most made the second, One made the third. No one made the fourth. No one won a penny. It was great fun. Several asked to try again, for no money. A girl on her high school basketball team was the only one to make the fourth bucket — in 6 tries.
Lesson: We are idiots when it comes to our own happiness
No one won any money, even though everyone had some money in hand at some point in the competition. All you had to do was stop after the first bucket and you’d have cash in hand. Most would have $2 if they’d just stopped after the second bucket. No one did. Why not?
And this is so even though most of you went after you saw that the fourth bucket was nearly impossible. Why take such a bad gamble? Why let me keep my money?
[It was fun. Peer pressure. Just wanted to see if I could do it.]
I just read an article on who the happiest people on the planet are. Do you know who — which tribe or nation — are the happiest people on earth?
[Amazingly, someone knew that it’s the Inuit of Greenland.]
That’s right. People who live in the freezing cold, barely eeking out a living on the ice are the world’s happiest people.
Guess who’s second?
[No one knows but one kids gets close, guessing Kenyans]
The Maasai. And they do indeed live in Kenya and Tanzania, in east Africa. The Maasai raise cattle, enjoy drinking a mixture of milk and cow’s blood, straight from a vein, and live in houses made of dung and urine. [Girls are grossed out. Guys love it.] And they’re the second happiest people on the planet. Does anyone want to join them?
Does anyone here own a boat? [a parent raises his hand] What do they say are two happiest days of a boat owner’s life?
[The day you buy it and the day you sell it!]
I brought a book with me called Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. I don’t think the author is a Christian. But he’s an expert on what makes people happy. He’s a professor who’s spent his life studying that one question. And you’ll never believe what his experiments and studies have proven. He’s found that we are all idiots when it comes to knowing what will make us happy.
You thought trying to double your money was a good idea, and you got nothing, all because of peer pressure.
We are very good at knowing whether we are happy, but just awful at anticipating what will make us happy. Will that new boat bring happiness? We guess wrong. New house? New wife? New car? Study after study shows that people make terrible decisions, anticipating that this or that will make them happy, and they’re usually wrong.
That doesn’t mean no one’s happy. It’s just that if we’re happy, it’s often for unexpected reasons.
How many have done something just dreading it only to discover that it was a great time? [Lots of answers]
According to the non-Christian author, there are only two ways to know.
First, you can try it. But that’s often expensive or impossible to reverse. Leave your wife, and you likely won’t be able to get her back. Buy a big house and you may not be able to sell it for what it cost you.
Second, you can ask people who have just done it or are in the process of doing it. We tend to romanticize our memories, justifying our decisions, so we remember ourselves as happier than we really were. But if you ask someone who is doing it right now, you’ll get a straight answer — unless he’s too embarassed to admit how badly he messed up.
If you are wondering whether you’ll enjoy going out with a certain boy, you might ask his last girl friend.
If you are wondering whether you’ll enjoy mission work, ask someone on a mission trip or who just came back.
But even those aren’t all that reliable. The person you ask may not be like you. Or may lie — to save face, to get the old boyfriend back.
So for a Christian, what’s the best way to find out what will make you happy? [various answers]
Let’s read a few verses.
(Psa 16:11) You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
This is a psalm of David. Remember that he spent years living off the land, fleeing from Saul. After he became king, he was shamed by his sin with Bathsheba, and God took the life of their first baby and the lives of his oldest three sons. And yet he gives God credit for showing him how to live and filling him with joy. How can that be?
[Parents and teens discuss how God can give us joy even in difficult times]
(Psa 19:7-8) The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
That’s a little surprising, isn’t it. David finds joy in God’s law, his statutes, his precepts, and his commands. I usually think of commands as telling me not to do what I really want to do. How can being commanded not to do what I want to do give me joy?
[Teens remind me that, like them, I’m an idiot when figuring out what will make my happy, but God knows me better than I do.]
(Luke 10:17) The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Jesus sent 72 missionaries out, telling them,
(Luke 10:4-8) Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.
They left without a penny or even spare sandals, for a very long walk. No hotels. No cell phones. No credit cards. They had to hope someone would take them in and feed them. If not, they starve. And they were joyful. Why?
[Must have been amazing to so trust God that you would take these risks and find that God takes care of you and that your message is heard. Of course, they were joyful.]
If you’d asked them before their journey, what would they have said?
[Scared. Not sure they wanted to go. Some probably chickened out.]
Right. They were likely idiots when it came to knowing what would make them happy. But working for Jesus on his terms did — but they wouldn’t have known it until they tried it.
(Rom 14:17-18) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.
Being a Christian is about “joy in the Holy Spirit.” Here we are about to eat and drink, and all I can think about is how happy Rosemary’s dessert will make me, and God is saying: find joy in the Holy Spirit. How does that work?
[Various discussion points:
- Scriptures repeatedly associate joy with the Spirit. All Christians have the Spirit.
- The Spirit bears fruit in us (Gal 5)
- The Spirit gives us gifts to be used on God’s service]
It all fits together. God lives in us through his Spirit. This allows God to give us joy as we serve him, using our talents for him and maturing in his virtues. That’s not to say that we’re never be sad or upset. Rather, it’s having God’s joy within us that allows us to see everything from God’s perspective — and gives us the confidence — the faith — to live as God tells us, knowing that his goal is our happiness, but happiness that he gives on his terms — which is much, much better than anything we can accomplish on our own. After all, we’re idiots. (Some of us even buy boats.)