Many ages, similar issues (small group Bible study)

Each age of life provides its own opportunities for us to learn from others and teach those around us too. In individual or small group study, explore this six-week program adapted from Donnette Alfelt's book From the Top of the Yardstick.

Click on a week, below, to see an outline for weekly study.

Week one: who's "cool?"

In high school, there are often the popular kids and the not-so-popular kids and even some unpopular ones. The interesting thing about growing older is the opportunity to see what happens to these people over time. It is remarkable to see the heroes who have fallen, and the amazing accomplishments of some who were unappreciated or unrecognized in high school.

Too often our identity is lost as we judge our self-worth by the acceptance or rejection of peers who seem to have it all. We seem to focus on what we lack, rather than who we are and what we have to offer. To measure ourselves primarily in comparison to others will most certainly lead to dissatisfaction. The life we will enter after death is a very different place because there, nothing is hidden. We will look like the person we are—the person we have chosen to become.


"To assure misery, tie your happiness to someone else’s behavior." (Unknown)

"The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them." (Abraham Lincoln)

"I know there are two worlds—one we can measure with line and rule, and the other we can feel with our hearts and intuition." (Helen Keller)

"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth." (Genesis 11:1-9)

Discussion questions

  • Who seems “cool” to you?
  • Do you feel or have you felt that you were part of the "cool" crowd? The "uncool" crowd?
  • What are your particular loves and abilities?
  • What is it that you think defines who you really are? When do you feel jealousy or insecurity, and how do you handle these feelings?
  • Take a moment to consider a person you are jealous of. Imagine if you were permitted to change places with him or her. The catch is that you would have to change everything—take on his or her life and give up everything of yours. Would you do it?


This week, if you find yourself feeling jealous, remember that you have particular loves and abilities unlike anyone else’s. Know that when you use these abilities for good, you can make a difference and will touch other people in ways you may never be aware of.

Week two: the majority

We are all influenced more than we realize by current trends. But current trends are often wrong. The majority once thought that certain races were inferior, and didn’t believe the races should mix. The majority once considered smoking attractive and sophisticated. The majority accepted the idea of paying women less for the same jobs as men, and for a long time, the majority didn’t object to the idea of disposing of toxins by dumping them into lakes. It wasn’t until it was recognized that racism and pollution were causing great harm that people were motivated to do something.

Today, it appears as if the majority of people in modern culture use sex for entertainment and self-gratification, rather than as a sacred part of a committed, loving relationship. Things have now become so distorted and harmful that they must and will be reevaluated. Maybe someday people will look back in horror at this passing phenomenon.


"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."(Edmund Burke)

"What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular."(Unknown)

"Conscience is God’s presence in us. " Swedenborg)

"Vanity asks the question – is it popular? Science asks the question – is it right?"(Martin Luther King Jr.)

" Many people, however, especially those who have confirmed themselves in faith apart from charity, do not know that they are in hell when they are caught up in evils. Indeed, they do not even know what evils are, because they give no thought to them, saying that they are not under the yoke of the law, and therefore that the law does not condemn them. Moreover, because they can contribute nothing to their salvation, they say they are unable to remove any evil from themselves, and furthermore that they cannot do any good of themselves. These are people who fail to think about evil, and because they fail to do so, are continually caught up in it." (Divine Providence 101)

Discussion questions

  • What are some trends that you see the majority taking part in that may be looked upon later as wrong or harmful?
  • What trends do you see in attitudes surrounding sexuality?
  • What changes of current trends do you think are on the horizon?


Make a list of the things that you believe. Determine which of them are based on your upbringing, your personal experience, or cultural influence. Decide if any of these beliefs need to be revised based on your maturing sense of who you are, and your worldview.

Week three: the best age

The old and young almost come from different cultures—clothes, music, outlook, interest, and even language are different. And yet every age is vital to civilization as a whole. Just as we benefit from traveling to different countries and interacting with people of different lands, young and old benefit from recognizing what each other has to offer. Without babies, the world would lose the innocence, tenderness and wonder that they bring. Without experienced, responsible adults, youth would be vulnerable, with no guidelines or boundaries. And the world would suffer greatly without teens, who bring energy, strength, beauty, fresh perspective, and idealism to a troubled world. Young people express in action what the older people feel in their spirits. Older people appreciate being able to run and dance vicariously through the youth. And even though old bodies wear down, the elderly have much to offer as result of their years of growth and experience.


"Each generation has its own gifts to share with all the other generations." (Mary Pipher)

"From infancy to old age every age has delights that introduce a person to the next stage and finally to the delight of intelligence and wisdom." (Emanuel Swedenborg)

"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair." (Proverbs 20:29)

Discussion questions

  • How do you feel about the age you are now?
  • What age do you miss, or look forward to? What is it about those ages that you long for?
  • "From earliest childhood to extreme old age a person passes inwardly through a number of states, which are those of understanding (or intelligence) and wisdom. The first state lasts from birth to the person's fifth year. It is a state of ignorance and of innocence within ignorance; and it is called early childhood. The second state lasts from the fifth to the twentieth year. This is a state in which instruction is received and knowledge is acquired; and it is called later childhood.
    The third state lasts from the twentieth to the sixtieth year, which is a state in which understanding exists; and it is called adulthood, maturity, or full manhood.
    The fourth or last state lasts from the sixtieth year onwards, which is a state of wisdom and of innocence within wisdom." -Secrets of Heaven 10225


Take time this week to interact with someone in a different age bracket from you – someone you would not normally interact with.

Week four: hard times

Some painful challenges, at the time, seem unsolvable and unending. Later, we realize that the most agonizing situations lasted only a fraction of our life course. Even those events that last longer change in intensity and meaning as we change and grow. We recognize miracles of where we were led or what we learned from these difficult times. There is no such thing as a problem-free life, and if there were, it would produce weak and shallow people. Life can be discouraging and confusing.


"Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed". (Edgar Allan Poe)

"Accept the past for what it is, past. Focus our life on the present and the future, and let God change you." (Ethan McCardell)

"Temptations serve to strengthen truths, and to join them to good qualities, while at the same time dispelling evils and the falsities that confirm them. They also serve to open up the inner, spiritual self, and to make the natural self subject to the inner self; also, to break down self-love and the love of worldly possessions, and to tame the longings which arise from this. When all this has happened a person gains enlightenment and a perception of what truth and good are, and what falsity and evil are. Thus we acquire intelligence and wisdom which thereafter go on increasing day by day." (New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrines 194)

Discussion questions

  • What is a story you can share where a hard time led to better things?
  • How useful is it for you to focus on the past? The future? The present?


If you are presently going through a difficult time, go to someone you trust for help, maybe a trusted relative or a professional. Also, notice the conflicting thoughts and emotions you struggle with. Try to identify those that come from heaven and those that come from hell. If you recognize the negative lies to be from the hells, this may help to break their hold on you.

Week five: mistakes and habits

Because of all the choices we are making every moment, we are bound to make some mistakes. It’s impossible to avoid them. Our parents and grandparents made mistakes. Our ministers and teachers made mistakes. We all have made and will make mistakes. Some mistakes that feel large to us may not appear that way to others. Some mistakes that we thought were small might seem big in someone else’s eyes. But big or small, we learn from our errors. God is merciful, providing at every moment new opportunities for growth. We can start each new day knowing it holds possibilities for change and progress. And as we practice doing what’s right, we can remember that the most important part of us is what others cannot see. It’s what goes on in our hearts and minds.

We need to beware of establishing habits that interfere with the quality of our future. Certain ways of relating to others – sarcasm, gossip, lying and criticizing – have the potential to cause real harm when they become habitual. Drinking to excess or using other drugs can lead to shame, regrets, and sometimes very tragic consequences. When we consider who and where we are and where we want to be, it’s easier to decide what will help us get there.


"Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with." (Mark Matteson)

"Divine mercy is a pure mercy toward the whole human race with the intent of saving it, and it is constant toward every individual, never withdrawing from anyone. This means that everyone who can be saved is saved. However, no one can be saved except by divine means, the means revealed by the Lord in the Word. Divine means are what we refer to as divine truths. They teach how we are to live in order to be saved. The Lord uses them to lead us to heaven and to instill heaven's life into us. The Lord does this for everyone; but he cannot instill heaven's life into anyone who does not refrain from evil, since evil bars the way. So to the extent that we do refrain from evil, the Lord in his divine mercy leads us by divine means, from infancy to the end of life in the world and thereafter to eternity. This is the divine mercy that I mean. We can therefore see that the Lord's mercy is pure mercy, but not unmediated: that is, it does not save people whenever it feels like it, no matter how they have lived." (Heaven and Hell 522)

Discussion questions

  • What are some things that are easy to get into a bad habit of doing?
  • What is a good habit you’d like to develop?
  • What habits are more common in older people? In younger?


Choose a habit that you’d like to begin working on, and focus on making small progress this week.

Week six: material things

What would really make you happy? Ben Franklin tells a lot of stories about life lessons. He tells one about his childhood, when he saw a shiny whistle in a store window. He thought it was beautiful and he knew he had to have it, even though it cost way too much. He saved his pennies for a long time until he was able to go to the store and buy the coveted toy. He blew it and admired it, but it didn’t take very long for him to tire of it and realize he’d paid too much. He used this experience to remind him not to “pay too much for a whistle.” This can be true for non-material things. When we are tempted to lie or compromise for a perceived gain, we may “pay too much for a whistle.”

Looking back on their lives, many elderly people find that what they truly treasure are the things that have outlasted any material possessions: being touched and helped by the integrity of good people, experiencing the beauty of nature, the perspective that accompanies belief in a loving God.


"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19)

"Every angel has some hidden tendency in the affection of their will, which induces their mind to do something. By this means the mind calms and satisfies itself. This feeling of satisfaction and calm render the state of the mind amenable to receiving from the Lord the love of service. Heavenly happiness is the result of receiving this, and this is what gives life to the joys. Heavenly food is essentially nothing but love, wisdom and service all combined; that is, service performed by means of wisdom out of love. Everyone therefore in heaven gets food for the body depending on the service they perform; it is magnificent for those who perform the highest services, moderate but of exquisite flavor for those whose service is modest, humble for those who perform humble services." (True Christianity 735:6)

"Everyone is capable of knowing that when we leave our outer or natural person we enter our inner or spiritual one; so we can also know that heavenly pleasure is an inner and spiritual pleasure and not an outer or natural one. Since it is inner and spiritual, it is purer and finer and moves our deeper levels, the levels of our soul or spirit.
We may also conclude from this that the quality of our pleasure follows from the quality of the pleasure of our spirit, and that the pleasures of our bodies, called "the pleasures of the flesh," have nothing to do with heaven by comparison. Whatever is in our spirit when we leave the body remains with us after death, for we then live as human spirits." (Heaven and Hell 395)

Discussion questions

  • What are the things that you treasure most?
  • What do you think it would take for you to become truly happy?
  •  At the end of your life, what “treasures” do you want to have accumulated?


This week, remember not to “pay too much for a whistle.” If you find yourself focusing a lot of energy on material items, think about what is really most meaningful to you.

Full issue

Daily Inspiration

"The angels themselves confess that they have no power but act only at the Lord's behest."

Secrets of Heaven 50