You Don’t Have to Choose a Word for the Year

We’re almost at the time of year when bloggers start considering their word for the next year.

For many, choosing a word for the year replaces a list of resolutions. That one word gives them focus for the year. Christians who do this usually pray about it leading up to the new year and feel this word has been given to them or impressed on them by God. They often plan activities, reading, or Bible study around their word.

I’ve read wonderful testimonies about how God has worked in someone’s heart through meditating on their word for the year.

It’s a fine practice.

I’ve never felt particularly led to do it myself. I’ve studied or focused on one topic for a while, but not necessarily from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

Perhaps you’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year and you wonder if you’re missing out. Or perhaps you’ve chosen one in the past but, like a forgotten New Year’s resolution, it soon faded out of memory.

I just want to emphasize a few truths:

God never tells anyone in the Bible to choose a word, a theme, or a verse for the year. He never tells anyone not to do any of those things, either. It’s just one method of studying and applying God’s Word.

God may lay on your heart to study a certain topic, truth, characteristic, etc. from the Bible, and that may or may not coincide with January 1 and may or may not last a year.

Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Commentary I’ve read for that verse said that the lighting they had in Bible times only shone a step or two ahead. God often guides that way–day by day, just enough for the next step. Of course, He knows what is ahead and may well prepare people for it through a word for the year. But I have found that to happen through my daily Bible reading or sermons or Sunday School lessons I hear. It’s amazing how often God’s truth intersects my experience through a book I picked up seemingly randomly.

What’s more vital than a word for the year is daily seeking God in His Word.

Whether or not one chooses a word for a year, it’s good to read the Word of God every day. God can teach us through an extended focus on one word or concept. But He promises to give us guidance, hope, encouragement, and so much more as we meet with Him daily.

Granted, most people who choose a word for the year don’t do so at the exclusion of other Bible reading. Their main focus might be that one word, but they probably also follow a Bible reading plan and attend a Bible study group or church where they hear other parts of the Bible taught.

There’s value in reading large chunks of the Bible to keep the big picture in mind, and there’s value in camping out in a smaller section for a while. We need the panoramic lens to take in the beauty and wonder of the big picture of God’s Word and to place everything in context. We also need the macro lens for close-ups, for camping out with a verse at a time and mining its truths. I wrote about reasons and ways to do both here. For many, their one word is that close scrutiny.

While many people find great value in choosing a word for the year, those who don’t use that method shouldn’t feel they’re missing out or somehow not as spiritual. People have gotten by for millennia without a word for the year. On the other hand, just because this practice is relatively new doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it. If choosing a word for the year has been a great blessing for you, or you think it might be, or you think it’s something God wants you to do, go for it, and may God bless you in it.

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Let’s be faithful to partake of that bread in some way every day.

(Revised from the archives)

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

When Spiritual Routines Get Boring

I watched, amused, as my husband prepared to go to work. He checked to make sure he had his wallet, keys, backpack, and water, then he kissed me goodbye.

But then he remembered something else he needed, or something else he needed to do, before he left. He’d run through his checklist again—keys, wallet, backpack, water, wife—and remember something else he needed to get. He went through this process three times, ending each time with kissing me goodbye.

I suppose I could have gotten upset that he forgot he had already kissed me goodbye several times, that kissing me was part of the routine. Or I could have reveled in getting four kisses instead of one.

But I was amused because I have similar routines.

Some routines arise to help us remember what’s vital. When I get out of the car, I stop to check for my phone, purse, glasses and keys, saying each one aloud. This routine grew out of having locked one or more of these items in the car in the past (all of them one time when one of my then-young children closed the car door before I was ready).

I also have a checklist before I leave the house to make sure I have those same items and have turned off the oven and burners (because I have accidentally left one on for hours, though thankfully not while I was gone) and have locked all the doors (because I have come home to a forgotten unlocked door).

Routines also help us get into the right mindset. Michael Phelps had an elaborate routine before races to prepare both his mind and body. A basketball player preparing for a free throw will usually dribble the ball a few times before aiming for the hoop.

Routines also save us time and brain power by not having to think through everyday decisions. We follow more or less the same schedule with eating breakfast, brushing teeth, showering, dressing. Routines can help us avoid distractions and give more time to creative thought.

But operating on automatic pilot gets us into trouble. I don’t know how many times I’ve missed a turn while driving because I was following my usual path instead of remembering I was going somewhere different that day. Or I’ve gotten to the end of my shower and forgotten if I washed my hair.

When I read articles about establishing a regular quiet time of Bible reading and prayer, I find many authors encourage setting up a routine. If we plan a quiet time at the same time and place with the same tools every day, soon it becomes regular and we don’t have to stop and think about whether, when, or where we’re going to have devotions.

Well and good.

But I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I have of running through your quiet time as a routine and then forgetting what you read five minutes later. Or looking at the same prayer list with a bit of dismay at praying for the same things over again.

I like to start my prayer time with what we call “the Lord’s prayer” and expand from there. But when I look at those same words every morning, sometimes I am in danger of running through them thoughtlessly.

How can we help our spiritual practices not to become so routine that we move through them on autopilot?

Remember who we are interacting with. Warren Wiersbe said in With the Word “The end result of all Bible study is worship.” He meant Bible study isn’t an end in itself: it should lead us to worship of the God in its pages. But it helps to start Bible reading with worship as well, to rejoice in the fact that the God of the universe wants to talk with and hear from me. The Bible says His thoughts are precious to us, highly valuable (Psalm 119:72). Stopping to think about who He is and what a treasure His Word is helps get me in the right mind set. Sometimes I do that with thought and prayer, other times by reading or quietly singing a hymn or reading a psalm or two.

Pray. Sometimes I just stop in the middle of what I am doing and ask God to clear the cobwebs and wake me up spiritually. Sometimes I’ll read through parts of Psalm 119, which is mostly prayer, like verse 24″ “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors,” or 25: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Verses 36-37 are good, too: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

Change up the routine. It helps sometimes to change the order in which we do things or the translation or study method we’re using. Maybe go out on the patio or somewhere else in the house instead of our usual spot. I mentioned starting with the Lord’s prayer. But some years ago I made a list of other biblical prayers like Colossians 1:9-12 and Philippians 1:9-11, and I’ll use one of those instead.

Find study aids. If boredom comes from not understanding what we’re reading, a study Bible or simple commentary will help.

Examine our hearts. I think boredom in spiritual routines is often the result of familiarity or fatigue. But if we always feel bored when we read the Bible or pray, something deeper might be wrong. Maybe we’ve gotten our focus off the Lord or we’re harboring some sin. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and show us anything that displeases Him. The Israelites were in worse trouble than they realized when they complained of weariness in the spiritual routines of their day.

Do it anyway. We shouldn’t let the feeling of boredom and routine stop us. Often, once we get going, we find something special in the day’s reading. One former pastor said one of his best times of prayer occurred when he started out confessing to the Lord that he didn’t feel like praying. Sometimes at the end of my quiet time, I’ve prayed, “God, you know I didn’t feel these things as fully as I have at other times. But you know I mean them.” Feelings help, but we do right whether feelings are there or not.

If over-familiarity with the Bible is a problem, these reasons to keep reading it might help.

God understands our human frailty. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). He’s not looking for a stellar “performance” in our time with Him. He invites us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Do you have any other tips for alleviating boredom when reading the Bible or praying?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Daily Light on the Daily Path

When I mentioned Daily Light on the Daily Path in my post about pursuing the fruit of the Spirit, my friend Susan commented that she wasn’t familiar with the book. Since that might be the case for others as well, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share about it.

I first heard about Daily Light in missionary biographies, particular Amy Carmichael’s and Isobel Kuhn’s. I don’t remember if I assumed it was an older, out of print book: I don’t recall seeking it out. But one day when a home school conference was held nearby, I visited their sales area. I found a 1906 copy of Daily Light on sale for $2. So I grabbed it! They must have printed a lot that year, because I have worn out two versions from that year and am on my third (the latter two found online).

I found that Daily Light is a devotional book made up entirely of Scripture readings for every day. They were compiled by Jonathan Bagster of Bagster and Sons Publishing Firm for his own family’s devotions. His son later published the readings as a devotional book.

Most of the Scripture selections for the day follow a theme, like the one from September 1 about meekness.

Others follow a progression of thought, like this one.

One of my favorites from April 10 pairs verses together like this:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.—Thy renown
went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness,
which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.
I am a sinful man, O Lord.—Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair.
I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.—Thou art all fair, my love; there is no
spot in thee.
When I would do good, evil is present with me.—Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven
thee.
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing—Ye are complete in
him.—Perfect in Christ Jesus.
Ye are washed, . . . ye are sanctified, . . . ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus,
and by the Spirit of our God.—That ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called
you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Psa. 51:5. -Ezek. 16:14.Luke 5:8. -Song 4:1.Job 42:6. -Song 4:7.Rom. 7:21. -Matt. 9:2.Rom. 7:18. -Col. 2:10. -Col. 1:28.I Cor. 6:11. -I Pet. 2:9.

We used the book for family devotions for a while, but my husband didn’t like reading verses grouped together out of context. Though I do prefer reading through the Bible a book at a time in order to get everything in context, these selections seem to have been combined prayerfully and carefully.

Many days these readings were just what I needed for the day. One of the most memorable times was when I was in the hospital with transverse myelitis and scheduled for an MRI. Every nurse and aide who came into my room asked me if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t sure—I’d never been in a situations when I felt claustrophobic before. They described the close quarters of the MRI machine and the need to be perfectly still. They could give medication for calmness for the procedure, but it would have to be done ahead of time. I opted not to take the medicine. The morning of my MRI, September 4, the day’s selection from Daily Light contained several verses about being still, something that had been emphasized to me so much for the scan:

Ruth 3:18  Sit still, my daughter

             Isaiah 7:4 Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted.

             Psalm 46: 10   Be still, and know that I am God

   John 11:40 Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

   Isaiah 30:15 In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength

             Psalm 4:4 Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still

             Psalm 37:7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him

   Psalm 112:7-8 He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established

When they first put me in the MRI machine, I did feel panicky. But God kept bringing these verses to mind over and over, and they calmed and comforted me.

So every September 4 when I come across these verses, I am reminded of the Lord’s help that day.

Another time that stands out was when we were house-hunting as we prepared to move from SC to GA in the late 90s. The reading for March 6 included these verses:

The Lord your God . . . went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day. -Deut. 32:11,12.
—As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him. Psa. 37:23,24.
—The steps of a
good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. Psa. 34:19.

When I read the first verse to my husband, he said, “Does that mean we’re going to live in a tent? Thankfully, no. 🙂

The 1906 version has a section at the back titled “Thoughts for Personal and Domestic Exigencies” (love that title!) It has a page of Scripture readings for thanksgiving, birthdays, marriage, sickness, anxiety, affliction, and bereavement. My 1999 version doesn’t have this section, unfortunately.

I’ve read Daily Light for about 30 years now. I like to read it to begin my devotional time, to get my mind and heart in gear. But some days, like when we’re traveling, or when I have an early medical appointment, or on Sundays, DL may be all I read for devotions that day.

I didn’t know there were evening readings until I ordered a more modern version. I don’t know if they were added later or if originally the morning and evening readings were published separately.

The original versions use the KJV, but you can find DL in several other Bible versions now. It is also online several places, including Crosswalk (if you don’t mind their ads) and Christian Classics Ethereal Library. This site will send the day’s readings from the NIV via email.

So that’s my long history with Daily Light on the Daily Path. Had you heard of it? Have you read it?

What Can We Learn from Bible Genealogies?

If Leviticus doesn’t kill your Bible reading plans, Chronicles might.

When our church was going through 1 Chronicles, our Bible study leader said his children asked, “Do we have to read the genealogies?” He admitted he was thinking the same question.

The genealogical sections of the Bible are probably no one’s favorite part of Scripture. Our pastor has often said, “Every part of the Bible is inspired by God, but not every part is inspirational.” We’re probably not going to get warm fuzzies from those lists of unfamiliar names.

But because the genealogies are as inspired by God as every other part of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), they have much to teach us.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t waste words. God’s works and thoughts are “more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5, NKJV). A former pastor used to say the Bible is divinely brief: of all the things God could have shared with us, He chose the particular words in the Bible. So everything in the Bible is there for a purpose.

Our pastor’s wife used to say of some of the “drier” passages of the Bible, “Keep digging until you find the golden nuggets.”

So what can the genealogies teach us?

God keeps records. Detailed records. Every person on those lists was someone known of God and loved by God. And He knows and cares about us as well.

Some genealogies act as bookends or transitions. For example, Genesis 36 wraps up Esau and his descendants before Jacob’s story switches focus to Joseph.

The Bible is history. Bible professor Dan Olinger said he was thrown for a loop when he learned that some theologians teach that the narratives of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, are fables. These teachers say we’re meant to learn lessons from OT stories like we do from Aesop’s fables, but the stories and people were made up. Dan struggled with this view until he realized that the genealogies ground the Biblical narratives in history. In fables, it doesn’t matter where the characters lived or came from or who their descendants were. But those details do matter in history.

God keeps His promises. Part of God’s covenant with Abraham was that in him, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God repeated this promise to Jacob three times (Genesis 12:18; 26:4; 28:14). God had promised David that his throne would be established for ever. Paul says God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:2-4). Matthew’s genealogy establishes Jesus’ human and royal lineage from Abraham through David. Jesus was the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promises to His people through the ages.

Jesus loves sinners. Luke’s genealogy traces the line of Christ all the way back to Adam, establishing His humanity. Matthew mentions some people we might be surprised to see there.

All of the names shout that Jesus is not only the long-awaited King but that He is the King of grace! This entire family deserved to be rejected by God for notorious wickedness—for lying (Abraham), deceit (Jacob), immorality (David), double-mindedness (Solomon), arrogance (Rehoboam), unbelief (Ahaz), and idolatry which included child sacrifice (Manasseh). And this family had a history of disreputable women, who were “outsiders” for one reason or another. Tamar was the seductive Canaanite (v. 3), Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho (v. 5), Ruth, the Moabitess (v. 5), and Bathsheba, the adulteress (v. 6). You see, Jesus was born into a family that was notoriously deserving of judgment. But that means He’s not afraid to be associated with sinners, including immoral Gentiles—including me and you! (Joe Tyrpak, Gospel Meditations for Christmas, p. 11).

Thomas Overmiller writes:

If the genealogy of Jesus himself featured mothers with disgraced or shameful reputations, then why should you expect anything different? God does not weave people into his purposes and plans because they come from a pristine family background. He weaves people into his plan instead who have disgraceful backgrounds, the kind of disgrace that comes from our own sin and the kind that comes from the sin of others towards us. God delights to find sinners and save them. He delights to redeem us from the power of sin and from the pain of sinful things that other people have done to us. The grace of God shines through disgraced people (A Genealogy of Grace: Mothers of the King).

Genealogies encourage God’s people. I don’t think I realized before this trek through 1 Chronicles that it was written to the Israelites going back to their land after having been in exile in Babylon for 70 years. They needed to be reminded of their identity and encouraged that they were “still God’s people and retain their central place in God’s purposes for humanity” (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 705).

The Chronicler sought to address some urgent questions of his day concerning the identity of Israel. He wanted to instill fresh confidence in the people. The genealogies of Israel that begin the work (1 Chronicles 1–9) start by tracing the people’s ancestry back to Adam, a striking reminder that Israel was at the center of God’s purpose from the very beginning of creation. Although only a “remnant” and a provincial outpost in a great empire, Israel must remember that its security and destiny rest with Yahweh, “who rule[s] over all the kingdoms of the nations” and has given the land to Abraham’s descendants “forever” (2 Chron. 20:6-7) (Brian E. Kelly, ESV Study Bible, p. 701).

Genealogies remind us that life is short and death is sure until the Lord returns. I don’t remember the details or the source, but I heard about a girl who invited her unsaved dad to church. The pastor happened to be in a section of genealogies. The girl was discouraged, thinking this was the worst of all sermons for her dad to hear. But her dad became a believer. He said that hearing over and over that so-and-so lived, had children, and then died struck him. The repeated phrase “and he died” drummed itself into his mind, and he decided he needed to prepare for his own end.

Many of the Bible genealogies are “telescoped”: they don’t include every ancestor in a given line. This accounts for some discrepancies between lists. Each of the genealogies is there for a particular purpose, so the author will only include the names that are pertinent to his theme.

I hope you’re more encouraged about Biblical genealogies now. They still might not be the most exciting parts of the Bible, but they’re a rich and integral part.

Does anything in this list of what genealogies teach us resonate with you? Can you think of other purposes for genealogies in the Bible?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Making Time to Read the Bible

Elisabeth Elliot is one of my favorite women, writers, missionaries, speakers, people in general. I’ve read almost all of her books. I received her newsletter for many years.

I was able to hear her speak in person twice. On one of those occasions, we had an opportunity to have her sign one of our books written by her. I had several of her books, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to ask her to sign it. Then when my pastor heard I was going to hear her speak, he asked me to have her sign one of his books.

I stood in a long line waiting for my turn at just a few minutes with Elisabeth. And what did I say in those precious few moments?

“How do you find time to write so many books?”

Duh.

In her practical, no-nonsense way, she said, “You don’t find time. You make time.”

I’ve told this story here before, but it illustrates an important truth. We have so many things that can fill our time these days. We have to make time for what’s most important.

I’ve never seen a poll on this subject, but I would guess if we asked a large group of Christians why they don’t read the Bible, most of them would say lack of time. They know they need to, and they feel guilty for not reading Scripture regularly. But somehow the day is gone before they know it. They might read a verse or two or a short devotional before they go to bed, but their brains are too fried for much more.

But Jesus said spending time with Him is the one needful thing in our lives. So rather than waiting for time for Bible reading to magically open up, we need to make time in our schedules for it. We need to prioritize it.

Here are a few ideas for making time to read the Bible:

Pray about it. God says to ask Him for wisdom. One of the hardest times for me to make time for Bible reading was when my second child was born. With my first child, I could read while he napped. But when my second child napped, I now had a preschooler. I could tell I wasn’t getting spiritually nourished. I’d whimper to the Lord at the end of the day that I didn’t know when I could have set aside time for Bible reading that day.

He gave me the idea to ask Him at the beginning of the day to help me be alert to time to read. And He did. Normally I like more of a schedule routine, but I had to learn to grab what moments I could some days.

Don’t make too big a production of it. I think we often sabotage our devotional time because we feel we can’t have it unless we read so many minutes or chapters, consult a commentary or two, sing or read a hymn, draw something pretty in the margins of our Bible, journal for fifteen minutes afterward. Those are all great practices, and often we can employ several of them at certain seasons in life. But if we feel we haven’t actually had devotions unless we’ve done all that, no wonder we don’t get to it some days. The essential thing is to spend some amount of time in the Bible itself.

Have a plan. If we have to decide every day what part of the Bible we’re going to read from, that takes up valuable time. Early in my Christian life, I was urged to read the whole Bible through, and I think that grounded me more than anything else. I don’t do it in a year any more: that felt too rushed to me. There are multitudes of Bible reading plans available, from one year to two years to five years to a chronological reading. Don’t feel you have to read all of the planned reading for that day. But knowing where to go next makes it a lot easier to pick up and read rather than flipping through trying to find somewhere to start.

You might think that having a plan is stifling, and you’d rather read as the Spirit leads. The Bible was meant to be read in context. We get more from a particular book of the Bible when we read it in progression from start to finish. We wouldn’t read a letter from anyone else by reading the second paragraph on page two one day and the third paragraph on page one another day.

I can testify that God does speak to people through regular planned reading. I can’t tell you how many times my Bible reading for the day has been exactly what I needed. Of course, we can take a break in the plan if we feel a need to study some other part of the Bible at some point or have some kind of special need.

Know why. Any time I read about starting a new habit or making a major change, the writer will advise readers to know our “why.” When obstacles come up, when we’re tired, when it’s not convenient to do what we need to do, remembering why we do it can carry through when we don’t “feel” like it. I wrote last week about reasons I still read the Bible. I started a list years ago of reasons to read the Bible, and have been adding to it ever since until now I have over fourteen typed pages of reasons. But in a sense, I don’t need that list to keep me going. I’ve experienced the benefits of reading the Bible so much that I don’t want to go without it.

Lay other things aside. I confess that if I pick up a book or magazine or turn on the TV or open Facebook and then realize I haven’t read the Bible that day yet, I sometimes feel a little resentful at having to stop what I am doing. Even knowing all the benefits of reading the Bible, I feel that petty irritation at being interrupted and having to stop something I enjoy. But that only lasts for a moment. Once I do start reading, I’m glad I did.

Listen. Personally, I get more out of my Bible from reading rather than listening. But there are ways to hear the Bible being read if that’s the best option for others.

Plan for Bible reading after a natural break in the day. It can be hard to change gears in the middle of the afternoon to stop and read the Bible. It’s easier if we plan for it in conjunction with something else: after breakfast, after showering, after the kids go to school or take a nap, etc.

Keep the Bible handy. This is easy to do now with Bible apps for the phone. Years ago, my neighbor with three little stair-step girls kept her Bible open in the kitchen. That’s where she spent much of her time, and she could read a little while waiting for water to boil, etc.

Anything is better than nothing. For years I have been reading Daily Light on the Daily Path. It ‘s composed of just Scripture, usually on a particular topic for the day or in a progression of thought. I like to use it to begin my devotional time. But on Sundays, that’s all I read. Likewise, if I have an early medical appointment or obligation, or we’re traveling, that might be all I read for the day.

Normally I like having a good amount of open-ended time in the Word. But the days I truly only had time for a few verses, God gave me what I needed.

How about you? What tips have you found for making time to read the Bible?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Why Keep Reading the Bible?

Do you reread books?

Little Women is one I’ve read several times. As a child, I identified with Jo. Even though we’re different personalities, I could relate to getting into “scrapes” despite one’s best intentions, the angst of growing up and learning self-control, the desire to write. But in some ways, I felt more closely aligned with Beth, the shy, quiet sister.

In early married days, I could empathize with Meg, especially her kitchen disaster on the day her husband brought home unexpected company.

After I had children, I could see myself in Marmee.

I’ve read Mere Christianity three times, I think, and I still haven’t mined its depth. I get a little more from it each time. But I could probably benefit from rereading it once every few years.

I’ve read some of my favorite biographies three or four times: Isobel Kuhn, Amy Carmichael, Rosalind Goforth, Through Gates of Splendor, and others. Each time, I am inspired by people’s life stories.

I don’t think I’ve read any book more than five times, though.

Except the Bible.

Someone asked me recently why I keep reading the Bible. He suggested that since I have read it through several times over, I must be pretty familiar with it by now.

Some years ago, I posted 13 Reasons to Read the Bible. Since then, I’ve added to that list as I have found more reasons within God’s Word that encourage me to read it. In fact, I have about fourteen typed pages of reasons in a Word document. I am trying to wrestle them into one chapter for the book I am working on. But suffice it to say, the reasons I have for reading the Bible in the first place are also reasons to continue reading it. It provides light, joy, comfort, encouragement, encourages my faith, helps me fight sin, tells me more about God.

But for this post, rather than going into general reasons to read Scripture, I’m just going to list reasons to keep reading it once we’re fairly familiar with it.

There’s always more to learn. I’m sometimes surprised at things I seem to have overlooked in previous readings. For instance, Michele recently wrote about Paul’s admonition to “come together for the better.” How had I never noticed that phrase, “for the better” before?

I notice different things each time. As with Little Women or Mere Christianity, each time I read through the Bible, I build on previous readings and have weathered different life experiences to perceive things I didn’t before.

I need to keep eating. The Bible is often compared to food. Physically, if I didn’t eat, I might last for a while on the strength of what I have eaten in the past. But at some point I am going to weaken severely if I don’t take in new food. I need to keep partaking spiritually as well. Hebrews 5:12-15 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 talk about progressing from “milk” to “meat” spiritually as we mature.

I need to be reminded. God often told His people to remember what He had told them—and they all too often forgot. As the old song says, we’re “prone to wander.” Peter says in his writing “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).

God says to meditate on His Word day and night in Psalm 1, Joshua 1, and many other places. To meditate on it—to keep turning it over in my mind—I need to keep reading it because (see above) I forget.

Anticipation. When we reread a favorite book or rewatch a favorite movie, we look forward to our favorite parts all over again, even though we know what’s coming.

Relationships thrive on communication. We are often told that Christianity is not just a list of rules, but it’s a relationship with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). My husband and I have been married for 42 years. We know each other’s opinions on many things, and we know what the other will say in some circumstances. But we’re not bored with each other, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about. Similarly, I don’t get tired of hearing what my heavenly Father has to say.

Recalibration. My husband uses microscopes both in his work and as a hobby. Every now and then, his microscope has to be readjusted. It hasn’t gotten totally out of whack, but continued use, gravity, dust and other things affect its function. It has to be fine-tuned in order to work correctly. The same could be said for cars, pianos, guitars, and other things. As I wrestle with the flesh and am exposed to a range of ideas in the world, I need to fine-tune my thinking regularly and line it up with God’s.

The Bible meets my needs. The Bible says it gives enlightenment, joy, comfort, guidance, and so much more. I don’t know how many times I’ve been thinking or praying about something just before I open my Bible to read, and then I find the very thing I was thinking about in my scheduled reading for the day.

I need to be filled up in order to pour out. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we compare the passage about being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we find many parallels. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to enable us to minister to others.

God’s Word enables me to do His will. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). I remember marveling the first time I “discovered” this verse. All things that pertain to life and godliness–through the knowledge of Him–by His great and precious promises.

I still need to change. I haven’t “arrived.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed to be more like Christ as we behold Him. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” I still need to behold Him every day. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). I still need to hear truth to be sanctified. I still need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Reading the Bible is still necessary. In the famous Mary and Martha story, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion [sitting at Jesus’ feet to hear and learn from Him], which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4).

God wants me to continue in it. Paul told Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). I still need all those things the Bible is profitable for.

I need God’s Word to flourish. Psalm 1 says the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night is like a tree planted right by the water, a continual source of nourishment and refreshment. That tree “yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (verse 3). I want to be like that.

I love God’s Word. “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” Psalm 119:47-48).

I’ll admit, every day’s reading isn’t thrilling (I’m in Chronicles right now). But even though every “meal” in the Bible isn’t a Thanksgiving feast, it all nourishes me. Most days, God gives me something to take with me through the day.

If I do find myself feeling like I’m in a rut, reading from a different translation helps jolt me out of familiar wording. I had not used a study Bible until the last few years, and the notes and observations helped me glean more from a passage than I did on my own.

When I first started reading the Bible as a teenager, I felt it was my lifeline. I still do. I can’t imagine not reading it regularly any more, it has become so much a part of my life.

How about you? Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Do you have other reasons I didn’t mention?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Our Responsibility to Discern False Teaching

A prophet of God sat under an oak, taking a rest from his long journey. He had come from Judah to Bethel to deliver to King Jeroboam a harsh but needed message.

God had told this prophet not to eat bread or drink water while on this mission, and to return by a different way than he had come. Perhaps the man of God thought these directives were to protect him from the possible diversion by the king, who offered him refreshment and a reward. Or they were to keep him from appearing to show any sign of compromise, as a meal together would indicate friendship and fellowship. Or he might have felt they were a form of fasting, symbolic of his dedication in doing God’s work.

Maybe he should have interpreted them as, “Don’t linger. Do your business and get back as soon as possible.”

As he rested, an older man rode up to him on a donkey, identifying himself as a prophet of God as well. Prophet 2 (let’s call him Henry to avoid confusing pronouns) invited Prophet 1 (George, let’s say) home for a meal. George repeated what he had told the king: he had been told not to eat bread or drink water in that place.

But Henry assured George it was all right. “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’”

George didn’t think he had a reason to distrust Henry: he was a fellow prophet after all. And George was probably tired, hungry, and thirsty. So he accompanied Henry back to his house.

But Henry had been lying.

“As they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread and drink no water,’ your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”

There’s no record of George’s response. But on his way home, a lion killed him. George’s body was thrown from his donkey, but the lion didn’t eat either George or the donkey. The animals just waited with the body until townspeople passed by and brought word back to the city about what had happened. Henry heard the news and rode back to pick up George, then brought him home to bury in his own tomb.

This is one of the oddest stories in the Bible (1 Kings 13). One of the first questions that comes to mind is, “Why did the second prophet lie to the first?” What earthly reason could he have had? The Bible doesn’t tell us. He didn’t hate the first prophet: he mourned him, called him brother, and confirmed his prophecy to Jeroboam. He even asked to be buried next to him when he died.

We have to remember this is not an isolated story just thrown into the narrative of Israel’s kings. This incident took place within the bigger context of Jeroboam’s awful sins of making golden calves for Israel to worship and setting up a whole different system than what God had given Israel. Perhaps this story is an OT illustration of the NT verse in 1 Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” If God would discipline his own prophet who had disobeyed a simple directive, what would He do to the likes of Jeroboam? Perhaps this story was confirmation that God would deal with Jeroboam as the prophet had said.

There are several truths and applications that could be gleaned from this passage. But the one I want to hone in on is this: Know God’s Word. Obey it. Don’t let the surrounding culture turn you away from it. Don’t let even other professing believers distract you from it.

That’s not to say we never ask counsel or receive advice. The Bible tells us to do both. The fellowship of other believers, Bible study books, commentaries, and other aids can open our understanding and point out things we missed.

But we’re to know God’s Word for ourselves so we can discern when someone is telling us something different.

False prophets don’t always look or sound like false prophets at first. They are “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul said in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

Much of the OT warns against false prophets. In one place, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD'” (Jeremiah 23:16).

The NT warns of false prophets and teachers as well. In her book Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity, Alisa Childers writes: “Much of the New Testament, including the entire book of Jude, is dedicated to helping Christians watch out for, recognize, and avoid these sheep-clothed wolves. In researching some of these passages, I discovered that the topic of false teachers and false teaching is addressed directly in twenty-two of twenty-seven New Testament books. Encouragement to keep the true faith and to practice discernment is mentioned in every single one.”

The Bible warns that false teachers will not only come in from the outside, but they’ll arise from within the congregation. In Paul’s farewell message to the elders at Ephesus, he warned, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert,” (Acts 20:29-31a). Peter warned about false teachers arising “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1-3). This was what happened to Alisa Childers, whose book I mentioned. Her own trusted pastor began undermining longstanding doctrines of the faith.

The Bible gives us the responsibility to watch out for false doctrine. I’ve already mentioned Paul’s admonition to “be alert” in Acts 20:31. Jesus began warnings about false teachers with the word “Beware.” Paul says elsewhere, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

I don’t think this means we need to become unduly suspicious of one another. But we study the Word of God and check whatever we’re taught against it. The Bereans in Acts were called noble because they did this with Paul’s teaching. Alisa followed their example and searched for the truth, nailing down why she believed what she did.

After Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders, he said, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When he wrote to the Ephesians later, he said God had given the church gifts in “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

So while we don’t need to get paranoid, we do need to be alert. And we remember that we don’t come to the Bible just for affirmation or comfort or warm fuzzies. We come to it to find truth about and from God. We study God’s Word for ourselves and with others, and as we grow in spiritual maturity, we won’t be deceived and tossed about.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Your Soul Needs Food Even When It Doesn’t Want It

Your Soul needs food even when it doesn't want it

You’re sick. Your sinuses are inflamed, your throat is raw, your nose is red, drippy, and chafing. You have a fever and ache all over. And you don’t feel like eating.

But you do eat. Nothing sounds good (except maybe the proverbial remedy for a cold, chicken soup). But you eat because your body needs it. And the very food you don’t have an appetite for not only nourishes you, but helps your body fight infection and get well.

The same is true spiritually. When something is wrong in our lives—someone has hurt us, we’ve given way to some sin, we don’t feel we fit in at church, maybe we’re even a little malnourished from lack of time at church or in the Bible—we tend to put God’s Word aside. Our appetite for it has waned.

But we need the Bible now more than ever. We may not be able to keep up with our usual routine or an intense study. But we need to keep sipping and tasting. We might spend more time in the Psalms or the gospels than some of the other books. We might listen instead of read.

And the very Word we don’t have an appetite for not only nourishes us, but helps us heal. It will strengthen us and help us fight spiritual infection.

So when your appetite for the Word of God is off, keep partaking. Your soul needs it. You may not feel instant refreshment. It may seem a little dry. But ask God to open “the eyes of your heart” and minister to you.

Often a subdued appetite can be aroused by tasting food. It didn’t sound good, but once we had a few bites, we wanted more. We may feel like reading the Bible is the last thing we want to do. But it’s been my experience, many times over, that once I start reading it, I want more.

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways (Psalm 119:36-37).

They loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

(Psalm 107:18-22)

Jeremiah 15:16 Partaking of God's Word

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

14 Reasons to Read the Old Testament

It’s safe to say most of us gravitate to the New Testament of the Bible. We enjoy the Old Testament stories, the practical wisdom of Proverbs, the emotional depth of the Psalms.

But Jesus fulfilled all the OT ceremonial law and the sacrificial requirements, so we’re not under obligation to practice those any more. And all that past history is . . .well. . . .past. The NT seems more practical.

So why bother to read the OT?

Well, there are several good reasons.

1. The whole Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). One of our former pastors used to say the Bible is divinely brief. Think of all the things an eternal God knows and could tell us. He chose the particular words in the Bible for specific reasons.

2. The whole Bible is beneficial. 2 Timothy goes on to say all Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work” (3:16b-17, NASB).

3. The OT provides examples for us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NASB). The context of these verses talks about various things OT Israel did wrong. Then the passage warns the reader, “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (verse 12).

4. The OT helps us appreciate what we have in Christ. Our  church recently studied Leviticus.

The tabernacle and temple system emphasized the distance between us and God. Only the priests could enter and only with the right sacrifices conducted the right way. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was supernaturally torn in two, indicating the way to God was now open.

Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh.” Because He made a way for us and is our high priest, we’re encouraged to

  • approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith
  • hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering
  • consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds (verses 21-25).

5. The OT emphasizes holiness. A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. He asked his students to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One replied that the assignment had him evaluating everything in his life related to holiness all the time. The NT requires holiness, too. But we don’t often examine every area of our lives to see whether we measure up to God’s holy standards as they were required to in the OT. We’re free from the strictures of the OT ceremonial law, but we still need to submit our conscience and practice to God’s Holy Spirit.

6. The NT quotes or alludes to the OT over 880 times. The NT would not make sense without the OT foundation. [1]

7. Jesus quoted and believed in the Old Testament. Jesus told the Jews who opposed Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39, ESV). The Scriptures He referred to were the Old Testament writings. Many times He said, “Have you not read…?” and quoted something from the Old Testament, meaning that He expected them to know what it taught.

After His resurrection, when He walked along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).

8. The OT instructs us and gives us hope. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When we realize we are not that different from the complaining, disbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, we have hope that God will be faithful and longsuffering with us as He was with them. When we read of God helping His people through various trials and troubles in the Bible, we’re encouraged that He will take care of us as well.

9. The OT and NT tell us about the same God. Some have felt that the OT presents an angry, vengeful God while the NT shows us a merciful, loving God. But they are one and the same. God shows His grace and mercy and love to His people many times in the OT, even when they behaved the worst. And many places in the NT warn of God’s wrath against sin.

10. The Old Testament shows us our need and prepares us for the only One who can meet it. The laws and sacrificial system showed Israel the impossibility of keeping God’s law and the need for a Savior. The law was our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24, KJV). The sinless lamb of the sacrifices points to the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The OT sacrifices had to be repeated, but Jesus’s offering took care of our sins forever (Hebrews 10:14).

11. The Old Testament points to Christ, from the representation of the scapegoat, to the atonement, to Messianic prophecies. A former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, used to say that the Old Testament showed Israel’s need for a judge, a prophet, and a king. But even the best judges, prophets, and kings fell short. Jesus fulfills all those offices perfectly.

12. The Old Testament is part of our spiritual heritage. Romans 11:11-31 tells us we were grafted into the olive tree of the Jews.  The true Israel is by faith, not just lineage. Galatians 3:29 and Romans 9:6-8 say that those in Christ are children of Abraham:

Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9, NKJV).

13. The Old and New Testaments form a whole, with each part of the same overarching story. L. E. Maxwell, cofounder and eventual president of the Prairie Bible Institute, said in his book Crowded to Christ, “The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New.” [2]

14. There are treasures in the OT. If you skipped the OT, you’d miss some of the greatest treasures of the Bible, like these:

Zephaniah 3:17: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Isaiah 30:15a: For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

If the OT seemed dry or hard to understand in the past, a good study Bible helps. You can find a variety of sizes and types of commentaries and other study aids. This past year I have used Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” commentaries on different books of the Bible. They often show up on Kindle sales. They’re detailed enough to give insights, yet simple enough to understand.

If you’ve been avoiding the OT, I encourage you to read and study  it. You’ll find rich, meaningful treasure there.


[1] “O.T. Quotations Found in the N.T. – Study Resources.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 15 Jun, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm&gt;.

[2] L. E. Maxwell, Crowded to Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 272.

Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the ESV.

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Hungry for God, Starving for Time

Lori Hatcher has to have one of the best titles ever in her book Hungry for God . . . Starving for Time.

Most of us can identify with what Lori says in her introduction: we don’t always have an hour to spend in the Bible, but “even when we can’t sit down to a five-course feast, even a quick nibble from God’s Word can nourish and sustain us” (p.16).

The devotions in this book each begin with a question to ask God, results of Lori’s own search for answers in the Bible since her early life as a Christian. The responses are designed to take about five minutes to read. They include experiences from Lori’s life and applicable insights from God’s Word.

Some entries are heavier: “The Day the Car Caught Fire” and “When This Sad, Sick World gets You Down.” Some are whimsical: “Bad Hair Days and the Kingdom of God,” “Sometimes I Wake Up Grumpy,” and “Caesar, the 115-Pound Lap Dog.”

One of my favorite chapters was “Distressed or Damaged?” Lori and her daughter were furniture shopping when Lori was amazed at the asking price for a chest of drawers with “dinks, scuffs, and chipped paint.” Her daughter explained that “distressed” furniture was considered highly valuable. Another piece, though, was actually damaged rather than distressed. Lori talks about how we can be distressed–shiny finish worn off, chipped surfaces as a result of encountering life. After discussing a few verses about God’s healing and help, Lori concludes: “God’s care reminds us that distressed and damaged is not discarded and defeated. Perhaps the designers have it right—distressed can be beautiful.” (p. 48).

If you’re eating on the run, it’s important to eat something substantial and healthy. Lori’s devotions are like a spiritual protein bar.

Lori’s not advocating that we never spend more than five minutes a day in the Bible. But on those days when we hardly have time to sit down, we can still have meaningful time in God’s Word.

In my case, our church is reading through Numbers. The book of Numbers has some dramatic moments, but it also has some dryer portions. Most of its chapters are fairly short as well. I enjoyed finishing my devotional time with a section from Lori’s book.

I had heard Lori speak at two of the writer’s conferences I attended, so I was sure I would enjoy her book. You can find her also at her blog, also named Hungry for God, Starving for Time, and her Facebook group by the same name.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)