My Journey with the Bible

My journey with the BibleI never heard Handel’s Messiah until I was in high school.

I had not grown up listening to either classical or religious music. (I grew up hearing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties). So while I was impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Handel’s oratorio, I can’t say I got much out of it. It was like drinking from the proverbial fire hydrant.

But my college performed selections from the Messiah frequently. And the church we attended the first fourteen years we were married did the same. I even got to be in the choir at church some of those years, so I learned the songs in more detail. Plus, I had become a Christian in later high school, so I could understand more of the spiritual significance and message of the piece.

When I learned that The Messiah had been composed during the Baroque era, with its “excessive ornamentation or complexity,” I understood why it was written the way it was.

As a result of hearing The Messiah over and over, becoming more familiar with it, learning more about it, and growing in the Lord, I came to love this piece of music. I anticipated each section just like I would rereading a favorite book or rewatching a favorite movie.

And then, just from growing familiarity with the music, I began to notice details. For instance, I had always thoughts of Isaiah 53:6 as somber and sad: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him   the iniquity of us all.” But the tune Handel put to this verse seemed almost jaunty to me at first. Then one day I noticed the notes on the word “astray” were going astray.

Further into that piece, on “We have turned,” the notes are turning over and over.

Isaiah 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” In the song based on this passage, the notes on the word “crooked” go up and down—they would look crooked on the sheet music. And the melody on “straight” and “plain” is mostly straight. The notes on “exalted” go up.

The melodies illustrate the words! And I had listened to and sung this I don’t know how many times before that clicked. In fact, I just caught “exalted” going up watching this video.

In many ways, my journey with the Bible parallels my journey with this piece of music.

I had attended church occasionally growing up. I knew some basic Bible truths and narratives. But I didn’t start reading the Bible myself until high school. The church I started attending when I was sixteen strongly encouraged its people to read the Bible through in a year. So I did.

And it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

But I am so thankful for that emphasis at the outset of my Christian life. That grounded me more than anything else and set me off with good habits.

I didn’t understand everything I read. Similarly, in church, I couldn’t have told you the main points of the sermon afterward. But I got enough to chew on and to nourish me. The Bible speaks of those young in the faith as taking in milk from the Word. So I took in and digested what I could, and my life was changed.

When I got to something I didn’t understand, I’d just keep going.For instance, Psalm 60:4-5 says:

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

And I would think, “Wow, that’s good!” Then the next few verses listed a bunch of names I didn’t know. And then I came to verse 8: “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.”

And I thought, “Huh?”

And then I’d keep going to verses 11 and 12: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” And I’d think, “Wow, so good!”

I don’t know if that’s the best way for a new Christian to go about Bible reading. But no one had told me what to do about the parts I didn’t understand. I had never heard of study Bibles in those days. Still, the Lord met me in those times with His Word.

And as I kept reading in the 40+ years since (though not through the whole Bible in a year any more), I understood more and more. I saw how individual verses and books fit within the whole. I know what Moab and Edom and Philistia are now. There are parts that are as familiar as any favorite, much-read book. There are parts holding dear memories of God giving me just the right words in an hour of need. I anticipate what’s coming next in a passage. But I am still learning new things even from old, familiar stories and chapters.

So, why am I telling you this today?

I want to encourage you to get into a habit of reading your Bible, if you’re not already doing so.

And I want to encourage you to read all of it. Maybe not in a year. There are two-year plans and five-year plans and almost any kind of plan you could think of. But if we just keep turning to our old favorite passages, we’ll miss so much.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much you don’t understand, I want to encourage you to keep reading. You’ll “get” more and more of it the more you read it. Someone has said that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in. God can speak to you and minister to you even if you don’t understand every little thing in the passage. In fact, we’ll never exhaust the Bible in this lifetime.

The Bible says to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2-3), and then to go on to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) as we “ mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-13).

But even more than spiritual food, the Bible provides spiritual fellowship. We don’t read the Bible as an end in itself, but to get to know God better. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to us. From the time God’s words were first written all the way through until the end of time, God expected His people to read and follow it.

God’s thoughts are precious to us. The Bible bears witness about Christ, increases our faith, guides us, teaches, improves, corrects, trains us in righteousness, equips us, builds us up, gives us hope and comfort, helps us avoid sin, makes us stable and fruitful, gives us life, understanding, joy, hope, wisdom and discretion.

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).

What a treasure trove we have in the Bible! May we partake of it every day.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).

Taking in and rejoicing in God's WordSee also:

Finding Time to Read the Bible

Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

Real Life Devotions

Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Home, Global Blogging, Senior Salon,
Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth,
Blogger Voices Network. Links do not imply 100% agreement.)

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Here are some of the thought-provoking reads I’ve found over the last couple of weeks:.

Choosing Our Battles Biblically. “This is a time for careful, clear thinking, and not for fed up emotional responses.”

Why You Should Never Take the Mass, HT to Challies.

How to Root Out Apathy with the Power of Habit, HT to Challies. “Practicing spiritual disciplines may feel like work at first. Establishing new habits always presses against our apathy in uncomfortable ways. But one day your heart will catch up to the regimen. One day you’ll look back and see growth.”

When Cancel Culture Comes to Newsrooms, HT to Challies. “We’re cowering under the sick mutation of Andy Warhol’s famed prediction—soon everyone will be canceled for 15 minutes. It’s one thing for cowardly corporations to choose the path of least resistance. But it’s a fresh horror when members of the only profession the Bill of Rights mentions shuck off their solemn responsibility to champion free speech and instead serve silence.”

Why Some Christian Leaders Don’t Post About Current Events on Social Media, HT to Challies. “Our culture appreciates ‘Hot Takes,’ but the Bible values takes that are truthful, thoughtful, helpful, and edifying, all of which cannot happen when you’re not slow to speak (James 1:19).”

Pastors on Social Media, HT to Challies. Though this is written to pastors, the advice is good for us all. Especially the guidelines suggested.

How to View Claims About Dreams and Visions, HT to Challies. “Some seek dreams, visions, and other mystical experiences constantly yet don’t even know their Bible. Others dismiss every supernatural claim and prefer rationalism at all costs; unwilling to even accept any possibility that supernatural experiences could either be demonic or that God could providentially use a very normal dream to move someone into realistic action once they wake up.”

Cheap Knockoffs, HT to Challies. When Christian ideals mix with a pagan worldview, they turn into counterfeits of truth.

Five Lessons I Learned From a COVID-19 Spike at Our Church, HT to Challies. “I’m convinced that one of the reasons the virus hasn’t spread faster and farther is that we have been following procedures designed to isolate sick people and keep everyone else socially distanced. At the same time, we had gotten comfortable, and on a few occasions we were a little lax in those policies. We can trace almost all of the infections back to one of those times.”

4 Reasons to Wear a Mask, Even If You Hate It, HT to Challies. I agree, the science is contradictory. I’ve seen people on both sides of the issue posting opposing data. But these are good reasons to wear one.

Learning From History and Sharing Hospitality. Loved this.

Happy Independence Day!

God's truth will set you free

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Here are some thought-provoking reads discovered recently:

How Should Christians Respond to Racism? HT to Challies. “We have so confused Christianity with politics that people often assume Christian equals the stuff political conservatives identify with and non-Christian equals the stuff progressives talk about. And since racial justice often tends to be at the forefront of the discussion in politically progressive circles, we shy away from them because we think that to discuss the evil of racism is to identify with the liberal left. But here’s the thing. When we call out the evil of racism, we’re identifying with the word of Almighty God.” (Update: I removed the link to this one because evidently it was taken down from the Core Christianity site. The quote is included in the show notes of this podcast of the same title.  Perhaps what I originally saw was the transcript that was later taken down. That’s too bad—it was a good article. Probably a lot of people who would have read the article would not take the time to listen to a podcast.)

Three Thoughts on Current Events.

Three Tips on Teaching Your Children about Racism, HT to The Story Warren. “Parenting is hard, but learning how to parent as a white mom to black, white, and biracial children and discuss racial issues with them has been quite the journey. They are not naïve to the realities of living in a broken society.”

Canceled: How the Eastern Honor-Shame Mentality Traveled West, HT to Challies. “Today’s cancel culture is the 21st-century Western version of the Eastern honor-shame paradigm.”

How to Walk with Jesus When Your Kids Are Little. This is one of the hardest times to have any time with God. But it doesn’t have to be quiet, solitary, or lengthy.

How to Care for Your Pastor, Part 6: Rewarding. I’ve known people who didn’t believe pastors should be paid by the church, or at least supported full time by the church. But that’s not Biblical, as Dan Olinger shows in this sixth post in a series on caring for one’s pastor.

What It’s Like to Get Doxed for Taking a Bike Ride. This is scary. A man was misidentified as someone who was racist and assaulted someone. The Twitter mob turned on him, threatening him, with someone even publishing his address. “We must align in the fight for justice and equality — but not at the cost of due process and the right to privacy and safety.”

This is an engaging video explaining the concept of peace, or shalom in Hebrew. As often as I have heard this word, I don’t think I have heard it explained this way. HT to The Story Warren.

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A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

How to Be Refreshed by Opening Your Bible.

It’s Time to Conquer that Midyear Bible Reading Slump. What a great idea to revisit the plans we made for Bible reading back in January. Michele suggests several great resources.

A Statement About Statements, HT to Challies. I appreciate the difficulty of being expected to come up with a statement on issues while still processing them.

We Need Rainy Times, HT to Challies. “We all love the sunshine, but the Arabs have a proverb that ‘all sunshine makes the desert.'”

I Know a Place, of justice, righteousness, mercy, grace, and more. HT to Challies.

Dear Worthless Cockroach, HT to Challies. “Is there anything about me (as myself, as the person I am apart from God’s saving grace) that is actually worthwhile or lovable? Am I just a worthless, sinful cockroach that God has chosen to love? And if so, am I wrong to feel bad or uneasy about this? To feel (as I sometimes do) that underneath everything, I really am pretty worthless and unlovable?”

The Exchange of Pleasures, HT to Challies. “Achieving a fitness goal and killing sin both happens through the exchange of pleasures.”

Pluckers. Proverbs 14:1 in the KJV says, “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” I enjoyed this post about ways we might unwittingly be “pluckers.”

A Cake on the Back Seat, HT to to Challies. “Dear sister, don’t underestimate your voice, especially when many others do. In speaking wisdom to us, reminding us of cakes being carried on back seats, you carry with you the spirit of Abigail as she rode out in 1 Samuel 25.”

Ten Questions Missionaries Love to Answer, HT to to Challies.

From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks of 14 Summer Activities, HT to Lisa.

Giant List of Indoor Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren. With playgrounds and restaurants closed and play dates off the calendar, this is good if you need some fresh ideas for the kids.

The Elisabeth Elliot.org site has gotten a complete overhaul in order to put the writings of Elisabeth, Jim Elliot, and their daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard all under one “roof.” I miss “Ramblings from the Cove” that Elisabeth’s third husband, Lars, used to write, and I hope they include a word from him sometimes.

And finally, this was pretty clever. HT to Steve Laube.

Happy Saturday!

Real Life Prayer

IMG_2234 ?ver2A couple of weeks ago I wrote about #RealLifeDevotions, which often look different from Instagram-worthy ideals. That post focused on Bible reading, but the other half devotions, or quiet time, or “God and I” time, or whatever we want to call the time we meet with the Lord, is prayer. Just like Bible reading, we often neglect to pray until we can set aside a certain amount of time or set up prayer time the way we think is ideal.

Like Bible reading, my prayer time has varied through different seasons of life. For a while I had a regimented system of what to pray for on certain days. Another season, I used the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (requests). That seemed a little artificial (who else do we talk to in acronyms?), but it did help me to include other elements besides requests. When my children were young, I prayed while rocking or nursing or falling asleep.

I used to think I hadn’t officially prayed for something unless I brought it before God during devotional time. But then I reasoned that real life conversations aren’t crammed into one 10-15 minute segment of the day. We speak to those closest to us throughout the day as well as setting aside special times to talk.

The Bible is the best textbook on prayer. God gives us instruction about prayer, more than can be included in one blog post (avoid vain repetitions, empty phrases, praying for “show,” ask in faith, confessing known sin, etc.).

Not only does God give us specific instructions about prayer, but He also gives us examples of how and when people prayed and what they prayed for.

Prayer isn’t a ritual: it’s a conversation with God. Like any other relationship, we need one-on-one time, with everything else set aside. Daniel had set times to pray. Jesus’ life on earth was incredibly busy, but He got up early in the morning to be alone with His Father or prayed through the night. His prayer time was interrupted, just as ours sometimes is.

But Jesus and others Bible people also prayed “in the moment.” One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is Nehemiah’s quick appeal sent up to God right after the king asked him a question. So I began praying for a need as soon as I heard it, or thanking God for something just as it happened, or asking for wisdom, forgiveness, guidance, strength, etc., all through the day.

The psalms give us examples all over the spectrum, from the highest praise to the deepest lament. The epistles share some of the deepest prayer requests I’ve seen. For a long time, I had a sheet of Paul’s prayers typed out and tucked in my Bible, and I would pray through them for myself and loved ones. One of my favorites is Colossians 1:9-12:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We’re not restricted to Biblical language, but Biblical prayers help us know we’re praying God’s will. But, really, we can turn almost any Scripture into prayer. We can ask God to help us heed the warning we’ve read, obey the command, trust in the promise, etc.

Usually I speak to God off the top of my head with whatever I’m thinking or concerned about at the moment. But sometimes I feel the need of structure to corral my wandering thoughts. The acronym mentioned above helps, but often I like to use what we call “the Lord’s prayer” in Matthew 6 as a basis. I first saw this idea in a book by Anne Ortland. It might go something like this.

Our Father

Thank you for being my Father. Thank you for drawing me to yourself and making me your child. Thank you for your tender love and care for me.

Which art in heaven

I’m grateful that You are not just my father, but my heavenly Father. You are all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful.

Hallowed be thy name.

Help me to honor your name in everything I say and think and do. May the nations come to know you and consecrate your name.

Thy kingdom come

I look forward to the day when your kingdom comes, when sin is done away, when all wrongs will be made right.

Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Help me to know and do your will. Help me to trust, when the world seems so far from you, when circumstances seems most antithetical to your will, that you are working all things together for good behind the scenes. I pray that you would turn people’s hearts toward you, open their eyes, that they might clearly understand who you are and believe on you.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Thank you that you have always supplied all that I needed and much that I wanted. I ask and trust you for today’s needs.

And forgive us our debts

Please search my heart and show me anything I need to confess to you, anything I need to turn from or make right.

As we forgive our debtors.

Help me to remember I have no right to ask your forgiveness if I am not willing to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). Help me not to hold grudges or resentment, but to forgive as freely and fully as you have forgiven me.

And lead us not into temptation

You know what’s ahead today. You know my weaknesses. Please strengthen me and help me to remember your truth to combat the devil’s lies.

But deliver us from evil

I’m trusting you for protection, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Then there are times in life we just don’t have the words. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). A favorite from the OT that I love is when Jehoshaphat says, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” I’ve had to say something like that often.

The more we know what the Bible says about prayer, the more we can pray confidently, asking God to “do as you have spoken” (2 Samuel 7:25). “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

I saw a Twitter post once that spoke of “throwing the promises of God back in His face.” It’s good to base prayer on God’s promises, but not like this. Some have advocated storming heaven and demanding God answer a certain way. No, we approach Him in humility. That doesn’t mean we’re not honest or fervent. But we’re not belligerent or demanding. We don’t remind Him of His promises because He doesn’t remember them. He does. We plead them to be in accord with His will and to pray in faith.

You’ve heard the phrase “Prayer changes things.” Sometimes it does. More often, prayer changes us. Elisabeth Elliot once said, in answer to the question, “Does prayer work?”:

The answer to that depends on one’s definition of work. It is necessary to know what a thing is for in order to judge whether it works. It would be senseless, for example, to say that if a screwdriver fails to drive nails into a board it doesn’t “work.” A screwdriver works very well for driving screws. Often we expect to arrange things according to our whims by praying about them, and when the arrangement fails to materialize we conclude that prayer doesn’t work. God wants our willing cooperation in the bringing in of his kingdom. If “Thy kingdom come” is an honest prayer, we will seek to ask for whatever contributes to that end. What, after all is said and done, do you want above all? Is it “Thy will be done”? If so, leave it to Him.

Is it “My will be done”? Don’t waste your time and God’s by praying. Have it your way (A Lamp for My Feet).

Even knowing how beneficial prayer is, sometimes we just don’t feel like praying. A former pastor once said that one of his best times of prayer started out with confessing to the Lord that he didn’t want to pray. J. Sidlow Baxter has an almost amusing story of praying despite his emotions until they came along.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote of starting prayer time saying, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual,” but then finding help in the psalms and hymns.

The point of praying isn’t to have an Exhibit A of ideal form. It isn’t about impressing God. It’s about getting to know Him, growing in our love for Him and likeness to Him. The more we read His Word, the more we talk to Him, the more natural and effectual prayer will be.

Has your prayer life changed through the years? Has prayer been a struggle? What has helped you learn to pray?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire,
Blogger Voices Network. Links do not imply 100% agreement.)

Real Life Devotions

I’m sure you’ve seen Facebook or Instagram photos of ideal quiet times with the Lord. A beach at sunrise. A sunny deck and a glass of lemonade. A comfy chair, throw blanket, and steaming mug of coffee. A reading plan tidily checked off.

I admit I like having a plan and a routine. And there’s nothing wrong with those kinds of inspirational photos. It’s lovely when the setting comes together beautifully with devotional time. Maybe those pictures document the settings specifically  because they are so rare.

But I think sometimes we set ourselves up for failure because we don’t reach that ideal. When we struggle to stay awake, when we can’t find a quiet minute in the day, when the kids clamor for attention any time we sit down, when we hit the ground running with meetings all day and our attention span is shredded at night … what then? We often give up on our quiet time because it won’t look like we think it shoud.

But Bible reading isn’t just a nice thing to do when we can fit it in, when we can do all the things we think a quiet time requires. It’s vital to our walk with God. It’s our spiritual nourishment. We have our flesh and an enemy of our souls to fight against.

I’ve written before about finding time for Bible reading, so I won’t go into all that here. I just want to encourage you that real life devotions won’t always look ideal. God can speak to my heart in my comfy chair with a half hour set aside. But He can also speak through His Word (and has) when I am tired, rushed, ill, nursing a baby, traveling, or only have a few scattered minutes through the day.

With that in mind, I started a hashtag on Instragram and Twitter for #reallifedevotions. The idea was to show what real Bible reading time “in the trenches” was like.

Here’s my usual spot:

I used to be the comfy couch and throw blanket person, but then I too easily dozed off. So I moved here. My desk is cluttered, my inbox is stuffed, there’s a sprinkling of dust. My drawer is hanging open for easy access to pens, pencils, and sticky tabs. I do believe in dusting and straightening. 🙂 But if I waited to get everything else done before I read my Bible, well, I’d never get to it.

This is my second real life devotions photo:

I used to journal quite a bit, but then it seemed like I was spending more time writing my thoughts rather than reading God’s. For years I didn’t write anything. I guess some of my blog posts are processing what I have read. But lately I’ve started almost a bullet journal, just jotting down a summary, sometimes just a sentence. Sometimes I’ll write more if I need to process something. I look back at what I have written at the end of my quite time for that day, but rarely after that. (DL stands for Daily Light on the Daily Path, a devotional book I first discovered in missionary biographies and have read for years.)

With my mix of printing and cursive, I don’t know if others could even read my notes. (My handwriting has never been good, and trying to take notes in college lecture classes made it worse.) But they’re not meant for others to read. These aren’t the literary quality of The Journals of Jim Elliot or David Brainerd’s diary.

Nor are my journal entries decorative. I love to see what artistic people do with their devotional jottings, like Karla Dornacher. They can probably whip up beautiful art in journals or Bible margins in no time. I know for many, this is a way to meditate on God’s Word. But for me, trying to be artistic would be a distraction, a frustration, and one more thing to do. Their way works for them; my way works for me.

All of that to say, don’t feel like you have to have a beautiful, artistic, calligraphic journal with a pretty cover to jot down notes from your Bible reading time. You don’t even have to write anything down at all. If you do, great!  If it’s lovely, wonderful! But if it’s merely functional, a way to remember or think through what you’ve read, that’s fine, no matter what it looks like.

This third photo is staged because this has not been my practice. It’s in memory of a neighbor from decades ago who had three little stairstep children in a row, all under the age of five. Her washing machine was in her kitchen, and she left her Bible on top of it to get a few minutes reading in as she could.

As I wrote in Encouragement for Mothers of Small Children, the time when my children were little was the most challenging to try to carve out any quiet time, much less to read the Bible in a coherent manner. Yet I suffered spiritually when I didn’t read. It’s important to both read and study the Bible, but some seasons, it’s hard to do either. When I truly only had a few moments, God met with me and fed my soul in that time.

Moses met with God on a mountain. Daniel met with God in captivity. David met with God in pasture while shepherding, in a cave while hiding from enemies, and in a palace. Jonah met with God in the belly of a whale. We can meet with God any time, anywhere.

How about you? What does your real life devotional time look like? How has it changed through the different seasons of life? What was your most unusual devotional setting?

(Sharing with Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
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Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon,
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A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

Women Wielding the Word.Such a good post by Sue on maintaining a habit of meeting with God in His Word. “I figure if I can’t give God five minutes anytime on any given day, I’m not taking Him and our relationship seriously.” ” We don’t worship the habit – that’s a rope on our necks instead of an anchor to our souls. God’s not interested in my checking off boxes in His name. I don’t worship the habit, but habits help me worship.

More and More, HT to Challies. I think many of us can identify with Glenna’s discouragement at not being more Christlike. “I’m beginning to think that when we’re most discouraged by our sin, God is working something good. The more we see it, the more He helps us to fight it.”

One Way to Build Your Trust Muscles, HT to Maree. “But if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your trust muscles for the days ahead, now might be a good time for you to start gathering up some stones from your past too.”

The Two Paths Out of Trials, HT to Challies.

The Right Response to the Old Testament Law. “Some struggle to understand how these laws reflect divine love and noble character. But this should not be surprising since we live at such a vast distance from that culture. If we want to see how the laws are just and fair and good, we need to study not only the laws, but also the context in which they were given”

Thankful for God’s Good Gift of Government. Our church has read through Ezekiel and Daniel in the past months, and one truth that comes through those books loud and clear is that God works behind, in, and through governments. That doesn’t mean they are always right. But he does call us to obey and honor them unless they contradict His commands.

5 common triggers for highly sensitive people, and 5 antidotes to help them survive social distancing by Anne Bogel, HT to Linda. This fits me to a “T” and was a good reminder. And a reassurance that I’m not the only one.

On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift, HT to Linda. “God has not called us to be easily fooled. Gullibility is not a Christian virtue.” “Spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness.”

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Tragedies of COVID-19, HT to the Story Warren.

The Worst Rebrand in the History of Orange Juice, HT to Challies. “Don’t let beautiful design distract from what’s important: Communicating the right information to your customer at the right time.” Yes! I hate when products undergo a major rebranding that’s artsy but doesn’t tell me what I need to know at first glance.

Of Stuck-ness and Sustaining Books. I loved this—partly because Pooh was a beloved character at our house, partly because of the scene Disney left out, and the comfort of “sustaining books” and kindness.

Mincaye Is Now With Jesus. Many of you are familiar with Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries who were speared to death by the tribe they were trying to reach in Ecuador in 1956. Their story has been dear to me since I first read Through Gates of Splendor in college, and I have read much about the men and the families since that time. Mincaye was one of the killers of the men who later came to the Lord and became a grandfather figure to Steve Saint’s kids. Mincaye just passed away this week. Steve Saint’s tribute to him is here.

Finally, I loved this attempt at a professional video with a toddler “helping,” especially the end. The comments are fun, too. I am not sure if the video will show up in Feedly or emails: if not, you might need to click through to see it.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

These are some online reads that gave me much to think on:

5 Bible Study Techniques for Busy Moms. “We make it so complicated sometimes with rules and regulations, but the most important thing about being in God’s Word is to just actually be in it.”

And on that note, 10 Ways to Engage With Scripture. “How do you engage with Scripture? Since the key to knowing God’s heart is through His Word, I pondered her question.”

Can My Calling Really Be That Simple? “It’s easy, especially in Christian circles, to get grandiose ideas of what calling looks like. It’s easy to look for people who make a big difference, give up everything, and have the numbers (or passport stamps) to prove it.”

Ten Exhortations Concerning Gossip Blogs and Online Speech, HT to Challies. I would add, don’t pass on tweets or posts that contain this kind of thing, and don’t share something with the thought, “I don’t know if this is true, but just in case…” Check it out first.

James 3:1 and the Trembling Teacher. If you’ve ever tried to teach a Sunday School class, lead a Bible study, speak (or even write) about spiritual things, you can likely identify with this post.

To the New Parent, HT to True Woman. “What a gift you have in your hands and really, the best is still ahead of you. There’s no ‘Just wait until…’ God’s grace will equip you for each new season, even if his grace simply equips you to fall to your knees.”

This Is Your Body Today, HT to Challies. “What does it mean to bear on our bodies the marks of living in this world, to experience all that life and God will give and throw at us, and to not blame the sleeplessness or stretch marks on being a mother—or to find pride in them either because they birthed live children? To not blame the creaks and groans on laziness or lack or time. To not see ourselves as a victim of some perverse injustice, but to simply say to the body that holds us today and to the God who made it: ‘Thank you’ and also ‘This hurts’?”

Max Lucado’s Endorsement of Jen Hatmaker: What it Means and Why it Matters, HT to Challies. I don’t know much about either of these two people and have not read their stuff, but I agree with the principles discussed here. The same God who calls people to unity calls out those who preach something other than biblical truth.

Finally, I had not heard of the group 40 Fingers, but stumbled across this very pleasant video this morning:

Happy Saturday!

Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

When I first became a Christian, the church I was in urged people to read the Bible through in a year. I’m so glad, because I believe that grounded me in my faith more than anything else.

In later years, pastors often emphasized the need to read passages of the Bible in context and encouraged to read a book of the Bible through at a time rather than scattering our reading all around. I mentioned last week Drew Hunter‘s quote that we wouldn’t read only page two of a friend’s three-page letter. Nor would we read a paragraph on page three and a line on page one. The Bible isn’t a book of random quotations. Each book is a coherent whole, and all together they present a unified message.

Reading the whole Bible helped me keep things in context and see the grand themes of the Bible. It helped me get into books like Leviticus and Chronicles, which I probably would not have drifted into. I found some nuggets there I would have missed. Reading all of the Bible helps you interpret it, as some passages shed light on other passages.

Kelly Needham says:

Most Christians I talk to have never read the entirety of the Bible. They may read it frequently but only parts of it. But daily reading parts of the Bible doesn’t mean you know it any more than daily reading the first chapter of Moby Dick makes you an expert on the famous novel. Ignorance of the whole of God’s Word makes us easy targets in the war Satan has waged against God. Lies can slip through undetected like poison gas because we’re just not that familiar with the truth.

I still believe in reading the Bible through, but I don’t do it in a year any more. Sometimes I wanted to slow down, but felt I couldn’t or I’d fall behind schedule. Once one does fall behind, it’s hard to catch back up. So now I just go at my own pace. I don’t even know how long it takes me. Sometimes I read a couple of chapters a day. Other times I read more or less. I usually read the shorter epistles a few times through before moving on because they’re packed so full and go by so quickly.

I’ve seen some two-year or other plans. John O’Malley said in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles, “If it takes you five years to read through the Bible, you are not less of a Christian. Read it at a pace that you can comprehend it and receive something from it.”

Some folks I know have tried “binge-reading” the Bible occasionally. Joel Arnold says, “A pretty average reader can finish in 100 days by reading just 40 minutes a day.” My friend Kim once read the whole Bible in 90 days and shared her experience here.

Joel once read the whole Bible in a week, 10-12 hours a day. Afterward he noted:

The Bible is the most intertwined body of literature I’ve ever read. The books cite, quote, allude and echo each other constantly. It’s like a city, built up layer by layer, strata by strata, so that each later addition rests on every layer that came before … We don’t usually sense these relationships because we’ve forgotten 95% of the OT before we ever get to the New. But having it all out in front of your brain at once changes that completely. You find yourself flipping back and forth constantly between the testaments, jumping across thousands of years of history to study the same teachings and sometimes even the same phrases (Meditations from Binge-Reading the Bible).

Obviously no one can read 10-12 hours a day every week. But if we can use vacation time to binge watch a TV series, why not use it to read the whole Bible?

However, if we only read the Bible in great chunks, we miss something. We’re also told to study it, meditate on it, chew on it. Sometimes we need to slow down and spend more focused time on a smaller passage. Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!” Sometimes there’s nothing like honing in on one or a few verses for an extended amount of time.

Remember, the early churches did not have the entire Bible bound in one book for a long while. They had the Old Testament and gospels, but they would have spent a great deal of time on the one letter sent to their congregation and others as they came around.

I mentioned last week that Tim Challies said the larger blocks of reading were for familiarity, and reading for intimacy was slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study). I likened the two styles to a panoramic or macro lens. Or we could simply call them reading and studying.

I wrote a few years ago about finding time to read the Bible. Some seasons allow for both reading and studying, and it’s great to do both each day if you can. With the friend’s letter I mentioned earlier, we usually read the whole thing once or twice and then go back over it section by section. That’s good to do with a Bible passage as well. But it’s hard enough some days to get a few minutes to read the Bible at all. How can we possibly employ both reading and studying?

Here are some ideas:

Take turns. Often after I’ve finished a book of the Bible, I’ve taken a break to do a shorter study. Then I go back to the next book of the Bible.

Alternate days. Use a few days of the week for general reading, the others for more focused study.

Do the opposite of your church. For several years we were under a pastor who took a very detailed, thorough approach to preaching through a book of the Bible at a time. It took us years to get through Romans. But that was great, because then we knew it well. Since the preaching I heard was the in-depth, verse or two at a time style, my personal reading was more general. By contrast, when in other churches where the preaching covered more ground, I liked to do in-depth studies on my own.

Join a Bible study group. Bible studies tend to be slower and more focused (unless they’re topical), so I did in-depth study for the group and more general study on my own.

Adjust as needs arise. Once, chagrined and ashamed after an angry outburst, I set aside my regular Bible reading to look up and mediate on passages dealing with anger. That kind of thing has happened several times: an issue came up that I had to study out now.

Slow down and speed up as you feel led. In reading the Bible through, if I feel the need to put the breaks on in a certain passage and camp out for a while, I do so. Then I’ll pick up the pace for more general reading later.

There are going to be days when your regular routine flies out the window: illness, traveling, company, emergencies. God gives grace for those. I have a small devotional book called Daily Light on the Daily Path that is a few verses on a certain theme each day. Usually I use it to start my devotions, but some days that’s all I get to.

There are going to be seasons in life when finding time for quiet study is nearly impossible, like when young children are in the house. Just like we sometimes grab a protein bar instead of having a sit-down lunch, so our spiritual feeding sometimes has to be grab-and-go rather than a leisurely meal. When I truly only had time for a verse or two, God fed my soul with just those verses. Anything is better than nothing. One writer proposed a micronutrient Bible reading plan for those times.

We need to keep in mind the goal for reading the Bible isn’t just to get through it in a specified time. Instead, we read to learn it, learn from it, get to know God and His Word better.

Our current church has us read through a book of the Bible together. We’re asked to read five chapters of the Bible a week, one a day Monday-Friday with Saturdays to catch up. Then the preaching focuses on a short passage of a different book. Then we all learn a verse each month. So we incorporate the general overview reading, have a more in-depth study of a short passage, and spend a longer time meditating on one verse. That’s not a bad practice for one’s personal reading as well.

What ways have you find to incorporate both reading and studying the Bible? Do you tend toward one more than the other?

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You don’t have to choose a word for the year

If you read many blogs, you’ll find a lot of people writing about a word they’ve chosen for the year. I don’t know how long this has been a thing, but I’ve been reading about it for several years now.

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 them or impressed on them by God. They often plan their Bible study around their word.

Many share that this emphasis has been a great blessing to them. Some have been amazed at how God intersects their study and circumstances around their word. Some, like my friend Lisa, purposefully read several books involving their word over the course of a year. Others, like Crystal, plan activities to incorporate their word.

But 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 soon-forgotten New Year’s resolution, it faded out of memory.

I just want to assure you of a few truths.

God never tells anyone in the Bible to choose a word, a theme, or even a verse for the year. That doesn’t mean the practice is wrong. It’s just one method of focus and 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 with the lighting they had in Bible times, they could only see a step or two ahead. God may well prepare you for something that only He knows is ahead through a word for the year. But often you don’t have that much notice. God’s guidance and provision is often moment by moment, day by day.

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

I’ve never felt led to choose a word for the year. I’ve often said that God usually has more to say to me than one word. And, to be fair, those who choose a word for the year don’t claim that’s the only thing God wants them to deal with. They do read other books and other parts of God’s Word as well.

A topical Bible study on a certain word or concept can be highly valuable. But we also need the daily reading of Bible passages in context. Drew Hunter says:

If you received a three-page letter from a distant friend, you wouldn’t just read page 2. You could spend all day “studying” that page, but until you read pages 1 and 3, you will not fully (or perhaps even rightly) understand your friend’s message.

The human authors of the Bible organized their books intentionally. So, we step back and think through the author’s flow of thought. Studying the Bible involves thinking paragraph-by-paragraph, section-by-section, and seeing how everything fits into the overall structure and flow of the book.

We need the panoramic lens to take in the beauty and wonder of the big picture of God’s Word. We also need the macro lens for close-ups, for camping out with a verse at a time and mining its truths. Tim Challies calls these reading for familiarity (reading longer passages in a sitting) or intimacy (slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages) and says we need both approaches. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study).

Choosing a word for the year shouldn’t replace contextual Bible study.

There are many who choose and study a word for the year and employ both these other methods of studying the Bible in context. That’s ideal. For some, the word for the year is their close-up, slowed-down study. That’s fine.

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.

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 every day.

Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught (Isaiah 50:4).

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.  (Jeremiah 15:16)

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