Four Questions to Ask When Studying the Bible

1. What does this passage mean?

2. What should I be thankful for?

3. Does this passage shine a light on any sin in my life?

4. How is the Holy Spirit leading me to pray after reading these verses?

Based on Martin’s Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray.

 

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Prayer of Jabez or Prayer of Paul?

I’m not a theologian. I didn’t go to Bible college and my Bible study is mostly personal reading, observing, comparing translations, etc. In other words: my blog posts are just my observations and thoughts and what I’m learning in my personal study.

In today’s #DailyBibleReading I read the “Prayer of Jabez”. This is my third time reading through the entire Bible, so I know I’ve read this paragraph before, but somehow I missed it.

‘There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.’ 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 

My first reaction: “Wow, what a fascinating paragraph in the middle of a chapter of chronology. I’d love to know more about this guy.”

Second reaction: “The prayer of Jabez sounds really familiar. Where have I heard about this before?”

So I googled “Prayer of Jabez”.

Whoa. I guess it is a somewhat controversial topic. It looks like there is a best-selling book, “The Prayer of Jabez” by Bruce Wilkinson. Per Amazon’s synopsis of the book: “Readers who commit to offering the same prayer on a regular basis will find themselves extravagantly blessed by God, and agents of His miraculous power, in everyday life.”

I’ve never read the book before so I can’t really speak to it, but there are a lot of posts criticising it. See here, here, and here for a few of the concerns.

My observations:

  1. Be careful what you read: There are a lot of people writing about the Bible, preaching, teaching, blogging, etc. (Me included.) Be careful of what you read. And make sure you are reading the Bible first and foremost. For everything you read or hear about the Bible go back to the Bible and make sure it is biblically based. Like I said a the beginning of the post, I’m not a theologian. And even if I was, that doesn’t mean everything I say is correct. And even if God is doing something in my life or leading me to do something, it doesn’t mean it is the same for everyone. We all have our OWN walk with Jesus.
  2. God doesn’t promise a life free from trouble: The prayer of Jabez and the snippet of his life is beautiful. But in today’s #BibleReadingPlan I also read about Paul who was also a man of prayer. Find some of his prayers here and here. Like Jabez, Paul was an honorable man who followed the Lord, but his life on earth was marked by pain, trouble, and prison:

    ‘A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.

    After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.’ Acts of the Apostles 24:24-27 

     

  3. Read the Bible: Over any biblical book, commentary, devotional, Bible study or blog, read the Bible. The more you spend time reading the Bible and becoming familiar with it, the easier it is for you to know what is biblically based teaching and what is false.
  4. Pray: I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray the Prayer of Jabez, but prayer is more than just reciting someone else’s prayer. Pray YOUR prayer. Be intimate with Jesus. Talk to Him. Plead with Him. Tell him the desires of your heart. Your fears, your doubts, your sins. Praise Him. Thank Him. Cry out to Him. Worship Him.

Along with reading the Bible and praying, trust God. Whether you have the life of Jabez or the life of Paul, God is in control. Follow Him. He doesn’t promise us a life free of pain here on earth, but he does promise heaven for those who put their faith in Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Who am I to the World?

I’ve just started a Bible study by A Fruitful Woman (check out her blog – she’s an awesome writer with a beautiful heart for Jesus), and assignment #1 is to journal my story. So I figured I’ll make a blog out of it and accomplish my blogging goal (which I am way behind on. Don’t read my post where I said I was going to post twice a week. I might need to change that to twice a month!)

So . . . here is my story.

I grew up in a conservative, “Christian” home in middle America. I fluctuated between being homeschooled and attending Christian schools, we didn’t have a TV, we listened to Christian music. We went to a very legalistic church. I had prayed the “salvation prayer” a million times out of fear of hell, and I considered myself a Christian, but did I really trust God? No. Was I following Him? No. Did I love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind? No.

In high school, we moved to another town and I started public school. We also changed churches to a more Jesus-centered church. It was a good move. I made great friends and I stayed out of trouble. But when it came to Jesus, my heart was confused. I still believed being a Christian meant how modest I dressed (or didn’t), what music I listened to, what shows I watched. Was I out drinking or smoking pot, or was I at youth group?

I’d read my Bible or devotional books occasionally, but I wasn’t seeking God.

Like most teens, I was insecure. I felt out-of-place because of my home school roots. I had acne. Money was tight. And things were starting to crumble at home. I knew my parents were heading to a divorce.

It wasn’t all bad. My mom was my rock. My siblings were wonderful humans (not that I would have admitted it at the time). I had good friends. I had a job. I was doing well at school.

But, I was hurting and empty inside, trying to follow all the rules to be a “Christian”. I  still wasn’t seeking God.

And then I found what I thought would be my escape: a guy. I got married young, just a few years out of high school. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a hot mess. I was a terrible wife. He wasn’t a great husband. We fought. A lot. And still, in the middle of the chaos, I wasn’t seeking God.

My personal life was messy. My spiritual life was non-existent, even though I went to church every Sunday, taught Sunday school, etc. But there was one area I excelled – work. I wanted more than anything to be successful in my career. I wanted to be financially secure. I was juggling work, college, and a crumbling marriage. Since I sucked at marriage, I focused all my energy on school and career. By age 23, I graduated Summa Cum Laude while working full-time at a job in my field. I had a 401(k), a house, a dog, and a new car. I was set.

By 25 I was divorced.

But I still didn’t seek God.

By 28 I was remarried. My priorities were 80% career, 10% marriage, 8% other, 2% God. We went to church and I went to occasional Bible studies. I prayed. But I wasn’t seeking God.

By 29, I was a Mom, but my priorities still didn’t really shift that much. My focus was still on my career and building a nest egg. If anything my career was still 80% of my focus, 15% kids, 4% husband and whatever was left-over went to God and other “priorities.” Thankfully, my second marriage was much better than my first. My kids were easy. Life was good. But God wasn’t my top priority. Not even close.

By 36, this life I was trying desperately to build came tumbling down. My career was extremely successful, but I was working from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., 6 days a week. I was never home. My husband was raising our kids by himself while struggling with his own inner demons. He couldn’t take it anymore. Things went from bad to worse. We ended up separating. My daughter was having panic attacks. I was a mess.

And I finally started to seek God. 

I pulled out my Bible and didn’t just read it to check something off my Christian to-do list. I opened it for answers. I opened it to find my savior.

There wasn’t some life-altering, noticeable change in me, but slowly God started to work in my life. He started to re-arrange my priorities. I started to see my husband and children with different eyes. I  started to really work at my marriage. I started to see Jesus, not just as a destination after death, but a daily companion.

At age 37, I attended a Bible study about finding God’s mission for my life. I went into the study thinking God was going to call me to some huge mission or massive undertaking. But God had a different message for me. He showed me my mission field: my husband and children.

At age 40, I “fired” all my clients, let all my employees go, and shut down my office. I read the entire Bible. I started my blog, “Becoming Mary”. I started making my time with Jesus my #1 priority. And He, in turn, has been changing me.

I’ll be 42 years old this year. I’m still a work in progress. If I go a day or two without reading the Bible my husband and kids can tell as I fall back into my old patterns. I still have to remind myself regularly to focus on the mission field God gave me, rather than chasing shiny career goals. I need reminders that I am not defined by my career, or lack of it. I am not defined by marriage or divorce. I am not defined by motherhood or the successes or failures of my children. I am not defined by the church I attend or my good works.

I am defined by my savior.

And when I go to bed at night and mull over my day, the question isn’t what I accomplished or failed to accomplish. But, was I faithful?

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ Matthew 6:33

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:39-42 

 

 

 

Using S.O.A.P. to Study the Bible

I’ve always known that reading the Bible is a good thing, but over the years I’ve struggled with finding a good devotional book or reading plan. When I was in Bible study groups I’d usually read a week worth of homework the night before and still couldn’t get in a good reading/study routine.

Then I read the book The Divine Mentor, which really changed the way I viewed Bible reading. Instead of looking for authors to explain the Bible for me or devotional books that included some verses of the day, The Divine Mentor’s premises is that the #1 book I should be reading is the Bible. I don’t really need any other commentaries, though sometimes they are nice. The Bible is God’s gift to me. For spiritual growth – or sanctification – the basic tools are the Bible and prayer.

For me, the S.O.A.P. method has been helpful in keeping me focused and digging deeper into the Bible. All you need is a pen, journal, and Bible.

#1. Scripture: Consistently read the Bible. I like using an annual “read through the Bible” plan, like this or this, on Bible.com or YouVersion app. With the YouVersion app, you can read the Bible or listen to it.

#2. Observation: What did I learn in the day’s reading? Some questions to ask:

  • What verses stood out?
  • What did I learn about God?
  • Is there an example I should follow?
  • What does God expect of me?
  • What does the reading say about human nature?
  • Is there a command I need to obey?
  • Is there a promise for me?

#3. Application or Action: How can I apply what I learned to my life in a real way? Is there something I need to do . . . or not do? Is there something I need to pray about? I try to make the action something I can actually do that day, if possible.

#4. Pray: Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield.

This is a very simple concept, but for me, has made a HUGE difference in my daily walk with God. It has given me direction and focus. It has taught me more than any Bible study I’ve done.

If you are intersted in being part of a Facebook group reading through the Bible in 2018, please visit here. I’d love to hear what techniques or disciplines have been the most helpful to you in growing closer to God.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.

 

 

 

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

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But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

 

 

Take Courage!

Take courage, sister! The Bible is full of God’s promises and blessings. God never lies. He never leaves us. He never breaks His promises. He has a plan for your life . . . spend daily time with Him to discover that plan and ask Him for wisdom and strength to follow.

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So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. Acts 27:25 NLT

P.S. Paul wrote this, while a prisoner on a boat about to be shipwrecked.

P.P.S. Did you know you can visit the place where Paul was shipwrecked?  In Malta you can visit St. Paul’s Bay  and see many of the places where Paul walked and worked. Along with a Holy Land Tour, I’d love to do a “Footsteps of Apostle Paul” tour.  Has anyone done one?  Recommendations? Both of these are on my bucket list!

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Malta