Taking the Next Step in Spiritual Growth (aka: Was the Apostle Paul a Hottie?)

I think I’m developing a little crush on the Apostle Paul.

(just kidding!)

But really, I am so grateful for Paul’s willingless to obey. His faith. His dedication to writing letters to other believers. I’m pretty positive if I was sitting in prison I’d be feeling sorry for myself rather than writing letters to encourage, call out, and build up the church.

Right now I’m reading Hebrews. Hebrews 10 and 11 were exactly what I needed to hear today. Paul wrote about the basics of what we need to be doing and how we should be living:

  • Drawing near to God
  • Holding unswervingly to Him
  • Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds
  • Putting my faith in action

I don’t know if Paul meant these to be sequential steps, but if so, I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve spent the past four years committed to reading through the Bible (almost) every day. I’ve read through the Bible three times and this year I’ve been doing a deep dive in the Gospels and Paul’s letters; but now I ready for more.

In addition to reading and studying the Bible and praying daily (Drawing near to God), I want to jump into the other three simultaneously:

Holding unswervingly to God: this is where I think practicing spiritual disciplines like solitude and silence, memorization and meditation, and fasting come into play. This article does a great job explaining how to incorporate these spiritual disciplines into our Christian walk.

Encouraging other Christians toward love and good deeds: Community and accountability. I long for this. Not just friends. But a small tribe of women who are on fire for Jesus. I’ve heard many times that people are the “average” of the five people they surround themselves with. I don’t know if this is true, but I want to find five women who are at a similar place I am spiritually – and ideally a few who are more spiritually mature – who will push me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. And even though I’m not old (mid-40’s is the new 30’s, right?), I want to find younger women who I can encourage and spur toward good deeds.

Putting my faith in action: I know my primary mission field: the three beautiful people who live in my house. I need to be working my mission field everyday. Secondarily, I also believe God is calling me to be active in encouraging other women to spend time with Jesus every day and to be active in loving and supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies. I know my purpose. I know what God is calling me to. Now is the time to step forward in faith and take action on living out my purpose.

It is time to put Paul’s instructions to the early church into practice and go deeper in my walk with Jesus, taking each step in submission and obedience to Him.

P.S. Paul, thanks for writing these letters. Don’t worry, I don’t really have a crush on you. That was a joke. But, I can’t wait to meet you someday.

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.

 

 

 

 

2018 Bible Reading Plan

Interested in reading through the Bible in 2018?

Join the Facebook Group here:  This is a place to be encouraged, share what you are learning, and keep motivated. In just 15 minutes a day – reading or listening – you can complete the entire Bible in a year.

Reading Plan: Found here
Start Date: January 1, 2018

I promise . . . this will be a life-changing journey!

Benefits of Daily Bible Reading

Prior to the end of 2015, I didn’t read the Bible every day. I’d read other devotional books or Bible studies that usually included reading a few verses. I was rarely reading whole chapters in the Bible. Let alone whole books. Most of my quiet time consisted of reading what other people had discovered in their quiet times.

Then everything changed.

  • I was frustrated with the lack of progress I was making in become more Christ-like. I know Jesus wants me to be loving, patient, kind, etc. But I wasn’t seeing any changes in my life. I was a Christian . . . so why wasn’t I becoming more like Christ?
  • I read “The Divine Mentor: Growing Your Faith as You Sit at the Feet of the Savior”  by Wayne Cordeiro (More here).  Basic premise – spending time reading and studying the Bible everyday is the key to life transformation.
  • My church small group voted to read through the Bible in 2016. I decided to get a head-start and begin in 2015.

Here are the tools I use:

  1. Bible Reading: I use the YouVersion app and read the Bible on my phone.  I like it because I can highlight verses, read a passage in another version (NIV vs. NLT), create pictures from the verses, etc. Lately, I have found myself getting distracted on my phone. It seems like the minute I start ready the Bible an all-important Facebook notification pops up. I may be switching back to my actual physical Bible soon!
  2. Bible Reading Plan: Last year I used Wayne Cordeiro’s “Life Journal Reading Plan”. This year I am using Skövde Pingst’s “The BIBLE in a Year” plan. Both have been great – they include some New Testament, Old Testament and usually either some Psalms or Proverbs. And remember, you don’t have to start a plan on January 1st. I started in November 2015. Start today!
  3. S.O.A.P. Journal. In The Divine Mentor Wayne Cordeiro explains the S.O.A.P. method of journaling while reading the Bible. I’ve adapted it a bit. My journal includes my own personal journal, my prayer journal and my daily SOAP. In this video Wayne explains the method (and it doesn’t hurt it is filmed in Hawaii – I think I could spending hours doing S.O.A.P on the beach!).
    • S: Scripture
    • O: Observation
    • A: Application or Action
    • P: Prayer

Personally, reading the Bible every day has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. I’m finally seeing my life changing – from the inside out. No, it hasn’t happened at the speed I’ve wanted. And sometimes I get in a slump. But I am seeing changes. Slowly and steadily.

Here are a few passages that also explain the importance of reading the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.Psalms 119:105 

Instruction for the kings of Israel:

When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.   Deuteronomy 17:18-20 

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. Joshua 1:8 

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 

 

 

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

 

 

Love: The Greatest Thing

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Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes. 1 Corinthians 8:2‭-‬3 NLT

In my #BibleReadingPlan I’m currently reading about King David in the Old Testament and Paul’s letters in the New Testament. David and Paul are my favorite mentors in the Bible, along with Mary of Bethany.

  • King David: He was a very flawed man, but still loved God passionately. He was an adulterer. A murderer. A song writer. A lover of many women. Even as king had no problem dancing and singing in the streets to praise God. His kids were screwed up. They killed each other. Raped each other. His heart broke for his children and he wept for them. No matter how many times he stumbled and fell, no matter how dark the valley or cave he was hiding, he always returned to God.

 

  • Paul: He hated Christians and hunted them. He watched as Stephen was stoned to death for believing in Jesus. And then God stopped Paul in his tracks. Quite literally. God opened his eyes and showed him that Jesus was real, and Paul believed. He changed his whole life and committed it completely to following Jesus. He was beaten. He was a letter writer. His life was spent traveling and preaching. He was church planter. A prisoner.  He encouraged and corrected. He was loved by many and hated by many. He was executed after 30 years of serving Jesus. He was a lover of the gospel and lover of the church. His greatest love in life was Jesus.

 

  • Mary of Bethany: Mary was a sister to Martha and Lazarus. Jesus was her friend. She trusted him and loved him. And she understood that spending time with Jesus and loving him were more important than anything else. She wasn’t ashamed to express her love for Jesus – even when others criticized her for it. She sat at Jesus’s feet, which was controversial because that signaled that she was a disciple, a role typically just for males. She washed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. Also, controversial.  She didn’t care what others thought of her, she just wanted to love Jesus. She understood the importance of being with Jesus and expressing her love of him.

What can we learn from these mentors?

  1. To love God
  2. To praise and worship God – no matter who criticizes us for it
  3. To make time with God our #1 priority
  4. To love others
  5. To share God’s love with others

1 Corinthians 13-13.jpg

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