Famine in the land

My last two posts have been focused on digging into the Bible so I thought I may as well continue the theme. I still have vivid memories from childhood and adolescence of asking God to open His Word up to me. I was hungry to go beyond a surface level understanding, but didn’t know how to. I was also a shy child when it came to revealing a lack of knowledge – I didn’t want to appear stupid – so I avoided asking questions. God faithfully answered my prayers to understand His Word and continues to do so. He has also emboldened me to ask questions and not fear man’s judgement. He is a good Father!

Despite knowing a lot more of the Word than I did, I still feel like I know the Word to a fraction of the extent that I should know it. Yet, when I look around me, I see that I know the Word more than most believers. This saddens me, because I do not know much of it at all! The treasures of the Word are unending, and yet there is a clear famine of the Word of God amongst His people today.

Why is the church experiencing a Bible famine? I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty, but a couple of my thoughts are: (1) we don’t make time for Bible study, (2) pastors are more concerned about keeping their congregations happy than preaching the Word of God, (3) believers rely solely on their pastors and the latest hit Christian author for their knowledge, rather than seeking truth from the Word, (4) believers (including pastors) are afraid of persecution from the world if they stand on the truth, (5) we want to make people feel good, rather than challenge each other to grow in character, (6) the church has lost its awe of God – awe meaning: reverent fear and wonder.

How sad that we live in a world of Bible famine, for the Word is God. It is living and active; it is sharper than a two-edged sword; it is the bread that sustains; it is the truth that sets free!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

Get into the Word of God and let Him transform your life! Ending Bible poverty has to start with our own knowledge. It has to start with our own hearts; we must be hungry for more knowledge of God, we must hunger to know Him.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)

This is my prayer. I long to hunger after God with my whole being. I long to crave Him as I do fine foods, rich desserts, and delectable drinks. I want to open my Bible and see Christ. I want to be transformed by His living Word. And I know that as I do, those around me will be drawn to it too.

Hungry, but not for food. Thirsty, but not for drink.

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Scripture memory/ meditation

​Developing discipline, developing character

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8).

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3).

I had myself convinced that I’m unable to memorise Scripture. I told myself I’m not naturally gifted at memorisation, and that’s okay. I made excuses such as: “I know x,y,z in the Bible, so why must I know exactly where it is?” But God has challenged me on this. The Bible tells us that we should let the word dwell richly in our hearts, and that this makes our path sure. 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:30-31).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3).

What’s in your heart?

Meditating on the Word and tucking it away in our heart is what brings change in our lives. We should see growth in our character through time, and the Word and Spirit are the two that bring this about. When we memorise Scripture, the Spirit is then able to bring the right Scripture to mind to guide us in any given situation.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Beth. How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-11).

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

Is the Word tucked up in your heart?

In Jesus’ time, Jewish boys were expected to have memorised the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), knowing it by heart by the age of 12! Jesus expected people to know the Law and be able to draw conclusions from it – memorising the Word, but also meditating on its meaning.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28).

The Law also expected the people to memorise God’s commands, write them on their houses, and physically tie copies to their heads and hands to remind them of it. They were to teach the Law to their children, talking and thinking of it all day long.

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21).

Today’s education system is set up to have us forget – we cram all the information in for a term, are tested, and then forget it the very next term as we move on to new information. There is no building, there is no expectation to remember. How different from what the Scriptures above reveal about treasuring wisdom and knowledge, and what knowledge is more important than what God has revealed to us in His very Word!

We need to walk in obedience to God in all seasons of life, and God’s Spirit will guide us. In this season, God has challenged me to focus on Scripture memory and it is blessing me abundantly. It changes playing toddler games all day (which could feel rather mundane, rather quickly) into hours of worship. It invites God into my relationship with my son, and has me speaking truth over my boy. What a blessing for both of us!

Help for Scripture memory

I pray that God guides me into making Scripture memory a life long joy and devotion. I pray that I will pass this treasure on to my children and that they, too, will store the Word up in their hearts and minds. I pray for a change in our thinking as a church, and a change in what we value. Scripture memory takes time and focused attention, it means that we will have to sacrifice other activities and time wasters (Facebook, cough cough), in order to devote time to it – but what rich fruit it will produce! God, make memorising your Word a priority in our lives, and help us to simplify other areas in order to devote time to learning of you in your Word. Guide our memorisation with your Spirit.

In ending, I want to make it clear that we are not under the Law; we live out these spiritual disciplines from a place of sonship, as children who want to spend time with our loving Father. For me, Scripture memory (and meditation on it) is the area God has me focusing on and it is turning daily living into abundant life as it transforms my heart and brings me into His presence. If God is highlighting it to you also, then I suggest starting small – try memorising one verse you love each week.

Soaking up the Word

Bible study

​Developing discipline, developing character

Glenn and I often joke about how God chose us to be in ministry because everyone will know it is God, not us, doing the work. Why? Because Glenn and I are both inherently lazy people. Don’t get me wrong, we can both be work horses, but you have to appropriately motivate us. In actual fact, it usually takes God to motivate us to get off our backsides!

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6) – Yep, definitely is by His Spirit!

I am completely content spending my days reading novels or working on whatever latest project strikes my fancy. Glenn is equally happy to play computer games all day, with a little travel interspersed in between. Whilst this all might be fine in relaxation time, it is not a great choice for daily life. Laziness is not life giving and it certainly doesn’t bring a sense of purpose. Yet, even experiencing a feeling of purposelessness, it still feels easier to live for the flesh than to train (discipline) ourselves in the things of the Lord.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc 1:2-3) . . . Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; (Ecc 12:1)  . . . The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Why am I sharing this wonderful (hehem) insight into our character? Despite joking about God’s choice with Glenn, I have often had people make my life choices seem to be more to do with my person than with God at work in me. And so I bring this up in a blog about Bible study because this discipline is one I’m sure most people assume I find really easy to live out – because I am fiercely passionate about the Word of God and making it known. I want you to know that it is a choice I must make to strive after God, and I have to let Him put strategies into my life that push me into Bible study.

Gods living Word

Even though I love the Bible, it takes effort to study it. It takes energy to dig beyond the initial surface level of a passage. It takes time to study inductively (exploring what the Word says), rather than deductively (reading the Word with preconceived notions and established beliefs). Yet if we are really hungry for truth, and if we desire God’s heart rather than religion, then we will make the time to study inductively. 

Gimel. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:17-18)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Digging into the Word means coming to a greater revelation of Christ, Jesus, who is the living Word! What a great gift we have; and yet, what a gift that is set aside, unwrapped, by far too many of God’s people!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

For me, making the time is the key. Life tries to put many demands on our time. We need to make sure that Bible study is included in our daily life. I’ve learnt that I need to be pushed into study. I am always thankful when I am, but my innate laziness stops me from studying from sheer desire. To turn my desire and ideals into practice I need to have some goal in mind, or an obligation to keep. I love teaching for this reason – I can’t teach what I don’t know and thus I am “forced” back into study.

Teaching in Zambia

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

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)

This is not to say that reading through and meditating on Scripture isn’t important, too – it just serves a different purpose in the life of God’s people. We need to do all three – read, meditate on and study the Word of God. [I’ll look at Scripture mediation and memorisation in upcoming blogs).

And, most importantly of all, we must allow the truths of Scripture to dwell in our hearts richly, transforming us into His likeness and producing fruits of righteousness. Studying the Word must lead to APPLICATION, or it is useless. Understanding without application is dead knowledge.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:9-10)

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Flowers fall, but the Word remains

We also see that Scripture knowledge is needed for evangelism, and that believers are also to teach each other from their knowledge. There seems to be an unwillingness today to debate the Word – not argue, but wrestle through passages together to come to greater understanding of the truth and its application. We need to start studying the Word for ourselves; we need to know it ourselves. There is such Bible poverty within the church today that pastors preach falsehoods from the pulpit and their congregations are none the wiser. Would you know if your pastor taught something scripturally unsound? Would you be prepared to bring it up to him (in love)?

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

So how will you study the Word? Will you faithfully work through a Bible study book? Will you join a Bible study group? Will you agree to lead a home group, or commit to running a Bible study, thus forcing yourself into Bible study? Will you sign up for a Bible study course through a distant learning theology school? The Word is the truth we are to live by; we must know it to walk in the truth!

Open the Word; Dig into life

If you want a free PDF copy of my Bible study resource, The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word, please just send me an email! Let’s end Bible poverty!

Respect dare series – day 24 – Time with God

Psalm 119:9-16

Beth. How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Getting into the Word and spending time with the Holy Spirit are the two greatest actions I can take to invest in my marriage. Intimacy with God the Father, Son, and Spirit is where my energies, convictions and actions must stem from.

My action for today: I took time to read and meditate on Philippians.

My prayer for today: Abba Father, keep me hungry. Make my heart’s desire to be running after you and sitting at your feet. Remain my first love. May my love for Glenn be the purest of love that stems from you. Amen

Time in the Word

A new year’s resolution?

I must admit that I like taking time to set a list of goals in the lead up to each new year. I find it fun to look back on what I hoped for the year before, too. My love of introspection might play a role in the enjoyment factor! There is usually two sets of goals – one set about what I want spiritually or feel God calling me to, and another set just things I’d like to do.

This year with baby soon to arrive my whole list is pretty much “subject to motherhood”! But the top three remain important – God first, then Glenn, then baby/our family. But what does this look like? What is it to put God first, and what should I be doing in order to set Him first? It’s a fairly ambiguous goal as simply “God first”.

We currently have some friends staying with us who are pastoring a church. They commented that the outcome of a big pastor’s conference was that Christians grow the most when they read the Bible; that discipleship must start by getting people into His Word. My first reaction was a little judgemental – “Really? They had to have a conference to figure that one out?” But then again, the Word is my passion so of course I’m going to feel that way.

Last night, reflecting on the conversation with friends and my ambiguous goal, I was able to come back to a very simple truth. God has given us two incredible gifts to enable us to walk with Him and draw close with Him. One is His Word, and the other is His Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers.  How blessed we are to have the Spirit and the Word. But it is up to us to read, study, and meditate on the Word. It is also up to us to keep up a connection with the Spirit; a relationship only grows when both sides invest in it.

If you haven’t set a New Year’s resolution yet, or even if you have, I would encourage you to set this as one too: Spend time daily with the Spirit and daily in the Word. Set aside time to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit, and find a study or reading plan that gets you into God’s Word.

May His richest blessings be upon you this year. May He give you strength to persevere through trials, and joy to celebrate achievements and times of abundance.

Experience God this year through His Word and Spirit

Experience God this year through His Word and Spirit

Holy Spirit

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17

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 8:26-17

Word of God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

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

A Perfect Summary

Sometimes you come across something that sums up what you believe, or are thinking or feeling, so nicely that all you can do as you read it is think: “YES! YES! YES!”

Most of you know that I am passionate about Christians knowing their Bible. “But why? What is the point?” some ask. Others say: “But it doesn’t have any relevance for my life or for the world today”.

Coming across Psalm 19 this week, I think it argues my case for me:

     The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
     the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
     the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
     the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
     the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
     the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 

     More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
     sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 

     Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
     in keeping them there is great reward.
     (Psalm 19:7-11)

Give it a look:

Knee Jerk Reactions

Babies are born with natural reflexes. Some of these fade, some of them change, and others can be dominated by will and practise. We can build motor patterns in our brain, which enable some movements to become automatic, and thus faster and more precise. Consider when you write your name: you no longer have to think about it. When you take a mouthful of potato at dinner you do not think: “grasp fork, stab piece of potato, lift arm, close mouth . . .” These are now automated responses.

The same should be true in how we respond to situations arising from daily life. If our earthly nature is the “natural reflex”, then the Christ-like responses will be the “developed motor patterns”. We may not know at the start of the day whether we are about to be yelled at by the boss, hugged by a stranger, laugh with a friend, have an easy run with the lights, and so forth. However, we can root ourselves in the Lord and thus respond in a way pleasing to Him.

Paul wrote:
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:22-25).

Reading Nehemiah this week has made me wonder just how much I turn first to earthly instinct and how much is my response to seek God and what is Christ-like. The more I am in the Word of God, the more my behaviour and responses imitate Christ.

Nehemiah had rooted himself in the Word of God whilst living in exile under the Persian Empire, serving the king as a cup-bearer. To him fell the task of overseeing the rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem when the Jews were allowed to return to Judah from exile. Whilst rebuilding, he faced persecution in the form of mockery, danger to his people as well as his self, and assassination attempts. How did he act in these circumstances? He fasted, prayed, encouraged the people to trust God, worked with a sword at his side, and continued to completion the work that God had set him.

Nehemiah returned to the king for a short period before receiving a second grant to return to Judah. When he returned he found his own people once again moving away from the Law of the Lord (the reason God sent the Jews into exile in the first place). What did he do? He acted once more in fear of the Lord and fervour for His Law. He cast out of their roles those walking in disobedience and planted God-fearing men in their place. He consistently chose fear of God over fear of man.

How did these responses become second nature to him? How did they become his automated responses? He studied the Law of the Lord, sought after God, prayed constantly, fasted when troubled, and put God’s priorities above his own comfort. Nehemiah lived with his eyes fixed on the Lord in reverent fear.

If we are to be delivered “out of the body of this death” as Paul puts it, then we must follow his example, and that of Nehemiah: Seek after God; Fear Him; Read His Word; Seek after His truths: and Mediate on Christ.