Bible Study, Mailbag

Throwback Thursday ~ The Mailbag: I love the Bible, but I have to force myself to read it

Originally published October 9, 2017

 

I am struggling with reading the Word. I find myself having to drag myself to it to dedicate time to read it, struggling against doing other things instead. I love the Lord with all my heart. I love His Word, LOVE everything about the Bible. I know that love for God’s word and hunger for it is one of the marks of salvation. I want to hunger for reading it like a baby hungers for milk. I want that passion for His word.

Please don’t tell me to check my salvation as I daily obsess about this to the point where my sister in Christ said I have OCD about this. I hear about false converts and it scares me. An elder told me that you can do the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit and I thought that once I was saved I could not do that, that was the sin of unbelief. Now, I am sometimes scared to even think about the Holy Spirit, because what if I do that! Please take me Lord, before I would do that! Please help me. 

This question from a friend of my Facebook page just reached through the screen and clutched at my heart. I’ve been right where this sister is now, and I know many of you have been there as well. If you would, take a moment to pray for her and any other Christian you know who’s struggling with this kind of anxiety in her walk.

The Unpardonable Sin
You cannot commit the unpardonable sin. No one living today can commit that sin. I don’t mean to sound harsh, as we all make mistakes, but I am appalled at your elder’s ignorance on this issue and what he said to you. It’s a very common question, and he should at least know a simple answer to it. I’ve covered it here: What is the unpardonable sin?

Check your salvation?
There is no reason for me to tell you to check your salvation, and it never entered my mind to do so. Lost people don’t ask God to take their lives lest they commit the unpardonable sin or worry about whether or not they hunger enough for God’s Word. Only saved people think like that, because saved people are new creations in Christ, with the mind of Christ, who desire to please Christ. Lost people can’t even understand the things of God because these things are revealed by the Holy Spirit, which they don’t have.

I would really encourage you to work through the book of 1 John (I’ve written a study on it if you’d find that helpful). John wrote this epistle to reassure believers. As he says in 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Getting over the “hump” of reticence.
What you describe about dragging yourself to do your Bible study but then loving the Word once you get over that hump of reticence is absolutely, without a doubt, one hundred per cent normal. Pastors feel that way. Elders feel that way. Bible teachers feel that way. Every Christian, including me, feels that way at least sometimes. Usually several times a week for me.

That feeling does not mean you’re not hungering for the Word or that you don’t have a passion for it. Indeed, if you weren’t hungering for the Word with such a passion, you wouldn’t be so up in arms about feeling tempted to do something besides reading your Bible.

That feeling is not something lacking in your desire for the Word. That feeling is Satan tempting you to do anything rather than study your Bible. And the way you combat that temptation? You pray through it, pick up your Bible, and start reading – regardless of how you feel about it. Obedience is hard sometimes. But when you grit your teeth against that temptation and obey God anyway, that is a precious offering to the Lord. He doesn’t require that you feel all hearts and flower-y while you’re doing it. That’s you putting that pressure on yourself. This is battle. Fight. You obey and let God worry about your feelings.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Matthew 21:28-31a

Peace be unto you.
God did not save you in order for you to spend your life in a state of fear and anxiety. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Forever starts the moment you’re saved. God wants you to enjoy spending time with Him in this life just as much as He wants you to in the next.

Christ is the Prince of Peace and His desire is for you to be at peace with Him. He knows you inside and out and He still delights in you. It is safe to let go, relax, and rest in His love and delight. He is not going to let go of you. Here are a few Scriptures that may bring you some comfort and reassurance. Believe them. Trust Him. He loves you. Let that sink in and simply love Him back.

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Psalm 149:4-5


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I get started studying the Bible itself?

 

Where would you recommend someone start if they really wanted to read the Bible for themselves?

I love this question so much. I wish more women were asking this question.

If you’ve hung around the blog for practically any amount of time, you’ve probably heard me say that next to “Is ______ a false teacher?”, the question I’m most often asked is, “Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?“. I give the same answer to that question every time: no.

First of all, it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than a doctrinally sound study at a Christian retailer. But, second, why would you rob yourself of the joy of holding the actual words of God in your hands and studying them for yourself? I can’t bring myself to recommend something that would be less – less joy, less growth in Christ, less depth, less knowledge of the Word – than the best. I recommend that you study God’s Word itself, not the gleanings from somebody else’s study of God’s Word.

When I first received this question, I wasn’t sure whether the reader wanted to know which book of the Bible she should start with or which method to use, so I’ll cover both.

📖 Fear not. Let’s take just one step backwards from this reader’s question for a moment. Sadly, some women have never been introduced to the idea that they can study the Bible for themselves, without using a pre-packaged (I call them “canned”) study (book, workbook, DVD, etc.). If this Mailbag article is the first time you’ve ever heard of such a thing, and you’re intrigued but apprehensive, don’t be afraid to give it a try. Until some time around the latter part of the 20th century, when people wanted to study the Bible, they just picked up the Bible itself and started studying. And it worked. People – usually with far less education than you have – grew in their faith to godly maturity just fine. There’s no reason you can’t do that, too.

📖 Go into it with the right mindset. Bible study is a skill just like anything else. You’re not going to be perfect at it the first time you try, just like you didn’t ride a bicycle perfectly the first time you tried. You may try a method of studying that just isn’t a fit for you. You might choose a book of the Bible that’s not as suited for beginners as another book might be. That’s OK. There’s going to be some trial and error. Stick with it and don’t give up.

📖 Commit I always encourage women to commit to putting aside all of the workbooks and devotionals for a year. It takes a while to get out of the habit of relying on somebody else to do the heavy lifting for you and into the habit of diligently digging in to God’s Word for yourself. If you have a little hiccup in your studying, don’t quit and go back to the canned studies, assuming you can’t handle studying God’s Word on your own. Yes, you can. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

📖 “Training wheels” If you need a little help getting started, choose one of the studies I’ve written at the “Bible Studies” tab at the top of this page. My studies are designed to train you to study the Bible for yourself. You’ll learn about context, cross-references, culture, the storyline of redemption from Old Testament to New, the kinds of questions you should be asking of the text, and more. They are “teach a woman to fish” studies rather than “give a woman a fish” studies. I fully expect that you will be able to bait your own hook in no time.

📖 Structure If structure and schedules and plans are your jam, you might want to choose a Bible reading plan. It’s become my New Year’s Day tradition to publish an annual round up of super Bible reading plans. You can find this year’s list of plans at the Bible Studies tab at the top of this page. There are plans that range in length from seven days to indefinite. Some will take you through a biblical topic, others through one or two books, others through the whole Bible. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend starting with one of the shorter ones (90 days or less) to get your feet wet. And, when you’re ready to read through the whole Bible (which you really need to do at some point), I highly recommend the chronological plan.

📖 Freestyle If you’re more of a “set your own schedule” kind of person, just choose a book of the Bible – maybe one you’ve had your eye on – start at the beginning, and read a bit each day until you reach the end of the book. Then choose another book and start again. Not really familiar with the layout of the Bible? Try choosing one of the shorter (less than 20 chapters) books if this is your first try and you’re taking a shot in the dark. Enjoy reading stories? You might want to start with Genesis or one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Looking for instruction instead? Try one of the epistles (basically anything between Acts and Revelation). You will probably want to save the longer and more complicated books (ex: the major and minor prophets, Revelation, Leviticus) for when you get a bit more experience with studying Scripture. As you get more confident in studying the Bible, make it your goal to study through every book at least once. 

📖 How to? There are a variety of methods and techniques you can learn for studying the Bible, and whatever method enables you to rightly handle God’s Word and works best for you is fine. I like to keep things simple. Before I start studying, I spend some time in prayer. I confess my sins, ask God to speak to me through His Word, and ask Him to help me correctly understand, obey, and apply His Word. After that, I have a spiral notebook and a pen, and I simply take notes on the text. (If you want to see the kinds of things I write down when I take notes, read through the questions in one of the studies I’ve written at the “Bible Studies” tab. I write those studies the same way I take notes during my personal study time.) As a beginner you may wish to simply read the text and build up to taking notes as you become more comfortable with reading.

📖 Get some help. You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Maybe your husband, a godly friend, one of the older ladies at church, or your pastor could offer you some pointers on studying your Bible or help you out with any questions you might encounter along the way. Never be afraid to ask for help. That’s what brothers and sisters in Christ are for.

I’ve also got a number of resources on how to study the Bible under the “Bible Studies” tab at the top of this page. Click on the link and scroll through, or you might wish to start with one of these.

You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

Nine Helps for Starting and Sticking to Daily Bible Study

10 Bookmarkable Biblical Resources for Christian Women

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

Rightly Dividing: 12 Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Bible Study

Bible Book Backgrounds: Why You Need Them and Where to Find Them

As a newly doctrinally sound Christian, should I stop journaling?

(More details on taking notes on the text of Scripture.)


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Prayer

Throwback Thursday ~ Priming Your Prayer Wall

Originally published February 27, 2009

A friend of mine recently remarked that sometimes when he begins his prayer time, he has trouble with his mind wandering to the various tasks of his day instead of being able to concentrate on doing business with God. I’ve had that problem too.

It’s easy to get distracted no matter what you’re doing, but since Satan isn’t particularly wild about our praying, he frequently uses distraction as a tool to either keep us from praying altogether, or to keep us from entering into deep, focused communion with God.

Have you ever painted a wall? My husband frequently paints as part of his business, and there have been a few times when he was so hard up for an assistant, he had to settle for me. Painting is definitely not my forte. It’s tedious and boring and I hate it. I hate it so much I even made up a little song to sing – under my breath, of course – while I’m doing it, about how much I hate it. (I know, I know, “do all things without grumbling,” but for me painting is more of a Psalm 55:17 proposition.)

But, thanks to my husband’s good teaching, at least now I know how to do it right.

When he paints, he doesn’t just go in, throw some paint on the wall and leave (like I would, because I hate painting so much). He prepares before he paints. He makes sure the floor near the wall won’t get spattered with paint. He protects the baseboards, chair rails, and mouldings. He removes the switch plates and outlet covers. Often, he will prime the wall with a base coat of a neat product called Kilz, which covers up stains and marks and leaves a nice, clean surface on which to roll on the new paint. Only after all of that preparation does he begin painting.

I’ve found that that kind of preparation can be helpful before praying as well. So what can you do to “prime” your prayer “wall”?

◊ Get as far away as possible from physical distractions. Get into a quiet room away from other people. (For me, that sometimes means I have to leave the house and walk the neighborhood or sit in the car while I pray!) Turn off the music, the phone, the computer, and anything else that might make noise. Sometimes a white noise machine can be helpful as well.

◊ Keep a piece of paper and a pen handy. Before you pray, take a few moments to take a mental inventory of the rest of your day. Jot down any reminders to yourself or lists of things you need to get or do. Then, set it aside, both mentally and literally, but within arm’s reach. Later, when you’re praying, if something that’s absolutely crucial comes to mind, just take a second and write yourself a very brief note about it and get back to prayer. I usually ask God to please help me to remember or accomplish whatever it is I’ve just had to write down.

◊ Prime the wall. My “primer prayer” usually goes something like this: “Lord, thank you for drawing me to this time of prayer. Please keep my heart, mind, and will focused completely on You and prevent me from being distracted. If I do get distracted, please help me realize this right away and give me the discipline to re-focus on you. Direct this prayer time and bring to my mind all the things You want me to pray about.” This gives me that “nice, clean surface” so I can start praying.

◊ Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). Once I have prayed my “primer prayer”, if a thought comes to mind, I pray about it, even if it’s something as simple as, “Lord, please help me remember to stop at the store and get bread on the way home.” It’s important to be discerning, though, about whether a thought is a distraction, or God is impressing on you that you really need to pray about this thing that you thought was trivial. If it’s a genuine distraction, I usually employ the Scarlett O’Hara principle and say to myself, “I’m not going to think about that right now, I’ll think about that later.” Then I make a conscious decision to re-focus on the prayer issues before me.

◊ Practice. Keep at it. Prayer is like anything else– the more you practice it, the easier it generally becomes. Practice preparing for prayer. Practice asking for God’s help to focus. Practice re-directing your thoughts when they go astray. The more often you do it, the less often you’ll find yourself distracted.

Now go prime that wall and pray, pray, pray! It’s a lot more fun than painting!

Bible Study, Mailbag

The Mailbag: I love the Bible, but I have to force myself to read it

 

I am struggling with reading the Word. I find myself having to drag myself to it to dedicate time to read it, struggling against doing other things instead. I love the Lord with all my heart. I love His Word, LOVE everything about the Bible. I know that love for God’s word and hunger for it is one of the marks of salvation. I want to hunger for reading it like a baby hungers for milk. I want that passion for His word.

Please don’t tell me to check my salvation as I daily obsess about this to the point where my sister in Christ said I have an OCD about this. I hear about false converts and it scares me. An elder told me that you can do the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit and I thought that once I was saved I could not do that, that was the sin of unbelief. Now, I am sometimes scared to even think about the Holy Spirit, because what if I do that! Please take me Lord, before I would do that! Please help me. 

This question from a friend of my Facebook page just reached through the screen and clutched at my heart. I’ve been right where this sister is now, and I know many of you have been there as well. If you would, take a moment to pray for her and any other Christian you know who’s struggling with this kind of anxiety in her walk.

The Unpardonable Sin
You cannot commit the unpardonable sin. No one living today can commit that sin. I don’t mean to sound harsh, as we all make mistakes, but I am appalled at your elder’s ignorance on this issue and what he said to you. It’s a very common question, and he should at least know a simple answer to it. I’ve covered it here: What is the unpardonable sin?

Check your salvation?
There is no reason for me to tell you to check your salvation, and it never entered my mind to do so. Lost people don’t ask God to take their lives lest they commit the unpardonable sin or worry about whether or not they hunger enough for God’s Word. Only saved people think like that, because saved people are new creations in Christ, with the mind of Christ, who desire to please Christ. Lost people can’t even understand the things of God because these things are revealed by the Holy Spirit, which they don’t have.

I would really encourage you to work through the book of 1 John (I’ve written a study on it if you’d find that helpful). John wrote this epistle to reassure believers. As he says in 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Getting over the “hump” of reticence.
What you describe about dragging yourself to do your Bible study but then loving the Word once you get over that hump of reticence is absolutely, without a doubt, one hundred per cent normal. Pastors feel that way. Elders feel that way. Bible teachers feel that way. Every Christian, including me, feels that way at least sometimes. Usually several times a week for me.

That feeling does not mean you’re not hungering for the Word or that you don’t have a passion for it. Indeed, if you weren’t hungering for the Word with such a passion, you wouldn’t be so up in arms about feeling tempted to do something besides reading your Bible.

That feeling is not something lacking in your desire for the Word. That feeling is Satan tempting you to do anything rather than study your Bible. And the way you combat that temptation? You pray through it, pick up your Bible, and start reading – regardless of how you feel about it. Obedience is hard sometimes. But when you grit your teeth against that temptation and obey God anyway, that is a precious offering to the Lord. He doesn’t require that you feel all hearts and flower-y while you’re doing it. That’s you putting that pressure on yourself. This is battle. Fight. You obey and let God worry about your feelings.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Matthew 21:28-31a

Peace be unto you.
God did not save you in order for you to spend your life in a state of fear and anxiety. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Forever starts the moment you’re saved. God wants you to enjoy spending time with Him in this life just as much as He wants you to in the next.

Christ is the Prince of Peace and His desire is for you to be at peace with Him. He knows you inside and out and He still delights in you. It is safe to let go, relax, and rest in His love and delight. He is not going to let go of you. Here are a few Scriptures that may bring you some comfort and reassurance. Believe them. Trust Him. He loves you. Let that sink in and simply love Him back.

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Psalm 149:4-5


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Basic Training, Bible, Bible Study

Basic Training: The Bible is Necessary

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food.
Job 23:12

More to be desired are [the words of God] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psalm 19:10

I have a question for you. Try to answer it within three seconds.

Where’s your Bible? (Not the one on your phone or computer- your real Bible.)

Were you able to answer in three seconds because you read it today and remember where you left it when you were finished? Because it stays on your night stand and rarely gets opened? Did it take longer than three seconds because you frequently carry it around with you and can’t remember where you most recently left it?

The point of the question isn’t really where your Bible is in geographical relationship to you, but where you are in relationship to your Bible.

David said God’s word was more valuable to him than gold, even much fine gold.

Job said he treasured God’s word more than his daily food.

Jesus hadn’t eaten a bite in over a month, and He still valued every word that comes from the mouth of God over bread.

If someone put a stack of fine gold in front of you and said you could have it as long as you hardly ever read your Bible, would you take it?

What if you had gone without food for forty days and someone offered you a loaf of bread in exchange for your agreement to put your Bible away and open it only rarely? Could you withstand the temptation?

I’d like to believe I would choose God’s word over a stack of gold or even life-sustaining food. But when I think about all the lesser things I sometimes choose to do instead of setting aside time to study God’s word…

…television
…social media
…reading
…sleeping
…hobbies

…well, I can’t help but wonder:

Do I really value God’s word as deeply as He wants me to?

We need God’s word. It is more necessary to us, spiritually, than food is to us, physically. Yet many Christians unintentionally starve themselves spiritually, thinking a “meal” or two of Scripture at church every week (if they actually attend every week, that is) is enough to sustain them. It’s not. We need to feast on God’s written Word every single day.

We need to know who God is

Saved people are in a one-on-one, personal relationship with God. But how can you have a relationship with someone you don’t really know? How can you love Him, please Him, or enjoy spending time with Him if you know nothing about Him? His character, His attributes, His likes and dislikes, the way He operates – these are all integral to knowing this God who created and saved us. And in His infinite love, God has chosen to reveal all these things about Himself in a book we call the Bible.

We need to know who we are

Just as an employee can’t rightly relate to her employer if she doesn’t understand her role, her place, and her responsibilities, we can’t rightly relate to God unless we understand both who He is and who we are in relationship to Him. We need to understand that He is God and we are not. That He is perfect in holiness and righteousness and we are depraved from the womb. That we are sinners in need of a Savior, created for the purpose of bringing glory to God, servants of the most high King. The only place to learn all of this, and more, about who we are, and where we stand with God, is in the pages of His word.

We need to know what God wants from us

What does God want me to do with my money? How can I be a godly wife if my husband is unsaved? Does God think it’s important for me to go to church? Is it always a sin to lie? Is it wrong to watch pornography? In addition to being a revelation of the nature and character of God, the Bible is also an intensely practical book, instructing Christians on issues of every day life and helping us to understand how God wants us to think, act, and speak. God knows we have questions and in His kindness and mercy has provided all the answers we need in Scripture.

We need to hear from God

While the idea and practice of “hearing God’s voice” is unbiblical, the desire to commune with God- to visit with Him as a loved one – is not. We only have to look back to the Garden of Eden to see that God’s perfect design was for people to fellowship with Him. Because of the Fall, we can’t do that face to face this side of Heaven. For now, we talk to God through prayer and worship. He talks to us through His written Word. Constant communion with God deepens our love for Him and increases our Christlikeness.

More than daily food. More than gold. More than any earthly pleasure, wisdom, or experience, we need God’s word. And we need it every day, all the days of our lives.