Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.

Purposeful Remembering


Great Commission

As Christians, it’s important that we “Don’t Forget to Remember.” Understanding this thread found throughout the Bible helps us understand the place remembering should take in our lives. In other words, a Scriptural understanding helps remembering become take on a living purpose as it goes from mere belief to activity.

What does this activity look like practical way in the life of a Christian?

1.) Remember God’s faithfulness in spite of our lack of faithfulness.

The point of remembering as a thread throughout Scripture involves a focus on what God has done and continues to do in spite of what man has done and continues to do. The Old Testament chronicles how God’s character interacts with man’s character. Studying this interaction helps us remember God’s forgiveness promises & deliverance in spite of our continuous pattern of rebellion.

2.) Remember Jesus words and actions, and let them shape us.

After Jesus’ ascension, the disciples remembered what He had said and done (John 2:22 & John 12:16). This motivated them to do what He had called them to do — fulfill the Great Commission. Reading Scripture can do the same for us still today.

3.) Remember and use the resources we are given.

Those resources include the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) who helps us remember Jesus’ teachings, God’s truths and God’s will. The Holy Spirit also helps us see God working in our lives. The Holy Spirit dwells in us beginning at salvation and remains active in the life of the believer whose job is to let Him lead. (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Another resources, the Bible (2 Peter 3:1-2), brings us God’s instructions for living obediently to Him. Regularly remembering and studying what the Bible says gives us valuable insight & instruction.

A third tool, communion (Luke 22:19) reminds us of atonement and redemption. It reminds us of Jesus’ love to the point of death on the cross for us. This remembering helps keep us humble.

4.) Let God direct our remembering.

We must deliberately choose to let our remembering be directed by God’s truth. To do that, we must let God direct our remembering (Proverbs 16). If we don’t, we too easily get overwhelmed & tend to forget to remember Him and what He’s done in our lives.

5.) Forget self. Remember God.

The book of Deuteronomy encourages God’s people to remember their slavery and their rebellion. God wanted them to remember where they were before He intervened. This idea extends into the New Testament as well:

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” (Philippians 3:13)

Much of the OT Scripture about remembering focuses on recalling man’s rebelliousness for the purpose of remembering God’s faithfulness, promises and leading. Paul amplifies the point by telling us not to dwell on our past as we do this recalling. Instead, we are to focus on God’s activity in our lives in spite of our mistakes and rebelliousness.

This purposeful remembering helps move beyond remembering as just an activity of recollection. As we deliberately remember, we grow closer to God. In this, we learn to depend more on Him. We also realize again and again that he will never fail us even when we fail Him.

Don’t Forget to Remember!

Remembering our history as a culture, as individuals and related to our faith is important. To Remember?!, especially as Christians, exists not simply as an act of recollection but also as a habit that propels us into action.

Forget 1

In the Old Testament, the directive to “remember” sometimes comes phrased as “do not forget.” The concept runs throughout the New Testament as well, and both direct our attention and priority within our remembering.

Pulling out just a few examples helps grasp the importance God places on not just remembering but on allowing that recollection to guide our activity. It also helps take our understanding of “remembering” to a deeper level.

Old Testament

Deuteronomy is often called a “book of remembrance” by Bible scholars. The phrases “remember” and “do not forget” come frequently enough to spot during even a casual reading.

Psalms present the words “remember” or “do not forget” about 70 times, depending on the version.  Psalm 78 is a good example.

New Testament
Forget 2

The Gospels hold many instances where the disciples remember what Jesus said & did. This remembrance then drove their activity (John 2:22 and John 12:16). In addition, Jesus himself even directed them toward remembrance (John 16:4).

Studying this thread of “remembering” in Scripture gives tremendous instruction as to why, what and how that activity should take place in our own lives. It also helps discover significant purpose in our remembering, transforming it into Purposeful Remembering.

Remember?!

RememberIs Remembering Enough?

From holidays to monuments, memorials commemorate and preserve a significant person, place or event. Think of memorials as direction markers in history showing the people and events that shaped cultures. Consider the following examples:

Memorial Day honors all US military personnel who have perished during all wars and military actions in which the United States has been involved.

Labor Day celebrates the American labor movement and commemorates the social and economic achievements of workers.

Veterans’ Day honors people who served in the US Armed Forces. It coincides with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day celebrated in other countries. All of these mark the anniversary of the end of WWI.

Independence Day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 when the United States declared independence from Great Britain.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France in 1886, is a worldwide symbol of freedom & democracy.

Castle Clinton, the most visited national monument in the United States, sits on the bottom of Manhattan Island and was originally built to protect New York from British invasion during the War of 1812.

Memorials aid our memory and help us preserve what we cherish most as a culture. We have many types of memorials throughout history such as stones, prehistoric drawings on cave walls, grave markers, tombs, pyramids, obelisks and statues.

Memorials also exist on a more personal level. We have special days like birthdays and anniversaries to commemorate the most important people in our lives. We have objects like wedding rings and photographs to help that remembrance to go beyond just a single day a year.

While remembering certainly exists on a variety of levels in our lives, is simply remembering enough? Is just bringing to mind people and places and events enough to serve the purpose for which these memorials exist?

Active Remembering

To help answer these questions, consider the theme of “remembering” that runs heavily throughout the Bible. Looking in depth at the word used for remembering can help us understand how we are called beyond simply recalling or remembering.

Azakarah (n) “memorial” = a sacrificial term describing the act “which brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or which brings God into honorable remembrance with the offerer.”

Zakhar (v) “to prick,” “pierce,” “penetrate”

These definitions help us see that the idea of “remembering” in Scripture goes well beyond just recollection. Action and sacrifice are also significant aspects of remembering.

Remembering or recalling by itself isn’t enough. Without action, we just have a day off work or a reason to eat or spend too much. When a call to action accompanies our remembering — which it does throughout Scripture — we find ourselves changed, hopefully for the better, as a result of that active remembering.

Along with this post, several more help explore this idea of active remembering:

The goal of studying “remembering” in this way is to discover the true purpose remembering should have in our lives. With that purpose, we can see the results that active remembering can bring to the life of a Christian.

Invisible?

 

Do you ever feel invisible?

I’m not talking literally, like superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. I’m talking the type of invisible you feel when others fail to notice you in some way.

This happens when you’re driving, and someone pulls in front of you as if you aren’t even on the road in your vehicle. It happens when you’re at the grocery store and people walk in front of you as you’re walking down the aisle, and you have to stop abruptly to prevent yourself from running into them.

Worst of all, though, is when someone you are talking with suddenly starts having a conversation with someone else. Sometimes, it’s when two or more people you were talking to suddenly only talk to each other and make it quite obvious that you are not a part of that conversation.

Another type of invisibility involves your contributions. This happens when you consistently and faithfully go about your commitments, and no one really says anything. Until you make a mistake. Then they say something.

Ever had any of these happen?

Feeling invisible in these ways frustrates me and is one of the quickest routes to a bad mood that I find difficult to shake. I mean, I’m sure all of these people overlooked me on purpose.

Do you ever wish you were invisible?

Now I AM talking about the superhero-ring-of-power-invisibility-cloak type of invisible. (As an aside, scientists have discovered how to actually make something invisible See the video here.)

Where would you go? What would you do?

Maybe you would listen in on conversations to find out what people really think of you. Think about it. You could get someone all riled up, leave the room to put on whatever it is that makes you invisible, and then follow that person to find out if you become the topic of a conversation.

Or maybe you would start messing with people. You could blow in someone’s ear, throw sunflower seeds at someone or even follow them around until they get the feeling that they are being watched.

The Invisible God

Really, much of what significantly impacts our lives is invisible. Sound waves. Heat waves. Wind. Oxygen. You see the impact, sure, but not the element itself. Actually, we could not continue to function or even exist without the invisible.

Interesting that the idea of invisibility, whether in fiction or real life and depending on its various forms and conditions, can both benefit as well as negatively impact our lives.

Take this beyond the scientific and into the spiritual, and consider that God – the creator of the universe… of sound, heat, wind & oxygen – is also invisible (1 Timothy 1:17 & Colossians 1:15). We also know our faith is based on what is yet unseen.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)”

Our faith and our hope are all based on the invisible. Even our true struggles take place in the unseen.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

In then follows that our focus should be more on the invisible.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

We can choose to overlook the invisible God and the unseen forces that battle around us, and we can choose to not focus on that intangible unseen force of love. Or, we can choose to take in the reality of what the invisible means for our lives and let it become a part of our reality.

How do we do this?

  1. Realize that troubles are opportunities that help us look beyond this life and to place our hope in the eternal God.
  2. Understand that our ultimate hope is that this life is not all there is and that there is life beyond what we can see.
  3. Believe that we will live with God in eternity to help us live above the pain of the present.
  4. Be directed by God’s Holy Spirit within us and protected by His armor around us. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

Would you be invisible if you could?

My boys and I periodically talk about what kind of mythical beings we would be and what powers or abilities we would have if we could. Invisibility is not one of my choices. (In case you’re curious, I would be a Jedi Elf. Think Obi Wan morphed with Legolas.) I have felt invisible before and hated it. Even more than my personal feelings, I just feel that the invisible really exists for that which is much higher than myself.

Ultimately for now, the unseen exists as a matter of faith. Without doubt — being completely sure — faith would have no place in my life. For that reason, I choose to believe in an invisible God. I choose to focus on the unseen force of love and to bank my soul on the reality of an eternity in Heaven. In that way, really, the invisible directs me and exists as more of a reality than anything tangible I can verify with my five senses.

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Reset Your Focus

What’s Your Focus?

Lost and a wrong focus happens to everyone from time to time. Busyness. Illness. Distraction. Details differ, but everyone struggles with keeping focus on what God desires for their life.

“If you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

Think of this quote in terms of focus.

  • What are you focused on?
  • What’s the ultimate goal of your life?
  • Where are you headed?
  • Is this really the focus you want?
  • Is it really the focus God wants for you?

Thinking about focus in terms of a whole life direction and then within each area (personal, professional, physical, spiritual, mental) of life is crucial for determining attitudes actions and words on a daily basis.

Reset Your Focus

Changing the direction in which you’re going (i.e. changing your focus) requires deliberate effort. If you don’t care where you’re going or what you’re focusing on, then do nothing. Something will grab your attention without any effort. But if you care, keep reading.

Focus determines reality. Change focus, change reality.

Resetting your focus in any area of life involves evaluating and then carefully choosing how you focus in three ways.

1. Make sure your actions and focus align.

The direction you’re going is determined by the decisions you make. Identify any misalignment (lost focus) by looking at your daily decisions. Do your actions reflect the focus you want? If not, make decisions that change and redirect those actions.

2. Make sure your words reflect your focus.

Words direct what people think about you. Even more significant, words direct how you think about yourself. If you’re self-deprecating, you won’t think highly of yourself and other people won’t either. How you talk about yourself will be reflected in your actions and decisions. Change the words you use by changing what you allow to influence your thinking (people, what you read, how much time you spend on your phone, etc.).

3. Make sure you’re solution focused not problem focused.

Do you constantly talk and act as if you’re a victim of circumstances? Think of it this way… who isn’t a victim of circumstance? A problem-focused person will focus on what happened to them and probably how unfair it was. A solution-focused person will focus on what they can do and say about their circumstances. They’ll look at what they need to do to make progress. They realize that circumstances may affect them in unavoidable ways, but they don’t have to define them.

Resetting your focus requires focusing on solutions and how they can bring you closer to your goals and keep you focused on what God has set before you to be and accomplish. It means taking action after prayerfully searching for answers.

Every day is full of opportunity. Choose your focus each and every day by using that opportunity to become and do what God has set in your heart.

“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9, AMP)

Want to delve deeper into this important concept of focus? Check out these other posts & resources on the topic!

Repetition Means Pay Attention

Key Study Technique

One of the best ways to learn from Scripture, no matter what part you’re reading, is by looking for repeated words and phrases. In fact, noticing such patterns while reading the Bible is a key study technique.

Repetition exists at verse, chapter and book levels. Some also connect through all of Scripture too.

There’s always a significant reason for the existence of repetition in the Bible. In fact, it has a great deal to teach us. Whenever we see a repeated word, phrase, activity, behavior, etc. know that there’s something we need to notice.

Learning from Others

Repetition in Scripture often helps us see patterns of behavior. We may not right away realize why a pattern exists, but studying them in the lives of those who went before us almost always leads to significant revelations we can apply to our own lives.

For example, two overarching themes in the book of Judges shown through repeated or similar phrasing teach us a couple of significant lessons.

“Israel did evil in the Lord’s sight.” (Judges 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; & 13:1)

Israel cried out to the Lord for help, and God raised up a judge to lead them. (Judges 3:9, 13; 4:3-4; 6:6-7; 10:10; & Ch. 13)

“There was peace.” (Judges 3:11; 4:30; & 5:31)

This pattern is found at least 5 times in Judges. The repetition shows us that…

  1. Disobedience ALWAYS brings judgment.
  2. God is ALWAYS faithful.

Judges also uses repetition to show the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as experienced in the lives of Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah and Sampson.

The repeated words and phrases we see in Judges, a book filled with drama and intrigue, exemplifies the impact of repetition throughout Scripture. But, we can easily expand our look beyond the book and see repetition used throughout Scripture.

Consider these examples of repetition in the Bible:

  • Wisdom references found throughout Proverbs.
  • “Blessed are…” and other repeated phrases in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)
  • Stories found in each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John)

Studying these patterns in Scriptures can amplify your understanding of what God desires for his people. It can also help you better understand God’s character.

Pay Attention to the Repetition

Repetition exists in Scripture for emphasis. Often, it emphasize a lesson or application God wants us to learn and apply as in the examples given above. It is also sometimes equivalent to why we bold and italicize text today. For example…

“Holy, holy, holy.” (Isaiah 6:30 & Revelation 4:8)

Whatever the specific reason, repetition in the Bible always means pay attention. Make a habit of marking them in your Bible. Not only will you get better at noticing them as you establish the habit, but you’ll also be enriched by discovering why each one exists.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

Fess Up When You Mess Up

The Value of Failure

No one likes to admit they made a mistake. Sure, some people are better and quicker at admitting mistakes than others, but I don’t think anyone can say they actually enjoy having to fess up when they mess up.

Failure has value when we admit our mistakes. As I have told my boys many times after a failure…

“Learn from it and move on.”

Our fessing up to mistakes also has tremendous value for others too. My mom was right when she implored me as I entered my teen years to learn from her mistakes. Today, I realize that the best mistakes to learn from are other people’s mistakes. Unfortunately, it took me 20 years to realize how very right my mother was. I wonder how much pain I could have avoided had I understood this sooner, had I been teachable earlier in life.

The Greatest Teacher

So, I now try to be more transparent about my own mistakes in an effort to help others at least not make the same ones. Maybe they’ll even make less mistakes altogether.
Yoda, as always, was right when he said…

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher failure is.” (The Last Jedi)

Yes, I have some expertise and experience I can use to teach others. My mistakes, however, will often be better teachers though.

For all of us, our greatest teacher is often our own failure. The failures of others can teach us too, though, if we let it. When we do, we get to receive the lesson without the baggage that comes along with making the mistake ourselves.

For Further Study

Consider the many examples of failure and folly in the Bible… Moses, David, Peter, etc. How can they can be examples for learning in your own life? Also note how these same individuals give us examples we can learn from through strength and mastery too.

Strengths & Weaknesses

My awareness of what this culture values significantly impacts the value I place on my strengths and weaknesses. Really, it all too often determines what I believe is a strength or a weakness.

When I focus on what the world defines as valuable, my weaknesses seem abundant. My strengths? What strengths?

Strength in Weakness

Continually, the Holy Spirit draws me back to what the Bible says about my weaknesses and strengths.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

In this drawing, I again realize again that I am accepted (1 John 3:1), secure (Jeremiah 29:11) and significant (John 15:16) regardless of how I define my strengths and weaknesses.

I also re-remember that my gifts, talents and abilities exist to glorify God. They’re not for competition or comparison or accolades.

My Identity in Christ must define me. Not my weaknesses. Not my strengths. Not my culture. Not my own thinking.

Continually draw me back to your truth, Lord, to how you define me.