A Simple Approach to Bible Study

Take a few minutes to read through Philippians 4 with the purpose of answering one, simple question:

How does it apply to me?

Don’t worry about getting deeply spiritual or even too specific. Just use the words given to list points of application.

Assuming you’ve made your list, compare it to the one I’ve made. Think of this like what you might discuss as you sit with a group of friends discussing God’s word.

  1. Stop worrying.
  2. Be full of joy in the Lord.
  3. Pray about everything.
  4. Fix your thoughts.
  5. Put God’s truth into action.
  6. Follow Godly examples.
  7. Let God’s peace reign.
  8. Learn to be happy regardless of circumstances.
  9. Christ gives the strength you need, sometimes through others.
  10. God meets every need.

This simple activity is a great way to begin discussing Scripture with friends. Add in asking “What does it say?” (looking at context) and “What does it mean?” (bringing in other Scripture), and it won’t take long before the Bible comes alive like never before for you.

Overcoming Discouragement

Discouragement happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s why it’s addressed so frequently in the Bible.

  • Job was discouraged because of his family and friends. (Book of Job)
  • Elijah became discouraged after a huge victory. (1 Kings 19)
  • Jeremiah was discouraged with God. (Lamentations 3)
  • Jesus’s disciples were discouraged after his death. (Luke 24:20-21)
  • Peter was discouraged with himself. (Matthew 26)

The insight gained from these individuals along with other Scripture gives us valuable instruction for dealing with our own discouragement.

Honestly acknowledge feelings. This happens with all of the individuals listed above. Being honest with yourself is crucial for opening your mind and spirit to encouragement and hope. In fact, it may just be the first requirement for transitioning from being discouraged to being encouraged.

Take care of yourself physically. God sets the example for this with Elijah. Before addressing Elijah’s discouragement, God makes sure Elijah is nourished, hydrated, and rested. We simply cannot overcome discouragement without taking care of ourselves physically too.

Think about what you’re thinking about. Both Jeremiah and Elijah do this, and we are encouraged to do so as well both through their examples and through other Scripture that addresses our thought lives.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Retrain your brain. This is especially important if discouragement has become like a shadow. Retraining your brain essentially involves cleaning out unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with ones that promote growth and open you up to encouragement.

A mindset that is able to ward off continued discouragement is one that acknowledges and accepts that life is hard and that focuses on knowing that God will create value and purpose out of what you’re going through.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14)

Press in close to God. Life is hard. People disappoint. And, God’s ways aren’t always clear or make sense. Pressing close to God acknowledges your trust in him regardless of circumstances.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.” (Nahum 1:7)

Chase out negative feelings. Getting rid of negativity is important, but it only works long term if we replace it with thankfulness.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

When I get discouraged, I revisit the stories in the Bible of others who also experienced discouragement as well as the many verses that speak to how to defeat a mindset of discouragement. Doing so reminds me of God’s activity as well as gives me specific ways to move away from a mindset of negativity and discouragement and toward one of hope and peace in Him.

Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.

Paying Attention

Ever been told to “pay attention”? Ever tell someone else to “pay attention”? We can all probably answer “yes” to both of these questions.

Every wonder why we so often struggle to pay attention? If pressed to give a short answer, I would say, “comfort and distraction.”

Distraction probably makes sense to most. We struggle paying attention often because we have so much other stuff vying for our focus.

Comfort, though? For me, yes. Often, actually.

Too Comfortable?

A significant, often overlooked, danger to/enemy of our attention is comfort. Comfort with the world and with our own level of growth.

When we get too comfortable, we let our guards down. As a result, things (habits, activities, people, etc.) get into our lives – and become distractions – that shouldn’t. We then begin to pay attention to those distractions and make them our focus.

If you’re struggling to visualize this happening, read through the book of Judges. It’s filled with examples of how God’s people got comfortable and failed to pay attention over and over and over again.

Do An Assessment

To avoid the damage that can happen when you fail to pay attention, take time to assess your own attentiveness to the things of God regularly. The following questions can help:

  1. Do I regularly read and meditate on Scripture? Am I dwelling on it or rushing through?
  2. Are my prayer times forced and obligatory?
  3. How are my reactions? Am I quick to rush to conclusions? Do I make decisions based on far too many assumptions rather than taking time to get the facts?
  4. Is my attitude like a roller coaster?
  5. Am I always in a hurry? Do I constantly push others to step up the pace too?

Let the Holy Spirit show you where you need to make adjustments. Let God guide you to a place of focused attention that propels your productivity for Him.

Life of Trees

In Spring 2018, I decided to read “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I still remember the “Why?” looks my family gave me when they found out what I was reading. Essentially, they thought the topic would be boring and could not imagine why I would choose it.

Though not the most exciting read, and in no way encouraging my hope of the existence of Ents or Narnian foliage, realizing how trees communicate was fascinating. Learning about the life of trees, especially why some are so resilient, renewed and deepened my appreciation for how nature shows God’s glory.

Be Like Trees

Learning more about trees also increased my understanding of where the Bible references trees. It gave me depth of understanding about how trees illustrate how we are to grow spiritually. For example, we are to…

  1. Thrive like the olive tree, which can live 500 years even when neglected because its root system allows it to get water quickly. (Psalm 52:8)
  2. Flourish like a palm tree that sheds leaves on purpose before a storm to make it less top heavy and therefore less affected by the force of the wind. (Psalm 92:12)
  3. Grow quickly like the cedar and in a wide range of climates with roots often as deep as the tree’s height. (Psalm 92:12)

How can we be like trees in our spiritual lives?

We can thrive like olive trees by continually seeking living water (John 4:10) and by trusting in God’s love. We can flourish like palm trees by letting go of what weighs us down during life’s storms (Hebrews 12:1). And, we can grow like cedars by establishing deep roots in the fertile soil of God’s word (Luke 8:1-15).

Progress Over Perfection

Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because I get easily frustrated over my apparent lack (or absence) of progress as well as the lack (or absence) of progress I see in others, I need reminded of what God says about how we are to grow spiritually.

To that end, this post is simply my collection of Scripture emphasizing the idea of focusing on progress over perfection.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the LORD’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.(Ephesians 4:15)

“Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18)

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Even though I know this emphasis placed on progress over perfection this side of Heaven, I still get discouraged when I fail to see any forward activity. Knowing I have this tendency, I also daily pray this prayer…

“Father, forgive me for my weak faith. Help me to trust You even when I don’t see You working.”

Coupled with regular gratitude for the progress I have seen over the years and for His faithfulness through it, my focus continually returns to the almighty God. And, as always, focus determine reality, and I then see more of him working for progress in my life and in the lives of others.

Course Corrections

Pilots make course corrections continually throughout a flight. If they don’t, the plane will end up far from its goal, maybe over an ocean and out of fuel.

Several factors cause an airplane to get off course. Wind direction & intensity. Storms. Each one only changes its path a few degrees. If left uncorrected, the degrees add up.

Doesn’t the same happen in our lives too?

We make plans, ones we know God wants, but life often gets us off of them gradually. Degree by degree, we get off track and can eventually find ourselves lost and out of fuel.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Fortunately, God gives us regular course corrections. We just need to pay attention and then obey what He wants us to do.

Scripture. Internal promptings. Other people. Physical symptoms. Patterns. Ideas. Revelations. Connections.

All of these are ways God gives course corrections. At least, that’s how He regularly gives them to me. I’ve also found that the more I look for His corrections, the more I’ll recognize them.

The Source

More importantly, I’ve come to realize that the Holy Spirit is the source of all these course corrections.

“But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-15)

The Holy Spirit’s activity in my life has been nothing short of transformational. I am thankful for God’s course corrections, especially because I can look back and see how he used them to protect me from so much pain. I invite you to discover this transformation in your own life.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

Be Determined

Biblical Examples

Determination can be good or bad depending on your focus. It also lasts or fades depending on the approach we take to maintaining it. As Christians, our goal is to maintain a God-focused determination.

Let’s look at three individuals in scripture from whom we can learn a lot about a God-focused determination.

  • Ezra’s determination teaches us that we must be hearers, doers and teachers of God’s Word. (Ezra 7:9-10)
  • Daniel’s determination shows us that resisting the surrounding culture is not only possible but necessary. (Daniel 1:8)
  • Paul’s determination illustrates the need for complete focus on the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

These men teach us a great deal about staying determined, and they set examples we can and should follow.

Biblical Instruction

Through Ezra’s, Daniel’s and Paul’s examples, we see that staying determined is possible. In addition, the Bible clearly indicates where our determination should focus.

We are to be determined to…

  1. Obey God: Simply make up your mind to do it. (1 Samuel 7:3)
  2. Avoid sin: Know your convictions before you are tested. (Job 31:1)
  3. Stand firm: Stand in faith, and you will be protected. (Isaiah 7:9)
  4. Follow Christ: Let Him lead you in every area of life. (Mark 8:34-38)

How to Be Determined

How do we obtain and maintain an enduring God-focused determination? Let’s again look to Ezra, Daniel & Paul for answers.

  • Ezra praised God for giving him favor. He also went to the Lord with concerns. (Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 9)
  • Daniel had a habit of prayer that he maintained even when facing death. (Daniel 6:10)
  • Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, often included prayers filled with thanksgiving, prayers for others, as well as prayer requests for his ministry. (See a list of Paul’s prayers on Scripture Zealot.)

Habits of prayer, praise and thanksgiving are keys to constant God-focused determination. Also, never forget that God promises to help us stay determined.

“For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint (a stone), and I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)

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Talk Less. Listen More.

Live at Peace

Doing your part to Live at Peace with others is highly contextual. Specific situations and people require certain and different actions and words. The right response varies from one context to the next. At the same time, there is one approach that applies in almost every situation.

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Proverbs 26:20)

In a nutshell, take care with the words you use. If possible, don’t use them.

All About Balance

The theme of watching what we say is clear throughout the book of Proverbs. The rest of Scripture is not silent about the importance of the words we use either. In fact, considering the balance of what we say to what we do not say is better for everyone involved.

“Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2)

“Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.” (Proverbs 25:12)

“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

In other words… Talk less. Listen more.

Simple, but not easy.

Ask for Help

Sometimes, not saying something takes all the self-control I have, and there’s little left for engaging in listening. Yet, truly listening is often what’s necessary to understand another and to establish a peaceful relationship.

On my own, I fail to keep quiet and to listen all too often. I need help.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

God never let’s me down. He faithfully leads me to fulfilling his desires for my relationships. I promise He’ll do the same for you too.

Fore more on the impact of what we say and how we say it, read James 3.