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Finding the Right Path Through God’s Word

There are so many ways to study the Bible! It’s a good thing, too, because there’s so much of the Bible to study! Lately, God’s been leading me into a new understanding. I’d be privileged to share my thoughts with you:

Red LeavesFor several years now, in my personal study time, I’ve been reading through the Bible—again and again and again. I start in Genesis, read through to Revelation, then start all over again. Sometimes I switch translations, but I always find my way back to the NIV. That version, even updated now, just feels like home to me.

In any case, through the past few readings, I’ve started lingering longer and longer in some passages, wanting to get as much from each as I can. I know that once I move on, unless we study the passage at church or I encounter it in a book, it may be a few years before I circle around to it again. (I don’t read the Bible through in a year. If you’re curious, click here to learn why.)

This slowing down reminds me of a quote by Quaker minister Stephen Grellet, “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Grellet was talking about ministering to people—grasping every opportunity—rather than getting the most out of Bible verses, but the idea is the same. Unless God decides to take me home, I know I’ll eventually read whatever passage I’m on again, but I also know it could be a while until I get there, so I hate to move on until I’ve absorbed as much truth from it as I can.

The point is: God is starting to slow me down—even more—again. But for me this is just as scary as moving on too soon! If I slow down, I may never reach a passage that I really need to read! Do I stay or do I go and how do I grasp everything I need to in God’s totally amazing, yet great, big Book?

I think this may become another exercise in trust. Can I trust God to lead me through His Word at His pace and in the order He determines in order to communicate everything to me that I need to know at just the right time I need to hear it?

That is the question.

1-23-14 PostSince December 1st, I’ve been reading a daily devotional that has weekly themes. Each week, there is a prayer to open with and a prayer to close with. There are devotional readings and Scripture passages that change daily, yet correspond with the week’s theme. There is also a Psalm for the week.

Funny thing is: praying the same two prayers every day for a week doesn’t faze me. I’m enjoying that, coming to understand what I’m asking God to do, and why, and truly making the prayers my own. But I’ve been feeling quite rebellious about reading the same Psalm each day for a week. Something inside me wants to read it, reflect on it, and move on.

I’ve been playing along, though—and, at first, I think it really was playing. But something interesting has happened the past few weeks that’s making me appreciate this discipline more. The first two or three days that I would read a Psalm, I’d think I had it and was ready to move on. But then, on the third or fourth day, something new would jump out at me, allowing me to see the passage in a whole new light. This week something new jumped out the day after that happened, too. Two brand new truths from one Psalm in one week! I can’t wait to read it again tomorrow. Who knows what is waiting for me?

I once knew a pastor who lived only in the Book of Hebrews for three whole years. I was a high school student at the time, so three whole years sounded like an awful long time for studying just one book! Now I think I’d understand if he wanted to stay even longer—just there—if it was what God led him to do.

I attended Bible study class this morning. We’re just starting on the Book of James. As our teacher started talking and classmates started answering her questions, I started remembering all sorts of things I’ve ever learned about that amazing book. But then I stopped myself (or maybe God stopped me). I wasn’t there to remember past lessons, though they are good and true and foundational. I was there to learn something new. So I asked God to open my mind and my heart to new truths. And God answered that prayer.

I hope this post hasn’t annoyed you too much. It’s kind of a ramble, not my usual style. But these are the thoughts that have been roaming through my mind on the subject of grasping hold of God’s Word. For now:

  • I’m going to continue reading through my Bible, beginning to end, but I’ll be more open to His direction should He lead me to reread something, jump ahead, go back, or switch versions. Bible study doesn’t have to be an orderly pursuit.
  • I will let God facilitate my personal study time, knowing that if I just plow ahead, I may actually be missing something good! I’ll approach every passage I encounter, whether in personal study time, in my Bible study class, in a sermon, or in a book, as an opportunity to learn a new truth—even if, maybe especially if, it’s one I’ve known from childhood.
  • I won’t let the size of the Book intimidate me. Instead, I’ll trust God to use it as His perfect tool for instructing me—and each of His children—in all we need to know. If I find myself reading the same Psalm every day of every week for a year, I won’t worry about whatever the next one holds. God will lead me to it in His time. For now He has me studying all that He needs for me to know.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Please forgive me for rationing it out carefully, controlling the intake so I’ll get equal amounts of each priceless verse. Help me to trust You with the pace and content of my Christian education. It’s Your Word—that makes You the perfect teacher Who knows just what I need to know. Open my mind and heart. I want to know what You want me to know about You, Your Kingdom, Your ways, and Your Word. In Jesus’ name, amen.

How do you study the Bible?

What book are you reading now?

In one sentence, what’s a recent lesson you’ve learned?

This post is linked to Missional Women’s Faith-Filled Friday Blog Link-up.

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A Parachute Prayer for the New Year

Parachute PrayerAs we prepare for the New Year, whether we make resolutions or not, many of us become introspective, considering improvements, goals, habits, and dreams. There’s just something about a new day, week, month, year, decade, or millennium that seems to trigger this in us: the desire to grab hold of something brand new and make something beautiful out of it.

I think it has something to do with being made in the image of our grand, Creator God. We want to create, too! Yet when one year doesn’t go exactly as planned, we look forward to the opportunity to try all over again.

I don’t usually make resolutions, but I do set goals, make plans, and dream. I’ve been ultra-compulsive about it this year, in fact. I think that comes naturally out of becoming an empty-nester and embarking on a new phase of this life’s adventure. I have books to write, many more to read, and a great desire to organize ev-er-y-thing. I’m also feeling called to pray like never before and am greatly intrigued to discover where that calling will lead. (If you are following this blog, I promise, prayer will be this year’s biggest theme!)

  • How do you approach the New Year? Do you make resolutions, reflect and goal-set, or simply try not to think about it much?

If you approach the New Year like I do, you need to know that all this introspection, reflection, and goal-setting is meaningless if your perspective is off. In order to move forward effectively, we must first learn to see ourselves as God sees us.

New Year PrayerFor example, whether or not we lose an extra five pounds is probably one of God’s lower priorities for us. He wants us to make healthy choices and care for His design. If we’re doing that, the number on the scale is irrelevant. When we train ourselves to place our focus where His is—such as on the healthy choice instead of on the scale— we’ll probably take a lot of pressure off of ourselves. Then we will be able to serve Him with a better frame of mind: “God loves me and has meaningful work for me to do. I’ll care for myself so that I can serve Him well,” rather than “I’m not good enough to serve God because I just can’t seem to reach this goal. I am a failure. I’m incompetent. Poor me.”

In light of this, let’s practice a new Parachute Prayer: Whenever you see your reflection, pray, “Lord, please help me see myself as You see me. Help me to cooperate with You as I see You working in my life. Make me over in Your image that I’ll be able to serve You well. In Jesus’ name and for Your glory, amen.”

If we do this, God will answer our prayer and help us to see our own lives from His perspective which is, truthfully, the only perspective that counts. Armed with this point of view, we’ll be able to step into 2014 with confidence. God will make something truly beautiful using us.

For more encouraging thoughts this weekend, visit The Weekend Brew and Spiritual Sundays.

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Learning to Pray Fervently

Intense Purple FlowersFor the past two days, I’ve been writing about praying fervently for people and about circumstances that draw us to our knees. (Click here and here to read those posts.) It was Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 9:18-19 and 25 that prompted these thoughts. Today I’d like to consider a few methods of praying with determination and fortitude about whatever has deeply touched our hearts. After all, not all of us are capable of spending 40 days and 40 nights with no food or water and with our noses in the dirt. (Though, if God called us to it, He’d make us able to do this—and we’d probably thank Him for it in the end.)

I don’t know how you are, but when I have an urgent concern, everything around me will remind me of it. When I first noticed this about myself, I started training myself to use those random thoughts as reminders to pray. This is the concept behind the Parachute Prayers that I write about from time to time. When something reminds me of a prayer concern, I whisper a prayer right away.

But prayer should be more than whispers now and then. Just as, if my husband and I only ever said, “Hey, how are you doing?” from time to time, our marriage would fall apart. Sometimes we need to sit down and discuss the bigger issues of life. Like all married couples, we talk about work, kids, ministry, finances, hopes, dreams, projects, plans, what we’re learning, our house, and us. If one of us thinks of something we need to sit down and really talk, think together, and pray about, we may mention it in passing, but then we’ll find or even schedule a time to focus together on that one thing.

Sometimes Parachute Prayers are the mentioning-it-to-God part of the conversation. They’re the cue to schedule a time to really talk.

When a specific concern is on my mind like this, so that I start seeing reminders of it everywhere, I’ve found it helpful to start keeping a journal. I’ll write out Bible verses that apply to the situation, quotes from other books, song lyrics, personal thoughts—I’ve even printed out pictures or cartoons that have reminded me to pray. As I’m putting these things in my journal, I’m talking to God about the issue of concern. Later, when I’m ready to really sit down and pray, reconsidering the items in my journal can help me to focus and speak my mind clearly.

I don’t treat every prayer concern with this much intensity. But for an on-going heart concern such as a friend’s chronic illness, another’s troubled marriage, a child’s need, or simply the focus and direction of my work, journaling helps me pray more fervently.

Yet, not everyone prays in the same way. So please don’t feel I’m saying you must follow my lead. I’m only describing what I do in case you’ll find it helpful, not to pressure you.

According to Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Pathways, we’re all wired to communicate with God a little bit differently. Just as we have different learning styles and different love languages, we also have different means of reaching out to God. Obviously, I pray with words, pens, paper, my keyboard and computer screen. My husband likes to disappear into the woods for a time whenever he needs to talk with God; he’s drawn to nature. My grandmother used to sit down at her piano or organ and play and play and pray; music helped her worship God. Words and Ideas. Nature. Music. Thomas identifies several more, but, if you stop and think about it, you probably already know what draws you to God. Stop right now and try to determine what this is. Ask God to make your prayer bent clear. Now use this information about yourself to help you when it’s time to pray fervently. When you really need to be with God, go where you’ve always found Him.

Father, thank You for drawing us to talk with You. Remind us pray often about all big and little things. We bring our concerns to You for comfort, for wisdom, for the assurance that You know about them and that You really care. We’ll entrust the outcome to You as we learn to focus on knowing and loving You. You’re worthy, Lord. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts this weekend, visit Spiritual Sundays and Heart Reflected.

And if you haven’t found it yet, click here to visit my new Facebook author page.

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Revelation 22:17 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” –Revelation 22:17

I think this must be one of the happiest verses in the Bible. Can’t you feel the excitement? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” It’s a party invitation. And this party includes free water of life for all who are thirsty. Life. Joy. Everything we need.

A key part of this verse, though, can be found in the first few words. Look who’s doing the inviting: the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit, the One Who draws people to Christ, the Source of the free gift of water in this verse. (See John 4:10-13.) The bride, though, is us! If we’ve received this living water and are on our way to the party (eternal life in Heaven with our Lord), we’re not to be silent about it. We’re to yell, “Come!” As we travel, we tell everyone we meet where we’re going and that they’re invited, too. Just picture yourself walking, or maybe even running, toward the great feast in God’s Kingdom that you’ve been invited to. As you go, you reach out toward everyone you see along the way, eagerly taking their hands, looking in their eyes, and urging them to come with you.

“Come!” you say.

“Come!” the Spirit says.

Those who recognize what they are thirsty for will be happy to go with you.

I’ve written this verse on an index card and placed it where I’ll see it often this week. I invite you to do the same. As we meditate on these words, perhaps even coming to memorize them, let’s remember where we’re going and ask God to help us invite thirsty people to come along. In our prayer time, our thoughts on this verse will help us remember to pray that God will cause all people to recognize their thirst and to realize the truth: Jesus is the living water Who can satisfy their needs for all eternity.

Father, thank You for these joyous words. Help us to think of them often this week. Remind us, as we face whatever comes our way, that we’re on our way to eternity with You. Show us how and when to invite other people to come along. We’re looking forward to that future, happy day. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Recognizing a Call to Worship

Parachute Prayer“Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” –Psalm 89:15-16, NLT

I don’t know what the weather’s like around your house right now, but it’s been kind of a gloomy day around here. I’ve opened all the windows to let the sunshine in, but there isn’t any to be found. Even the dog is sulking. He likes to lay in the sunny spot on the floor. I giggle whenever he has to move to stay in the sunshine as that spot moves over the course of a day.

There’s no sunny spot today.

But there is a gentle breeze. I can see it rustling the leaves of trees and bushes around our house. Sometimes it gets a little more aggressive, causing colorful leaves to dance, then fall. Pleasant to watch—even on a non-sunshiny day.

Reading Psalm 89:15-16 sent my thoughts down this path. I thought of walking in the light of God’s Presence. He’s with us all the time every day. But sometimes we forget.

The Psalmist says those who hear the joyful call to worship are happy, rejoicing all day long in God’s wonderful reputation, exulting in His righteousness. That call to worship is available to everyone! Yet, not everyone hears it. Why? It’s something have to want to hear. It’s something we have to train ourselves to recognize.

Thankfully, the God of All Creation has given something to help us with this. When you see the sunshine crawling across your floor or feel its warmth on your skin, let it remind you that God is there. He’s not in the sunshine, but He created it. Let it be your call to worship Him.

Likewise, when you see the leaves dancing and beginning to fall or feel the crisp, cool Autumn air, let these do the same. Recognize the sunshine and the breeze as gifts from their Creator to You, gifts that can call you to express your thanksgiving and praise.

Father, I want to walk in the light of Your Presence every day—and be aware of it as I do! Thank You for simple reminders that You are everywhere, that You created everything, that I can stop and talk to You anytime, about anything. I love You, Lord! Amen.

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A Place to Nurture Faith and Watch It Grow

Wildflower Collage2It all started in Texas.

I only lived in that state for one year, but that gave me just enough time to discover wildflowers and to learn how to hunt them.

That’s right. I hunt them down and shoot them—with my camera, of course.

The first flowers I noticed were the bright purple tuber vervain, the showy primroses, the bluebonnets, and the Indian blankets. They were everywhere—and so pretty.

One morning, after Mike had left for work and the boys had left for school, I grabbed my little camera and drove to a nearby park where I’d seen some of these flowers blooming. I took all kinds of pictures.

They didn’t come out very good.

But I kept taking pictures. And my husband bought me a better camera. And my son taught me how to use the settings on that camera. And my pictures improved.

My new hobby was born.

It became more than a hobby, though. I started to notice that whenever I would stop to take a picture of one flower, I’d notice others nearby. When I moved to take their pictures, I’d see more—then more. I would think I was stopping to photograph one simple flower, then end up taking pictures of a lot!

I realized that our thoughts about God work like that, too. God is all around us all the time, trying to get our attention, trying to get us to think about Him and to talk with Him, too. Sometimes we’re busy and ignore Him. We carry on right past the thought and miss the message from God.

IMG_3268When something simple from everyday life, though, like a wildflower, catches our attention and draws us to think about God in some new way, His Spirit will bring other thoughts to mind. As we consider these, we’ll remember Bible verses, sermons, and other words we’ve heard or read which reinforce the thought. When we know God’s Word supports the new thought, we’ll realize we’ve learned a new truth. About God. About the way He wants us to live life.

That’s how Wildflower Thinking, my first blog was born.

But this is Wildflower Faith! This is the next step.

You see, thoughts are just thoughts. Thoughts about God and His truths are good. Very good! When we learn to apply them to our daily lives in a practical way, though, that’s faith. That’s growing faith!

Shortly after our family moved to Georgia for the first time, the move that followed our year in Texas, my husband planted a few showy primroses in our front yard for me. He thought I might enjoy raising some wildflowers of my own, and he was right!Primroses

Winter came, though, and the flowers died. They do that in winter, you know.

But then came spring and with it came not just a few little showy primroses, but enough to stretch across the whole front of our house. Those primroses where everywhere!

Wildflower Faith is like that. When hard times come, it may struggle or seem to disappear. If we don’t give up on it, though, it’ll come back. Stronger. And it will bring friends!

I invite you to join me here in this place where, together with God’s Spirit and His Word, we can nurture Wildflower Thoughts into Wildflower Faith

And watch it grow!