Biblical Strategies Blog

Author Archives: Phil Moser

4M Training for Men is Now Available

4M Training is a unique approach to spiritual growth for men. Here are some exerts from a few of our 4M Training exclusives with Carson Wentz, Gene Getz, Daniel Henderson, Andy Erwin, Lou Priolo, Nicolas Ellen, and Austin Hartman.

The thirteen-lesson manual includes: lesson notes, small group accountability page, weekly Quiet-Time pages, prayer journal, small group leader notes, multiple interviews, over 100 thought-provoking quotations, and a 20-card Scripture Retrieval Pack. Available now  at 

In 13 weeks, you can MATURE in your faith, MASTER key habits, MINISTER inside & out, and MENTOR the next generation. Learn more about 4M Training for Men at 

 

Carson Wentz —  NFL Quarterback — on Faith:

I know for me—as a kid—anything that I did I was going to work my tail off to earn what I got. That’s how the world instills this value: work, work, work, and earn it. But, Christianity is the only religion in the world where you can’t earn heaven. Jesus already did it. And this is what Paul is saying, “It is by grace alone you’ve been saved…”

 

Gene Getz — Christian Leader and Author — on Bible Study:

I look carefully at the text itself. Then, I look at the immediate context–and even beyond that in terms of the content in the total book. I also consider the whole redemptive story of the Bible. I then look at several good commentaries. This was my approach in discovering “Principles to Live By” in my Life Essentials Study Bible.

 

Daniel Henderson — International Leader of the Prayer Movement — on Praying:

Desperation can come through crisis or cultivation. I’ve sought to cultivate that desperation by focusing first on God’s worthiness. When I’ve done so, I have  found it far easier to see my neediness. Just like the first half of the Lord’s prayer is about God (who is worthy) and the second half is about man (who is needy).

 

Andy Erwin — Movie Producer/Director of I Can Only Imagine — on Fame:

I think that fame actually breeds insecurity – because we weren’t designed for that kind of glory, God was. It’s like the story of the Lord of the Rings. Each of the characters takes the ring believing it has such great potential for good, but before long they’re over in the corner caressing the ring and calling it precious. It corrupts them from within.

 

Lou Priolo — Counselor and Author — on Anger:

The most important thing to do is to make sure that when he does express anger in a sinful way, he quickly and thoroughly goes back and confesses it and asks for forgiveness. Another thing he can do, with the older children, is to ask them to hold him accountable, providing of course they can do it respectfully.

 

Austin Hartman — Violin Virtuoso — on Communication

What I have learned as a chamber musician is that I need to always be honing the way I speak to my colleagues. Because musical expression is so personal and deeply felt, it is important when speaking that I strike a delicate balance of showcasing respect for my colleagues’ artistry while also being direct and honest when making areas of weakness stronger.

 

Nicolas Ellen — Professor, Pastor, Counselor and Author — on Contentment

Enjoy the good that God allows. Be satisfied with the good things that God brings into your life that are beyond your control. The Bible says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jam. 1:17). Don’t get so busy looking at what you don’t have that you’re missing what you have been given. Enjoy it fully. Rejoice in the goodness of God.

 

Seeing Self-Pity as a Dead-End Road

Several years ago the road I traveled home at the end of the day was washed out in one of those torrential rains that come around every hundred years. For nearly ten years this had been my route home, but now there was a barrier placed at the half way point. My habitual commute ended with a dead-end. It took them two years to repair that road. For two years my commute included an extra five miles nearly every day, because I kept forgetting the road was out until I saw the barricade. I’d turn around and drive out the same way I’d come in, telling myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake tomorrow.

My route home during that time parallels my struggle with self-pity. Even though I know it is a road leading nowhere, I instinctively choose it as if I have no other option. Self-pity is best defined as the preoccupation with yourself because your hopes, desires, or expectations have not been realized. It is unproductive and destructive to all relationships. From time to time, I still find myself on that all-too-familiar road, unable to remember how I got there until I see that barricade and realize I’m approaching self-pity’s dead-end.

In the Scriptures we discover God’s thoughts on self-pity through his conversations with biblical characters. Three in particular are worth noting: Cain, Moses, and Jonah. Each encounter reveals God’s warnings for those on the dead-end road of self-pity. They also provide God’s gracious solutions for how to return to a life of productivity. A careful study of the biblical characters reveals several common features in their battles with self-pity:

  • It followed a mountain-top experience
  • It revealed a prideful desire for another’s approval
  • It intensified when they ran from responsibility
  • It grew in the discontented heart
  • It increased when they compared themselves to others
  • It fueled various forms of anger
  • It led to despair

While some of the features were similar, there were marked differences in the final outcomes. Moses was successful at defeating self-pity and went on to live a productive life. Cain and Jonah were not; they simply would not stop thinking about themselves.

Self-pity is sometimes mistaken for humility, but it is actually a prideful response, even though it may not feel that way to us or appear that way to others. C.S. Lewis shows us the nature of genuine humility when he writes, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Like the facade on a rotting structure, self-pity is a false humility. True humility is so sharply focused on others that it will sacrifice itself completely for another.

This is clearly the pattern Jesus demonstrated for us. When the disciples were arguing about who should be the greatest, Jesus saw it as an opportunity to talk about the cross. He says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Jesus encourages us to do the same.

While the Father teaches us how to think, and the Son exemplifies for us what to do, it is the Holy Spirit’s power that actually makes change possible. He empowers us to make God-honoring choices.  As we cooperate with him, those daily choices will become daily habits, and lasting change will follow. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit.

Perhaps you know self-pity firsthand. Your circumstances seem overwhelming. Negative thoughts consume your thinking. Feeling sorry for yourself has become a way of life. While you used to battle temptation, lately you can’t find the energy to try. You compare yourself to others and come up short. No matter where you start, all roads seem to lead to self-pity’s dead-end. Perhaps its time to get you off a road that leads nowhere and to get you back on the road God wants for you.

Because self-pity tends to be a struggle for many men, we include a session on it in our 4M Training for Men.

Taken from Dead-End Desire: biblical strategies for overcoming self-pity

Pride & Procrastination

My dentist warned me, but I didn’t listen. “A temporary crown,” he said, “is only temporary. Make an appointment to see me in about 30 days; by that time your permanent crown will be ready and we’ll make sure we protect that root canal.” I scheduled my next visit, but a severe storm closed the office the day of the appointment. They called and left several messages, but when you’ve developed the habit of procrastination, it’s pretty easy to not return a call from the dentist. Life got busy, and I forgot his warning. Months passed—18 to be exact. When I finally scheduled the appointment, the news wasn’t good. “A temporary crown can’t protect the tooth from decay, like a permanent one can. Decay has begun, and the situation has been compromised. I can do my best to attach the permanent crown, but at some point this tooth will need to be extracted.” I must have looked confused because he added, “The reason you didn’t feel the effects of the decay, was that we removed the nerve when we did the root canal.” While my dentist felt bad, it wasn’t his fault. My tendency to procrastinate made me responsible. I should have known better.

American investor and author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki reminds us, “Your future is determined by what you do today, not tomorrow.” The procrastinator gets comfortable believing that tomorrow will provide a better opportunity than today. Then, when tomorrow actually comes, it’s that much easier to wait for the day that follows. Banking on the idea that tomorrow will provide a better opportunity than today reveals our overconfidence. Benjamin Franklin said, “Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrows; never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

Tomorrow rarely provides the opportunities that today does. Jesus said that tomorrow would have troubles all its own. The lesson I learned in the dentist’s chair that day was: While I had chosen to wait, decay had not. It had begun its silent work the moment I had left the office 18 months earlier. What’s true in the dentist’s chair is true in your marriage, church, and community. You may wait, but decay goes to work right away. When you procrastinate, you don’t immediately feel the consequences of putting off what should be done. It’s like a deadened nerve in your tooth. The student that doesn’t turn in an assignment or two doesn’t feel the effects until mid-term grades come out. The nagging pain in his chest doesn’t send the man in his mid-life to the doctor until the heart attack comes. The effects of extra helpings of dessert don’t show up the next morning, they show up the next month.

This gradual decay affects our relationships as well. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Jesus chose the present tense for go, not the future tense. He’s saying go immediately. Don’t put it off. There’s a chance you can gain your brother, but that chance decreases exponentially when you wait.

Since communication is the number one reason given for most divorces, there’s a good chance that procrastination has killed more marriages than adultery. The initial conflict, no matter how sticky, is easier to resolve before bitterness has settled in. We find a similar warning in Ephesians: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Eugene Peterson translates that phrase, “Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” In the context of broken communication, procrastination gives Satan an opportunity he otherwise wouldn’t have. Make no mistake about it, he knows how to exploit it.

When my grandmother died, my parents passed her Bible on to me. When I opened it, a small piece of paper fell out. I recognized the handwriting as my grandmother’s. I’d certainly received my share of warnings from her growing up with her right down the street. But this time it was like she was giving one last warning from beyond the grave. The note read: Beware the fire storm. Any trouble you put off until tomorrow will quickly become far worse. Deal with it today. How I wish I had heeded her advice. But I’ve failed to do so enough times that I know firsthand the truth of that warning.

The idea that tomorrow will be better than today is pride’s subtle lie. Frankly, you don’t even know that you have tomorrow, but you do have today. Humility works today and doesn’t make assumptions about tomorrow. James gave this word of warning:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

While this passage appears to be describing an overconfident businessman, try viewing it through the lens of a procrastinator. Both the self-assured businessman and the tentative procrastinator have this in common: they are banking on the fact that they have tomorrow. While it may be more subtle on the part of the procrastinator, there is presumption in that thought. His problem is not time; his problem is pride. Until he humbles himself regarding his overconfident optimism, he will continue to put off until tomorrow what he could have done today. But in truth, we don’t know what tomorrow holds, so we should make a humble investment in tomorrow by being diligent today.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination

How procrastination kills your best moments

Victor Kiam, CEO of Remington, gave us five words that reveal procrastination’s great danger:

Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.

In the book of Genesis, God warned that he would send seven years of famine to Egypt, but he would first send seven years of plenty. Joseph saw the seven years of plenty as the time to prepare. Remember, the procrastinator usually chooses short-term pleasure over long-term planning. The procrastinator sees the seven years of plenty not as an opportunity to prepare, but as an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry.

The college student spends the early part of the semester gaming, partying, or binging on movies rather than getting started on the year-end projects. The father puts off his eight-year-old daughter’s soccer game, figuring he has plenty of games to watch later. The borderline diabetic disregards dietary changes until his condition is full-blown. When we believe we have plenty of time, we put off what is truly important. Herein lies the arrogance of the procrastinator’s optimism: it is prideful to believe tomorrow will offer the same opportunity that you have today. It is arrogant to presume upon a future that only God, in his wisdom, knows.

The early days of a student’s semester, for instance, are best spent planning for the closing days of the semester. But the end seems so far off, and the weekends so inviting, that he puts off his responsibilities. The father assumes his daughter will always have the same exuberance for him to be at her games as she does as an eight-year old. Both the college student and the father have something in common: they don’t see time as an opportunity to prepare for the future. The temptation to put it off happens easily when time seems plentiful; it’s only later, when we’ve run out of time, that we feel the urgency and attempt to make it up.

In Joseph’s final plea with Pharaoh he says, “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” In other words, the famine was coming whether or not Pharaoh made preparations. There was no changing it, and it was coming swiftly. Most procrastinators foolishly believe that they can avoid the consequences of not preparing in advance. They are convinced that somehow they will be the exception to the rule, but sadly they are not. Their moment of reckoning comes, ready or not.

One of my favorite stories as a child was Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant. With a Proverbs-like-commitment, the ant worked hard all summer, preparing for the winter while the grasshopper danced a jig with his fiddle and sang his summer away. The unavoidable consequence of winter came, and the ant was prepared, but the grasshopper was not. The window of opportunity had closed for harvest; the ground was frozen, blanketed in white. The ant told the grasshopper to go “dance upon the snow.” Needless to say, it was a very brief jig.

I’ve met some very busy procrastinators. They don’t appear to be lazy on the surface. But when you are always doing things at the last minute, you are not diligent in your preparation. You are lazy in your planning. You need to heed the lesson of the ant, lest you go the way of the grasshopper.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination

How setting your eyes on heaven helps you avoid procrastination

On the night before Jesus died, he informed his disciples that he would shortly be leaving.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Two times in this passage the word “prepare” occurs in the context of eternity. Remember, preparing in advance is a major challenge for the procrastinator. Simply apply that truth to the scope of your entire life, and you will understand what Jesus knew—you ought to be preparing for eternity. The Bible encourages us to live with the recognition that this world is not all there is. C.S. Lewis believed that most Christians lived as if this world were their home and heaven was a far and distant land. He challenged his generation to reverse the metaphor. He said that we were living in the far country and heaven was our home. Imagine that you are an American Citizen, with a two-week vacation scheduled in Europe. Would you not attempt to do as much as you could in those 14 days, knowing that you would shortly be returning to your homeland? When we are reaching for eternity we won’t procrastinate on the tasks that are before us because—in light of eternity—this life is so short-lived. Knowing that our citizenship is in heaven, should change the way that we spend our time on earth.

When I speak or serve in another part of the world, I often think that way. Sure, I enjoy the new sights and sounds of a distance land. I like to experience the culture and get to know its people. But by the end of the first week, I’m ready to go home. When I served on a humanitarian aid trip to Bosnia, I actually took out pictures of my wife and kids every night before I went to bed. I studied them, I remembered, and I smiled. I couldn’t wait to see them again. After five days, I was homesick, but there were still seven days left of service. Those seven days were really productive days. We delivered medical supplies to a hospital, mattresses to widows in a village, and basic food supplies to refugees. Our team didn’t procrastinate on any of these tasks. I didn’t once think I’ll do this next week, because the next week I was going home. Heaven isn’t the far country—you’re living in the far country. When you mistakenly call it home, you’ll procrastinate on what should be done today. But when you set your eyes on heaven, you’ll see today clearly, because you’re hoping that tomorrow you’ll be home.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination

How your fears make it easy to procrastinate and what you can do about it

Procrastination is a man-made defense in response to fear. Perhaps you haven’t stated it that boldly yet, but whether you’re putting off a difficult project or a potential confrontation, there’s a good chance you’re afraid. Jesus reveals this truth when he tells the story of the three stewards. A steward is one who is given charge over certain assets by his master. He is not the owner of those assets, nor has he earned them. In the story, each steward was given responsibility for a sum of money that they were to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable each steward was entrusted with certain talents by their master. The word talent describes the value of the assets with which they were entrusted. The three stewards were given 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. In biblical language, a talent was a financial measurement and could be valued in silver or gold. A talent of silver was worth approximately $384,000 in modern US dollars; a talent of gold about $5,760,000. By the gold standard, the first was entrusted with 29 million dollars, the second 11.5 million dollars, and the third 5.75 million dollars. That’s a lot of somebody else’s money to be responsible for.

Stewards one and two invested the money wisely, doubled their investment, and fulfilled their master’s expectations. The master commended them for a job well done. But the third steward chose not to invest the talent. As hard as it is to believe, he took a shovel, walked into his back yard, dropped nearly six million dollars into a hole in the ground, and covered it up. He then returned to his home and waited for the master’s return. Don’t you want to jump into Jesus’ story, grab the unwise steward by the shoulders, shake him and shout, “What are you thinking?!  How can you bury six million dollars in your back yard?” But upon the master’s return, the one-talent steward told us what he was thinking. As we listen in, we will discover the hidden motivator behind our own struggle with procrastination. Here was his confession: Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours. Fear can be debilitating. It can freeze your thoughts, lock down your emotions, and paralyze your ability to choose. When it comes to procrastination, there are two elements in our fear that prevail—a sense of our inadequacy and the memory of past failed attempts.

A Sense of Inadequacy: This is too difficult. If you put it off, it will get easier.

When we put off today’s trouble because we feel inadequate, we often discover that the situation only becomes more difficult, not easier. The unwise steward claimed he was inadequate for the task. He believed his master’s standard was too high for his ability. Succumbing to fear, he put off his responsibility as a steward to invest the money. When we read the story, it is easy to empathize with the one-talent steward. We understand his fear. If we were entrusted with six million dollars, we’d feel inadequate too!

As a counselor, I’ve noticed often that when people are facing a task for which they feel inadequate, well-intentioned friends are prone to tell them that they can do it—they simply need to believe in themselves. These words, while meant for encouragement, can actually be quite dangerous. The Bible teaches that when you feel inadequate in your own strength or ability, it may actually be justified. Proverbs says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths”

When you do not feel up to the task to which God has called you, it should motivate you to trust in him more than you do in yourself. This is how you overcome your sense of inadequacy.

A memory of a past failure: Since you failed before, you will only fail again. Don’t try today.

Your past may be haunted with disappointments; personal failures may clutter your memory. Wherever there were breakdowns in your past, you’ll find it easy to procrastinate in your present. Your thoughts whisper: if you’ve failed before, you’ll only fail again. Our fear of repeated failure has barred the door to change. We wait for a motivation that never comes. Perhaps you have struggled in your past with maintaining a weight-loss program. You were motivated when you started and you saw some early success, but then you failed to keep up the regime. The weight came back on, discouragement crept in, and now you’ve lost the motivation to begin again. You don’t remember the brief successes, you just remember the feeling of failure. Better to put a smile on it, and act like it doesn’t bother you. You put off the notorious “first day” until tomorrow. After that, you put it off further, always looking for the motivation that never comes. To rediscover the motivation necessary to crawl back on the treadmill, you will need to address the fear of repeated failure.

The Bible says that “perfect love casts out fear.” I have always been fascinated by that verse. You would think that perfect courage, endurance, or bravery might be one of the best candidates to cast out fear, but the Holy Spirit chose perfect love. Our heavenly Father’s perfect love is best understood through the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. For the Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Often, because of past failures, a person is afraid to try. They aren’t motivated by “perfect love,” they are motivated by their own perfection. They refuse to try again unless they are guaranteed success. But whenever we worry about personal success our pride is at work. We don’t simply fear failure, we fear the humbling process that comes with it. It’s easier to say, “I’m going to start a weight loss program tomorrow” than to say, “I started one yesterday, but I couldn’t keep it up.” The first position is easier, because it doesn’t acknowledge our personal weakness. We admire humility in others, but we dislike the failure that brings it about in us. Failure forces us to admit that we lack the strength to accomplish our goals. Our pride is like an angry pit bull—aggressive, defensive, and never looking for help from others. This latter position, “I started a weight-loss program yesterday but couldn’t keep it up,” forces you to ask for help from God and from others.

If we will let personal failure accomplish its intended purpose, it will humble us, and we’ll ask for help next time. We won’t attempt to operate in our own wisdom; we’ll ask God for his. We’ll trust in him, not ourselves. This is the value of personal failure, and you can be certain that the devil and all of his angels don’t want you discovering it. They whisper the lie: Don’t ask for help. Just put this off until you have the strength of will to do it on your own.

Consider this: if you start today, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You fail, humble yourself, try again, and become a little bit more like Jesus in the process. But so often our nagging fear of failure prompts us to put off the things we’ve messed up in the past. Our fear of failure is fruitless because it doesn’t encourage planning; it offers unproductive waiting instead. The longer we put off the task we’ve failed at before, the harder it is to get started. We need to admit that we are weak and insecure. Left to our own, we would fail again. Such an understanding allows you to take a step forward by faith. You will never discover the motivation you lack by waiting to start. The one who is growing in faith acknowledges his past failures and trusts God with future endeavors. You go forward with a confidence in God’s perfect love, not your past achievements. That is how we get started when we tend to surrender to our fear and procrastinate instead.

Taken from Taking Back Time: biblical strategies for overcoming procrastination

 

 

 

Looking at Christmas with Your Eyes Wide Open

A friend of mine challenged me with a great question. He asked, “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday why is it we spend all our time hunting for gifts to give to others?” He paused and added thoughtfully, “It would be a little like your friends insisting they help you celebrate your birthday, and then they bring a bunch of gifts to give to each other while never bringing one for you!” He asked the question sincerely. There wasn’t an ounce of Scrooge in his voice. And I confess the question got me thinking. Had Christmas simply become the greatest retail surge our financial markets feel? Could I find a way to give a gift to the Lord?

I pondered the characters that surround our manger scene. The shepherds didn’t have much, but they gave their worship to the Lord. The three wise-men were certainly busy, but they took years out of their schedules to find the newborn King and give their gifts. And of course the words of Jesus Himself haunted me, “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” (Matthew 25:42) Could it be that we missed the meaning of Christmas because we were too busy preparing to celebrate?

When my daughter was six years old we had a doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia around Christmas time. But the doctor’s appointment was only the event God used to schedule a divineappointment He had for us. As we were returning home, Ashlyn spotted a homeless man sitting on a mattress along the curb. “Daddy, can we help him?” she asked. “No, honey, not today, we’re too busy,” my mind racing through all the things I had to jam into the days before Christmas occurred. “But daddy, it’s Christmas time” the little voice whispered from the back seat.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the tears filling the corners of her eyes. I decided it was an appropriate time to rearrange my busy schedule. A stop at a vendor, a cup of hot coffee, a six-year-olds smile, and a pamphlet sharing how someone could be at peace with God brought a smile to the lips of a man who had no home. I rethought the meaning of Christmas.

Could it be that God has divine appointments for each of us this season? Opportunities for us to give our gifts directly to Him?  I hope this season you’ll be looking for them – those divine appointments with your name attached.

5 ways to get more from your Bible reading

Imagine that your physical health was failing. Your energy level was way down, and you were susceptible to nearly every sickness. You visit the family doctor, and he begins his exam with some questions. “Are you sleeping well?” “Yes,” you reply, “I’m sleeping nearly all the time.” The doctor ponders your answer and asks the next question. “How is your appetite? Are you eating regularly?” “Oh yes, doctor, I’m eating one good meal a week; occasionally I’ll grab a snack Monday through Friday if my schedule allows it.”

The doctor looks up from his notepad. “I believe I misunderstood you. I thought you said you were eating one good meal a week. No one can survive on that diet! No wonder you’re susceptible to so many diseases. It’s easy to see why you have no energy. Your body needs more food than one good meal a week. I’m recommending three good meals a day.” You look up from the examination table, troubled, “But doctor, I don’t have time to eat that often, and besides, it’s so hard. That means I’d have to prepare some of my own meals.”

Most Christians would never do to their physical bodies what they do to their spirits. If your entire spiritual diet consists of one service on Sunday, you are sure to be malnourished. If you hope to feed your soul regularly from the Word, you will have to prepare your own meals. Bible study, application, and memorization are everyday necessities as you grow in Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed.”

Five steps will prove helpful.

(1) Pray Humbly

In Psalm 119:18 we read, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” When we pray, we are acknowledging we need God’s help to understand his Word. The verses surrounding the Psalmist’s prayer give direction for how we ought to pray prior to time in the Word. Verse 19 says, “hide not your commandments from me.” In other words, we desire to know the meaning of the given text. Properly understanding the text is essential. Verse 17 says “that I might know and keep your word.” Prayer is preparation to not only know but also do what God reveals from our study. This humble posture is essential for meaningful Bible study. What better way to discover the author’s intent than to ask him for guidance when you open the Word?

(2) Read Consistently

One important step in reading the Bible is to do it daily. While not a large book (most Bibles are less than 1,000 pages), reading daily allows for reflection on a particular passage each day. There are numerous ways to read through the Bible. Consider one of the following:

  • Read through one book of the Bible for 30 days.
  • Read a key chapter of the Bible each day (you’ll find 365 key chapters here).
  • Read the Bible through chronologically. The Bible was recorded using different styles of writing (history, poetry, prophecy, and letters to individuals or groups of people). The grouping of the books in the Bible is by the writing genre instead of the order of events. For the reader unaware of this fact, the Bible can seem confusing (you’ll find a chronological reading schedule here).

(3) Observe Carefully

As you read, pay attention to the details. If you’ve read a passage before, don’t assume you can no longer glean anything from it. Some of my greatest discoveries have come from rereading a passage. If you remain attentive, the more you read, the more you see.

(4) Interpret Contextually.

Most of us hate being misinterpreted. If you have ever attempted to clear up a misunderstanding, you’ve probably said, “That is what I said, but it’s not what I meant.” Meaning matters in communication. To misinterpret someone’s words, you need only take them out of context. For instance, if I say, “He’s on fire!” I could be referring to a five-year old with a fever, a man running from a burning building, or an American Idol contestant advancing to the finals. The context gives the meaning.

Imagine a target with your verse as the bulls-eye. In archery, the circles closer to the bulls-eye carry greater point value; likewise, the verses closer to your verse carry greater interpretive weight.

  • What do the verses before or after your verse say?
  • What does the author say elsewhere about this idea?
  • What does the rest of the Bible say?

5) Study Diligently

For many of us, reading and studying do not come easily. Yet, when we develop these habits around our time in the Word, it bears long-lasting rewards. Pastor Zach Schlegel reminds us to have the right heart, time, place, and plan.

  • The prepared heart. Your heart should be expectant, willing to obey, teachable, and humble. Before you open the Word, pause and prepare your heart. Humility is essential.
  • The right time. The right time will be the time that works best for you. When are you the most alert, focused, and fresh? I had a seminary professor who did his best studying at 3:30 AM. A friend of mind commented, “Phil, God’s not even up at that hour!” Your best time might be early in the morning or late at night. Pick the time that’s best for you and stick with it.
  • The best place. The best place will be one free from distractions. Pretend you just boarded the plane and “turn off all electronic devices!”
  • The committed plan. Whether or not you are a planner, you will still need to discipline yourself to study the Scriptures diligently.

Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well

3 Ways the Prayer Life of Jesus Could Help Shape Your Own

You can read all that Jesus said on prayer in a few minutes. In twice that time, you can read all the Gospel accounts of Jesus praying. However, you will never tap the God-given resource of meaningful prayer in that amount of time. You will need to put in the hours that Jesus did as he learned to pray. Jesus’ prayer life provides an excellent example of the way we should pray. He had a specific plan, place, and purpose in prayer. These are essential if we intend to pray like him.

A Specific Plan: He Prayed Early in the Morning

Jesus prayed “early in the morning.” Perhaps your first thought of the morning is how much you have to do that day. Email is loading up on your phone before you even get out of bed. Your part-time job feels like a full-time job. Kids’ music lessons and sports schedules consume your non-work hours. You volunteer at church and meet in a small group during the week. Before long, prayer is crowded out.

Jesus refused to let prayer take second place. He wasn’t alone in this practice. Consider these Old Testament believers: Moses, Job, and Ezra. Even with full schedules, they made time for God “early in the morning.” Whatever time you choose to pray, it must be a priority. In a tightly scheduled lifestyle, if prayer is the last thing you plan on doing, chances are it won’t get done.

A Specific Place: He Departed to a Solitary Location

Jesus was looking for a solitary place. The Greek word translated “solitary” can also mean uninhabited. Jesus was not known for being aloof. He loved people, enjoyed being with them, and was at ease in groups of all sizes. Yet, when he prayed, he sought to be alone.

We would do well to follow Jesus’ practice. When we pray, we need a location where we will not be interrupted. No cell phones. No texting. No Facebook. Give your conversation with God your undivided attention.

Even when you find a quiet location, your busy mind may still make solitude a challenge. You will need to consciously labor at controlling your thoughts. At times, I have taken a notebook so that if an unfinished task comes to mind, I can simply write it down and return my attention to prayer. I have found that a prayer list or journal can also help me stay focused. Wherever your location, it’s important you’re alone.

A Specific Purpose: He Needed to Make a Decision

Jesus spent time in prayer before he made major decisions. Two occasions bear this out. In the early days of ministry, Jesus was shifting locations of service. If you’ve ever made a move, you know there’s a lot involved in that decision. Jesus had previously moved his ministry operations to Capernaum, and he was getting ready to expand his teaching circuit into the hills surrounding Galilee. To do so, he would be leaving some tremendous ministry opportunities behind. When Peter points this out, notice Jesus’ answer: “Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” How did Jesus make this decision? Three verses earlier we discover the answer. Jesus was praying “early in the morning.” It seems reasonable that Jesus discovered his next steps through prayer.

Even more important than where he would do ministry is who would lead the ministry. The fact that Jesus didn’t choose perfect people is evident in the transparency of the gospel record. Thomas doubted him. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. All twelve argued over who would be the greatest. Yet, prior to their selection, Jesus spent the night in prayer. Luke records, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles . . .”

Jesus not only prayed about this selection, he literally continued in prayer throughout the night without interruption. When you face a major decision, do you pray like Jesus? Do you spend more time talking to God or talking to others?

There is another truth easily missed in a cursory reading. We may assume that Jesus’ unique relationship with his Father spilled over into his prayer life, yet we don’t see the Father speaking back to Jesus during his time of prayer; we just read that Jesus prayed all night long. It’s not that the Father couldn’t audibly speak back; on three other occasions he spoke in an audible voice so Jesus could hear. Rather, the Father speaking back seems to be the exception rather than the standard.

I confess, sometimes when I’ve prayed over a decision I’ve thought: I just wish God would tell me what to do. Perhaps you have, too. Not so with Jesus. He seems to have discovered his answer through the process of prayer, not because the Father gave a quick and easy answer. He labored in prayer, and so should we.

Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well

 

 

 

 

 

How Christmas Makes Living Like Jesus Possible

Mary fought back the fear rising in her chest. She could feel the muscles in her back tightening uncontrollably. Frightened, she tried to recite the verses she had learned as a child. The contraction subsided, and she rested. There was cause for the fear she felt. Having never known a man, she was about to give birth to a son.

Joseph’s deep voice began to hum a familiar melody. It was just like him to hum only the tune so she would have to voice the lyric. Between contractions, she quietly sang along to the song she had written months earlier:

How my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

But Mary’s sweet song was driven from her mind with God’s promise to Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.”

The final contraction was the worst. The young girl’s body stretched between time and eternity. Satan was insistent upon the child’s destruction, but the Father’s desires would be accomplished precisely on time.  Mary pushed hard and heard her newborn son’s first cry. His tiny lungs inhaled earth’s air as a human being. Amidst the chaotic noise of an overcrowded Bethlehem night, she heard her husband’s gentle voice, “We will call Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Years later, the apostle John would capture this event with nine simple words: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

Jesus Christ, although fully God, was born fully human. If you embrace this truth, you will desire to follow his example. If you do not, living just like Jesus will seem beyond your reach. You might even wonder if it’s possible. After all, you might reason, “He is God and I am not.” Yet, the Scriptures don’t let us off the hook so easily. John, who defended both the humanity6 and deity7 of Jesus, charged us to live just like Jesus. He wrote, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

When I study the deity of Christ, I am drawn to worship him, but when I study the humanity of Christ, I am inspired to live like him. The first causes me to realize what I am not, but the latter causes me to realize what I should be. When I confuse the two, I no longer see my need to depend fully on the resources Jesus used because I assume he used a resource unavailable to me—his deity.

Several years ago, I had two conversations that confirmed the importance of applying the humanity of Christ to the Christian life. The first was with my ten-year-old daughter; the second was with a man in his forties. Both individuals were different in every way, and both were struggling with different temptations. Yet when I encouraged them to walk just like Jesus, they gave the same answer: I’m not Jesus. Jesus is God. I am not. Both overlooked the simple fact that Jesus became man.

Here is a significant, yet forgotten truth behind the incarnation of Christ: Jesus walked where you walk so that you might learn to walk like he walked. Jesus communicates this truth further when he repeatedly uses the phrase “follow me.” Your thoughts, feelings, and choices should be modeled after him. No matter your age, growing well means learning to walk just like Jesus.

Could it be that you, like me, have spent your entire life thinking about the ways you are different from Jesus, when he became fully human to show you the ways you could be like him? Have you emphasized his deity at the expense of his humanity? Have you considered the primary means by which Jesus battled temptation as a man? If his victory over temptation was possible, is yours?

This isn’t an abstract theological idea; this is a life-changing truth. If Jesus was fully human as the Bible declares, then he lived out his entire earthly life under the intrinsic limitations of humanity. His victory over temptation was possible through his reliance upon resources that are available to you and me today. Let that thought settle in. Jesus did not reach outside his human limitations when being tempted to sin. Instead, he operated within the confines of his humanity when he battled temptation. That’s what it means to be tempted like we are, yet without sin.

Embracing Jesus’ full humanity is one of the most significant “how” factors for living the Christian life. Practically speaking, once you are in Christ, your victory will not come as a result of the latest trend, program, or motivational speaker. Your growth and change will take place only as you learn to avail yourself of the same resources that Jesus depended upon. What are those resources? How did Jesus acquire them, and what do you and I need to do to become proficient in their use?

Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well