Making the Bible Come Alive

“He really makes the Bible come alive!”

Have you ever heard that about a preacher, speaker, teacher, or writer?

People could mean several different things by that statement. Perhaps they mean the teacher is exciting. They have a dynamic presentation. Or maybe they make the Scriptures seem particularly relevant. Maybe they help us understand things from the Scripture that we hadn’t before. They use a lot of eye-opening illustrations.

Those are all good traits. Years ago, at a former location, a Christian radio station ran a program from a local pastor who spoke in a monotone. I used to turn off the radio when his program came on. I actually got angry at him and thought, “Doesn’t the Bible deserve better treatment than that?” Then I got convicted of a wrong attitude. The man had been a pastor and had this program for years, so he obviously had listeners. Maybe some people like monotones, who knows.

But here’s the thing: we don’t make the Bible come alive. It IS alive.

Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, ESV).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

We’re the ones that need to be made alive. And what enlivens us? I like the King James word “Quicken,” which sometimes means to make alive, sometimes revive. God quickens us with His Word:

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:25)

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psalm 119:93)

God making us alive through His Word is not surprising, really. He created the universe and everything in it with His Word.

God’s Word can enliven us even if it’s read in a monotone.

That doesn’t mean we should be careless when we read, explain, or teach from it. There’s no virtue in reading the Bible in a monotone or presenting it in a dull way if we know better and can help it. We should try to present it in as understandable and winsome a way as possible.

Each of the Bible writers has a style about them: the Holy Spirit gave them the words, yet worked through each of their personalities to express truth.

But we should be careful of our tendencies to follow “exciting” teachers. If they can be exciting and Scripturally accurate, great. But too often, people gravitate towards excitement rather than truth.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The Bible is so full of good truth that convicts, comforts, enlightens, teaches, rejoices our hearts, builds us up. We don’t need to dress it up or manipulate it to make it “interesting.” We just need to show people what it says. And we need to know it well enough to seek teachers who do the same.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

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Biblical Prayers

I mentioned in my earlier post about prayer that I sometimes like to pray Scripture directly.

Of course, not every prayer in Scripture is something we would pray today. Sometimes people in the Bible prayed for specific situations or people that we don’t deal with. We can still learn from them, but in our day we wouldn’t pray the same thing.

Also, as I said earlier, praying isn’t a matter of finding a magic formula or reciting certain words rotely.

But some examples of prayer in Scripture lift us up out of everyday life into real soul work, for ourselves and others. Some years ago I started making a list of these prayers when I came across them, and I still add to this list occasionally. So I thought I’d share with you what I have so far (all are from the ESV unless otherwise noted):

  • May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (Though this is talking about the church, I often put this on wedding cards.)
  • For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:15-20
  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20 (KJV)
  • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
  • For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV)
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  • Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
  • Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (KJV)
  • And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. II Thessalonians 3:5 (KJV)
  • Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (KJV)

And that’s just the epistles!

Many of the psalms are prayers that we could pray in our day, like David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 or  his prayer of wonder and praise in Psalm 8.

A couple of Old Testament pleas come to mind often, like 2 Chronicles 20:12: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” and 2 Chronicles 14:11: “LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.”

Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-15:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
     and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Phrases from the gospels come to mind as prayers:

Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The more we read the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit can bring back to our minds what it says, the more our thoughts and prayers will be infused with God’s truth and will.

Of course, we can’t just rip words out of context and use them in prayer. But as we read the Bible and see how these prayers arise in context, our own hearts can be stirred up to pray according to God’s will.

Even verses that aren’t prayers in themselves can be turned into a prayer request that God will help us understand and incorporate the truth of it into our lives.

Writing this post has given me the idea for a project. Maybe the next time I read through the Bible, I’ll make note of any prayer that we could pray today. That would be an interesting study!

Are there prayers from the Bible you like to use when you pray?

Prayer: Talking with Our Father

Articles abound claiming ways of improving our prayer lives. Some tout titles encouraging us to try new or ancient “forms” of prayer, as if an improved prayer life is a matter of certain words in a certain order. Others proclaim “Five [or however many] Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life,” as if we have God on a leash.

I’m concerned when improving our prayer lives seems to be a matter of trying different fads or rituals.

We tell unbelievers that Christianity is a relationship with God to help them realize it’s not just a set of certain behaviors. But sometimes we forget the relationship in our own practices. Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Improving prayer, Bible study, or any other facet of Christian life needs to be a matter of enhancing the relationship, not just finding a better form of practice.

Granted, most of us change and grow in how we practice these disciplines over the years. And different personalities gravitate to different “styles.” I attended a prayer meeting that was so regimented, it seemed to me to choke the life out of what we were doing. I felt constricted, burdened, and frustrated. But perhaps that style of prayer was deeply meaningful to the person leading the meeting.

What helps me most is remembering that prayer is just talking to my Father. Like any relationship, hopefully communication improves over time. But He doesn’t wait for me to get just the right form. He hears my heart.

The best place to learn how to pray is the Bible. God’s Word gives specific instructions about prayer. Just a few:

God also gives us wonderful examples of prayer. Some of my favorites:

From the examples in the Bible, we see how people prayed, in what attitudes and circumstances, and what specifically they prayed for.

One of my favorites of Paul’s prayers is Colossians 1:9-14:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

While it’s fine to pray for health and financial needs, how much more do we need to pray for these kinds of things for ourselves and each other.

Following a certain form would seem artificial to me. I don’t talk to anyone else in my life via specific forms. On the other hand, because we’re talking to someone we can’t see and who doesn’t answer us audibly, sometimes our minds can wander. So in some ways it does help our feeble flesh to have something to corral our thoughts and keep on point. Some use acronyms, like

Pray
Repent
Ask
Yield

Or:

Adoration
Confess
Thanksgiving
Supplication

When my thoughts seem too scattered to pray, most often I use what we call “the Lord’s prayer” as a jumping-off point. It might go something like this:

“Our Father in heaven.” Thank you that I can call you Father, that you loved me and saved me and brought me into your family. Thank you for forgiving, leading, and guiding me. Thank you for being a kind and gracious Father.

“Hallowed be your name.” You’re not just my Father, but also my King. Help me not to forget your greatness and holiness.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I pray for Your perfect will to be done in these various situations I bring before You.

Give us this day our daily bread.” I’m grateful You know my needs before I even ask. I praise You that I can trust You to provide for me and those I pray for.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I confess these sins to You (naming them individually) and ask Your forgiveness. Help me to forgive others just the way I want to be forgiven.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You know what’s ahead this day. I pray for your protection from evil that may come my way and from the temptations of my own heart.

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen!”

I’ve made a list of different prayers in the Bible that I like to use in praying for myself and for others. Many of them are from the epistles, like the one from Colossians mentioned above or from Philippians. When we pray God’s Word, we know we’re praying according to His will. But, again, it’s not just a matter of praying certain words rotely: it’s talking with our Father.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote once of waking up in the morning, cold, fuzzy-headed, not feeling very spiritual, stumbling into another room to spend time with the Lord. She felt she needed help putting her own heart in the right frame of mind, so she started her prayer and devotional time either reading or singing psalms or hymns (from the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why). Many hymns are wonderful prayers, like:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

(William Williams, 1745)

Or:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

(Dallan Forgaill, 6th century; translated and published 1912)

Modern hymns like Speak, O Lord and O Great God are prayers meaty with Scriptural truth and greatly meaningful to me.

I also used to think I hadn’t “officially” prayed for something unless I mentioned it in my devotional time. But I learned we can talk to God all through the day. When my first clear thoughts form in the morning, I try to remember right then to give Him the day and ask His help for it. When I hear a bit of good news or find something that perfectly meets my needs, I can thank Him on the spot. When I come across a prayer request, I try to pray for it immediately.

Like with other relationships, we can touch base with God off and on all day. But then we also need times of setting aside everything else just to focus on each other.

And when we have no words, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

In the chapter I mentioned by Elisabeth Elliot, she said:

My own devotional life is very far from being Exhibit A of what it should be. I have tried, throughout most of my life, to maintain a quiet time with God, with many lapses and failures. Occasionally, but only occasionally, it is impossible. Our Heavenly Father knows all about those occasions. He understands perfectly why mothers with small children bring them along when they talk to him.

If hers was not Exhibit A, how much less is mine! I started to take all personal references out of this post for that reason (and due to length). But it has helped me to read others’ experiences with prayer, so maybe this might be a small help to someone else.

What I mainly wanted to share with you is this: if we feel our prayers need livening up, perhaps the first place to start is to remember who we’re talking to and why. Then, as we read His Word, we can take note of what it teaches about prayer and learn from examples there.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Literary Musing Monday,
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Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

A few years ago I read an annotated version of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Sometimes I struggled with disrupting the flow of the story to read the notes. But the notes added so much to understanding the story, they were worth it in the long run.

I read recently an article where someone brought up this difference between reading for pleasure versus reading an annotated version of a story, stopping to read every footnote. This writer brought out the disruption of this type of reading. She pointed out that we don’t read regular books that way (unless we’re in school reading an assigned text), so we shouldn’t read the Bible that way.

There are times we should just read a particular passage as it is for pleasure, with no cross references or footnotes. But there are other times we should study it out in depth. It isn’t either Bible reading or Bible study. We need both.

Some people read and study in tandem. They’ll read one passage devotionally and study another, possibly to prepare for a group Bible study. Others will take turns: they’ll read one book of the Bible all the way through, then do a Bible study project on another book or topic, then read another book of the Bible through.

When I first started using a study Bible, I wasn’t sure I liked reading a verse or two and then stopping to read the footnotes sidebars, and charts. It did seem more halting and fragmented than just reading the passage. But the extra material did aid in understanding the passage.

Instead of reading a verse and it’s footnote one by one, sometimes I read a paragraph at a time, then look over the footnotes. Or, if there is a lot of footnote information for each verse, I’ll read each footnote after its verse, and then go back over the last few lines of text just to put it all together.

Then, beyond just the notes in a study Bible, there are commentaries, Bible study guides, and a whole slew of other Bible study materials with which to dig into a passage even further..

Let’s see if I can illustrate the benefit of study in another way. I was not exposed to classical music much as I was growing up. I remember one Girl Scout trip to a symphony, a couple of performances of Handel’s Messiah in school or church, our pastor playing excerpts of Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a high school assembly. I remember thinking the pieces were nice and enjoying a few of the songs more than others (especially “He, Watching Over Israel,” based on Psalm 121:4, from Elijah). But I didn’t get much more than that from the pieces.

Then I went to a Christian liberal arts university which wanted to teach us more than academics, so we were exposed to various kinds of classical music concerts, Shakespearean plays, etc. During my junior year, I asked a sophomore music major roommate to help me pick out some classical vinyl albums marked down to $3 at the bookstore that she thought I might enjoy. I grew a bit more in my appreciation of classical music.

But it wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I had a class called Music Appreciation, that I really began to understand and then love classical music. We went era by era, learning what kind of music was produced by which composers in each period. We learned something of the lives of major composers. We listened to and took apart some famous works. We learned to identify the different themes in each piece, note their development, and trace how they interacted with each other. We’d have tests where the professor would play a few seconds of a piece of music, and we’d have to identify it as the first theme of the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (a melody which was later given words by one of his students and turned into the lovely song “Goin’ Home“). Some of the works we studied then are my favorite pieces today – New World, Hayden’s Surprise Symphony (and the fun story behind it), Smetana’s The Moldau, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and others. Listening to them again is like rereading a favorite book, enjoying and anticipating the flow. I came to understand and enjoy the whole much more by studying the parts. In fact, I haven’t added any new classical music loves because I haven’t studied any pieces to the extent I did then.

It’s the same way with the Bible. As we study the individual parts of a biblical book, we learn what the details mean, how they fit within the book itself, how the book fits within the whole Bible. We trace the themes and see how they intertwine. We’ll know and get more from those passages in ways we don’t know those we’ve only given a cursory reading. And each time we read that book, we build on what we know and appreciate what we remember from previous studies. Study might seem tedious in the midst of it, but it’s worth it when you put it all together. C. S. Lewis contrasted the difference between meditating on a single verse devotionally vs. working through a longer passage: “Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden (from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis).

Some days, even some seasons of life, like when young children are in the house, our Bible reading may be more like grabbing a quick protein bar instead of sitting down to a meal. There are many good reasons to read the Bible, and sometimes we’re greatly blessed from just reading a passage. While working on this post, I read Julia Bettencort’s great post about reading the Bible for pleasure. Some days our thoughts are already scattered, and focusing on and absorbing a single passage is more helpful than adding notes or references. But we also benefit from studying more in depth at times. Our study informs and enhances our general reading. It’s good to make time for both.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story,
Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth, Worth Beyond Rubies)

Book Review: Read the Bible for Life

I first discovered George Guthrie through links to his blog from others. The posts I read there were so helpful that I got his book, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word.

After an introduction detailing reasons for reading the Bible, lamenting a lack of Biblical literacy among Christians, and posting several reasons why Christians don’t read, Guthrie launches into the four parts of his book.

The first part covers “Foundational Issues,” like how to read it, reading it in context and for transformation. etc.

Part 2 discusses reading the various genres in the Old Testament: stories, laws, psalms and proverbs, and prophets.

Part 3 covers the different types of literature in the New Testament: stories, Jesus’ teachings, epistles (letters), and Revelation.

Part 4 contains four chapters concerning “Reading the Bible in Modern Contexts,” like personal and family devotions, as a church, and in times of sorrow.

At the end, Guthrie includes a couple of reading plans, including a chronological one.

Most of the chapters are the result of interviews Guthrie conducted with experts in various fields of Bible study. I appreciated that the interview format kept the book informal and accessible rather than academic. But because of the interview setting, sometimes extraneous details were included, like scenes from where the interview took place, the interviewee’s posture, etc. But I think the benefits of this process probably outweighed the extra unnecessary details.

I have multitudes of places marked in this book, but I’ll try to share just a few. If the source was someone other than Guthrie, I put that person’s name in parentheses.

God’s Word, wielded by the Holy Spirit, has the power to sort us out spiritually, to surprise and confront us, growing us in relationship with our Lord Christ. Thus, reading the Bible ought to at once be as encouraging as a mother’s gentle touch and, at moments, as unsettling and disturbing as a violent storm.

I would suggest that true literacy—the kind that matters—brings about clearer thinking and informed action. Thus, true biblical literacy involves an interaction with the Bible that changes the way one thinks and acts, and that kind of interaction takes time.

As we read on a daily basis, growing in our skill in Bible reading, the rhythm of a life lived deeply in God’s Word will become as nurturing as our daily meals, as spiritually strengthening as daily exercise, and as emotionally satisfying as a good-morning kiss from a spouse. It takes discipline, but Bible reading can come to be a discipline of delight if we open our hearts and lives to it.

The key is to have a posture toward God’s Word by which His Word is changing us in our context rather than our molding the Word to our cultural tastes and values. That is hard to do. We have to read with humility. And I think the beginning of humility is the fear of God. We have to believe in the authority of God’s Word and be ready to adjust our lives to it. (Andreas Kostenberger)

Jesus meant for people to put His words into action in specific, tangible ways. Our problem is that we think it is enough just to grasp general concepts as if taking in the Word of God is a mental exercise. Jesus, rather, meant our interaction with the Word to be a life exercise.

When we begin to see the beauty and power of the Bible’s story as a whole, we then begin to read each part of the Bible better. (Bruce Waltke)

When slogging through the myriad of laws about priestly worship practices, the tabernacle, uncleanness, and primitive issues of justice, you may feel like the wheels are coming off your momentum. Yet this part of Scripture is also God’s gift to His people. Gems here are waiting to be unearthed from under the seemingly crusty surface, and those gems form a vital part of the foundation of the Bible’s grand story.

I would hope, that when we come to Scripture, we would approach it not as a chore or a duty or a textbook but as a source of delight. At times we should say, ‘Wow! I’ve actually got the next half hour to read the Bible and talk to God!’ (David Howard)

So we need to remember that the Lord wants us to understand this book. We should pray, asking the Holy Spirit for insight and discernment as we read, even as we are putting forth effort to study and understand it. (J. Scott Duvall)

Lament teaches us that we have to go through the process of dealing with our suffering before God. You don’t just stuff your feelings down and put a good face on it, like a lot of us tend to do. You need to go through the process of pouring your heart out to God. And if you don’t have the language for it, the Bible will give you the language. (Michael Card)

Because we are ‘self-help’ oriented, too often we as Christians have become more content to go to the Christian bookstore and get good books there, neglecting our reading of the Bible. We think those books apply to us better than the Bible does, but the reality is, no book in the Christian bookstore can do what the Bible is divinely inspired to do: to transform us at the deepest levels in the way we think and live, to mold us into the image of Christ and show us our place in the grand story of Scripture. (Buddy Gray)

All I know about Guthrie is from some of his blog posts and this book, and I didn’t know any of the people he interviewed except that I had heard of a few of them. But don’t remember seeing any theological problems or concerning issues or statements.

This is a book I wish I had kept running notes or outlines of. But Guthrie does include a summary of the principles discussed at the end of each chapter, which helps for a quick review.

The general helps to reading and understanding as well as the specific advice and tips for the different genres were greatly helpful. I thought this book was an excellent resource for anyone who would like to understand and apply more of the Bible.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Women of the Word

WOTWIf you could only read one book about studying the Bible, I would recommend Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.

I read it four years ago, but wanted to read it again. I should probably reread it every few years.

Jen opens with some of the mistaken approaches she took to reading the Word of God at first. One was reading it as if it were a book about her and to help her. Though the Bible does help us, it is a book about God. Another “turnaround” for her was the realization that the Bible should speak to the mind as well as, and even before, the heart.

If we want to feel a deeper love for God, we must learn to see him more clearly for who he is. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God (p. 33).

We must love God with our minds, allowing our intellect to inform our emotions, rather than the other way around (p. 34).

Jen’s great passion is promoting Bible literacy, which she says “occurs when a person has access to a Bible in a language she understands and is steadily moving toward knowledge and understanding of the text” (pp. 36-37). She emphasizes the steady movement: we won’t some day “arrive” at complete Bible knowledge, but we should be ever growing.

But “we may develop habits of engaging the text that at best do nothing to increase literacy and at worse actually work against it” (p. 37). She discusses several of those wrong habits, like the Xanax approach (which “treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better,” p. 39), the Magic 8 ball approach, and several others.

Then she shares Five P’s of Sound Study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer, explaining, illustrating, and giving example of each. Within “process” she discusses comprehension, interpretation, and application, and she stresses reading in context and in consideration of the genre of each book.

Throughout the book Jen emphasizes that Bible study and literacy is not an end in itself: it is a means of knowing God for who He is, getting to know Him better and being changed to become more like Him.

Our study of the Bible is beneficial only insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims. Bible study is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a means to love God more, and to live differently because we have learned to behold him better. And it is a means to become what we behold. The reciprocal love of God is a love that transforms (p. 148).

She includes an excellent chapter expressing the great need for women to teach women and sharing helps for those who would go on to lead Bible studies. I especially appreciated the admonition to avoid “ricocheting around the entire Bible…Good teaching will necessarily involve the use of cross-references, but not at the expense of the primary text” (p. 139) and to avoid “feminizing the text” (p. 140) as well as the rest of the advice in this chapter.

I am glad I read this again, and I am happy to recommend it again.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books,
Literary Musing Monday,
Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

Toward a Quiet Soul

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?

Have you ever felt disquieted?

Three times the psalmist asked himself why he is cast down and disquieted (Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5). The ESV says “in turmoil”; the NASB uses “disturbed.” Other translations say “sad,” “restless,” “upset.” But “disquieted” aptly includes all kinds of disturbances.

The Hebrew word translated “disquieted” in those two psalms includes these definitions:

“To murmur, growl, roar, cry aloud, mourn, rage, sound, make noise, tumult, be clamorous, be disquieted, be loud, be moved, be troubled, be in an uproar, to roar, to be in a stir, be in a commotion, to be boisterous, be turbulent.”

Ever felt any of those?

Each of those times the psalmists asks himself why he is disquieted, he answers himself, “hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

That’s the course of many of the psalms. The writer has no peace of mind for various reasons: enemies are after him; sin weighs on his conscious; wicked people are prospering at the expense of the righteous. I love the honesty of the psalmists’ emotions as they lay out their dilemmas and questions before God. And gradually, as they remind themselves of what they know about their God and put their situation in the proper perspective, their souls return to peace, to rest.

Psalm 107 speaks of a physical storm, but there are parallels to a spiritual, emotional, or mental storm as well.:

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Psalm 107:28-30, KJV

We’re always glad when peace and quietness reign after any storm.

A quiet soul is not a result of Zen-like tranquility or an emptying of the mind. It’s not a mystical state. It comes from deliberately, consciously reminding ourselves of God’s love, wisdom, promises, and power and resting in Him. Whatever we’re going through, God has a reason for it and will give us grace to deal with it.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2, ESV

It’s fine to pray for calm circumstances.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV

God doesn’t always remove the problems, but He gives His peace. I once saw a saying on a plaque that said, “Sometimes God calms the storm: sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. Proverbs 1:33, KJV

A quiet soul is not passive, but actively resting in God.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling…Isaiah 30:15, ESV

A quiet soul can go from God’s Word and prayer into everyday life, still trusting and resting.

But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-13, ESV

For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, ESV

But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious, 1 Peter 3:4, ESV

Having a quiet spirit does not mean one is silent or mousy: it doesn’t quell exuberance. It’s a quietness of rest and peace. It’s not stirred up in a wrong way over the wrong things.

It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:26, KJV

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. . Isaiah 32:17, ESV

Sometimes God has to disquiet us before He can quiet us. Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our complacency or chastened. Jonah was disturbed at God’s calling for him and tried to run away. God dealt with him rather severely. In Jonah’s prayer in the fish’s belly, he laments:

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me (verse 3, ESV).

The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains (verses 5-6, ESV).

But when his “life was fainting away,” he “remembered the Lord” (verse 7), prayed, thanked God, and promised to fulfill his vows. God delivered him, and Jonah went on to obey God. Unfortunately, Jonah continued to have attitude problems and never did seem to come to truly rest in the Lord, at least in this book. The end result of chastening rightly received is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:5-13).

I originally wanted to publish this post last week, but felt strongly impressed to go with a different one instead. I think one of the reasons for waiting was that God knew I would come across two quotes in my reading this week that tied in with this topic.

H. A. Ironside said in his book Full Assurance:

As one walks with God, and learns to suffer and endure as seeing Him who is invisible, eternal things become more real than the things of time and sense, which are everything to the merely natural man. Thus there comes to the heart a trustful calm, a full assurance, based not alone on the revealed Word but upon a personal knowledge of communion with God, which gives implicit confidence as to this present life and all that lies ahead. (pp. 59-60, emphasis mine).

Then the ESV Study Bible says of Psalm 62:1-2:

The description of a trusting soul is there to set an ideal for God’s people: each one should aspire to this kind of quiet faith (p. 1011).

And the introduction to Psalm 63 in the ESV Study Bible says:

This psalm opens as if it were a lament, seeking God in a time of trouble; and yet the overall flow of the song is one of confident expectation. Hence it is best to see the psalm as enabling each of God’s people to develop confidence during their times of trouble (p. 1012).

Whatever the source of our trouble – God’s chastening or growing us, outward circumstances or inward turmoil – we can rest in His presence, wisdom, love, care, and provision.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;  he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17, ESV

He Will Quiet You

In this life, there are times of tribulation;
Hearts are filled with deep despair.
Heartache and pain and troubles abound;
Is there comfort anyway?
In your times of trial,
Lift your eyes to the Father above
He alone is the Answer,
The Source of please and love.

He will quiet you,
He will quiet you.
He will take delight in you,
And quiet you with his love.
His plans for you are perfect
And all His ways are best.
He will give you rest
As He quiets you with his love

He longs to take you into his arms,
And gently shelter you.
Only He can calm the storms in your life,
And give you peace anew.
And He will rejoice,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
He will rejoice,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
The Creator of all will lift up His voice;
And over your life
He will sing and rejoice!
He will rejoice!
He will rejoice!

He will quiet you,
He will quiet you.
He will take delight in you
And quiet you with his love.

His plans for you are perfect
And all His ways are best.
He will give you rest
As He quiets you with his love.
Come to Him for rest
Let Him quiet you with his love.

~ Words and music by Cindy Berry

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Reading the Bible Literally

Some years ago I read something scoffing at Christians for taking the Bible literally. One example the author used was the Bible’s speaking of the sun rising and setting, because of course we know that the Earth revolves around the sun: the sun itself doesn’t rise and set. Yet meteorologists use the terms sunrise and sunset every day. We understand in the English language what those terms mean while not taking them literally.

Taking the Bible literally means we don’t interpret it as myth or stories, even though it contains a few stories in it. But we understand the Bible uses different expressions of literature which are not strictly literal without detracting from an overall literal approach to the Bible. What are some of these literary devices?

Idioms. Terms like sunrise and sunset, as mentioned, or phrases like “kick the bucket,”  a somewhat slangish euphemism for dying. Making a “bucket list” capitalizes on that idiom to mean having a list of things one wants to experience or accomplish before dying. On a side note, I was amused recently to see someone take that a step further in an article on “my bucket list for the summer,” apparently not knowing the significance of the bucket in that phrase.

A couple of Biblical idioms:

  • The land of Canaan “flowing with milk and honey.” We understand that to mean plenty, not literal rivers of milk and honey.
  • To be “stiff-necked” or to stiffen the neck indicate stubbornness, not a need to see a chiropractor.

Metaphors. A simile compares two things using the phrase “like” or “as”: “Her smile is as bright as a summer day.” A metaphor does the same thing but without “like” or “as.” In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, we have this famous metaphor: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

A few Biblical metaphors: ‘Behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves” (Song of Solomon 1:15b. “You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13a).

Anthropomorphism attributes human characteristics to something not human. “The flower lifted it face to the sun.” “The wind roared.”

Biblical examples: “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). The Bible says that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and as such does not have body parts as we know them. Yet to communicate with us in ways we can understand, the Bible speaks as if He does. “ And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5). Psalm 17:6 says, “I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.” Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” We understand that to mean that God’s care is just as real as if He were literally holding us in his arms.

Personification is closely related to anthropomorphism, meaning to treat something abstract or inanimate as if it was human. One of Emily Dickinson’s poems personifies death: “Because I could not stop for Death,/He kindly stopped for me;/The carriage held but just ourselves/And Immortality.”

Biblical example: “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (Proverbs 1:20-23).

Hyperbole exaggerates something for effect. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

Biblical examples: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24). “The cities are great and fortified up to heaven” (Deuteronomy 1:28b).

Poetry uses many of these devices, but poetry itself is often phrased in a non-literal way. To quote Emily Dickinson again:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

Biblical examples: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). God didn’t actual send in giant birds, a la The Lord of the Rings, but His care of them was just as if He did. “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9-10).

Parables are very short stories with a moral or religious meaning, like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” They differ from fables in that they have human characters and are plausible, whereas fables use animals, sometimes inanimate objects or nature, and are usually obviously fanciful.

In the Bible, Jesus’s teaching abounds with parables: the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the sower, the good Samaritan, etc. But there are parables in other parts of the Bible as well, especially among the prophets, like the one Nathan told that convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba.

Symbols involve an item being used to represent something else, like a newscaster referring to the White House and meaning the government: “The White House issued a statement today…”

Revelation is full of symbols. The dragon and the beast, for instance, are not animals but evil people whose characters are represented by those beings. There has been argument over the elements of communion, or the Lord’s supper, or the Lord’s table, for years, but it makes the most sense to believe that the elements of bread and wine are symbolic rather than actually containing the body and blood of Christ. One indication of this is the reaction of the disciples as they listened. They were not above questioning and even arguing with the Lord, but no one batted an eye at His statements at the last Supper, indicating that they didn’t think He was advocating cannibalism.

When we listen to the news, read nonfiction, or hear a speech, we can easily discern these literary devices, and we don’t dismiss everything else the speaker or writer says as symbolic or untrue because they use anthropomorphism or an idiom or a metaphor. We’re able to discern from the context whether certain phrases are literal or figurative, usually without even thinking about it, and we get the message the communicator is trying to convey.

I, for one, am glad the Bible uses different literary genres of devices rather than just giving us lists of facts and truths and teachings. Many of us “get” truth in different ways – some prefer it plainspoken, some benefit from a story or illustration. Hearing the same truth in the law, in a parable, in poetry, in prophecy, in an epistle, reinforces that truth to us.

The Bible uses these devices, but the Bible is not wholly a story or parable or fable. There are some who interpret the first two chapters of Genesis or all of Genesis or even the greater part of the Old Testament as myth. But much of the OT is literal history.

The better way to read the Bible is in an ordinary way like you would any other nonfiction, taking it as meaning what the words would ordinarily mean unless the context indicates it is figurative speech. For instance, there is nothing in the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts of creation that indicate anything is meant other than normal 24 hour days. Sure, Peter says “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” but that doesn’t mean every time you see the word “day” in the Bible that it could possibly mean 1,000 years.The ordinary reading of this passage would indicate that creation took place in the span of a week. That’s certainly not beyond God’s power to do. Good people differ on this, and I don’t think anyone’s salvation hinges on whether they think the days in Gen. 1 and 2 are 24-hour days or eons. But I have read accounts where this is taken as mythic or symbolic that then skew other parts of the Bible to mean something quite different from what a more literal reading would indicate. Though good people can differ here and there on some of the fine points, overall a literal approach (except where obviously figurative) is the best.

And by saying that we read it in an ordinary way, I am not discounting that we need the Holy Spirit’s help to open our understanding. The Bible is a supernatural book and we need God’s help to understand it rightly. I just mean that we read it as literal unless it’s obviously figurative.

There is much more that could be said about this, but I am way past the time I allowed for this post, and it’s plenty long already.

A couple of other helpful articles are Taking the Bible Literally (though I’d disagree with him on a couple of points, like hell) and Do Faithful Christian Take the Bible Literally?

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

Thoughts on the MacArthur ESV Study Bible

MacArthur ESVI mentioned in my last Nightstand post that I had finished reading the ESV version of the MacArthur Study Bible but wasn’t planning to review it. How do you review a Bible, after all? But one friend said she’d like to hear my thoughts about it. So here goes.

I’d like to discuss it in two parts: the ESV version and then MacArthur’s notes.

The subject of Bible versions can be touchy and whole books have been written on them – I can’t possibly go into everything concerning them here. The best book I know of on the subject is From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man: A Layman’s Guide to How We Got Our Bible. A former pastor, someone whose exposition I trust more than anyone else I’ve heard or read, is one of the contributors, I knew one of the others in college, and I have heard a couple of others speak. That doesn’t mean these men are infallible, of course, but I have heard and read enough of them to generally trust them, and I have read enough elsewhere that supports what they say. Probably the biggest issue for those who are “King James Only” is the manuscripts that the different version or translated from. I think this book handles that ably, and I have read and heard enough to feel assured about reading version like the NASB (New American Standard Bible) and ESV (English Standard Version), as well, as, of course, the KJV and NKJV. (If you differ with me on this, that’s your prerogative, but I really don’t want to get into any arguments about it here. I have known some KJO people to think less of other Christians who use different versions, or even to break fellowship with people who don’t use the KJV. I think that is definitely going way too far.)

If you’ve read much about Bible translations, you’ve probably come across different theories or processes. No translation of anything from one language to another is going to be word for word exactly, literally, like the original. There are differences in syntax: for instance, Spanish puts the adjective after the noun while English usually puts it before: Casa Blanca for White House. One language may not have the exact word equivalent for every word in another language, and so on. If you’ve ever looked at a Greek interlinear New Testament, which has the Greek words and then the corresponding English above or below them, you’ll get some idea of the difficulty. (Take a look at Luke 2, for example.) Translators fall into two camps: those who try to translate word for word, staying as close as possible to the original while making ti understandable in another language, and those who translate thought for thought. The thought-for-thought translations are usually the most readable, but the least accurate.

Forgive the excess background material, but I felt I needed to go into that to explain that I think the ESV is probably my favorite translation. The KJV will always hold a special place in my heart, and I tend to think in King James, after having used it and read it for over 40 years now. But the ESV seems to me to best combine accuracy and readability.

Now on to MacArthur’s notes. I think this is the first time I have ever read through a study Bible, and I found the bulk of the notes very helpful. At the beginning are sections called Introduction to the Bible (kind of an overview), How We Got the Bible, How to Study the Bible, a preface to the ESV explaining the philosophy and style that went into this transition, an explanation of the features, especially the cross references and footnotes. Before each of the Testaments are introductions, chronologies, overviews, etc., and even the intertestamental period gets a few pages. Each book is introduced with a few pages discussing authorship, date, background and setting, historical and theological themes, interpretive challenges, and an outline. I found this especially very helpful to read before beginning a particular book. Throughout the book are applicable maps, charts, and diagrams and footnotes on most of the verses. At the end are appendices on The Character of Genuine Saving Faith, an Overview of Theology, a plan to read through the Bible in a year, an index to key Bible doctrines, Monies, Weights, and Measures, and a concordance.

The book is too bulky to carry to church, almost a little hard to handle while sitting on the couch, where I usually do my Bible reading. The print in the notes especially is very small, but if it was any larger, more pages and therefore more bulk would be required. So the size of both the print and the book itself are probably the best compromise.

I did not know much about MacArthur before reading this. I had found him to be a little terse in what things of his I had read, and that seems to come through here, but then again, that’s the nature of the verse-by-verse notes. Sometimes something I had a question about wasn’t addressed, or at least not to the extent I’d like, but I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a commentary, and the notes needed to be limited to a degree.

At first it was a little distracting to read a verse and then read the corresponding notes, but after a while it didn’t seem to be. It did help to reread or at least skim through the chapter again after reading it verse then note then verse, to put it all together.

I have multitudes of places marked, much more than I can share here, but here are a couple:

It helped to realize that Chronicles was not just a repeat of Kings, but was written when the Jews were returning to Israel after 70 years of exile to a land far different from their “glory years” of David and Solomon.

The chronicler’s selective genealogy and history of Israel…was intended to remind the Jews of God’s promises and intentions about: 1) the land; 2) the nation; 3) the Davidic king; 4) the Levitical priests; 5) the temple; and 6) true worship, none of which had been abrogated because of the Babylonian captivity. All of this was to remind them of their spiritual heritage during the difficult times they faced, and to encourage them to be faithful to God (p. 557).

Of Exodus 20:5-6, which speaks of God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” MacArthur says:

Moses had made it clear that children were not punished for the sins of their parents (Deut. 24:16; see Ezek. 18:19-32), but children would feel the impact of breaches of God’s law by their parents’ generation as a natural consequence of its disobedience, its hatred of God. Children reared in such an environment would imbibe and then practice similar idolatry, thus themselves expressing hateful disobedience. The difference in consequence served as both a warning and a motivation. The effect of a disobedient generation was to plant wickedness so deeply that it took several generations to reverse (p. 123).

Re the imprecatory prayers in the psalms: “As God’s mediatorial representative on earth, David prayed for judgement on his enemies, since these enemies were not only hurting him, but were primarily hurting God’s people. Ultimately, they challenged the King of kings, the God of Israel” (p. 734).

There were a few places I disagree with him, some minor, such as whether David was wrong to mourn Absalom in the way he did (MacArthur thought it was “melancholy,” “weak, ” and “unwarranted zeal for such a worthless son”; I thought it was perfectly natural to deeply grieve not only his loss of life but his state at the end of it). Some differences were major, particularity a Calvinistic bent which I had not known he possessed.

Calvinism is another issue too large for one blog post. I agree with parts of it but seriously disagree with other parts. But for just one example, one of the ares where I most disagree with it is with the “I” in the TULIP” acronym: Irresistible Grace, the idea that if God calls you to salvation, you can’t say no. One passage that particularly counteracts that idea, in my opinion, is where Jesus laments, ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34). That sounds pretty much like they resisted His overtures and attempts to gather them to Himself. Here’s what MacArthur says of the Matthew passage:

God is utterly sovereign and therefore fully capable of bringing to pass whatever he desires (cf. Isa.46:10)–including the salvation of whomever he chooses (Eph. 1:4-5). Yet, he sometimes expresses a wish for that which he does not sovereignly bring to pass (cf. Gen. 6:6; Deut. 5:29; Ps. 81:13; Isa. 48:18). Such expressions in no way suggest a limitation on the sovereignty of God or imply any actual change in him (Num. 23:19). But these statements do reveal essential aspects of the divine character: he is full of compassion, sincerely good to all,  desirous of good, not evil–and therefore not delighting in the destruction of the wicked… (p. 1403).

This passage makes sense to me if Christ is lamenting that people turned away from His attempts to draw them, because He knows what it will ultimately mean for them (if you turn away from Him, there is nowhere else to go. If you won’t accept his grace, there’s nothing left but wrath). But it doesn’t make sense if He is saying, “I didn’t elect you, and you don’t have any chance, but I feel bad about that.”

The Bible itself is inspired by God: no man’s notes and commentaries are. But someone else’s intense study of the Word of God can be greatly beneficial to us in our own study, and, though I disagreed with MacArthur in a few places here and there, I was greatly helped by the majority of his notes.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday,
Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books,
Carole’s Books You Loved)

 

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Word Studies in the Bible

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Generally it’s better to read a book of the Bible from start to finish, in one or consecutive sittings. You get the whole context then, the way the passage fits within the rest of the book, etc., and you get it the way it was originally intended to be read. But sometimes a topical or word or phrase study can be beneficial, too, either as a break from just reading, or because you have found something you want to study out a bit further.

We have to be careful with word or topical studies that we don’t string together a bunch of unrelated verses out of context. But if we take context into account, sometimes these studies can be real eye-openers. I’ll share a few of my own later.

The place to begin is a concordance. You probably have a small concordance in the back of your Bible, and that can be a good starting place. But you’re probably going to want to invest in a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, or, if you have a computer, learn to work with some online programs. There are several Bible computer programs you could buy, but for just a basic study like this, free online resources like BibleGateway.com, BibleStudyTools.com, or blueletterbible.org are all fine.

Say you wanted to look up verses about God’s love. You look up “love” in the concordance, and there are tons of verses with that word in it. You go through them and find the ones that deal with God’s love rather than the love of people for each other, and either write them out, or, with a computer you can just “copy and paste” them into your word processing program. As you do this, you’ll find characteristics of God’s love (it is eternal, merciful, etc.), and you might want to organize the verses into categories. Even doing this you won’t find all the verses about God’s love, because some verses that may talk about it may not have the word “love” in the verse, and so won’t show up in that category in the concordance. So if you want to be really thorough, as you study those verses you can look up the cross references or look up the verses just before and after the ones you find in the concordance (that is a good practice anyway to make sure you are taking the verses in context).

If you wanted to take it a step further, you could look up the original Greek or Hebrew words. The Strong’s Concordance will have a number assigned to each word, and you can then look up words by that number. I believe Strong’s numbers are only available for the KJV and NIV. In BibleStudyTools.com, for instance, if you look up John 3:16, then you can click on the “Settings” icon and click on the Strong’s numbers. All the words with a Strong’s number will turn blue, and you can click on any of them to see the definition. If you click on “loved,” you’d be taken to a page which shows you the Greek word there is “agapao,” and you’ll also see the word origin, part of speech, definition, other places in the Bible where this word is used, and other ways the word is translated. You can even listen to what the pronunciation sounds like.

Once in a Child Care class in college, we had to do a study on what the Bible says about child discipline. For that kind of a study, you might go to verses you are already familiar with first, then look up the cross references listed beside them, then look up pertinent words in the concordance, like “rod,” “discipline,” “train,”, “child,” “son,” etc. Then you might go from the actual verses telling about child discipline to examples in Scripture of parents disciplining their children in good or bad ways or examples of how God disciplines us.

When you go back to your regular reading, you’ll likely find other verses that would fit in to your study, and your study will likely heighten what you get out of that passage as you read it again.

I’ve done studies on particular problem areas I’ve wrestled with, like anger, pride, anxiety, gluttony, that have been very helpful.  One pitfall is that it be can be very easy to look these verses up and get them all neatly categorized and organized….and then file them away without really going back to read and study them to see what they teach. But they can be a handy and helpful study guide.

Once I did a study on the words “in Christ” or “in Him.” I had noticed a few verses that detailed some things that we have in Christ and wanted to study it out further. It was a very rich study! Here are just a few of those verses:

Romans 3:24   Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

 Romans 8:1  There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Romans 8:38– 98   For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 1 Corinthians 1:30   But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

 1 Corinthians 15:22   For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

 2 Corinthians 2:14   Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.

John 1:4   In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

 Colossians 2:10   And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.

Another time, to try to fight against my desire for my own way so much of the time, I did a study looking up verses like “own way,” “own understanding,” “own thoughts,” “own sight,” “own eyes,” etc. I ended up with four pages of very convicting notes! Here are just a few:

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Proverbs 14:14a The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways

Proverbs 21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

Romans 10:3  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Proverbs 1:31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

Proverbs  3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

Proverbs  3:7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.

Philippians 3:9   And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

One of the most impactful word studies I did was on the phrase “God is able.” I saw a few verses with that phrase in the March 8 evening reading of Daily Light on the Daily Path, and decided to look up more.  Some of those:

II Chronicles 25:9: And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man of God answered, The LORD is able to give thee much more than this. (See II Chronicles 25:1-9 for the bigger picture.)

Daniel 3:17: If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

Daniel 4:37: Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Matthew 10:28: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Acts 20:32: And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

Romans 4:21: And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

Romans 14:4: Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

2 Corinthians 9:8: And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work…

Ephesians 3:20-21: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Philippians 3:21: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

2 Timothy 1:12: For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

Hebrews 2:18: For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Hebrews 7:25: Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

James 4:12: There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Jude 1:24: Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy….

Matthew 9: 28, 29: Believe ye that I am able to do this? . . . Yea Lord. . . . According to your faith be it unto you.

What a great boost to faith, and how much we have to praise our God for!

Have you ever done a word or topical study in the Bible that impacted you? If not, I hope you’ll give a word or topical study a try!

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival)