Bible study

​Developing discipline, developing character

Glenn and I often joke about how God chose us to be in ministry because everyone will know it is God, not us, doing the work. Why? Because Glenn and I are both inherently lazy people. Don’t get me wrong, we can both be work horses, but you have to appropriately motivate us. In actual fact, it usually takes God to motivate us to get off our backsides!

Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6) – Yep, definitely is by His Spirit!

I am completely content spending my days reading novels or working on whatever latest project strikes my fancy. Glenn is equally happy to play computer games all day, with a little travel interspersed in between. Whilst this all might be fine in relaxation time, it is not a great choice for daily life. Laziness is not life giving and it certainly doesn’t bring a sense of purpose. Yet, even experiencing a feeling of purposelessness, it still feels easier to live for the flesh than to train (discipline) ourselves in the things of the Lord.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecc 1:2-3) . . . Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; (Ecc 12:1)  . . . The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Why am I sharing this wonderful (hehem) insight into our character? Despite joking about God’s choice with Glenn, I have often had people make my life choices seem to be more to do with my person than with God at work in me. And so I bring this up in a blog about Bible study because this discipline is one I’m sure most people assume I find really easy to live out – because I am fiercely passionate about the Word of God and making it known. I want you to know that it is a choice I must make to strive after God, and I have to let Him put strategies into my life that push me into Bible study.

Gods living Word

Even though I love the Bible, it takes effort to study it. It takes energy to dig beyond the initial surface level of a passage. It takes time to study inductively (exploring what the Word says), rather than deductively (reading the Word with preconceived notions and established beliefs). Yet if we are really hungry for truth, and if we desire God’s heart rather than religion, then we will make the time to study inductively. 

Gimel. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:17-18)

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Digging into the Word means coming to a greater revelation of Christ, Jesus, who is the living Word! What a great gift we have; and yet, what a gift that is set aside, unwrapped, by far too many of God’s people!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

For me, making the time is the key. Life tries to put many demands on our time. We need to make sure that Bible study is included in our daily life. I’ve learnt that I need to be pushed into study. I am always thankful when I am, but my innate laziness stops me from studying from sheer desire. To turn my desire and ideals into practice I need to have some goal in mind, or an obligation to keep. I love teaching for this reason – I can’t teach what I don’t know and thus I am “forced” back into study.

Teaching in Zambia

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

This is not to say that reading through and meditating on Scripture isn’t important, too – it just serves a different purpose in the life of God’s people. We need to do all three – read, meditate on and study the Word of God. [I’ll look at Scripture mediation and memorisation in upcoming blogs).

And, most importantly of all, we must allow the truths of Scripture to dwell in our hearts richly, transforming us into His likeness and producing fruits of righteousness. Studying the Word must lead to APPLICATION, or it is useless. Understanding without application is dead knowledge.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:9-10)

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

Flowers fall, but the Word remains

We also see that Scripture knowledge is needed for evangelism, and that believers are also to teach each other from their knowledge. There seems to be an unwillingness today to debate the Word – not argue, but wrestle through passages together to come to greater understanding of the truth and its application. We need to start studying the Word for ourselves; we need to know it ourselves. There is such Bible poverty within the church today that pastors preach falsehoods from the pulpit and their congregations are none the wiser. Would you know if your pastor taught something scripturally unsound? Would you be prepared to bring it up to him (in love)?

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28)

So how will you study the Word? Will you faithfully work through a Bible study book? Will you join a Bible study group? Will you agree to lead a home group, or commit to running a Bible study, thus forcing yourself into Bible study? Will you sign up for a Bible study course through a distant learning theology school? The Word is the truth we are to live by; we must know it to walk in the truth!

Open the Word; Dig into life

If you want a free PDF copy of my Bible study resource, The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word, please just send me an email! Let’s end Bible poverty!

Fasting

Developing discipline, developing character

God sure stretched me last season, but what sweet fruit it produced and is continuing to produce! God disciplines us in many ways because He loves us; read Hebrews 12:5-11 if you don’t believe me! God’s discipline develops our character, producing godliness and righteousness.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

Producing sweet fruit

I’ve never been a fan of the spiritual discipline of fasting, but it was one of the avenues God used to shape and direct me this past year. I’m finding the more I faithful heed His call to fast (and do the fast HE chooses), the more I enjoy them and, indeed, look forward to them.

At the moment my fasting isn’t the one we all think of – abstaining from all food – I think because I’m still breastfeeding a little one. God calls us to fast from all sorts of things. Some of the things He has asked me to fast from include: my phone for a month (which I use for business, too!), milk in tea/coffee, caffeine, sugar, eat only soups, eat only vegetable and grains, fast lunch etc. Glenn often gets called to fast from YouTube, or Facebook. Others I know often get asked to fast from T.V. or social media.

The purpose of fasting can very greatly. You might fast to from a hunger to draw close to God. You might fast as an act of repentance and to find healing for your soul. God might ask you to fast so that you can devote more time to interceding for others, or He might ask you to read through certain Scripture and dwell on His Word. We can’t put God in a box! This is why we must walk in step with His Word and His Spirit.

Time in the Word

I’ve also found that there is no one way that God directs or works in my fast. Sometimes the breakthrough happens only at the end. Sometimes breakthrough comes when the fast is still only an intention for the coming week. This last time God gave me prophetic dreams, daily images, and words. Sometimes He calls me to intercede for others, and sometimes for my circumstances.

If you are hungry for God and truly want to live your life solely for Him, then I suggest asking Him what He might want you to fast from and when to do so. Maybe He wants you to intercede for your spouse or children. Perhaps He wants you to put Him first in your life again. Maybe He will speak to you about your next step, or maybe you will be asked to give up something in your life for Him.

Caffeine free zone . . . for a time!

And when the start of the fast is hard, remember the fruit that it is producing in you!

Below I’ve listed some fasting Scriptures, but Isaiah 58 is the one I come back to over and over again when I think of fasting. It shows that our heart motive is what God looks to more than anything else, and it also calls our attention, once again, to caring for the poor and lowly.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:3-5)

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,  if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:8-11)

Here are some Scriptures (not a complete list) that involve fasting:

  • 2 Samuel 12:23 – David fasted as he interceded for his son, but acknowledged God’s sovereignty in the situation.
  • 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 – Fasting as a nation to seek God’s help and intervention.
  • Ezra 8:21 – Humbling the people before God and seeking His protection for their journey.
  • Esther 4:16 – Seeking God’s favour on behalf of Esther as she went before an unbelieving king on behalf of her nation.
  • Joel 2:12-14 – Calling the people to repent and seek God’s mercy.
  • Matt 6:16-19 – Fasting is done for the Lord, not for man, accolades, or praise. We are to fast with all humility, seeking only God’s attention.
  • Matt 9:14-15 – There were times when Christ called His disciples not to fast, but celebrate His presence with them.
  • Luke 18:12 – Fasting is worthless before God if our heart is not right.
  • Acts 13:3 – The church in Antioch were fasting and worshipping God as a congregation. From the fast, they felt they were to set apart Barnabas and Paul for a specific work, and sent them off.

 

Loving the lowly

God has Glenn and I on an amazing journey towards loving the poor, lowly and broken hearted. It is a journey of dying to one’s self, gaining Christ’s compassion through trials and frustration, learning patience and humility, laying down preconceived ideas of ministry style and culture . . . and many other humbling lessons!

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:10)

I love where God is taking us, but I must admit it is not always a comfortable journey. God constantly demands more of us – not in busyness, but pride, thought, heart, intention, finance, and inner motives. He calls us to sacrifice our own desires and dreams, laying them at the foot of the cross. Even as we do so, we pick up His desires and walk more and more into His purposes. We gain His heart. And what is His heart? Obviously, salvation of all people. But we also see in the Word – both in the New Testament and in the Old Testament – that His heart is for the poor and lowly. 

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18).

I can’t say I have “arrived”. I know this journey will be life long. I don’t have much to give this blog other than to challenge you to join me. I challenge you to completely surrender to God, one small step at a time.

What is out of your comfort zone in His call to love and serve the poor? Is it helping at a food shelter, talking to a homeless man, inviting a foster child into your home, moving to a poorer area to live and serve your neighbours?

Sewing ministry of Shalack

God calls us to love that knows no bounds.

There are those who argue that grace requires no works. They are correct in the truth that ONLY grace is needed for our salvation. They are incorrect when it comes to the “working out” of our salvation. The Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation (1 Cor 1:21-22), and so, if we have the Spirit within us, we are going to keep in step with the Spirit!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).

Jesus, Himself, gave us the commandment to LOVE – love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31). Love is not an emotion, but a challenging accumulation of traits – just read through 1 Corinthians 13 if you don’t believe me!

So let us learn how to love in truth and deed. Let us learn to love without bounds. Let us call out to the Father, asking Him to give us a love that crosses culture, social status, age, nationality . . .

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Sewing ministry of Shalack_learning straight stitch making bunting

The tale of ten lepers

This event has been playing in my mind these past two weeks:

And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

We are called to live a life of thanksgiving. But how often do we pause in our busyness to say “thank you”? I’m mainly referring to thanking God, but I think that a life of thankfulness will flow out to those around us, too.

I have seen God answer prayers my entire life. Sometimes the answer comes in an unexpected way or season, but it does come.

Revelation 8:3-4 tells us that the prayers of the saints rise before God as a fragrant offering! John 16:23-28 tells us that the Father will give us anything that we ask in the Son’s name.

We quote the above scriptures all the time when making requests of God. But how often do we return to Him and say thank you? Do we quickly forget that we made a request at all? We cry and rail at Him in our need, but once it’s met then we run ahead and forget.

Turn back and thank God

When you journal, do you take time to note down praise points? Do you have a record of testimonies to God’s faithfulness? Are you bold enough to share your thanks of what God has done in your life with family and friends? Do you remember His past faithfulness when coming before His throne with new requests?

Let’s be like the leper who turned back and praised the One who healed him!

Forgiving His child

God gave me an interesting, yet powerful, image for my marriage a few days ago:

God asked me how I would respond to our child if he made a mistake (no matter how large) and came to confide in me, repentant. Of course, I would forgive immediately, open my arms wide, embrace him, and shower him with love, comfort, and a mother’s tenderness.

As this was running through my mind, God kept an image of Glenn as a gap-toothed, primary school aged boy before my mind’s eye. As these feelings and thoughts of protectiveness and love overflowed for my son, God reminded me that Glenn is His beloved child. What beautiful tenderness came into my heart at that moment; what protective love appeared; what a strong, nurturing desire.

and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4)

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5-6)

Glenn is first God’s child, then my husband. God desires me to love Glenn with His love for him, which includes understanding that Glenn is a spiritual child (like I am) and needs my “mother’s heart” more than wifely criticism. Seeing him as a child also helps me to be quick to forgive and to look beyond myself towards the purposes of God.

All of us, as children of God, are still growing up. God’s love and grace embraces us when we stumble on the path of righteousness. Like a loving Father, He picks us up, brushes the dirt off, and sends us onwards towards holiness. We are to extend this same love towards our brethren in Christ, and especially our spouses. I find that viewing Glenn as a child – God’s child – helps me to champion him forward with the same loving tenderness, understanding and quick forgiveness that I extend to our boy.

I married a child of God

Large capacity – Full!

All of my life I’ve been told in various ways that I have a “big capacity”. Looking back on my life so far I can see what they saw. I have always filled my calendar to overload – and enjoyed it!

I was the child doing multiple sports a term, in a school band, plus the choir, as well as some out of school activity (read “activities”) such as scouts, gymnastics, ballet, rugby and church groups. Even the past year – the first as a Mum – Glenn and I started our own business whilst also moving city to become part of a church ministry and I did some writing projects on the side. Thankfully living in South Africa makes a maid feasible cost-wise because my large capacity doesn’t extend to cleaning . . . :p

But recently God has been speaking to me about my large capacity. You see, my large capacity is not for things of the world. My large capacity is for His Living Water. And guess what – you have the same large capacity!

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

God has been making it very clear that I am no longer to be filling my time up with strenuous work or worldly striving. I’m only to take part in what He asks of me (because we all know there’s no escaping from people trying to add to our loads!)

Everything we are to do is to come from a place of rest, peace and fullness in Christ. This is where God can work most powerfully through us and in us.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)

Drink of His living water; refresh your soul in Him

Pouring out my perfume

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:41-49)

Who are you in this story? Do you invite Christ into your home, but offer only the most basic hospitality and criticise His followers? Or do you know that you are a sinner, saved by His grace, ready to pour out all you have for Him and into His Kingdom?

I am the woman. I am poor of heart. I am of the most sinful. But He has cancelled my debts of sin and I now desire to pour my entire self and all I have out at His feet. Everything I have, He gets. All I am is His now. There is nothing I can give Him in exchange for my salvation – it is a free gift. But from the gratitude in my heart flows a love so strong that I want to serve Him with all of me.

What this outpouring looks like will be different for everyone. For me, at the moment, it means renting our house out to live in a city we would never naturally choose to live in, and live as missionaries rather than in formal employment. The beautiful perfume I am pouring out to Him is finance and time. What is your perfume of love?

Pouring out the perfume