How can I help you read the Bible more?

I was talking to a group of young (compared to me) adults the other night. Here’s the first part of what I told them, in answer to the question above.

I’m going to assume that you are typical. I know, you are special and wonderful and amazing. But so is everyone. And so that makes you typical. And I’m going to assume that you are churchgoers. That’s not a negative thing. It just means that you fairly regularly go to church.

There’s a big body of research that says that 45% of churchgoers read the Bible at least a few times a week, 18% every day. So if you are typical, more than half of you read the Bible once a week or less.

Which is fine, I suppose. Except that Bible reading is the single biggest factor connected to growing spiritually.

I’m not sure that the best way to get more people reading the Bible is to tell people to read the Bible. We hear that all the time. So instead, I want to make four practical suggestions to help 55% of you get a bit more connected to reading the Bible.

First, pick a chair.

(I wrote about the chair before)

downsized_0720041659It could be a library chair or a chair in a coffee shop or a chair in your living room. But it’s got to be a comfortable chair where you can sit with a cup of coffee and spend fifteen minutes reading the Bible and talking with God.

Not too comfortable, I suppose. But pick one.

Why? Because human beings are habitual. And if we know that’s the chair where we sit to talk with God, it means that we don’t have to make that choice every day.

This is mine. It’s from my office at home. I have two chairs, but this is my morning coffee with God. My life changed when I picked this chair.
I sit there with my Moleskine notebook and my Field Notes pen and I write the date in the top right corner of the page and I start writing to God and then I read something. And I do this early in the morning.

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More tomorrow.

waging peace

First published July 26, 2012

When I was much younger, I memorized Romans 12 one summer, for some prize. I haven’t forgotten the first paragraph or two, about being a living sacrifice, about renewing my mind. I remember how J.B. Phillips paraphrased the second verse: “Don’t let the world  around you squeeze you into its own mould.”

Paul was writing this letter to a group of people who were following Jesus and living in Rome. They were in the minority. They were talking about teachings that stood at complete odds with the plurality of the culture. And in this section of the letter, Paul offers this counselIf it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

What’s compelling about this counsel is that it is not a standard that he offers for the empire or the emperor. In fact, elsewhere in his letter, Paul encourages respect for the very authorities that had kept him imprisoned. He knew that the government wasn’t polite toward him, but that wasn’t going to change his politeness toward the government. It’s not a call to abandon beliefs. The beginning of this chapter and rest of his letter makes clear that Paul was pretty specific about a lot of things.

These words are, however, a request to adopt a tone of peacemaking.

He’s echoing the words of Jesus, to wage peace rather than war. He’s echoing the words of God through Jeremiah to the people of Israel living in exile: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

You and I may disagree about how to understand the Bible. But with what I understand, before God I dare not pick fights.

There will be distractions.

Sometimes I can make the application for us. Today I can’t. But you may be able to.

I read two things Monday morning.

1. Interruptions make us less effective writers.

2. Paul made every effort to see a small church he started, “but Satan stopped us.”

The research shows that when writing essays that have a deadline, random interruptions during the outlining or writing phases result in poorer essays. Arguments are not developed as well, ideas are not explained clearly, thinking is choppy.

In this research, the interruptions came from the experimenters. And the researchers are quick to clarify that they are talking about things that interrupt the flow of thinking, not our intentionally moving from project to project.

Paul’s essay says that he wanted to get back to Thessalonica to teach, to encourage, to equip. But though he tried several times, he was interrupted and resisted. So he did two things. He prayed for them and he feared for them.  And when he couldn’t stand it, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. (Turns out they were doing fine. It seems that God was doing fine in helping them grow without Paul around.)

I’m not saying that every interruption to our writing, our helping, or anything else we do to live out our divinely directed calling is Satan’s action. I am suggesting that sometimes it is.

There are a hundred things from inside and outside of our heads that interrupt us. Some of them we can address by shutting people out for awhile, others we can address by working on our concentration. But Paul suggests that even when we are doing everything we can, there may be someone intent on disrupting our work for God.

I gotta run. I’ll let you make connections.

And I’ll pray for you.

A response to putting it on your calendar.

Last week, I talked about scheduling. Here’s an email I received in response. I asked permission to share it. It is a marvelous example of the power of reminders. 

Hey Jon,

My name is Bethany. I’m 18 and I just graduated high school.

I’m writing in response to your question about people setting alarms. I don’t really know why I chose to respond to this one in particular, but I suppose I do have a relevant experience. Sometimes during the school year, everything gets so hectic that I forget to consider God first, especially while I’m whiling the time away doing integrals in AP Calc and discussing Hamlet’s motives in AP Lit. I forget that God is integral to my every move, and that His glorification should always be my motive. So I used an alarm to help me remember. Each hour, on the hour, when my wristwatch chimed, I would say a prayer. Not a long prayer, and to be honest, not a considerably deep prayer. But a prayer. A reminder. A lifeline.

My relationship with God grew exponentially as I learned to come to Him with everything, including little bits of conversation, fleeting moments of great appreciation for certain aspects of creation, or sudden worries for things I could never fix anyway. I learned to treat my relationship with God with at least as much consideration as I do the ones with my friends. And our relationship wasn’t the only part of me that changed. My personality did, too. My friends would remark about how calm I was, how lighthearted, how unshaken by the wee hours of studying and frantic cramming sessions we all experienced together. I was able to escape those everyday worries because while I was faithful to God, He was ever more faithful to me. Every time that I spoke to Him and in all the moments between, He provided what I needed in that minute. No more, no less; not often early, but never late. And because of that I knew – and I still know – that when my watch chimes on the hour, whatever I’m doing is inevitably and infinitely less important than having a chat with my Comforter, Protector, and God.

Well that ended up long. So terribly sorry about that…it may be too late to say so now, but I would not be offended in the least if you didn’t read all of it. Have a wonderful afternoon, and God bless!

Bethany

on prophets and teachers

Ezekiel was called to be a prophet.

“Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

It’s not easy to speak knowing that people will ignore you or toss you in a well or stone you.

But not all of us are called to be prophets, called to announce “Here’s what God says”. Some of us are called to be teachers. To explain and train. To talk with people who say, “But I don’t know how,” and offer direction and examples and guidance and feedback.

There are a couple of great examples of teaching. Jethro told Moses  “Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.” He was telling Moses to do what piano teachers, trainers and math teachers do.

Moses was responsible to live out God’s instructions himself. In the same way,  Ezra committed himself to study, practice, and teach the Law (which we know as the law of Moses, but was actually from God).

Often, people get the roles of prophet and teacher confused. They assume that simply proclaiming something should be enough to help people participate. They assume that announcing is the best way to approach behavior change. Or they just like to be right and yell at people.

Maybe this is a good rule of life: unless God tells you to announce, try studying, living, and teaching.

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More on teaching at Show People How To Live