Interrupt Your Suffering by Serving Others

{I am honored that Lauri Hogle agreed to co-author this week’s post, and I’m simply ecstatic to be able to offer you access to her weekly devotionals and playlists. Lauri is a Christian blogger and music therapist who writes about “singing Christ’s hope into your suffering.” I was introduced to Lauri and her posts as part of Flourish Writers and was instantly drawn to her use of music to interrupt our suffering with worship and focus instead on praising God. Each week, along with her devotional blog posts, she offers prayerfully selected playlists to encourage worshiping God even in our suffering. I hope you’ll take time to visit her site and sign up for her weekly emails. I know the scripture and song choices will bless you as they have me, and we can join together in interrupting our suffering by worshiping God}.

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I have a radical idea – what if we interrupt our suffering by worshiping God?

And what if that worship came in the form of serving others?

Totally crazy, right?

Maybe not.

What did Jesus tell us was the second most important commandment?  He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31

The Greek word Jesus used for love was “agapao” – it’s a verb, an action, meaning you DO something.  You live out this love.

Let’s live out our love. Let’s interrupt our suffering by focusing on others.

Literally take our attention off our own challenges and struggles and focus on the needs of someone else.  This is a godly way to persevere through suffering.  This is also a way to worship God: love other people.  Meet their needs.  Be God’s hands and feet…even as we’re dealing with our own tests and trials.

Does serving others guarantee our pain will go away?

Unfortunately not.

Does putting the needs of others before our own needs exempt us from future suffering?

It doesn’t.

Then why should we do it?

Because God commanded us to, in Leviticus 19:18b, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”

Because Jesus echoed this command during his earthly ministry (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31).

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And because Jesus and other figures from the Bible lived this out.  They modeled for us how to serve others during a time of suffering.

Remember Jesus washing his disciples’ feet mere hours before his brutal death?  (See John 13:1-20)

Then, remember him making provisions with his disciple John for his mother, Mary’s long-term care even as Jesus was hanging on the cross?  (John 19:26-27)

The widow of Zarephath served the prophet Elijah even though she thought she and her son were starving to death during a drought.  The widow and her son were gathering sticks to make a fire to use the last flour and oil they had in their house to make bread.  When Elijah approached and asked for food, the widow told him that she planned to use up the remaining food in her house and then die with her son (she thought they would starve to death because there was a drought in the land and they had no way of getting more food).  Elijah gave her a word from the LORD: if she would serve Elijah during her suffering as God was calling her to, her flour and oil wouldn’t run out until God sent the rain. She submitted to God’s will and helped Elijah even as she and her son were starving.  (Read the whole story in 1 Kings 17:8-24

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Joseph’s story, in the book of Genesis, also illustrates interrupting personal suffering to meet the needs of other people.  As a youth, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:18-28).  He ended up in Egypt working in the house of a man named Potifar.  Because God was with Joseph, everything Joseph did was successful, so Potifar prospered as a result.  Unfortunately, the young man suffered again at the hands of his master’s wife who tried to seduce him then falsely accused him of attempted rape when he refused her advances.  His master believed his wife’s allegations and had Joseph thrown in jail (Genesis 39:1-23). While Joseph suffered under false imprisonment, he served others who were jailed with him by correctly interpreting their dreams; for one of his fellow inmates, he provided comfort in the knowledge that the man’s time in prison was about to end.  Joseph was still suffering in prison when he was asked to serve Pharoah . When Joseph correctly interpreting Pharoah’s dreams, Joseph won freedom from jail (Genesis 41:1-56).

The story of Ruth provides more proof that it is possible to serve others while you are experiencing pain and heartache of your own.  Even though Ruth’s husband died, she continued to care for her mother-in-law, Naomi, remaining in Naomi’s home rather than returning to her (Ruth’s) parents.  Eventually, Ruth moved with Naomi away from her (Ruth’s) homeland and returned to Naomi’s hometown (Ruth 1:1-19). There, Ruth continued to minister to her widowed mother-in-law by gathering grain from the fields in the area so she and Naomi would have food (Ruth 2:2-3).

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You see, God has already given us everything we need to pull ourselves out of our suffering: the mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves, and godly examples in His Word of people who served while they suffered, even His own Son, Jesus Christ.

Talk to God today about your suffering.  Ask Him to show you the needs of people around you, people who are hurting.  Ask Him to give you the strength to help those people even though you are also in need of help.  Ask Him to help you interrupt your suffering by serving Him.  He is faithful to hear you and to answer your prayers. 

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To Heather’s words, I add this, as one who is so often physically ill and then riddled with feelings of guilt when I want to serve and help others but don’t have the physical capacity to care for others’ needs well. 

How can I wash the hands and feet of others if my body isn’t working? How can I keep going in moments when I’m physically weary from my current season of continual caregiving for others?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10 ESV).

By His indwelling Spirit, we can walk in His perfectly planned good works, beloved. 

He answered my desperate prayers…with the answer of “prayer!” At my sickest, this flip calendar prayer helped me:

Deliver me Lord, from the snare of self-pity

the lie that I’m no longer a value

Remind me that when I’m unable to work,

I can still be of use …

I can pray … I can praise … I can be.

I can pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ continually, as serving the Lord:

keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18 ESV);

asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9 ESV).

I can pray for those who do not know Jesus or who are hurting me:

love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt. 5:44 ESV).

I can pray for this suffering to be a time of new learning and sharing the gospel with others:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (I Pet. 3:15 ESV).

Beloved in Christ, let’s all serve and honor our Lord, by loving others, in and through our suffering this week. How can we best do so? Let’s pray and ask Him to help us, the One who has already prepared us for good works during this time of suffering.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thess. 5: 16-18 ESV).

This week’s playlist gives us words to pray, as we seek the Lord’s help and wisdom about how to serve God, especially in today’s suffering. If praying through song would bless and help you, this playlist is for you. You can sign up to receive it in your email at https://laurihogle.com.

How to Study the Bible Part 4 – Do a Formal Bible Study

***At the end of today’s post, I’m previewing next week’s article – a collaboration with a writer I’m excited to introduce to you. Don’t miss the “heads up” below.***


It is obvious, based on scripture, that God intended for His children to read His word. We are to learn from it, yield to it, proclaim it and share it. He intended for us to write His word on our hearts so it would be with us for eternity.

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By all means, open the Bible. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Ask questions about the Bible. Allow it to be alive and active in your life, as the writer of Hebrews said it was. (Hebrews 4:12). Most importantly, allow it to reveal your sin and teach you to ask forgiveness and to turn back to God.

You can most definitely study the Bible on your own as I have described in the Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. But you can also choose a formal Bible study as a vehicle through which to learn about God’s Word. There are a wealth of studies with sound doctrine that were written by credible believers. If you are flying solo, you may need to do research into unfamiliar authors. Search the internet to see if that author has his or her own page so you can read about others things he or she has done to promote the faith. You could ask a trusted Christian friend or visit the website of women’s ministries that list trusted Bible study authors.

Authors and collaborations of authors I personally recommend include Beth Moore, Priscilla Shrier, Jessie Allen, Jessie North, Mindy Kiker and Jenny Kochert (Flourish Gathering), Mary Kassian, Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth, Asherita Ciuciu, and Sophron Studies. You can also usually trust studies found at DaySpring, Lifeway, etc. (This list is not exhaustive – just authors and publishers I have experience with).

Another option would be to join a group Bible study for added accountability, guidance, fellowship, and discipleship. The studies you do in these settings are typically curated in some way (people with past experience with the author or the study have recommended them). Group Bible studies are usually led by someone with experience in studying the Bible, in leading group studies, and in choosing studies with sound doctrine, and these people can answer your questions, lead you to other resources, help disciple you, etc.

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The benefit of having others to talk through material with is immeasurable. I have personally learned and grown so much from studies I’ve done over the past 16 years. These studies have helped deepen my faith. They’ve helped me develop my own Bible study methods that I use when I’m not doing a formal study. They’ve helped me learn to hear from God and to talk with God. They’ve led to life changes where God has broken through and put me on a different path. They’ve given me the confidence to go to the Bible on my own and read it for myself. They’ve helped me learn to follow God in general and have given me direction specifically as a women, as a mother, and as a wife.

Not sure how to join a small group Bible study?

Ask a friend where she goes and join her.

Check the women’s ministry pages of local churches to see when their next study starts up. (Here’s our women’s ministry page at Calvary. Our next formal group studies start in the fall, but you’re welcome to join one of our small groups as we continue to do informal studies during summer break. You do not have to be local to participate as some of these groups use Zoom or meet/talk virtually in other ways). The small group I’m in does plans through the YouVersion app, purchases bible studies to work through, or reads the Bible itself, focusing on a book, a person, or a concept to study.

Feeling a little intimidated? Reach out to me, and I can walk through a plan or study with you.

Whatever way you choose to study the Bible, start with prayer and continue to pray, pray, pray. Always be in conversation with God, asking for guidance so you can learn from His Word remain in His will.

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***Next week’s post, Interrupt Your Suffering by Serving Others, was co-authored with Lauri Hogle, fellow Christian blogger and music therapist who writes about “singing Christ’s hope into your suffering.” I first read Lauri’s posts as part of Flourish Writers, and I was instantly drawn to her use of music to interrupt our suffering with worship and focus instead on praising God. Each week, along with her devotional blog posts, she offers prayerfully selected playlists to lead us in worshiping God even in our suffering.

The idea that God calls us to focus on others resonates strongly with me, so I’ve explored it recently in my writing as well. As I became more familiar with Lauri’s writing through her weekly posts and playlists, I felt a nudge from God to reach out to her and ask her to co-author an article specifically about serving others as a way to interrupt our suffering. She graciously agreed to work with me on the article, but most importantly, to create a playlist to you through the article. I encourage you to visit Lauri’s site and check out her work, then join me again next week for our post and her playlist.

How to Study the Bible Part 3 – Write a Letter to God

Roughly half of my bible study time is spent writing or keeping a journal. I have my pen and paper – usually a regular spiral bound notebook like you’d buy your kid for school – by my side as I pray, read, and study, and I simply write down my thoughts.

Sometimes I write a basic summary of the scripture I studied. This helps me remember what I read, but it also helps when I need to hash out the lesson or the story because I still don’t fully understand it. I write/talk myself through what I read, what I think it’s saying, what I don’t understand, and any insights God gives me as I’m writing/talking.

Sometimes I write my thoughts and feelings about what I read – an evaluation, if you will: questions I’m still pondering after researching bible commentary, how it challenged or convicted me, how it made me feel, how I could apply it to my life, or what I think God is saying to me about my life. (The hyperlink takes you to Part 1 of this series).

Sometimes I research and record the original Greek or Hebrew meaning of words in a verse or verses that stand out to me. This is called word study, and it is useful for researching and internalizing scripture. (The hyperlink takes you to Part 2 of this series).

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Sometimes I write my prayers to God word for word as if I am talking to Him out loud or praying inside my head. (I stay focused better this way during the actual prayer time). I typically use the P.R.A.Y acronym to format my prayers, but sometimes they’re free-form – I simply write what I’m saying to Him.

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Sometimes I ask Him a question – for clarification, for insight into how the scripture is relevant to me, for guidance on what I should do with the conviction I feel, etc. – and sit with my paper and pen and wait until I hear from Him and record what He says.

Often, I record prayer requests – my requests and those of others. This is helpful because I go back later and look over the requests and see how God has answered.

I even sprinkle in comments about my day – what I did yesterday, what I plan to do today, things I’m worried about, situations at work or with family – just like you’d find in a regular diary or daily journal.

I also write in the margins of my bible. I’ll write notes from other sources of commentary. I’ll underline or box-in verses that catch my attention. I’ll write quotes from speakers I hear and include the speaker’s name and date. I make connections with other verses.

There are multiple ways to use writing or journaling as a bible study technique. Just pick up your paper and pen (or turn on your laptop or use a notetaking feature on your smartphone), and write. It’s that simple. (I don’t do the creative bible journaling technique of drawing in my bible…because I stink at drawing…but some of the links below address this method as well).

I’m naturally a writer; I have always been one to write down my thoughts, so I just go with the flow, writing whatever I feel I need to write at the time. It is something simple and easy you could incorporate into your quiet bible study time as well. Just start writing. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing it the “right way” – just write.

Keeping a daily study journal/prayer journal/bible journal – whatever you want to call it and whatever form it takes for you – is a great way to learn to talk to God and to deepen your relationship with Him. I strongly encourage it.

How do you use writing or journaling in your bible study time? Share your tips and tricks.

Other Bible Journaling Resources

Five Reasons to Journal Daily from wellwateredwomen.com – This article discusses the benefits of keeping a daily journal from a Christian standpoint.

How to Bible Journal from NIVBible.com – This article focuses more on artistic journaling (drawing artwork based on what you study, but it touches on some other, basic journaling tips as well.

Bible Journal Guide: Tips, Prompts, Ideas, and Examples – The title of the article tells is all 🙂

How to Study the Bible Part 2 – Dig Into the Words

Lost in Translation

“Je ne sais quoi”

(click here to hear this phrase pronounced – then click the blue “volume” icon to the left of the phrase in large, bold font near the top of the page).

Je ne sais quoi is a French phrase that doesn’t easily or directly translate into English. There’s something “lost in translation,” if you will. It translates directly as “I don’t know what,” but that doesn’t do the phrase justice. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “a pleasing quality that cannot be exactly named or described.”

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And even that doesn’t fully explain the meaning. Many times, this phrase is used to describe someone that is physically attractive, but maybe not for conventional reasons. Maybe you wouldn’t look at this woman and think her beautiful in the typical sense, but there’s just something about her…something you can’t quite put your finger on. The “something” you can’t quite put your finger on… that is je ne sais quoi.

If you simply translate the phrase directly, you’ve done your job, but you miss the complete essence of what it means. You miss just a little more understanding that gives you the “a-ha” moment. The hidden understanding you can only get if you look deeper into the meaning.

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After I’d been studying the Bible a few years with the help of the commentaries, cross references, and concordances I had at my disposal, I felt a pull for more. I didn’t quite know what that “more” was, but I knew I wanted something else. Then, I started noticing places in sermons where pastors would explain what a word in a Bible verse meant in the original language. The pastor usually pointed out the original usage of the word when it was different from the way the word would be defined in our culture, when knowing the original usage would give us a deeper understanding of what the verse meant. I came to understand that, at times, when translating Greek or Hebrew to English, something vital was lost in translation. And I don’t want to miss anything.

I wanted to know how to look up scripture in its original language, but I wasn’t going to take a course in Greek or Hebrew any time soon, so I asked our life group teacher if there was access to such information for the laity – us “common folk” who aren’t pastors or theologians but who want to look deeper into what the Bible is saying. He pointed me to several online resources and smartphone apps. Two of those have become constant study tools for me. I want to share them with you because they have added richness to my time in God’s Word.

Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible was the first site my friend recommended. (I use the smartphone app nearly every day when I study the Bible, so I’ll walk you through using the app; I rarely go on the website itself, so I’m not as familiar with it).

Note: I don’t read the Bible as a whole from this app, (although you could if you wanted). I read it from my print Bible. I use this app when I want to study the scriptures deeper – such as looking up the meanings of words in their original language or looking at one verse in a variety of translations. (I’ll explain both exercises here).

Basics of Blue Letter Bible app

Once you’ve downloaded the app from the App Store and opened it on your phone, you’ll choose the translation you want to use (you can add a translation if you don’t see the one you want). I added the ESV because that’s the print version I have, and I am used to reading that translation.

You can switch between translations by clicking on the word “Bibles” in the top, right corner (see below). Do this anytime you use the app. You can also go back and add more translations later.

Once you’re ready to study verses using the app, toggle back and forth between Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) by clicking the button circled on the image below.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to the New Testament and choosing Matthew. You can see that the books are listed in order as they appear in the Bible. Click on a book to open it.

Next select the chapter you want. I’m going to select Chapter 4 to use as an example for our purposes here.

Scroll down and click on the verse you want to study. I’m using verse 17.

After you click on the verse, you get the menu below. I’ll come back and talk about some other features in this app, but for now, we’re going to focus on studying the words of scripture in their original language, so click on “Interlinear/Concordance.”

Below, you’re looking at Matthew 4:17 in ESV. The Greek text is at the top followed by the ESV translation. I click the “Reverse Interlinear” button to put the English words on the left side of the screen. Just makes better sense to my eyes and brain.

In this verse, let’s say we’re interested in the word “repent.” This is what Jesus preached once his ministry started. He began telling people to repent. So, I want to see what he really meant by that. To me, “repent” means being sorry for what you did. But I want to see if there is something deeper here. It seems like an important thing if it was the message Jesus began his ministry with. So, scroll down and click on the word “repent” (somewhere near the English word itself. If you click on the oval in the middle of the screen, it’ll take you somewhere else).

On this screen, you see what the Greek word looks like and can click on the blue speaker icon to hear it pronounced. (I LOVE to do that). You can see the part of speech and any root words. (The blue words are hyperlinks you can click on to go to the entry for the root word).

But, what I’m mostly interested in here is the “Outline of Biblical Usage” section just over half way down the screen. You can see that the definition of repent, as it is used in this verse, goes far beyond simply being sorry for what you did. And THAT is exactly why I encourage you to learn to use BLB app or some other tool to study the words in their original language. Having this understanding of how the word “repent” was used gives me richer insight into what Jesus meant in his message when he began to tell people to repent. In the highlighted section, you’ll note that repentance is when a person turns “from sin to God” {emphasis mine}. Jesus commanded that people turn away from their past sins and turn toward God. Literally, look at God rather than the sinful world. Man! That’s so rich!

Once you have a better understanding of the general definition of the word, you can go another step deeper: scroll down, and look at the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon – circled below. This portion of the Interlinear/Concordance shows you exactly how the word was used in that specific verse – rather than a simple, dictionary-type definition. So, click on the link that says “Tap to view the entire entry” to open the full lexicon for the word.

Then, scroll slowly and carefully, looking for the specific verse you’re studying. In the New Testament, the verses are easier to see because they are blue hyperlinks. The Old Testament lexicon looks like a PDF copy of an original writing, so nothing is a hyperlink and nothing stands out. It’s harder to find your specific verse. (I’ve also noticed that the lexicon isn’t exhaustive – it doesn’t list all the verses in the entire Bible that use the word in this specific way). I generally have better luck finding the verse I’m looking for in the New Testament lexicon although there have been times I couldn’t find it there either. Maybe I just missed it. Either way, you have the basic definition(s) to go off of to get a good enough idea of what’s being said.

The highlighted portion below shows you exactly how the word “repent” was used in Matthew 4:17.

If you find that you love studying the Bible this way, I encourage you to try rewording the verses based on the original meanings you uncover. To do this, go through the verse, using BLB app and look up each word in the scripture or each key word or each word that was important to you. Once you had a solid understanding of the deeper meaning of the word, reword the verse using the information you found in your study. This has been a favorite activity of mine for Bible study. I do it almost every time I read something whether I am studying a particular verse or focusing on a certain chapter in a book. When a verse catches my attention, I almost always study the original language (Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT) and then reword the verse to help me understand it more fully.

*However, be sure you aren’t changing the meaning of the verse when you reword it. To be sure this doesn’t happen, pray through the word study with God, carefully look up each word, read the verse in a variety of translations, read surrounding verses to get context, and read commentary on the verse. Really dig deep into the verse before attempting to reword it. When you feel confident you understand it enough to work with it, then reword it.

*A fun hint I’ve picked up along the way is personalizing scripture. You can add your name into the scripture where a personal address might fit. Here’s an example using Matthew 4:17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, Heather, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Add your name in the place of mine. You can do this with many, many verses, and it helps drive home the idea that God is speaking directly to you through His words in the Bible, and that His Word is still relevant today.

I’ve mentioned reading different versions of the Bible several times in this post, and BLB app makes it simple to do that. Without leaving the app, you can read most of the major translations of the Bible. When you’re inside the verse you’re studying, click “Bible Comparison” to switch between different translations.

When you click “Bible Comparisons,” you start with the version you’re reading, but you can scroll down and read the verse in different translations. This has been such a helpful tool for me; I use it regularly to help me get a better understanding of the verse.

While you’re inside a specific verse, you can also click “Text Commentaries” (see highlighted below) and read commentaries on that specific verse, chapter, book, or the concept being discussed in that verse. A wealth of commentaries are loaded into the app.

I have come to enjoy David Guzik’s commentaries and will usually seek them out when I use this feature of BLB app.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary

Another app I use for studying original meanings of words in scripture is Vine’s Expository Dictionary app. It’s a more straight-forward and simpler to use than BLB. I use it when I already know the word I want to look up – I have a word in mind separate from a specific verse. (BLB is for studying specific verses then drilling down to individual words. Vine’s is for looking up the original language for a word you already know you want to study – not necessarily connected to a specific verse).

Below, the icon is circled, so you can find it in the App Store.

When you open the app, you have two choices for searching for the word – either type it in the search window at the top or click on the box with the corresponding letter of the alphabet and go from there.

I searched “righteous,” a word I often have to look up when I’m studying because I can’t get the meaning to stay in my brain 🙂 Once you find the word you want, click on it in the list.

Then, you can scroll through and read about all the varied meanings of the words in scripture. If you know a specific scripture, you can search the blue hyperlinks.

What helpful bible study hints have you picked up along the way? What tools help you most during your study time? Please share them here.

How to Study the Bible Part 1 – Just Pick it Up and Read It :-)

Do you shy away from reading the Bible because you don’t think you’ll understand what you read?

Are you worried because there are lots of weird names and hard-to-pronounce words?

Maybe you haven’t read the Bible because you don’t own one?

Maybe you don’t think you’re supposed read it because you’re not a “born-again Christian.”

Let me tell you – all you have to do to get started is pick it up and read it – or download a version to read on your phone. 😉

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It is difficult to understand what’s going on in some places. There are lots of hard-to-pronounce names of people and places. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It’s imperative that you read it for yourself – especially if you’re telling people you’re a Christian. You can’t rely on what other people tell you about the Bible. Even the most trusted pastor would advise you to read and study the Bible on your own, in addition to listening to sermons and messages from those trained to teach from it.

Aside from simply gaining knowledge about biblical things, reading your Bible is a way to grow closer in your relationship with God. He can and will speak to you when you spend time in the Bible.

Even if you wouldn’t classify yourself as a believer, you can read the Bible. Even if you’ve never accepted His offer of salvation, you can read the Bible. The Bible was written for you, too.

There are tools within most Bibles to help you when you’re ready to dig in and study what it has to say.

But first, here are pointers to keep in mind:

  • PRAY. Talk to God before you start to read the Bible – every time you start to read. Thank Him for giving you His written word so you can learn about who He is. Thank Him for giving you His written word so you can learn how He wants you to live. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins so you won’t be separated from Him, so that you can hear Him when He talks to you about what you’re reading and so you can understand things about God’s kingdom. Ask Him to open your eyes and soften your heart. Then, tell Him you will submit to His will. Ask Him to open your mind and your heart to read and understand what the Bible says. Ask Him to show you where to go and who to talk to when you need help. Ask Him to help you yield to Him when He shows you things in your life that you need to turn away from. {Hint – you aren’t going to like or agree with everything He tells you to turn from, so praying for His help to yield to His commands is important}.
  • Read and reread. It’s ok if you don’t understand what you read the first or even the fifth time. Read it again and again. Reread it even if you did understand it. Meditate on what you read – think about what it said over and over in your head. You can even use apps that will read the verses to you so you can listen to scripture.
  • Read the same thing in different translations. This is particularly easy if you have access to a smartphone or the internet. Many versions of the Bible are accessible through their own websites and there are also apps that offer different versions within the same app – you can switch back and forth by clicking on the version you want to read.
  • Ask a trusted Christian friend when you need help. Don’t have any Christians in your circle that you could go to with questions? I’m available to talk with you. Contact me through my blog, and I’ll do all I can to help.

Now, let’s look at some of the research tools available in many versions of the Bible:

  • Once you’ve prayed and God has pointed you toward the particular book to study, read the introduction to that book (if your version of the Bible offers that). I do this in my print Bibles. I have an English Standard Version (ESV) Personal Size Study Bible and a New American Standard MacArthur Study Bible (MSB). Both offer introductions at the start of each book that include information such as the author and date of the book, background and setting, key themes of the book, an outline, etc. Reading the introduction first gives you context and helps you place the information you’re about to read in the overall timeline of biblical (and sometimes broader historical) events. I do this every time I read a book for the first time.
  • Many Bible translations also offer commentary. This is extra information and insight from theologians and biblical scholars about specific verses and passages. It is important to make the distinction, however, between the scripture itself and the commentary. Scripture is the Word of God; it came from God. Commentary comes from man. It is meant to give us extra insight and help us get a better understanding of what we read, but it isn’t meant to be taken as 100% accurate like we would scripture. We must always go back to prayer and scripture for our final understanding.
The commentary in my ESV is at the bottom of each page below the scripture. Scripture font is larger than commentary font and a line separates the two in order to signify the distinction between scripture and commentary.
  • The concordance is another helpful tool found in many versions of the Bible. It’s located at the back of the Bible and is similar to an index and a glossary in reference books. Let’s say you want to study fasting. Turn to your Bible’s concordance, find the “f’s”, and find “fast” or “fasting.” (Words are listed in alphabetical order). Now you have a list of other verses in the Bible that include the word “fast” or “fasting.” You can go to those verses and read more about biblical fasting (and the accompanying commentary for those verses). I do this when I want to focus my study on a word or concept and learn more about it from a biblical standpoint.
MSB Concordance
  • Cross-references are similar to the concordance and help us locate more scripture about a particular word or concept. Note the picture below. The arrow in the middle of the page points to a tiny “t” superscript in front of the name Apollos in Acts 19:1. In the left margin, another arrow points to the corresponding “t” meaning the name Apollos is mentioned again in Acts 18:24. If I want more information about Apollos, I can use this cross reference to read the scripture and any corresponding commentary about him.
Cross references are signified in the verses with superscripts (tiny letters above and to the left of the word or idea). The corresponding cross references verses are found in the inside-facing margin of each page.

Next week in “How to Study the Bible Part 2,” we’ll discuss studying words from the Bible in their original languages – Greek and Hebrew. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to be able to do this 🙂 Come back next week, and I’ll show you.

(***I’m going to do something I’ve never done – read the introduction to the Bible. I imagine that will give me even more resources the bibles offer for study that I didn’t even know where there 🙂 I hope you’ll read the introduction to your Bible as well. I’ll tell you what I learned).

When God Changes Your Plans

I should be packing the last item in my carry-on bag and checking that I have enough changes of clean underwear 😉

But, I’m not. I emptied what I’d already packed and put away my bags last night.

I should be checking into my flight on the American Airlines app.

But, I’m not. I canceled my flight yesterday.

I should be flying out of Charlotte tomorrow morning at 9:40 and landing in Cincinnati around 11:30am.

But, I’m not. I’ll be home in Monroe instead.

Image Credit: Bing Images

Three friends and I began planning this trip in January. We met when we started Flourish Writers Academy at the beginning of 2021 (part of Flourish Writers). After we got connected and started meeting regularly outside of academy events to talk about our writing and to share prayer requests and praises, we decided to travel from our home states (NC, FL, CA, and MI), spend the weekend of April 30-May 2 together in Cincinnati, and attend Flourish Writers LIVE on May 1.

But we aren’t.

One friend tested positive for Covid-19 this past Monday and began the necessary 10-day quarantine.

Another friend’s mom fell over the weekend and had surgery for her injuries on Tuesday. Our friend decided she needed to stay with her mom to help in her recovery.

That left two of us.

Officially, we could have still gone. But part of the reason we were so excited about going was to get to meet each other in person and spend time together. When it became obvious that everyone couldn’t go, she and I decided we’d cancel our plans as well.

Let’s be honest: We really didn’t cancel our plans though.

God did.

At this point, I don’t know His reason for doing it. I may never know why, or He may reveal it at some future time.

But, I can tell you this, I am at peace with it.

I eagerly anticipated this trip since I bought my plane ticket in March. I was looking forward to the content of the writers conference itself. I was also excited to meet Mindy and Jenny – the women who created Flourish Writers and who would lead the event. I was looking forward to being refreshed, encouraged, and inspired anew in my writing.

However, I trust God. If this trip didn’t happen, it was for my good – it was for the good of my three friends as well. There was something else we needed to do this weekend or something God was protecting us from. Or it just wasn’t in God’s timing for us to go right now. Or some other reason that only God knows.

Has God ever canceled your plans?

Maybe it was something relatively small like my current example – a weekend trip with friends.

Or maybe it was something big.

You expected to be married by a certain age, but you’re still single.

You assumed marriage would last forever, but you’re divorced.

You planned to have children, but you’re still childless.

You thought your child would stay on the right path but now he or she is wayward.

You wanted a certain job or a promotion, but those doors haven’t opened.

You thought a move to a new house or a new town or a new state would make things better, but the move didn’t happen or your situation didn’t change even when your address did.

God interrupts.

God cancels plans.

God changes plans.

God makes new plans.

The next time God cancels your plans, it’s ok to be disappointed. It’s ok to be upset or even angry. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to scream. But don’t stay in that dry, dreary place.

Take some time in quiet to talk with Him. You can express your feelings. God can handle your anger, frustration, or hurt feelings. He isn’t surprised by your response. In fact, He already knows how you feel; he’s just waiting for you to talk to Him about it so He can show you what He has planned instead.

Image Credit: pinimg.com

Ask Him to reveal to you why you missed the opportunity. Why things didn’t go according to your plan. Then wait and listen to what He has to say. Ask Him to help you accept what He has to say. Ask Him to help you trust Him more. Ask Him to help you with your unbelief. He is faithful to hear His children and to respond when we cry out to Him.

Live in Peace

“God allows the awareness of…distance [from Him] at times; it’s a wake-up call for the ones who care. It drives us back to Him.” Jessie North – Cultivating Holy Beauty Book 3: Walking in the New

Some friends and I recently finished Cultivating Holy Beauty Book 3: Walking in the New by Jessie North. It was part of a 3-book Bible study series that we started a year or so ago. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a group Bible study. North offers so many useful tools to help you gain intimacy with God; she teaches you a quiet time method as well as how to write Hurt Letters to God and how to hear Love Letters from Him.

Before we completed the last lesson in Book 3, my friends and I had already started to talk about what we would do after this book. Officially, our church’s women’s ministry, which heads our group Bible study, won’t start another study until the fall, but my friends and I wanted to keep something going. Many expressed worry over maintaining the closeness to God they felt while doing the group study once we were finished and headed into summer with nothing formal planned.

And God is so good! The last lesson in the book was titled “Sustaining Through Seasons”, and North addressed maintaining closeness with God during dry seasons, “off” seasons, dark seasons, etc. It was an answer to prayer.

We started with a 4-day bible study plan through Bible App/YouVersion called God’s Peace. Several of the ladies in our group had done individual studies through this app and suggested with try it as a group. There is a feature where you can post comments about what you’re learning during the study. We discovered once we started that our plan was from Focus on the Family and was meant to be completed with your children. However, we continued it together this past week focusing on the assigned Bible readings for each day. Some of us even used techniques we learned from the quiet time method Jessie North taught in Cultivating Holy Beauty Book 1: Intimacy with Jesus as we did the Bible readings each day.

My main takeaways from the 4-day plan were as follows:

  • Peace comes when you realize you are safe with God.
  • Peace comes “through following God’s rules.”
  • Peace comes when there is well being at home (when family members reflect the character of God).
  • Peace comes through a strong faith.

Here are some of the verses that stood out to me from the readings this week as well as some songs that came to mind when I meditated on the verses.

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

Romans 12:18 – Do all you can to live in peace with everyone.

Col 3:15 – and let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Psalm 4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

https://youtu.be/6kj8pzDLcc8

https://youtu.be/rn9-UNer6MQ

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G2XtRuPfaAU


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VBzg4B3_yS8

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fhtI-xhVXWI


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KHMVSdIjBcg


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YihKbG8-X3U


https://youtu.be/R0gu0nOaFsI

How to Be a Godly Woman – Esther’s Example

I want to be a godly woman, a woman whose life has been visibly impacted by the gospel message. This type of life brings glory to God, and that is a Christian’s purpose.

I want that for your life as well.

Let’s be women whose lives please God. Let’s be women who respond with humble obedience to the Good News that Jesus gave His life for our salvation…

Ok, whoa. Time out. Let’s stop here. This sounds great and all, but what does it mean? HOW do we live godly lives? It’s great to want to, but how do we live it out?

We’ll look to God’s word for examples.  Queen Esther, a Jew who became a queen of Persia, showed herself to be a godly woman many times throughout her story in the book of Esther in the Old Testament.

Image Credit: KnowingJesus.com

God gifted Esther with a personality and beauty that won her favor with many people she met in her life including the King of Persia, who “loved her more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight…so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen…” (excerpts from Esther 2:17, ESV)

Even more impressive than being able to make the king fall in love with her, was Esther’s faith in God. Her faith propelled her to act on behalf of her people when her uncle Mordecai discovered a plot against them. When Mordecai uncovered the plot, he shared that knowledge with Esther, asking her to go to the king and beg him to help the Jews.

Truthfully, Esther was fearful at first.  She knew that taking matters into her own hands and speaking to the king before he called for her company would mean certain death.  (There was a law that said no one, not even the king’s wives, could go to the king unless he summonsed them).  She initially told her uncle she couldn’t help.  However, he reminded her to trust in God’s providential timing and to fulfill her personal calling.  In Esther 4:14b, Mordecai points out to Esther, although indirectly, that God made wife to the king of Persia during a very specific time and for a definite reason – so He could save His children, the Jews, through her.

Image Credit: faithit.com

Esther showed herself to be a godly woman in her response to the request from her uncle.  She chose to trust God’s will for her life and to take courage and do what was right for God’s people.  She said, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat and drink for three days, nights or day.  I and my young women will also fast as you do.  Then, I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Basically, she said, “Bring it on. I trust God’s will for my life and His timing.  I choose to bloom where I’m planted.”

But seriously, this is what we learn from Esther about how to be godly women: godly women submit to God’s will for their lives, like Jesus’ mother Mary didThey also trust God’s providence and His timing, and they are willing to work for God’s kingdom in their places of influence.

Godly women yield to what God has planned for us. We say yes to where He leads us. We allow Him to carry out His will through our lives. We are productive for the Kingdom in the places God puts us. Submitting to God involves trust in who God is. It involves confidence that He is sovereign and good and just. Again, this sounds good, but how exactly do we get to this point? Pray. Ask God to help us do this. Ask God to have his way in our lives. (Then be ready to yield when He directs you). Listen. How does God respond to your request? Where does He say to go? What does He say to do? Read. Go to scripture and read about other godly women for more examples of holy living. Talk. Seek out women who are leading godly lives. Consider why you think they’re godly? What about their lives leads you to believe they are living a life pleasing to God? What behaviors do they model? Ask them to describe times in their lives when God has required them to submit. Find out what obedience to God looks like and feels like in their experiences. Respond.  Do what God directs you to do.  Live the way He has told you to live.  Turn away from the things He tells you to turn away from.  Be productive for the Kingdom of God in your places of influence. This isn’t something that will happen in a day or two. This will take repeated time alone with God in prayer and in reading His word. This will mean praying daily for God to help you submit to His will…even after you think you’ve submitted, pray each day that God will help you submit to Him that particular day. I passionately encourage you to pursue a deeper relationship with God in this way.  Submit to His will for your life.  Adorn the gospel with your behavior.  Let the world see how your faith has impacted your life.  Be joyful and act on what is right in the places He has put you. Guided Prayer: Father, Thank you for sending your Son to die for me. Thank you for making a way for me to have eternal life with you. Thank you for pursuing me and for bringing me to yourself. I want people to see that your sacrifice has impacted my life. I want people to see that you have changed me. I am your servant girl, Lord. I believe that you have me in this place at this time for a purpose.  You created me for this.  You have shown me that I can trust you. I want to submit my life to you, Lord. I don’t know what that looks like, but you do. I don’t know how to do it, but you do. Help me to do it, Lord. Help me to yield my plans and my agenda and my schedule and my to-do list to you. Make me humbly obedient. Make me your servant girl every day of my life. Amen

 

 

Thoughts – Does it say that in the Bible?  See – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/biblical-say-bloom-youre-planted/

What If You Had Been There?

Imagine you’re Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Mary the mother of James, or any of the woman who closely followed Jesus and were there in Jerusalem during Holy Week.

Image Credit:
WordPress Blog

Focus on Jesus, the one you followed, talked to, learned from, believed in, loved…

Now see him snatched from the garden by torchlight.

See him dragged around the city and subjected to illegal trials.

Now he’s beaten and spat on. See his bloody and broken body.

See him on the cross.

Now he’s dead. See his body wrapped in cloth and laid in a cave in the side of a hill.

All is lost. How can this be? You don’t understand. Were you wrong to follow him? You were convinced he was going to save you, but he couldn’t even save himself.

Now, the angels say he’s alive!

Now he appears before you – whole, healthy, breathing, eating, speaking!

Now he tells you to go, teach, baptize, and make more disciples.

See him lifted from the mountain and watch him be carried into heaven.

You have been saved. Everything he said is true. He is alive. He is the Christ!

Now you are sure.

Now you will tell everyone you meet about what he did to free people from sin.

Now you will live the rest of your life for him.

Then, you will spend eternity with him…

On this Maundy Thursday, spend time in quiet with Jesus thanking him for the sacrifice he made for you. If you haven’t been following along with us as we focused on Holy Week during the month of March, here are the reading lists:

What Happened the Week Before Jesus Died

What Happened The Week Before Jesus Died – Triumphal Entry

What Happened the Day Before Jesus Died

What Happened the Day Jesus Died

What Happened Three Days After Jesus Died

What Happened Three Days After Jesus Died – Resurrection and Ascension*

{If this is your first “What Happened” post, go back to the introductory post for the survey of the major events of Holy week that we’re doing together on Servant Girl Stories during March. Then, read the post detailing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Next, read the post about the night before Jesus died. Finally, read the post describing Jesus’ trials and crucifixion. After that, you’re ready for this post}.

The women find Jesus’s tomb empty. Image credit: 1stbiblical blog

As early as possible on the first day of the week, you gather with the other women to take more spices to the tomb where Jesus’ body was placed.

Nicodemus and Joseph already covered his body in myrrh and aloes before binding him and laying him in Joseph’s tomb three days ago. But the women agreed to take more spices as soon as the Sabbath was over, and you want to go with them.

One last chance to be near Jesus.

It seems right that he should be honored this way.

The sweet aroma of the burial spices forces you to confront the truth – their scent is meant to cover the stench of a dead body as it decomposes. Jesus is dead. You are going to anoint his dead body with these spices. You have helped anoint dead bodies of loved ones before, but you never really noticed how the spices smelled. Not so keenly as you do now. But the odor is overwhelming. Your eyes burn, and your nose and throat sting.

Thinking of him and how much you loved and were devoted to him, hot tears pour from your eyes again. You haven’t stopped crying since Friday. Since you witnessed his gruesome death. Something you will never forget for the rest of your life.

You still cannot believe the teacher is gone.

Quietly, you and the other women gather the spices and make your way to the tomb. You don’t look at each other. You don’t speak to each other.

How can he be dead? You ask yourself for the millionth time. How could someone that good… be gone?

On the day he removed the demons that possessed and tormented you for so long, you vowed to follow him to the ends of the earth.

You just never expected the end to come so quickly…and in Jerusalem.

“How will we move the stone?” Someone asks, snatching you back to the present.

You’d been blindly following the group in a trance of disbelief, despair, and devastation.

How will we move the stone? You wonder, your forehead furrowing. Panic begins to rise. We must be allowed to anoint his body! You think as your heart begins to race. Blood pounds loudly in your ears.

From the front of the cluster of your friends, Joanna gasps loudly and stops so quickly that Salome bumps into her and you bump into Salome. The other women behind you crowd close.

“Look!” Joanna’s voice is barely above a whisper.

Glancing past the women in front of you, you see it. But you don’t believe it. You squint and blink against the sun just beginning to rise over the tombs.

The stone has already been rolled away…

The empty tomb/Image Credit: istockphoto

Readings for the fourth week of March

*As you read each account, note similarities and differences.  How does each writer describe the events?  How are they similar and how are they different?  How do the different perspectives give you a fuller picture of the event?

**Always pay special attention to the things Jesus said/direct quotes.

***When you’re reading, try to imagine the scene in your head: see the people, hear the sounds, inhale the smells. Visualize the events happening as clearly as something you’ve witnessed with your own eyes. For example, with the arrest in the garden, see the soldiers’ torchlight dancing off their armor, hear the worried voices of the disciples as they realize what the soldiers have come to do…imagine you are there in the scene as it unfolds.

Sunday – Jesus resurrects and appears to various people. 

READ:

  • Matthew 28:1-20
  • Mark 16:1-9
  • Luke 24:1-53
  • John 20:1-31

Other Accounts of Jesus’ Appearances after His Resurrection

Optional Reading

READ:

  • John 21:1-25

The remaining 11 disciples speak with Jesus before he ascends.  Soon after that, the disciples return to the upper room (where the Last Supper was held) for a prayer meeting. 

Jesus ascends into heaven. Image Credit: pinimg.com

Optional Reading

  • Acts 1:1-14

Everything we have read about Jesus’ Passion week should point us to Jesus, the cross, salvation, and penitence. It should make it even more grateful for what he did and what it means in our lives.

During the week, reread the verses as many times as possible. Try to read them in different translations as well. Also, read commentary on these verses. Listen to them on a Bible app that will read them aloud. This will help you visualize everything and write the events on your heart. Journal your thoughts on the questions to consider above. Share our survey of events with a friend so you can discuss together what God is showing you as you pray and read.

I pray the Lord will show you something fresh in these familiar stories as you prepare your heart for His resurrection.

Image Credit: elevatechristiannetwork.com

How have you been impacted by studying accounts of Easter events in the 4 Gospels? I would love to hear about your experience reading about Easter week.

*Along with the Bible verses listed above, the following articles helped inform the narrative at the beginning of this study:

https://www.gotquestions.org/anointing-spices.html

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/678-the-sweet-fragrance-of-a-subtle-argument

https://godasagardener.com/2016/03/25/aloe-and-myrrh-wrapped-body/