A Profound Testimony

“Daddy! You have GOT to hear the speaker from today!”

Both our kids were wide-eyed and open-mouthed when their dad got in the car Sunday after church.

It was Bill’s Sunday to serve on the Security Team, so he patrolled the church campus during Sunday school and worship service rather than sitting with us and listening to the guest speaker.

During the service, our children were enthralled with Reverend Dale Brooks’ testimony and message. After the service, they burst from the church doors, chattering non-stop about things he said and how they wished their dad hadn’t missed the message.

Once we were in the car, they suggested we find the playback of the live stream on the church’s website so Bill could listen. That afternoon, as we drove to my grandmother’s 94th birthday party (about an hour from our house), the four of us sat in silence as we listened to the message played through my phone and the car’s Bluetooth connection.

Reverend Brooks shared his testimony and what God has done in his life in hopes that people would turn away from their sin and accept Christ. He didn’t try to hide anything and was frank and honest about his life before Christ. It was one of the most dynamic messages I have ever seen.

Monday morning, as I was reflecting on Sunday’s service and the profound effect the message had on my children, I decided I would share it with you in hopes that it would touch you as well.

October 17, 2021 – Reverend Dale Brooks’ – Guest Speaker

**It has been a long time since I published a post – too long. I didn’t look to see when I made my last post been because I knew I would be upset at myself. Nothing specific is wrong. I just haven’t been writing. It’s something that has to be practiced, and I haven’t been practicing it lately. I miss it. I miss writing about my spiritual journey and sharing it with you. Please pray that I will find my way back to writing soon. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Still Suffering

I thought when school ended last year and mask mandates in our state of North Carolina began to lift, and when the gyms, movie theaters, restaurants, and other businesses reopened at full capacity, that we were “getting back to normal,” so to speak. In my naivete, I believed the blessed rest of summer would also signal the dying out of the virus. I believed the worst was over. I hoped the worst was over – the worst we would see of this pandemic called Covid-19.

But, I was wrong.

Now, the people I personally know who have tested positive for the virus are sicker than the people I knew who previously had the virus.

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People are struggling alone in hospital rooms. Families are struggling at home in the absence of their loved ones.

And it isn’t just Covid that is causing the suffering, but everything seems to be amplified because of the virus. All suffering seems to be more oppressive now.

Many of my friends have been sharing praise and worship music on social media and in group texts to encourage, support, and bring peach and comfort.

Seeing all the music shared and knowing the power of hearing and singing the lyrics of God-centered music reminded me of my friend, Laurie Hogle, and her work at “Singing Christ’s Hope Into Your Suffering.”

I met Lauri in Flourish Writers, a writing group I found through social media, and I have shared her blog posts a time or two here. I’ve even recently collaborated with her on a blog post about interrupting suffering by helping others.

For all those suffering right now, I share Lauri’s words again. They always bring me peace and comfort. I pray they’ll do the same for you. I encourage you to check out her most recent post and subscribe to her email list (at the bottom of her post). Each week, she sends a post along with a playlist of songs curated for their message of praise and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Relationship>Ritual

The title of this article, “Relationship>Ritual” means relationship is greater than ritual. Imagine a math problem with the greater than (>) sign in it. (3.5>5 or 1/2>1/4, for example).

Relationship>ritual is about our relationship with God. Writing it in this way, with the “greater than” sign in it, serves as a visual reminder that a relationship with God is more important than a legalistic ritual. God designed us for a relationship with Him. However, when we try to earn something from Him, or get Him to do something we want, we may engage in a sort of ritualized behavior to try and coax Him or prove to Him that we should have our way.

A ritual performed legalistically – for the sake of the ritual itself or just to get something from God that we want – isn’t what God is looking for. He desires a warm, intimate relationship with His children. He knows us intimately, and He wants us to know Him intimately, too.

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Jesus warned about overvaluing the ritual or the letter of the law during his ministry.

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness’.” Luke 11:39

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and plate, that the outside may also be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

When we focus on ritual, we become concerned with performance, with ability, with “me” and “I.” We spend time and energy focusing on the rules or the procedures. The focus is external. Did we do all the steps? In the right order? Did we follow all the rules? (We’re focusing on the outside of the cup).

Instead, our time and energy should be on understanding who God is, on reading His Word, on learning to hear His voice. On asking Him to change our hearts and lives. (If we do this, we focus on the inside of the cup).

We should pray: Father, search my heart. Is there anything evil there? Is there anything impure? Is there anything I am prioritizing over my relationship with you? Remove those things from my life, Lord. Make my heart pure. I only want you.

Praying words like this to God from a sincere heart can prove life-changing. God will answer. He will give knowledge of Himself, an understanding of His word. He will help us learn to submit our lives to Him and to obey His will. He will help us lead godly lives.

If you want this – knowledge of God, intimacy with God, an understanding of His word, to live a godly life – you must come to understand that He wants a relationship with you. Personal. Genuine. Mutually loving and caring. Purposeful. Intentional. Interactive.

Knowledge of the steps and rules of a ritual won’t cultivate that kind of a relationship.

Focus on your own ability to perform the ritual won’t nurture intimacy with your Creator.

None of these will ever lead to a life-changing relationship with him.

We need to learn to hear His voice, so we need to learn to listen to Him and talk to Him by spending time in quiet with Him.

We need to understand His character, so we need to spend time in the Word reading about Him and what He has done.

Following a ritual formula means we don’t actually have to get to know Him, just the ritual. We place all our faith in the ritual and in our ability to do it well enough to gain what we want.

Even getting up every morning (or whenever you do it) to have quiet time with God can become “just another ritual” if it becomes mechanical, if we begrudge it, if we are trying to convince Him of how good we are, or if we do it because we feel we must rather than because we long for the presence of our Heavenly Father.

This doesn’t mean rituals are rendered useless: the Lord’s supper, baptism, saying the Lord’s prayer, the sacrament of marriage, lighting Advent candles…but the condition of our hearts when we do them is more important the the doing of the rituals. Don’t just go through the motions. Our hearts should be clear first. Our minds should be set on God. Grudges forgiven. Horizontals relationships (with people in our lives) in order. These things make our hearts clean and open to our Lord when we participate in a ritual.

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Pray this prayer from a sincere heart:

Father, You are my Creator. You have fearfully and wonderfully made me. You have chosen me and called me to be your child. You have revealed yourself to me. You will keep me. Praise the Lord! I am so thankful to be your child.

I want to be able to be in your presence, Lord, to sit at your feet. Show me when I don’t put you first, Father. Convict me when I am focusing too much on the ritual and have neglected the relationship. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I want you. I want you as my Savior and as my Lord, to save me and be sovereign over me. Help me to choose you, to keep my eyes focused on you, to keep your Word in my mind, and to keep my heart open to conviction and change. Make me a light for you. Make me bold. Give me the words to say and the things to do to point others to you. Thank you for hearing y prayer, Lord. I love you. Amen.

When Satan Tries to Lie: Part 3

One of Satan’s main tactics against those who follow Christ is distraction. He doesn’t have to tempt you into some “major” sin to be successful in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy. He simply needs to encourage you to take your eyes off God, to distract you from what God wants you to do.

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In the past few years, I’ve been learning how to catch the enemy at his game. It started a few years ago, when I realized he was trying to use the size of my t-shirt to distract me from worship and fellowship at a women’s retreat. Another time, I came to understand that the enemy was trying to overwhelm me with a to-do list. He wanted me to think I had too much to do and get overwhelmed so I wouldn’t start anything. More recently, I caught myself buying into the lie that I didn’t have time to complete short, simple tasks. Satan was encouraging me to procrastinate on things I needed to get done, to put them off until later.

And just the other day I caught the enemy planting seeds of discouragement and shame so I wouldn’t write this post.

For this week’s post, I planned to write about focusing on others. This topic is an important part of my writing focus; I seem to gravitate toward the idea of focusing on others in my own quiet time with God and to study scripture that encourages this when I read the Bible, so I was writing more and more around that theme.

I started working on this article, as I often do, by free-writing in my notebook about the topic for the week’s post. Suddenly, I remembered something: I don’t focus on others. I wrote in my journal, It’s hilarious that this has become one of the main “cogs” in the wheel of my writing because it isn’t something I do.

My pen kept going: I know I should. I see it in scripture. I just don’t follow through. I don’t live my life that way. I’m not even a social person! Ha! I’d rather not engage in too much conversation with people. I don’t know how to make small talk and get conversations going, so I just don’t – at least not as often as I probably should. I want so badly to be liked and to have friends and to be someone others want to be around, but I’m not. I’ve never been. My life is a testament to being unfriendly.

Whoa!

Thankfully, God opened my eyes to what was going on. I needed to take captive those thoughts because they were all from Satan. He was and is still telling me I can’t write about focusing on others because I don’t focus on others, and I was journaling those thoughts as fast as I could as if they were the gospel truth.

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I shifted my focus back to God. I acknowledged what was going on. That Satan was distracting me by feeding me the now-familiar mantra about me not being friendly and not wanting to engage with people. I began to pull back the curtain, so to speak, and see the mantra for what it was – a distraction. God sat me down to write this week’s article, and Satan immediately set out to derail me.

Once my focus was in the right place, God led me to write this: God made me who I am. He gave me the personality I have. He put me where I am. Obviously, He is going to work through me in spite of myself. I just need to move forward. I just need to act when He says to act. Not worry about my personality. Just follow Him. He’ll show me how to focus on others.

Just because I’m not the most outgoing, introverted person doesn’t mean I can’t focus on others.

I can give of my time, energy, and resources for other people.

I can serve others.

As I was freewriting, I came to understand that I’ve been focusing on the response from others, and that’s the wrong way to approach it. I want a large group of friends who think I’m totally awesome and want to hang out with me all the time. I want to be cheered and celebrated because I’m so great at putting others first and everyone knows it…but that is totally the wrong approach.

My reason for looking to the needs of others shouldn’t be what I stand to gain from it or how popular I’ll be if I do it. The point is God told me to do it. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else in the whole world knows what’s going on. I shouldn’t put others first in order to gain recognition or acclaim. I should put others needs first because the Lord of my life calls me to.

How does Satan try to distract you from what God calls you to do? How do you take captive your thoughts and refocus yourself on God?

How do you focus on others? In what ways do you serve? In what ways to do you offer your time and resources?

I’d love to hear from you.

Godly Living: A Proper Response to God

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this phrase when I was a little girl. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that this familiar saying – along with so many others like it – sounds biblical but isn’t found anywhere in the scriptures between Genesis and Revelation.

Christians are, however, called to display godliness or to live godly lives.

So what does it mean to live a godly life? And why should we do it?

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Godliness is how we conduct ourselves. Our godly lives are our obedient response to God’s offer of salvation and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. When we conduct our lives in a godly fashion, we show that we understand our accountability to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We behave in a godly way because we know we will one day stand before God. Also, as we are sanctified throughout our Christian journey, we are made more like Christ. One day we will be made perfect like Him – godly living shows our desire to look like Him now.

When someone is described as godly, it is because that person behaves a certain way; They are being like God in their behavior. They have responded to God in a certain way, and that response is evident in their lives.

Godly people do certain things and avoid doing other things. Godly people act in a certain way, live a certain way, behave a certain way…in response to the gift of salvation offered by God.

When you truly believe in Jesus and what He’s done for you, you will change. First, your heart changes on the inside. Then, God, through the Spirit and the Word, teaches you how to live. The evidence of the inward change can be seen on the outside as well. People around you will know it because they can see it in your actions. The change may be fast or slow, but the result is a more godly person living a more godly life – a life pleasing to God. The behaviors you take on and the behaviors your avoid come from obedience and love – love for God, love for His Word, and love for other people.

Once we genuinely believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to change our hearts, our beliefs will change. Our speech will change. Our conduct will change. Our treatment of others will change. The truth of Jesus and his love for us as shown in the Good News of the gospel will reflect in everything we do.

This new, godly life that we learn to live once we believe the truth and once the truth begins to change us – this life brings glory to God by providing a witness to others which points them to Christ. Godly conduct on the part of the Christian should eliminate reproach – no one can find fault, criticize, or blame. Godly living silences critics of the gospel and makes the love of Christ believable.

At this point, you may be wondering, Where’s the list? Where’s the list of characteristics to show me how to live a godly life?

I’m not giving a bulleted list though, because we aren’t called to strive to check off the characteristics we already exemplify and note the ones that need more work. It isn’t about striving or working to change ourselves. Godly living results from a heart change that happens when we surrender our lives to God. He does the work. He makes the changes.

This isn’t to say that the Bible doesn’t give us any indication of what godly living should look like because it most certainly does! We have godly examples; we have characteristics we can look to, but it isn’t meant to be a checklist of things to strive for. It’s meant to be something to pray about to God and to ask Him to do in our lives.

A “definition” I found that helped me understand godly living came from the McArthur Study Bible which uses the New American Standard Version translation. When I was studying godliness, I read over and over in commentary from this Bible that godly living is “a proper response and attitude toward God in all things.” So, when you live a godly, righteous, holy life, you always put God first; you always look to Him.

If I’m looking at God, if my eyes are on Him, I will live a godly life, as much as is humanely possible in this fallen world. Will I still do, say, and think things that aren’t godly? Absolutely, because I am a sinful human living in a broken world. But, with genuine faith in God, with my eyes focused on Him, and with my life obediently submitted to Him, He will work changes in my life, and the result will be godliness.

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.P.S. If you’re like me and still kind of want a “list” – you still need to see some actual behaviors or some more specific information on exactly what godliness and godly living look like – read through the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. (The first chapters of each book in the NIV version of the Bible are linked here from biblegateway.org. You can follow the links and read each book there). In these books, Paul gives clear instructions on godly living and what it should look like.

You could also use the concordance in your Bible to do a word search for the words “godly” and “godliness”. You could also find and read verses that are cross-referenced when you do the word study using your concordance. Another option would be to study the word in the original Hebrew and Greek languages used in the Bible. I prefer the Blue Letter Bible app and the Vines Dictionary app for studying the original languages of words in the Bible.

Pray about what you read, asking God to help you understand and to make these changes in your heart and life. Write your thoughts and your questions regarding what you read. Ask questions of trusted Christians you know (or contact me. I’d be happy to talk with you about this subject. I don’t profess to be an expert in any way, but maybe I would point you in the direction of some more resources).

The bottom line is that you seek God to show you how to live according to His Word. He’ll show you the way.

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. 😉

Image Credit: Verse of the Day

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).