Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tap...Tap...Tap...Is this thing on?

Chapter 6: How to Pray

So I missed a week. “Some people” (you know who you are!) were on vacation, I was already late from the week before, and then we had the added busy-ness of getting my mother in law settled into assisted living. Looking back, I’m amazed I even got my Bible reading done over the last couple of weeks! Interestingly, though, I tried very hard to put into practice the things that we’ve been learning here and really tried to make sure that, of all the things I was putting off in the last couple weeks, reading the Word was not one of them!  I started a new Bible reading system, too! It’s pretty extensive, and admittedly not for everyone, but I love it.  If you want to learn about it or try it out you can check out this link or this one.*  I originally tried the system Teri recommends in Sweet Journey, but it wasn’t working for me (for reasons too varied and quirky to mention here!), so I set out to find another way.  The system I’m using is not a Bible-in-a-year system.  I’m not interested in being one of those people who reads the whole Bible through once a year. I’m not NOT interested in being one of them, either, it’s just not my priority. :-)  I want to read the Word of God because it is His Word, not as a simple exercise.  Bottom line, find a program that works for you and stick to it!

Okay, on to this week’s chapter – “How to Pray.”  Again, following the routine she set for the first foundation (reading the Bible), this chapter is the “exercise” portion that naturally follows the last chapter on the importance of prayer.  I found it pretty easy to follow and comprehend, so there were just a couple of things I wanted to bring up and offer for discussion or comment.

The A.C.T.S. system of praying. 

I’ve known of this system since I was a girl; I think it is probably the most commonly used acronym in Christianity! :-)  And I like the idea of it – it is a good way to help us remember that prayer is not “rub the lamp and make a wish” time.  And if you have problems with being distracted while you pray, or have problems doing anything else in your prayers except asking God to do things for you, then by all means, work this A.C.T.S. system!  But I would encourage you to use it only as “training wheels” until you develop the discipline necessary to go out on your own.  Otherwise I fear we risk the A.C.T.S. system becoming “rote” or just a list we go through on our way to the “supplication” portion of our prayers! :-)

A quick not on Psalm 66:18 (go back and read it if you’ve forgotten).   

That word “regard” has more to do with the idea of “cherishing” or “taking pleasure in” something.  I appreciate the sentiment behind Teri’s discussion of confession, and making sure we are willing to evaluate our lives for sin, but I think her use of this verse to back that up was a little weak.  It’s not that we can’t have any sin in our lives or the Lord won’t hear our prayer – if that were the case NONE of us would ever be heard!  But if there is a sin you are “cherishing,” then you know what it is; it is not some un-discovered sin or inadvertent iniquity that you need a blanket “forgive me for whatever-sin” statement for. That sin that you’re “taking pleasure in” – that sin will keep your prayer life in trouble, my friend!  But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any tiny sin you may-or-may-not have discovered is what’s keeping God from answering your prayers.  It just doesn’t work that way.

Here’s the ultimate takeaway from this chapter, as far as I’m concerned: as a believer, you have access to the throne of the Living God of the universe! The One who created the world wants to hear your prayers and act on your behalf! 


I think it would be helpful for us to share how we are doing in this prayer area.  For me, the main problem I have is with the “discipline” of concentration. My mind is always going a hundred miles an hour and always casting about for something to stew on. I also am a firm believer in praying without ceasing, so I feel like I’m constantly “talking” to God. But one of my goals in this study is to have a set time where I am being very deliberate about my prayers; where I have specific things I pray about. It’s a habit I need to discipline myself to develop. So that’s where I am. What about you?

Next week we have one more week on Prayer, then we’re on to the final foundation – Scripture Memorization! (cue the music!)

I’ll be praying for you this week! :-)

*If you have the Olive Tree Bible app on your phone or iPad, you can get this reading plan there; that’s how I use it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I really wanted this to be a short post!

I realize that some of us who shall remain nameless (haha) are on vacation right now, so I know that affects the number of comments. But I also know that some of us are doing this study and not responding here on the blog (cough, cough, you know who you are!), so I want to encourage you to shout out – even if it’s just to swap howdies! :-)   If you’re really shy, or not in a place where you can comment or respond, we’re still glad you’re here!

This week I am behind in the blogging. I finished the chapter early, but then life happened and I just didn’t get to the computer to get the tasks up. I want to get a few weeks ahead of the game – but I also want a million dollars and I think the likelihood of either of those things happening is about the same for me right now! :-) Thanks for bearing with me.  The good news is this was a short chapter, and I didn’t have a lot to add to it!

Quick Recap: the first part of the book was about the “first foundation” – which was time in the Word. Now she’s moving to the “second foundation” – which is time in prayer.  She’ll follow the same pattern – explain it, then offer practical ways to implement it. I really enjoyed this chapter, personally.  Of the three foundational things she covers in this book (Bible, Prayer, and Memorization), I’ve struggled the most with prayer.  Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of Bible readers and memorizers, but those two things have never given me too much trouble (other than finding time!). But I’m an introvert at heart (go on – laugh it up!), and I will be honest in saying that even talking to the Lord sometimes makes me feel “shy”! Plus, I have this weird fear of being “that Christian” who is always asking for things! ;-)  So I appreciated this chapter/section, and am excited about shoring up this foundational aspect of my walk with Christ.

I want to make this week’s blog short, so I’ll jump to the tasks now, but if you are still with me by the end of this post I will “reward” you with a bonus section! I can tell you’re really excited! ;-)  Okay, let’s get to it:

It has been said that the three most important lessons we can learn about prayer are do it, do it, and DO IT!  And I am always reminded of this quote by Martin Luther: “I have so much business, I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.”  Now, the language teacher in me loves the irony of that sentence, but the regular person in me also bristles a little bit at it.  Doesn’t ol’ Marty know how busy I am? I’ll be he never had the amount of work I had to do! Did that guy even have kids?* ;-)  I imagine Luther was being ironic (maybe he was attempting some 15th Century humor?), but his deeper point is solid and apt: do not neglect prayer! Pray, pray, pray, and when you’re finished, pray some more. But let’s be honest, finding the time IS often difficult.  In chapter 5, Teri mentions a few ways to combat this, including starting your Bible reading with a time of prayer, and praying as you go to sleep at night.

Like last week, these don’t require long responses – just share out quickly and try to come back to respond to someone else later this week.

Task #1: 

What is one way you are bringing more prayer into your day?  It could be one of the things Teri mentions or something of your own. 

Task #2:

In the “homework” section of the chapter, she mentions finding some way to remind yourself to pray throughout the day.  I think it would be great if we heard some of these ideas from each other, so what “tool(s)” do you use to remind yourself to make time to pray?   

Important: Prayer Is Not A Dialogue

We speak to God through prayer, but we HEAR from God through His Word (never forget this very important point!). Please be very careful if anyone ever tells you that you can hear the voice of God speaking to you.  Someday we will devote an entire blog post (or Bible study) to this topic, but for now just remember what Christian apologist Justin Peters recently said: “If you want to hear from God, read your Bible. If you want to hear from God audibly, read your Bible out loud.” 

Bonus Time!

Okay, I promised a bonus to those of you still reading. This is a bit of a rabbit trail (or some might call it a “rant”), so maybe it isn’t a bonus at all! Haha! But I feel like it is worth bringing up, so I’m doing it.  If you want to quit now and skip to the Tasks/Comments, you won’t hurt my feelings! 
Still here? Okay, here goes:  I really took issue with Teri’s use of the Luke 18:1-8 parable to make her point on praying continually.  In context, that passage is in reference to the return of the Lord and His ultimate vindication of his suffering saints, not a lesson in “pestering” God until He gives us what we want. There are a LOT of other verses in Scripture that support the idea of praying continually, and in fact she went on to show us some of those verses and I appreciated that.  And I’m not saying she’s a heretic, or that we should toss out this book! I just think it’s a good lesson in checking the context before you just “go look up all the verses that have the word ‘prayer’ in them” for a Bible study on prayer. ;-)   I know that when I point out things like this people are quick to defend the writer’s “heart” (see my “heretic” comment above), or to suggest that it’s possible to “apply” these verses to our situation, regardless of the interpretation or context. So I also think it’s a good time to bring up a very valuable point about Bible study, and that is that the old adage “one interpretation, many applications” is not necessarily accurate.  A better way to consider that idea is one that my husband is always suggesting: “one interpretation, many applications of that interpretation.” When we read and understand the Word of God, it is imperative that we do not misapply His meaning.  It is, at best, a disservice and potential misrepresentation of God’s truths, but at worst you could be leading people astray – including yourself!  Consider it this way: if we can apply Scripture any old way we want, then what is to keep us from misapplying it? The Bible means what it means – not what I “want” it to mean at any given time.  I would encourage you to read the context of EVERY passage that you are asked to read in ANY Bible study that you do. And I would encourage you to ask questions and seek to really know the truths of Scripture as the Lord intended them to be known.  THEN you will find the “applications” that He wants you to make! 
Okay, rant is over. You get extra credit for the day if you’re still with me. P.S. for more ranting on this subject, re-read last week’s blog – the part about application vs. implication. :-)

See you next week!

*Luther had 6 children of his own, by the way. Later in his life he also took in 6 of his nieces and nephews, and he regularly housed students.  I’m sure his wife was also quite busy, but history does record Luther as an active and doting parent. Bottom line: Brother was BUSY! :-)

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Too Busy Not To Be In The Word!"

"Too Busy Not To Be In The Word!"

Chapters 3 and 4

As I was browsing the comments from last week I spotted Trish’s mention of Hebrews 4:12. (I’ll pause while you go look it up, sister!) Then, lo and behold, what’s on of the first verses Teri mentions in chapter 3? You guessed it!

Task/Comment #1 

In chapter 3, one of the questions asked you to make a list of the qualities of the Word of God as found in Hebrews 4:12.  Take another look at that list, and then look at 2 Timothy 3:16 for another list of things that the Word of God is valuable for.  Quickly, what is your favorite one? Or maybe it isn’t your favorite (like an ice cream flavor would be), but maybe it’s the one quality of the Word that stands out the most to you.  I’ll post my own answer in the comment section, too.

Fun Fact: 
Also in chapter 3 we read James 1:21 and answered a couple questions about the “engrafted” Word (or your version might say “implanted”).  Then she goes on to talk about grafting/implanting the Word into our lives. Did you know that one of the first steps of grafting (in the botanical world) is to actually CUT the branches you’re going to be grafting together? Now, take that idea and re-read Hebrews 4:12. Hmm…wonder what that double-edged Sword is good for? 

That was a free Fun Fact for you. :-)

I especially appreciated the opening lines of chapter 4: “Everything else we will cover in this book, you would eventually learn on your own simply through your personal time reading your Bible each day.”  But of course, the practical part of making this happen is always tricky, isn’t it? Or is it?!  In chapter 4 she really lays down some real-world, every day guidelines for making sure you have time for daily reading. 

The first: it must be non-optional. I’m not gonna lie – this is the toughest part for me – spending time in the Word every day, no matter what.  And I don’t have children or even pets!  She goes on from there to talk about the “when” and the “how long” parts of daily reading, but I think they’re all connected, and I think her underlying point is the most important: we MUST make new habits.  And whether that means you read every morning or every evening, or something in between, the important part is DAILY reading of at least one full chapter of the Bible. 

Task/Comment #2:

One of Raquel’s comments last week was about reading out loud to the kids like story time. I love that idea. I have fond memories of my own Grandmother (a wonderful, godly woman) visiting us for long periods of time, and I remember that she would read her Bible before she even got out of bed in the morning, and then again before she turned off the light at night!  This was her habit, and to my knowledge she never strayed from it!  So, who else has an idea to share or a way to help us start to make new habits for reading EVERY day?  It doesn’t have to be a long response, and it doesn’t have to be something YOU do personally – maybe it’s just something you’ve heard of and want to share.

Later in chapter 4 she talks about the “how” part of reading. I love the read-one-chapter a day routine, at least for starters.  I think that once you get started you’ll find it easier to add more chapters some days. :-)  

HOWEVER, I do want to offer an alternative to her system of finding a verse to apply to your life – or at least a word of caution when doing that. I would like to see us move away from looking for “application” every time we read Scripture.  While it is true that the whole Bible is applicable to us, I think that in this day and age the questions “how does that apply to me?” or “how is that relevant to my life?” have resulted in a lot of “me-centered” Christians. The truth is, though, that we should be Christ-centered Christians first!  So I would like to suggest that instead of asking what the “application” of a verse is, ask what the “implication” of that verse or passage is. 

To see this in action, let’s look at a passage Teri mentioned back in chapter 2 – it was a long section of 1 Corinthians 10, where we are given examples of what to avoid and what to do.  And then she told a story about how she had applied these verses to her own life in learning not to murmur.  Now, there is nothing wrong with that – we all need to be reminded and admonished about our behavior. But I think a broader IMPLICATION could’ve been made from these verses – one that reaches even to the woman who says she never murmurs! ;-)  Go back and read those verses (1 Corinthians 10:1-13), and instead of saying “how does this apply to me?” Ask this question: “What is the implication of the truth of this passage?”  I think you’ll find a slightly different answer – at least I did. 

My point is – it’s fine to look for verses that “apply” to you, but please also consider the implication of the words of the Bible. 

One more Fun Fact and then we’re finished for the week!  She talks about how, “in Scripture, we are likened to sheep, and sheep need to eat every day – multiple times a day, in fact.”  I recently read that sheep, if left to their own devices, will simply graze in the same patch or path over and over again until there is no more food, and then they’ll get sick and die! They must be moved (by their shepherd – they won’t go on their own) to a new location regularly. I like the spiritual connection for us – we need to resist the urge to “graze” in the same spot in the Bible every time we read.  ALL Scripture is profitable and worth feeding on – so let the Shepherd take you to another location and see what fresh Food is waiting for you there!

Only two tasks this week, so let’s get started! I look forward to hearing your responses, and really, don’t worry if you don’t write as much as I do, or as Trish does – we are verbose by nature! Haha! :-)