7 Ways to Better Enjoy Reading the Bible

Christian woman reading a Bible

I’ll never forget the day a young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realize she was very serious.

“Well…no!”, I thought, but didn’t say.

The Bible is THE BOOK!

There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

That wasn’t a new concern. I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I did suggest this girl could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3. YouVersion will even read the Bible to you. But then I told her I’d give her some more suggestions.

That’s what prompted this post. The reality is I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you understand and process it. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading — even to help you enjoy it. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easy for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest HCSB, NIV or NLT for a more literal but very readable version, ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation, or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message Version. I read some of each of these for my studies and casual reading. (I wrote a post on how to select a version HERE.)

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Find a small group. That’s what church is great for at providing. Or find a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work. Studying the Scripture with a community helps energize you as you learn. When you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm to study even more.

Timing – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few verses or a story for a day — or a week. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John are good places to start. And, find the right setting. A comfortable chair, an open field — morning, noon or night — what works best for you. And, for as long as you can. Don’t put a time limit on it that adds more burden to the experience.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Use the Table of Contents. No shame. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful. And, when you aren’t certain, ask someone you trust who understands the Bible.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s Author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author.
The greater your love grows with God the easier Bible reading becomes — and the more enjoyable. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

What would you add to my list?

2 Simple Prayers That Greatly Changed My Life

prayer

Over 25 years ago I took a month to read through the book of Jeremiah. Two verses stood out to me then that have continued to produce spiritual growth in my life.

The two verses are:

Jeremiah 24:7

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

I realized that God had promised the people they could have a heart to know Him. Therefore, the God who never changes has also promised me I can have a heart to know Him, not just know about Him, but really get to know Him personally. I began praying that God would give me that kind of heart.

A few days later, I read this verse:

Jeremiah 32:39

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.

God also promised His people that not only could they know Him intimately, but also He would help them carry out that heart in the things they did. They wouldn’t simply believe a truth; they would actually begin to live truth. Again, I realized God would do the same for me. I began praying that God would give me “singleness of heart and action.”

Praying the truths of these two verses became a pattern for my life over the next year. Looking back, I can see how God did just as He promised. I continue to make mistakes and I consistently need to go back to these principles, but God truly has given me a heart that desires to know him and more and more I am beginning to see myself live out the truth I believe.

What verses have worked that way in your heart? Do you need to pray God would work these verses for truth in your life?

7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah

prayer

Hezekiah ruled over Judah and was a good and faithful king.

Hezekiah often became the target of warring nations. The king of Assyria, which was a much more powerful nation, made plans to overthrow Hezekiah’s kingdom. Throughout the stressful time in leadership, Hezekiah consistently used the same battle plan.

He went before the Lord in prayer — and — he followed the Lord’s commands.

Hezekiah relied on prayer to rule his life. This king knew how to pray and he prayed in a way that got results.

At one point, the Assyrian king launched a huge smear campaign against Hezekiah with his own people. It scared Hezekiah’s people.

Hezekiah heard about the threat and went before the Lord. God assured Hezekiah everything would be okay, but the Assyrians wouldn’t let up their verbal assaults. They kept taunting the kingdom of Hezekiah, throwing threats towards Hezekiah. Finally, they sent a letter by messenger to Hezekiah, which basically said, “The Assyrians are tough and they are coming for you next.”

It was a credible, realistic threat. In a practical sense, Hezekiah had reason to be afraid.

What do you do when you are backed into a corner as a leader and you’re about to face something bigger than your ability to handle?

Well, Hezekiah received the letter with all the threats and began to pray.

We find this account in 2 Kings 19:14-19

What can we learn from listening in as Hezekiah prayed?

Here are 7 Thoughts for More Effective Prayer from a Stressed Out Leader Named Hezekiah:

Hezekiah got alone with God. There is corporate prayer like we do at church, and there is prayer where a few are gathered, but probably some of the most effective prayer time of your life will be the time you invest alone with God.

Hezekiah’s prayer was immediate. His prayer wasn’t an after thought. It was prior to making his plans. We are so geared to react as leaders that it’s hard for us to go first to God. He may be second or third or when we are backed into a corner and have no choice, but we need to develop a discipline and habit to make God the first place we turn in our lives. Like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah’s prayer was open and honest. Hezekiah was transparent before the Lord. I love the imagery here in this prayer story of Hezekiah. He took the letter, went to the house of the Lord, and spread it out before Him. I get this visual image of Hezekiah, and this letter — laying it there on the table, and saying, “Okay, God, what now? What do I do next? What’s my first move?”

Are you in a tough spot right now? You may just need to get you some note cards — write down all the things you are struggling with — lay them out on a table and say, “Okay God, here are my struggles. I can’t do anything about them. What now?”

Writing your prayer requests before God is a great idea for 2 reasons.

a. It helps you remember to pray for them.

b. It helps you to watch as God answers. We get more answers than we realize if we only ask.

Hezekiah’s prayer was honoring, humble and respectful of who God is. Hezekiah knew his place as king — and he knew God’s place in the Kingdom. Hezekiah was king of a nation and that is an important job, yet Hezekiah willingly humbled himself in prayer, because he knew his place before the King of kings.

Hezekiah’s prayer was bold. He said, “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD…” Hezekiah had the kind of relationship with God where it wasn’t a surprise when Hezekiah showed up to pray. They talked frequently; probably throughout the day. Because of that relationship, Hezekiah didn’t wonder if God would be there when he came before Him. He knew he could ask God to act on his behalf.

The more you grow in your relationship with God, the bolder your prayers can become, because the more your heart will begin to line up with God’s heart.

Hezekiah’s prayer was dependent. In verses 17-18 he prays, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.” Hezekiah knew he was out of his league facing the Assyrians. From the way I see that Hezekiah responded to life, however, I don’t think it mattered the size of the battle. Hezekiah was going to depend on God. Every time. In every situation.

Hezekiah’s prayer was certain. Because it was based on his personal faith and trust in God. In verse 19, Hezekiah prayed, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Hezekiah had a faith in God that allowed him to pray with confidence. You need to understand that faith is always based on the promises of God. Some things God has promised to do — and some He hasn’t. God has promised to always get glory for Himself and always work things for an ultimate good. He hasn’t promised to rid everyone of cancer or to heal every bad relationship. Or settle every leadership issue we face.

(That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for everything. We don’t know His will, but we can’t guarantee God to do that which He hasn’t promised to do.) Sometimes we get upset because God doesn’t do something we asked or wanted Him to do but the fact is He had never promised to do it.

Hezekiah knew God had promised to save His people. He knew God had placed him in the position of authority over them. He had confidence that God would do what He had promised to do. Hezekiah trusted God to be faithful to His word so he was willing to act in faith.

What situations are you dealing with today that you know you are helpless to do on your own and you desperately desire God’s answer?

Are you a stressed out leader?

Get alone with God, spread your problems out before Him honestly, humbly, and boldly; then, allow His will to be done, as you wait for His response.

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers Like Me

prayer

Lord, teach us to pray…

(Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers…like me:

Be respectful – You’re talking to the Creator God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself – Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest – God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk. Just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice – Spend intentional time listening, with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time…and with lots of practice…you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent – Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, that’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily. But mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. It’s a relationship. And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light…pray. If you think of a friend…pray. If you begin to worry…pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.) Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege that I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a simple belief in Christ as your Savior. That is what makes you His child. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later…begin there.

What tips do you have for us amateur prayers?

How to Pray for and Respond to Oklahoma

disaster_theater

(I borrowed this picture from the Salvation Army website. Since I mentioned them below I hope they won’t mind.)

Yet another tragedy.

There are no words to describe the scenes we are seeing from the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. No words.

So don’t say anything. Just pray.

Please, don’t try to provide answers when people ask why. Don’t pretend you know why. Don’t find some “righteous” sounding reason for the devastation. It’s not helpful.

So don’t say anything. Just pray.

Years ago, when I served as vice mayor of my community, we were hit with a devastating tornado that destroyed much of our downtown. I learned that what we needed most was prayer and resources.

How do you pray?

Pray for emergency workers and relief efforts.
Pray for survivors as they recover.
Pray for those without homes.
Pray for those who have lost loved ones.
Pray for community, state and national leaders who will need to respond.
Pray for donations and resources needed to survive and eventually rebuild.
Pray for the vision that will develop as a result of this tragedy.
Pray for the children who will be afraid at school every time it storms for a while.
Pray for opportunities to share hope with people, in the midst of tragedy.
Pray for the churches and pastors in the areas impacted who will be called upon for hope and help.
Pray for a spirit of cooperation among people who have lost so much.

How do you respond?

Unless you are trained in disaster relief, there’s probably no reason to go now. You won’t be much help. Stay tuned for the calls for help when they come…and there will be many in the days, weeks and months to come. Today you can give. Money. That’s what they need.

Here are a few places you can give now:

Red Cross

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief

Salvation Army

Those are usually three of the largest groups who offer support in disasters. There are obviously many others, but make sure you are giving to a reputable group.

Some friends in ministry I trust greatly have started a relief fund for Oklahoma. They are doing it in an easy to track way. Check it out HERE.

Pray and give. It’s the best way to respond to a natural disaster.

10 Signs You May Not Understand Worship

The volume or tempo of the music determines whether you think it’s a worship song.

A slight change in the order of the service makes you think they’ve harmed “worship”.

You think raising hands or not raising hands determines the depth of a person’s worship.

You believe the “proper” length of a “worship” service is dictated by your lunch schedule.

You think worship has to be in a service or part of a programmed event.

Certain instruments keep you from thinking worship is possible.

You think worship is confined to a certain place or a certain time.

The clothes you wear determines the quality of worship…for you AND others.

You think worship always involves music.

Your attempt to worship has more to do with a personal preference than the subject of worship.

Any additions?

How My Personal Prayer Team Is Structured

  • This week I tweeted, “Meeting with my personal prayer team. I’m confident I’ve underestimated their influence in my ministry. Every pastor should have one.”

I received numerous replies asking me questions about the specifics of who this group is, what they do, how often we meet, etc. I thought it as worthy of a post.

Years ago when I was a layperson, a group of my prayer partners formed our own pastoral prayer team. We would pray during the church services and make appointments with church staff members to pray for them. It was a great marker in my spiritual growth and it seemed to be valued by the ministers.

When I became a pastor myself, knowing the importance of prayer, I decided to be intentional in soliciting people to pray for the church and my ministry. I have done this various ways. I’ve emailed individuals and groups with specific prayer requests. I’ve had Sunday morning meetings before church and recruited a few people to pray during each service. I’ve had a few men that I met with in accountability/prayer groups.

In the past couple of years, I started something new. It’s become my preferred model, simply because it’s intentional, it’s highly functional with my schedule, and I’ve seen the results of prayer working in my ministry.

Here is my current prayer team approach:

I personally recruited 7 people in the church who meet with me regularly. (I wasn’t attempting to get to a Biblical number. It’s just the way it worked. My goal would be for this group to never be larger than 10 or so, simply so we can function well as a group when we meet. Much larger and we would lose the intimacy of the group we have now.)

We meet every 6 weeks to 2 months, as my schedule allows. My assistant sets these meetings up for me at my request.

My part of the meetings last less than 1 hour.

I come to the meetings with a list of things to pray for, and hand it out to them as a prayer list.

  • Some to do with church
  • Some with staff (I don’t share names or specifics, but generalities)
  • Some personal (I don’t share highly intimate things. I have men in my life to share those things, but I do share requests personal to me and my family, that may or may not have anything to do with the church.)
  • In regards to the church, some items are general and some specific, but I rarely, if ever, use names associated with the requests. This is not as much about individual prayer needs within the church. We have a separate prayer team for those needs. This group is my personal prayer support group, so items within the church are more centered towards things I personally lead, opportunities or initiatives I feel God is guiding us towards, or personal issues of concern I have within the church, my family or with me.

I talk through each item on the list and allow them to ask me questions about them.

I pray for them.

I leave and let them pray together as long as they want.

They take the list home and continue to pray until we have another meeting.

We begin each new meeting reviewing any carryover items on the list to update the group on prayer results.

Who is on this prayer team?

  • People I have personally recruited. (In the church I’m moving to pastor, I’m in the process now of gathering those names. Since I don’t know the people, I’m relying on several other people I do know to help me with a group of names.)
  • People I can trust to hold a confidence (This is of utmost importance to me and I’ve never had a “leak” from this process yet.)
  • People I believe are fervent in prayer, and they would be doing so whether I asked them to or not
  • People who are humble, not looking for any spotlight or attention
  • People I would go to personally to request prayer aside from this group (You probably could name those people in your church now)

These people are often not on any other team or committee in the church. They aren’t necessarily eloquent of speech. They are simply people of prayer. This is not a committee or team where members rotate on or off after a term of service. These are prayer warriors. As long as they are willing to serve, and are functioning within the request of confidentiality, they remain in the group.

What’s the benefit?

Do you have to ask?

Seriously, just this week, I gave them a very personal prayer request of something I was asking God to do. Within 30 minutes of our meeting, I had an answer to the prayer request. I emailed them to let them know.

Months before God began stirring my heart towards a change in ministry assignment, I had asked this group to pray for our staff. I knew several were receiving requests to consider other positions. I asked them to pray for our staff to be wise and discerning of God’s direction in our lives. I didn’t know at the time that I would be the one God would deal with next. It was out of my realm of possibilities to take another church at this time, but this group was already praying for the possibility. I’m convinced their prayers have aided in making this transition process so incredibly smooth.

God still answers the prayers of His people.

You don’t have to do it my way, but if you’re a pastor, you need people you can trust praying for you in every area of your life. Yes, you need your entire church praying for you. I’m for more corporate prayer. I believe, however, that you need a smaller group around you to share more personal requests. When we look at the model of Jesus, He seemed to have that prayer support structure within the disciples, even calling a few of them frequently away from the 12 to meet with him in more private settings.

How do you organize people to pray for you?