Tag Archive | Bible Study

Transformed By God’s Spirit and His Word

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”‭ Romans 12:2 ESV‬

‭Renewing our minds is such an important Christian discipline! In both our constant exposure to the input of the world in which we live and our emotional response to the difficult circumstances that are a part of life, we need to take time daily to renew our minds in the truths of God’s Word.‬

‭This Monday morning, as I do many mornings, I began my quiet time in the book of Psalms. I found Psalm 27 on my Bible app and began reading a passage I’ve read many times before. But as I came to the final two verses, I heard God speaking to my heart. ‬

‭I read, ‬“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14)

God gently spoke to my heart, “Are you really expecting to see My goodness in this place where I’m asking you to walk?”

Immediately, I knew the honest answer was “No, Lord, I’m not.” And I knew it was time to renew my mind in the truth of the goodness of the Lord.

Life with its many and varied challenges has a way of wearing down our resolve to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22), but the indwelling Holy Spirit is quick to teach us if we remain open to His voice. Our part is to open up God’s Word daily, with our spiritual ears ready to listen and obey. That’s what happened to me on Monday, as I did a search on my Bible app for verses about the goodness of the Lord and began renewing my mind in this important truth.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit is able to take our willingness to open the Bible, in whatever form we prefer, and use it to renew our minds to see our circumstances from a biblical mindset. Whether He works by reminding us of some truth about the character of God, as He did for me this week, or He reminds us of some other principle taught in Scripture, the Bible and the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers in Christ together are God’s agents of transformation in our lives.

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Receiving the Word with Eagerness – and Caution

“Now these Jews (from Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11 ESV

As I work my way this week through Acts 17, I had an interesting study this morning in verses 10-15. This short section on Paul and Silas’ ministry in Berea included a helpful reminder of the attitude which pleases God whenever we hear a “new” teaching that is supposedly based on Scripture.

We live in a world where so much of what we hear on the radio, watch on Christian television, and hear or see on the internet raises questions in our minds. When that happens, we need to be like the Bereans, who “examined the Scriptures daily” to discern if what they were hearing was truth or error.

This isn’t talking about a casual reading but rather a curious and diligent search by looking at the Bible verse in it’s original context, maybe checking out some cross references and the meaning of some key words, done with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And this wasn’t something the Bereans did occasionally. It was a daily practice.

Charles Spurgeon compared this to making “a strict, close, diligent, curious search, such as men make when they are seeking gold.” Psalm 119:72 compares God’s Word to gold and silver, and yet so often we approach it casually, based on how it makes us feel.

The following quote from Our Daily Bread, written by Dave Branon, especially caught my interest since I’ve faced a similar situation many times.

“‘A deadly jungle spider has migrated to the US and is killing people.’ This was the story sent to me and to others on my friend’s email list. The story sounded plausible—lots of scientific names and real-life situations. But when I checked it out on reliable websites, I found it was not true—it was an Internet hoax. Its truth could only be verified by consulting a trusted source.

“A group of first-century believers living in Macedonia understood the importance of confirming what they were hearing. The folks in Berea “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11). They were listening to Paul, and wanted to make sure what he was saying lined up with the teachings of the Old Testament. Perhaps he was telling them that there was evidence in the Old Testament that the Messiah would suffer and die for sin. They needed to verify that with the source.”

Like the Bereans, when we hear teaching that raises questions in our minds, we need to verify what we’re hearing, in much the same way as I’ve learned to verify “news” I see online to make sure it’s accurate and not “fake news.” We need to search the Scriptures for ourselves, check out reliable Bible study resources to gain a better understanding of what was actually being said, and allow the Holy Spirit to give us discernment between truth and error.

Teaching with Questions

Linking up today with Five Minute Friday. Today’s writing prompt: QUESTION

Jesus was a question asker! As you read the gospels, it becomes obvious that was one of His favorite ways of interacting with the people around Him. Questions make us think, they force us to make decisions. And without these important steps, we will never grow.

One of my favorite passages where Jesus asks a question is found in John 6, one of the accounts of the feeding of five thousand. A large crowd had been gathered to hear Him teach, and Jesus didn’t want to send the people away hungry. Verse 6 says Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but this was a teaching moment, a time to impart some truth to His disciples, and He began with a question which the text tells us was a test. He addresses His question to Philip,”Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”

Philip’s response makes makes it clear that his eyes were on their limited resources. His answer was in essence, “If we use all our money to buy bread, it still wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a bite.” I think it’s easy to see he failed the test!

Andrew was nearby and he responded to Jesus’ question with another question, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Still not the response Jesus was looking for.

At this point, Jesus moves forward with His plan, involving the disciples in the process. The large crowd not only leaves with satisfied stomachs but they’ve witnessed another miracle, a sign that Jesus truly is the Messiah they had been looking for. The disciples left with twelve baskets filled with the surplus, one for each of them to enjoy. And they also left will a clearer understanding of who Jesus truly was.

As I listened to our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday on John 6, and as I read the entire chapter earlier this week, I learned my own lesson. If Jesus used questions so often in His teaching, what better example is there to follow when I’m teaching? Whether in our small group at church where I’m on the teaching team or in the online posts for a Christian chronic illness support group I help lead, I want to be more alert to using this important teaching method that Jesus so clearly modeled for us.

Importunate Prayer

Do you ever go to a prayer meeting – or open our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness Prayer Group page – and wonder why the requests seem so familiar? Why the same or similar requests keep coming up over and over again? In the case of our prayer group, one reason for this may be the fact that all of our members deal with chronic illnesses, which means new issues constantly need to be dealt with. Another, the fact that God uses our difficult circumstances to do a work in our lives that He counts as more important eternally than an immediate healing.

As I was praying about this characteristic of our times of prayer, I came across a concept I knew little about, that of importunate prayer.

In his book The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds defines importunate prayer and explains why it is important.

“He prays not at all, who does not press his plea. Cold prayers have no claim on heaven & no hearing in the courts above. Fire is the life of prayer, and heaven is reached by flaming importunity rising in an ascending scale.

“Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results or to gain complete victories.”

Jesus spoke of the need for persistence in prayer in two parables that are recorded in the book of Luke. In Luke 11:5-8, immediately after teaching the disciples how to pray according to what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He shares a story about a person who goes to his friend for help feeding unexpected visitors.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

In Luke 18:2-8, He shares a second parable to encourage us to not lose heart in prayer. This time, the story involves an unrighteous judge who did not fear God or respect people, and a widow who is seeking legal protection, which he gives her, not because he cares about the widow but because of her persistence in asking.

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?'”

‭‭These parables don’t teach that God is reluctant to answer our prayers. He delights in answering the honest requests of our hearts. But at times, God’s timing is not the same as ours. At times, God wants to deal with an unconfessed sin in our lives before answering or to build some positive character quality in our lives that will only grow under pressure.

Importunate prayer is first and foremost prayer that keeps asking, that is persistent in asking a God who sometimes delays the answer, not because He is indifferent to our needs but rather because He wants us to learn how to walk in faith and consistency.

Importunate prayer is the opposite of lazy or lukewarm prayer. It is prayer that comes from a trusting and godly heart, a pure conscience, and a determination to keep praying until we have an assurance that God has heard and will answer. It is prayer that is built on the foundation of the goodness and faithfulness of our God, and persists in praying until an answer is received.

A Miraculous Answer to Fervent Prayer

With the health problems I live with daily and my need for a walker to get around, my husband or I usually check the weather forecast before the two of us leave the house. If the odds of bad weather are high and the outing is one that can be postponed, I usually end up staying in the safety of our home for another day.

Acts 12:1-6 describes a situation where the odds for Peter were not very promising. His friend and fellow apostle James had just been beheaded, and Peter was in prison, chained to two guards with two more outside the cell for double protection. And this time, the arrest was officially made by the king who lived to please the Jews. Passover was causing a delay in Herod Agrippa I carrying out his plans, but it was nearly time for the planned release of the prisoner to the Jewish leaders who wanted Peter to suffer the same consequence of preaching in Jesus’ name that James had already suffered.

Yet God did the unexpected. God’s plan for Peter included such a miraculous deliverance that even those who were gathered to intercede for him were shocked at the answer to their prayers. https://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/Acts%2012.13-16

As I’ve heard this story taught in the past, the fact that those who were gathered praying for Peter were surprised when he showed up at their prayer meeting, so surprised that he was left standing at the gate knocking when the servant girl realized he was there, was given as evidence of their unbelief. A careful study of this passage shows me that’s probably not what was going on. Verse 5 makes it clear that these believers were fervently praying for Peter.

“Fervently” means they were praying with a right spirit, earnestly and without relaxing in their effort. That doesn’t sound to me like God’s view of their prayers is in agreement with this idea that their’s prayers somehow fell short of what pleases God, that their response reveals their prayers reflected unbelieving hearts.

It sounds like they were human, struggling with the recent death of one of their leaders and seeking to align their hearts with God’s will for Peter, whether it was his death or his deliverance. Their first thoughts appear to have been that Peter’s work was done and God had taken him home to be with Him, as He had Stephen (in Acts 7) and James (in Acts 12:1-2), and that the one at the gate was actually Peter’s angel, there to announce his departure.

Instead I see this as a rather humorous account of a miraculous intervention by God. If one of those gathered in prayer had simply responded to the knocking, they would have recognized God was at work in their midst. And as I read this passage, I had to stop and ask myself if my prayer qualifies as fervent. I learned I deinitely have room to grow in this area.

So what are the characteristics of fervent prayer?

  • Fervent Prayer is intense and earnest, coming from a heart seeking to please God.
  • Fervent Prayer perseveres until an answer is received.
  • Fervent Prayer involves genuine contact with the living God through faith.
  • Fervent Prayer seeks the will of God and not our will.
  • Fervent Prayer is based on the Word of God and the promises in the Word.
  • Fervent Prayer seeks God’s glory, never the glory of those who are praying.

In Acts 12, those gathered to intercede for Peter were praying with intensity and perseverance. I believe they were seeking understanding of God’s will in this particular situation, not assuming God would do what they wanted. They knew Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost of being a disciple, and they knew deliverance wasn’t God’s will in every situation.

I believe in the weakness of their humanity they were seeking to align their will with the will of God, to what would bring Him glory in this situation. But what they were missing was a clear revelation of the will of God in this particular situation. What they didn’t know is that this time God’s will was not the same as His will for Stephen and James. Peter still had work to finish, his purpose was not completed, so in this case there would be an amazing deliverance, one that was possible only with the power of God.

An interesting side note to this story. Peter’s deliverance was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus gave him of living until old age when He forgave, restored and called Peter to serve Him after he had denied Jesus three times. In John 21:18 Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. ” When the angel came to set Peter free, on the night before he faced probable death, he had to be roused from a deep and peaceful sleep before the angel could carry out his instructions. According to extra-biblical history, Peter probably lived around twenty-four more years before he became a martyr for the faith.

Seeking God with Our Whole Heart

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord,” Jeremiah‬ ‭29:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This promise from Scripture is one of my favorites. It comes immediately after one most of us are familiar with, Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds us that God has a good plan for our lives, a plan to give us a future and a hope. Often, I see this verse quoted, with no mention of the following verses that are directly related to it. They speak of the focus that is to be present in our life as we realize God is good and His plan for our lives is good.

Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, we read a solemn warning of what was ahead for Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) if they continued down the path they had been trodding (see Jeremiah 9). If they continued stubbornly ignoring God’s law, determined to follow their own desires, judgment was ahead.

Unfortunately, this stern warning had not been heeded, and that judgment had arrived. God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him, and in B.C. 587 Jerusalem was attached, the city destroyed, and the people taken into captivity to Babylon.

Jeremiah 29 begins with these words. “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:1‬)

In this letter, Jeremiah gave clear instructions from the Lord to the exiles. They were to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, marry and have children, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they in turn would have children, and seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent into exile. (https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.5-7.esv). In other words, this would not be a brief interlude in there lives, so they needed to accept the consequences of their failure to obey God and live in the best way possible during this time.

In verse 10, Jeremiah gives them a promise that this time of exile will come to an end. Jeremiah writes, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

This is the setting of Jeremiah 29:11-14. The season of exile would come to an end, the people of Judah would return to their promised land, and in having gone through the Lord’s discipline they would have a hopeful future, as they chose to seek God with their whole heart.

While we have not experienced exile because of disobedience to the Lord, like Judah we are recipients of this promise. This is a conditional promise, requiring something from us. To seek God is to desire His presence more than His presents. While God has promised to never leave or forsake us, our awareness of His presence is affected by the depth of our relationship with Him. To walk in God’s presence daily, we must seek Him with our whole heart.

What does it mean to seek God with our whole heart?

  • It is to seek Him with a deep longing that makes the things of this world pale in comparison.
  • It is to recognize receiving life from Him is a vital necessity, something without which we can’t truly live a meaningful life.
  • It is to realize without Him we can do nothing of lasting value, and therefore make abiding in His presence daily our highest priority in life.
  • It is to respond quickly to the conviction of the Holy Spirit

Remember, we are seeking the presence of a God whose desire for us to live daily in His presence is so great that He sent His own Son to earth as a man, to live the life we were called to live but could not, and then to die as our substitute on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, was raised on the third day, and He now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live in a way that pleases the Father.

Once we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sin and become children of God, we can seek Him with confidence that He desires a close relationship with us even more than we desire to walk close to Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the way has been opened for us to encounter God based fully on His grace, mercy and love for us. All that is required for us to experience God is to set aside time daily to seek Him with ears open to His voice and a heart ready to receive and obey.

Original photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Gratefulness and Peace Always

In last week’s Thankful Thursday post we looked at how the joy of the Lord and thankfulness are related (https://wordpress.com/post/hopeandlight.blog/4208).

This week we’ll be studying a verse from Colossians that links gratitude and peace.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or as the same verse says in the Amplified Bible:

“Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions thatul arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].”

‭I especially like the Amplified version of this verse, because it defines “the peace of Christ” as an inner calm that comes to those who daily walk with the Lord. This is the kind of peace God has made available for us as followers of Jesus Christ, and this walk is the key to being thankful to God at all times.

God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, a group I work with, it currently doing a study written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries and entitled Verse By Verse, Growing Closer to God. One of this week’s lessons was on the importance of having an on-fire relationship with God.

A relationship with the Lord that is not vibrant and alive does not provide the peace or thankfulness we desire. Just walking through the motions of picking up our Bible once a day, reading a few verses, and then putting it down and not applying what we read to our daily lives is of little benefit. But an on-fire walk with our Savior, where we abide with Him and stay attached to the Vine for nourishment and strength to do what He asks of us is the type of relationship that brings peace and gratitude.

The peace of Christ is not only the peace we experience when there is no conflict. It includes a sense of wholeness and well-being, completeness and totality, even in the midst of overwhelming trials. Ultimately, the peace of Christ in its essence is the very presence of Christ. It’s the peace that accepts the truth no circumstance is too big that it is beyond God’s control.

And with this inner peace that is born in relationship with God and grows as we walk close to Him through whatever circumstances that touch our lives, comes an attitude of gratitude. I saw this in my own life last November, when in the midst of a situation I had dreaded for years, the loss of our medically fragile son David, God gave supernatural peace.

That peace produced a gratefulness for the Lord in my heart, even in the midst of the deep sorrow and grieving in releasing our son to God’s plan. While the peace was a gift of God’s grace as I spent time in His presence daily, the gratitude began with a choice to be thankful in the midst of the pain. But with that choice, gratitude became a natural fruit of the inner peace.

Do you want to experience both peace and an attitude of gratitude that isn’t shaken regardless of the circumstances that touch your life? If so, the key is to make sure nothing blocks your view of God. Sin does that in our lives, so if the Holy Spirit convicts you of a sin that needs to be confessed and dealt with, don’t ignore it.

As Paul David Tripp said, “Our sin is what separates us from God, but it’s our self righteousness that keeps us from running to Him for the grace He willingly gives to all who come.” Humble yourself and confess any sin God shows you, receive His forgiveness and grace. And you will be set free to walk in God’s peace and with a grateful heart.