A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Praying, Journalling, Progressing

Dear friends,

Spiritual growth is constantly on my mind. If you regularly read this blog, it's likely on yours too. Prayer is central to growing in relationship with God. You just can't expect to have intimacy with anyone unless you have communication, and prayer is the highest kind. I'm quite certain that I haven't even begun to plumb the depths of the riches of prayer. Praying gets both easier and harder as I grow, but whether easier or harder, it is always richer, and it means more now to me than it ever has.

Sometimes I just kneel in silence in God's presence and worship him. Sometimes I make emotional appeals to him. Sometimes my prayers are quite literally sort-of calling the roll of those for whom I'm deeply concerned, and often I'm asking Yahweh for my own needs. Sometimes I still don't pray enough, and that bothers me, but on to something that has been a great blessing to me.

Several years ago, when I was an undergrad student at HCU, one of my professors made a 40-day prayer journal a mandatory part of a ministry class. I met the requirements of the assignment, and realized that it was a good thing to do, but to be honest, I didn't really invest myself in it.

Within the last two years, as life became more difficult in a few ways, I became much more aware of my need for God in prayer (the need is always the same, but we're not always as sensitive to it as we ought to be), so I started keeping a prayer journal. The first one was just a little 4x3 marble memo notebook. I'd write out many of my prayers and later go back and put little checkmarks by those God has answered (that I was aware of). Just let me say that God never failed, and my faith grew considerably.

Now I keep a high quality blank journal. Not only do I write out some of my most important prayers as if writing a letter to God, but I keep an ever expanding prayer list. Also, I've started journaling my own thoughts and ideas, and making a few notes about interesting happenings. All in all it makes me much more self-aware, and I expect that to help with my spiritual growth as time passes. Finally, I set aside enough pages of each new journal to copy a book of the Bible by hand. This scribal work serves two purposes for me. First, it helps me to increase my intimacy with the text that I'm copying, and aids in memorization. Second, it ensures that even if the only book I have with me is my little journal, I always have a book of the Bible to read. I leave myself space to make personal notes about the text, and so that section of my journal is invaluable to me.

I want to encourage everyone who reads this to start journalling. Even if yours is nothing more than a prayer list on a few pieces on notebook paper, I'm confident that it will be a blessing. I'm very interested to hear from any of you who journal as part of your devotions.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Needs or Yours

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless" (James 1:26 ESV).

"So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom" (James 3:5-13 ESV).

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19 ESV).

So much damage is done through words, and yet so much good comes through them too. It is of the utmost importance that we guard our lips, think carefully about what we say, and learn to be thoughtful, aggressive listeners.

A big problem in the way of gracious communication is the fact that most of us so love to express ourselves. We meet our own needs as we talk to others. Many conversations are competitions in which the contenders bat statements back and forth between each other without really listening to what the other is saying. Especially in conversations that involve one participant trying to convice the other to change his mind about something, the default mindset is to formulate one's next response while the other is still speaking. We shouldn't do that.

Sometimes, in a conversation, one participant has knowledge that can bless the other, but the other is too proud to receive it with humility. In such a case, should the wise man meet his own needs by trying to teach the unwilling student? No. In such a situation, suggest a book, a website; say something like, "Hey I read a book that really helped me with that." In so doing, you assume a humble role, and overcome the pride of your hearer, opening the door to a possible blessing for him. There are other ways and means of accomplishing this, but the point of this little post is to encourage all of us to desire the blessing of others, and not simply seek to have our own needs met. Remember what Paul wrote:

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6 ESV).

May God bless your walk with him in Christ!