Posts

Knowing the Bible is Not Enough

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

Early this year, someone new joined the small church that I attend. He identified himself as a Singaporean working in the United States, temporarily sent back to Singapore for a work project. During one prayer meeting he shared that he was serving as a youth leader back in his home church. He seemed to know the Bible very well and sounded very confident of his own salvation. He could easily quote the relevant verses (John 14:6, Ephesians 5:8 and more), and share how important a faith in Jesus was for salvation. We quickly accepted him as part of our small church family.

But merely a month later, our pastor and other church members informed me that this man was actually a fraudster. He had made up stories and borrowed money from various church members. He eventually fled with the money that our church members had lent him and never returned to our church. His phone line was canceled too and beyond contact. I never saw him again.

I was very surprised at this chain of events. How could a person so knowledgeable about the Bible turn out to be a fraudster?

I realized that knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily translate into godly living. James 1:23-24 says this is like a person who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away, immediately forgetting what he looks like. If God’s Word has no impact on the way we lead our lives, then we will be no different from a non-believer.

Even though I have been a Christian for a number of years, I didn’t always read the Bible. For a long time, I heard God’s Word only in church on Sundays. Even then, I was like the person in James 1:24—my life was not transformed. I was still living by my own flesh. I was a Christian outwardly, but inwardly my heart was not aligned with God. I indulged in my own sinful ways without a repentant heart.

But then I went through a dark period a few years ago. The only thing that comforted me during that time was God’s Word, and I realized how desperately I needed the Bible in my life. I have since learned a few things about reading the Bible, and reading it effectively. Perhaps they might be helpful for you as well.

 

Set aside time

Setting aside quiet time to read the Bible is very important to me, because I want to focus without distraction. This habit started during my period of darkness. God’s Word was what gave me strength to go through that period, and I realized how much I need His Word and how truly it refreshes me. Like Jesus withdrawing to lonely places and praying (Luke 5:16), I try to find time in the midst of my busyness, so that I can slip away and be with my heavenly Father. Daily, God’s Word gives me the strength that I need.

 

Ask God for help

Also, I dare not take the Word of God lightly. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but I do not always have the wisdom I need to understand and apply what I am reading. And so, I humbly seek the help of the Holy Spirit, knowing that our God is a generous God and is always ready to give us wisdom without reproach when we ask for it (James 1:5).

When I first came across Ephesians 1:14, for example, I really had trouble understanding it. It says that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” But other parts of the Bible tell us that not everyone who calls out to the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). So how can the Holy Spirit guarantee my salvation?

I brought my confusion to a trusted mentor, whom God used to help answer my question. My mentor explained to me that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and walk in the ways of the Lord as we work out our salvation, and so guarantees our salvation when we do not harden our hearts and allows Him to work in us.

 

Allow God to convict me

As I read God’s Word, I remind myself to invite God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24). When I lay bare my heart, God helps me see how His wondrous truths could be applied to my life. There are times the Holy Spirit shows me how to repent of my erroneous ways.

Sometime last year, I said some things that made my friend upset. During a morning devotion, I came across the verse Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” This caused me to reflect that the words I speak can defile me. I realized that what I said to my friend was not at all glorifying to God, and it reflected how self-centered my heart was, and how insensitive I had been towards her. I needed to apologize to her and align my heart with God.

God’s Word is like a double-edged sword to me, judging my thoughts and the attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). When I read the Bible humbly, I allow it to convict me of my sins. Through this, God is shaping me into the unique individual that He designed me to be. Though I will not be perfect until the day I see Him face to face, I know that even now, God is in the process of transforming us into His image with an ever-increasing glory when we allow His living Word of truth to sanctify us (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

Simply knowing the Bible is not enough. Though I had listened to many Sunday sermons, I did not allow them to change my life. Only when I read the Bible with a humble and contrite heart did the Word lead me back to God for salvation. God is always ready to forgive us no matter how far we have gone astray from Him (1 John 1:9). Knowing this, we recognize that the Word of God is like a gift, and effective Bible reading will consistently point us back to God.

Let us be doers and not just hearers of God’s Word (James 1:22). Let us read our Bible so that we can be men and women after God’s own heart, working out our salvation as sojourners. Then we will live as true disciples of Christ.

5 Spiritual Disciplines We Overlook

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” teaches popular American preacher, John Piper. Amen! Don’t we all long to be fully satisfied in God and God alone? But what about when we don’t feel satisfied? What about when we feel tired, unmotivated, or distant?

Those times are why spiritual disciplines are so important. Spiritual disciplines are good and God-honoring, regardless of how we feel about doing them. Discipline keeps us on track when we lose motivation and it is necessary for our growth as Christians.

Here are five spiritual disciplines that have been helpful in keeping me focused on God, even when motivation is lacking.

 

1. Bible Reading

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God has prepared work for His people, and this verse explains that God-given scripture is the very way that God prepares each of us for that work. God is constantly working to bring people to Himself, and He allows us Christians to be a part of that in varying ways. We might not always have a clear and specific picture of exactly how God plans to use us, but the Bible will prepare us with knowledge and understanding so we are ready for whatever it is that God calls us to.

I go through phases where I read heavy sections and lots of text, but it’s also been helpful for me to slow down, read smaller portions, and leave time to ponder and reflect on it. Journaling during or after reading also helps me process and retain what I read. Instead of approaching this time with expectations for exciting new revelations, I like to approach it as a time set aside to get to know my Father better. After all, our faith is based on a relationship with God, and we can’t have good relationships with people we do not spend meaningful time with.

 

2. Prayer

Prayer is another way to spend quality time with God. God is holy and perfect. The mere fact that we are allowed to come before Him and be heard is truly amazing. Praise Him for it! And not only does God allow us to pray to Him, we can pray to Him with great boldness.

When David prays for forgiveness after murdering a man for his wife, he asks God to forgive him in accordance with God’s unfailing love and compassion (Psalm 51:1). In Exodus 32, after God’s people have committed a great sin by making a golden idol to worship, Moses’ plea for saving the people banks on one thing: God’s promises. God promised Abraham that he would make his descendants (Israel) numerous, and God promised them a land for their inheritance. None of these promises could be fulfilled if God completely destroyed his people, and when Moses called on these promises, God relented (Exodus 32:11-14).

Identifying God’s promises has helped me immensely in prayer. In doing so, I can pray with more confidence for Him to follow through on them. . . not because I, or anyone, is deserving of the promise, but because God made the promise and he will follow-through on it.

A close friend of mine is currently struggling with postpartum anxiety. As I pray for her, I reflect on Matthew 6:25-34, which illustrates how well God cares for all of His creation (even the birds and flowers!), and explains that because of this, we should not be anxious. The momentum of my prayer for my friend is rooted in the knowledge that God will care for her, as she is of even greater value to Him than any bird or lily flower. Holding to God’s promises that He makes in scripture helps me to pray with greater confidence and boldness.

 

3. Fasting

In Deuteronomy, God’s people are told that they were caused to be hungry, that they would learn that they are sustained not by man’s bread, but by God’s word alone (Deuteronomy 8:3). In the New Testament, Jesus makes an assumption that His followers practice fasting, since He tells them, “when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do. . . ” and “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting. . . ” (Matthew 6:16-17, emphasis added).

We practice fasting so that we can spend time separated from man’s sustenance, and seek God’s instead. With every stomach groan, as my body calls out for man’s food, I am reminded that God alone created and God alone sustains me. This particularly helps me focus when I need to pray for or about a specific person or decision in life. Every stomach rumbling reminds me that God is the one I should seek for everything I need, including sustenance and direction.

 

4. Tithing

Just as we should learn to depend on God instead of food for sustenance, we must also fight against the tendency to rely on money’s security over God’s provision. Psalm 50:10 says that every cattle on a thousand hills belongs to God. None of what we “earn” is truly ours. Every blessing comes from God. Tithing helps train us to hold what we have with open hands.

Recently, my husband and I felt compelled to give our car away to a man at church who had recently crashed his. Another family has been unemployed and falling behind on finances, and we felt called to give of “our” savings to help them. I use quotations for “our” because we believe it wasn’t our car or our money to keep. God allowed us to be stewards for a time, but we had to be willing to give when God called us to.

By practicing tithing and keeping an open hand, we will be more prepared to obey God when He calls us to give above and beyond what we are comfortable with, and so give graciously of all that we have (be it time, money, or possessions).

 

5. Verse Memorization

As a child in Sunday school, I memorized verses for stickers and affirmation from my teacher. I developed a distaste for the culture around it, because I saw verses taken out of context and twisted to support claims people make.

Perhaps people will always twist Scripture for their own purposes, but if we are to obediently meditate on God’s law day and night (Psalm 1:2), then we have to know the law we are to meditate on. Memorize scripture, know its context, and meditate on it.

I heard a story once of a man who was jailed in a foreign country for being a Christian. He was not allowed to have a Bible. For 20 years, the only Word of God he had was that which he had hidden in his heart, and could write out while he was imprisoned. What kind of Bible would we have if the only scripture available was the scripture we had memorized?

God convicted me of my neglect to commit verses to memory, and in response I am now practicing hiding His word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) through scripture memorization. I wasn’t sure where to start, and a friend recommended a verse memorization app created by Desiring God. It’s been really helpful for keeping me motivated and accountable.

 

There are many resources that will help you as you journey through all of these spiritual disciplines. The internet is an amazing resource, and it can be used for good. I encourage you to not get too wrapped up in one specific way of following any of these disciplines. If you feel discouraged or grow weary, change up how you’re participating, but don’t stop altogether.

All of these disciplines help us to grow as Christians. That doesn’t mean we’ll always feel the growth. There are times where we must persevere, because in addition to glorifying God through our satisfaction and joy in Him, we also love God by obedience to His commands (1 John 5:3). And through our dry seasons, we trust that God will not stop “equipp[ing] us for every good work.”

Do You Read Your Bible For Fun?

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

I spent the whole of November immersed in the countryside of Western Australia with my family. We brought no work along—no revision (for the kids), no prep, teaching or writing (for my husband and me).

At several of the Airbnb homes where we stayed, there was no phone signal, let alone Wi-Fi, only pristine beaches, forests and mountains. We were looking forward to resting from our school and work routines. And I wanted to read my Bible for fun.

What? I can hear you thinking, “Do the words ‘fun’ and ‘Bible’ even go together?”

Okay, I’ll admit that Bible reading probably isn’t Number One on most sane people’s “Fun” list. We do it, but it’s probably on a different list altogether—the “Things-That-Are-Good-For-Me-That-I-Don’t-Enjoy” list, along with cod liver oil supplements and visits to the dentist.

I’m no different, and the thought of Bible reading usually fills me with mixed feelings, ranging from mild reluctance to guilt and occasional dread.

But it strikes me that this is unfair to God. The other things on that list are understandably off-putting, involving degrees of physical discomfort in return for questionable benefits, whereas God’s Word costs me nothing and bestows infinite grace, comfort, wisdom and counsel. So, why don’t I crave it more?

Here are three reasons I can think of:

  1. I unintentionally treat the Bible as a spiritual clinic or dispensary. I search its pages when I have questions or needs, when I’m suffering, or when I want something. So, when life is fine by my standards, I lose the urge to read His Word.
  1. I treat reading God’s Word as a task. This could be in church, during Bible study prep, regular Quiet Time, or during an academic Bible course or seminar. Structure is by no means a bad thing, but if I start becoming merely dutiful, Bible reading can feel like just another task. Having ticked it off on my “to-do” list, I wouldn’t go back there just for fun, right? Not when there’s Netflix . . . which brings me to my next reason . . .
  1. There are plenty of distractions. That’s right, the instant gratification of non-urgent distractions such as my hobbies, my Spotify playlists, the Internet, and video games or other forms of entertainment, can make reading feel like hard work.

Maybe you can relate to these reasons or think of more. There are plenty of ways to counter the feelings and objects that take our time away from God, from better planning to implementing device-free hours at home, but let’s leave aside that half of the equation for now and focus on our motivation for Bible reading in the first place.

It’s probably not enough just to get rid of the obstacles to our reading. You see, on holiday I didn’t have the time pressure of duties and deadlines—I could take my time with my 12-month Bible reading plan, for instance, and not rush to prepare next Sunday’s kids’ Bible story or answer 10 questions for this Friday’s Bible study.

My usual technology-dependent distractions were also removed. But helpful as all of this was, it didn’t mean that I automatically hurried to open my Bible. After all, as in any kind of relationship, feeling bad or guilty might motivate me to read a few verses once in a while, but guilt doesn’t make for a lasting engagement. Even a neutral feeling won’t keep me returning to God’s Word. Put aside one distraction, and another rushes to take its place.

No, if I’m to enjoy God’s Word, shouldn’t I expect to find something enjoyable in it? In fact, the scriptures themselves tell us there is something wonderful about God’s Word that we can expect to see, feel and appreciate. Psalm 119 repeatedly emphasizes the psalmist’s enjoyment:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

(Psalm 119:14-16, ESV, emphasis added)

The same sentiment can be found in verses 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 111, 143 and 174—you get the picture! This psalm was penned by a believer who recognized that the world around him was disappointing, treacherous and not as it should be, but that God’s Word was trustworthy, true and satisfying. And how much more so for us who are living after Old Testament times and can know Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promises!

Do you remember that amazing moment recorded for us in Luke 24, when Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection and helped them see Him in the scriptures?

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Jesus showed them that He is the fulfillment of God’s Word—“the Word made flesh”, as John’s Gospel tells us.

Yes, I can go to the Bible to find wisdom and answers useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training myself and others in righteousness. But even more than that, what a gift I have been given, that in the Bible’s pages, both Old Testament and New, I can see Jesus and everything He’s done for those He has saved. To borrow a phrase from pastor and author John Piper, to pick up my Bible for fun is to expect to “see the beauty of Jesus in His word”.

Happily, during my holiday, I did pick up the Bible just for fun, and not only once but several times. Beach-combing, forest-walking and rock-climbing in peaceful surroundings helped me appreciate God’s creation more so than in the fast-paced city where I live, and I wanted to read about His works.

As I reflected on the many things and people I was grateful for, I also found myself thankful for everything that God has done in Jesus in their lives and mine. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins has been proclaimed to me and to you, and we continue to proclaim it to the world—how awesome is that?

Of course, holidays don’t last forever, so as I get into stride with 2017, I’d like to manage my duties and distractions so that I continue to pick up the Bible for fun. How about you? Do you find enjoyment in God’s Word? Why not try looking past the footnotes and cross-references, and simply enjoy the greatest story ever told—that of the Savior of the world, as revealed in the precious pages of your Bible?

5 Ways to Persevere in Bible-reading

Written by Sandy Zhuang, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

When I first came to know the Lord, I was taught by older Christians about the importance of persevering in reading my Bible daily. It was the book of truth which told me how to live life according to how God intended, and it was applicable in every aspect of my life. I was reminded that it was too important to be neglected.

But persevering in reading the Bible is not an easy task, especially when there are so many other things vying for our attention. To overcome these obstacles, we can try different ways and means. It could be setting aside an allotted time to read the Bible, or using Bible study resources to help us press on in our reading.

Here are some of the ways that have helped me keep my Bible reading on track.

First, set a fixed time to read the Bible.

Make Bible reading a part of your daily routine so that it will become a habit, and it will not be easily disrupted or missed. There’s no hard and fast rule as to when is the best time to read your Bible. Some may feel that the best time is early in the morning, when their minds and hearts are fresh and clear; others may think that the best time is right before they sleep.

I was a “night owl” in my school days. Mornings were spent rushing for classes, and it was only at night that I felt more awake and alert. Naturally, I chose to read my Bible at night. After becoming a mother, however, I had to shift my Bible reading to the wee hours of the morning. That turned out to be a refreshing change.

It is up to every individual to decide which time of the day works best for them. Remember: it’s easier to fix a time to read the Bible every day, than scramble every day to find a suitable time to read the Bible.

Second, make good use of Bible study resources.

The Bible is filled with so much wisdom that it is impossible for us to comprehend it on our own. Without the help of Bible study resources or leaders at church, it’s easy to misinterpret the text or to miss out on key truths.

Nowadays, we have many Bible reading plans to choose from. You can follow a plan that will enable you to finish reading the entire Bible in a year, or finish reading the New Testament in three months, or even do an in-depth study on a particular book of the Bible. The key is to choose a plan that suits your current situation and will help you persist in reading the Bible.

When I was doing a study on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), I used a Bible commentary. If not for it, I would probably have lost the patience to read about the laws of cleansing and the instructions about building the tabernacle.

Third, read the Bible together with like-minded friends.

No Christian can grow alone, apart from the community of believers. This applies to our reading of the Bible too. We need mutual support and encouragement as we embark on this journey of reading God’s word.

I’m a part of a 10-member Bible-reading group in which we share what we have learned from reading the Bible every day. We take turns to check that every single one of us has read the Bible. We even have a system of rewards and punishments to help us keep on track, which helps to keep us accountable to one another. It also serves as a great encouragement and reminder to us, especially in moments where we are tempted not to read the Bible (for whatever reason)—and it has helped me keep my Bible reading on track for more than three years.

Fourth, cut yourself some slack.

Sometimes—such as when we fall sick, have to work overtime, or attend to a sudden emergency—we may be unable to keep up our habit of reading our Bibles daily. Let’s not see this as a weakness or “sin”, or we might fall into the trap of treating the practice of reading the Bible like a legalistic ritual.

Bible reading should be an enjoyable process simply because it helps us grow in deeper intimacy with God. It’s not about clocking the hours.

Fifth, ask God to give you a thirst for His word.

One of the greatest hindrances to Bible reading for many is lethargy, especially after they have read the Bible for some time. During these moments, we can reflect and ask ourselves: Why do I not want to read the Bible? Let’s spend time talking to God about it and pray that He will give us a humble heart and a thirst for His words, and rekindle the fire in our hearts for His Word.

As it is said in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I believe God will answer our prayers to help us read His Word, because it is what He desires of us.

May God’s Word always be “a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalms 119:105)