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3 Unexpected Benefits of Studying Theology

I grew up reading theology and for a long time I hated every moment of it. I didn’t understand why my parents would torture me with reading assignments each summer. Piper, MacArthur, Sproul—I was reading all of these spiritual giants by the age of 12. Boring, massive books, stuff I didn’t understand, and stuff I really didn’t care about—that was my impression then,  and an impression I often hear today, when the word “theology” is brought up to adults as well.

Author A. W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Even though I dreaded it at first, I started realizing that my parents were intentionally shaping my mind with these books. In a culture that’s becoming increasingly emotionally driven, they wanted me to be able to have a foundation of truth regardless of my circumstance or emotion.

The reality is that theology—the study of God—isn’t just for Christian scholars or Bible School geeks (though I’m definitely included in the Bible School geek group) . . . all of us should be theologians!

And it doesn’t look as intimidating as it sounds. Studying God is simply about being intentional in getting time with Him in Scripture, and also digging into books and commentaries written by solid men and women of God—people who have devoted their lives to the study of God, and whom we have the great honor of gleaning from.1

As I’ve come to discover the benefits of studying theology, I’ve committed to making theology a regular part of my life. I truly believe every believer should do so as well. Here’s why:

 

1. It helps us love God better

God cares deeply about what we do with our minds and particularly, how we utilize our minds to know Him. In Scripture, we are told to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), to be continually meditating on God’s law (Joshua 1:8), and to do everything we possibly can to gain wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7).

What better way for a believer to love God with our minds, than to engage them in studying Him? The more we know God—His character, His Words, His heart—the more we love Him. Knowing God is not only a form of worship, it is also the foundation of our worship. We must know Him whom we are worshipping in order to worship Him acceptably— for who He is, not who we imagine Him to be.

 

2. It changes how we view suffering

Throughout history and even today, great men and women of the faith have been persecuted and killed for what they believe. Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was beaten nearly to death multiple times, shipwrecked and imprisoned, yet he steadfastly heralded the goodness of God to the churches.

Would your theology lead you there? Would mine? To champion God’s goodness even in the midst of unexplainable and unbearable pain?

When we have a proper theology, particularly about God’s goodness, we are able to keep our heart and soul sustained when the hardest tragedies in life take place. Studying God can lead us to the realization that God Himself is the definition of good and our trials have the ability to train our souls to be more like God (James 1:2-4).

 

3. It’s the secret to living the most joyful and satisfied life

Being a studier of God doesn’t mean we are boring or can’t enjoy life. It’s quite the opposite. While the world tells us that joy is found in getting everything we want, Christ says He came that we may have life to the fullest (John 10:10).

The peace that comes as we surrender to our Maker through knowing and obeying Him is unparalleled to anything the world can give. The more we know God, the clearer our purpose in life becomes. We are able to trust His will even when we do not understand, to rest in His goodness even when our life is overwhelmingly weighty, and to gain immense freedom and strength to enjoy life, encounter suffering, raise our kids, love our spouse selflessly, and worship God the way He created us to.

Years after those tortured summer car rides, I found myself voluntarily attending Moody Bible Institute—actually paying to study theology! You could find me devouring my books, highlighters and pens as my trusty companions, fully immersed in understanding the depths of my Maker and loving those moments more than anything else in my life.

 

Understanding theology—taking time to study God—is immeasurably and eternally valuable. I hope that I can encourage you to grab a study Bible, order a good book, spend extra time with God in prayer, and start to make studying our Creator a habit in your daily life today. We won’t always want to do it, but I promise you other things can wait. We will never regret having made the choice to prioritize God. He is worth our time. Let’s make it happen!

 

1 Some of the best resources I have found for understanding the depths of Scripture are Knowing God by J. I. Packer, The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

When We Settle for Less Than Rest

I am as guilty as anyone of cramming way too much into my schedule. It’s not that I have a problem saying “no”—I do that regularly—it’s that I just enjoy living a full life. I had three kids in three years. I’m a pastor’s wife, a writer, an occasional speaker, and a Bible study and worship leader. I own a small business and also try to maintain the organization and peace of my own home. All the while, I’m working my way through graduate school and value living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep, and investing in relationships and my community.

Just writing all of that makes me want to curl up in bed and take a nap. Many of us can identify with this type of craziness, or may have even more than that on our plate. It’s difficult enough to find time to juggle all our different commitments, what more find space for regular rest! However, I’ve found that when I have not made time for rest, I not only see a decline in the quality of what I do, but my soul is left utterly depleted of fuel.

This is because we were created to rest, and to do so in a way which enables us to live with peace and contentment even in the midst of our full lives.

Sounds too good to be true? Then perhaps we need to ask ourselves: What kind of “rest” are we getting?

It is important that we not only make time for rest, but that we get the right kind of rest. Recently, my husband, Andrew, and I realized that we often spend the little amounts of down time we have being sucked into our phones and scrolling through social media, watching a show, or catching up on work.

We reflected on our habits and recognized that we had been pursuing a false rest that checks us out of reality and puts us in a haze—instead of leading us to true rest that refreshes. Not only does this go against the call within Scripture to keep our minds active and alert (1 Peter 5:8-14, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Luke 21:34-36), but beyond that we’ve come to realize that true rest isn’t found in ceasing all activity or not doing anything, but rather ceasing from distraction and finding our strength by dwelling with Christ.

 

Where do we find true rest?

So, where can we, as believers, find truly rejuvenating rest? Scripture talks about rest frequently, and it tells us exactly where to go to find the rest we need. There is a specific way in which humans were created to rest—in the presence of our Creator.

In Matthew 11:28-30, we find this promise:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The very words, “rest for your souls” sound so hope-filled and life-giving to me. I have found rest for my soul when I come to God’s presence by laying my burdens before Him through worship, prayer, diving into Scripture, and reading solid Christian books—all of these things are not passive activities, but active pursuits of Christ which have the potential to usher us before Christ in life-giving refreshment and renewal.

 

Resting as a discipline

We must seek out rest in Christ intentionally, as a matter of spiritual discipline. As a mother of young children, I often hear other moms say they don’t have time to get into Scripture. This breaks my heart. All of us could find excuses—I often have myself—but the reality is that I, and all of us, make time for that which we find important, and that normally means saying “no” to things that aren’t as important.

For example, if having our kids in sports is important, we say no to other opportunities in order to bring them to practice and games. If catching up on a show is a priority, we choose that over other items on our “to do” list. If having time alone with our spouse is important, we turn down other engagements or meetings to make time. Since having time alone with God is important in order for us to get rest, we may have to say no to extra sleep, to a show, or even to time out with friends, in order to make it happen.

After realizing we had been pursuing an empty form of rest for so long, Andrew and I have begun getting up before 5 a.m. every day so that we can spend time in Scripture, journaling, praying, reading good books for (hopefully) an hour or so before our children wake up. This simple change has given life to us both—helping us start our day on a note of learning and leaning into our Lord, and has even led to changes in our attitudes, parenting style, and a new level of depth in our marriage as we have conversations about our readings.

Is this fun? Not always. Do I want to hit myself (or my husband) in the head with a pillow when I hear the alarm? Almost every day. But this is the very meaning of a discipline. We may have to force ourselves to do it at first, but it’s something that we will come to hunger and thirst for eventually, because restful time with God is what we’re made for. It must be prioritized and sometimes, it must be planned.

I’ve learned that life will never slow down. Every season brings new challenges, new excitement and new stressors. If we do not live intentionally, life will pass us by, seasons will come and go, and all of the sudden 10 years will be gone and we will find ourselves just as exhausted as ever and further away from the Lord.

May we find our refreshment and our absolute delight in the arms of our Maker, saying with the Psalmist, “As the Deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You” (Psalm 41:1).

 

Editor’s Note: For more practical tips on how to get the most of your rest, check out this article.

5 Ways to Refresh Your Marriage This Valentine’s Day

No matter how many or how few years anyone has been married, the word “refresh” always sounds appealing. For those of us who desire to grow closer to Christ and to our spouse, it is essential that we set aside our never-ending to-do list and take time to process where we are at in our marriages.

My husband, Andrew, and I try to get away at least once a year to do this intentionally. While away, we evaluate where we have been, where we are at, and where we want to go. Whatever our circumstances that year, there are always a few key areas—aside from the continuing need to grow deeper both individually and together in our walks with the Lord—that have helped us to renew our marriage.

1. Practice spiritual disciplines together

Our spouse is the person we live with, raise children with, and impact the world with. In other words, our spouse is our God-given teammate for life. That makes it utterly essential that we grow spiritually together.

But how is this done practically? Start by praying together. Andrew and I make a prayer list for each day of the week and pray over it together, as well as regularly ask how we can pray for one other. These seemingly small moments go a long way towards building an intimate foundation that relies upon God—and not ourselves—to lead our lives.

Another practical idea is to read together. If reading Scripture together hasn’t been a habit before, find a devotional that is Gospel-centered and start there. Make it a habit to spend time praying and diving into a devotional every day together, and take it to the next level by reading and discussing godly books[1] together.

 

2. Have a mentor couple keep you accountable

No matter how many years we have been married, none of us know everything. The sooner we realize this, the sooner true growth will be able to happen.

As newlyweds, one of the first things Andrew and I did was to seek out Scott and Dianne—a wonderful Christian couple in our church. We asked them specifically because we knew from previous interactions that they would hold us accountable on hard issues, yet we also knew that they cared for us deeply. It has been critical for our marriage to have them asking us questions, challenging us, giving us an outside perspective, and pointing us back to Christ, not just in the early years, but even today.

The reality is that sometimes our struggles in marriage are so deep that sharing them with peers or family would be slanderous towards our spouse, and could perhaps cause more pain, distrust, and brokenness of relationship. It is therefore essential to have a couple we both trust that we can talk to.

In finding mentors, we need to look for people who love the Lord and stand on the foundation of Scripture as they help guide our marriages—with their goal being to draw us closer to the Lord and our spouse, and away from ourselves. They also need to be comfortable discussing normally taboo and uncomfortable topics with candor and openness, such as sex, pornography, and finances. Pray that God will bring you such a couple, and make meeting with them a top priority.

 

3. Make “apologizing first” a habit

“A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

The Bible urges us again and again to humbly serve one another, humbly apologize, and humbly forgive—even if the other person is being difficult or stubborn (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 12:14). This is important not just in interacting with people around us, but even more so in marriage.

Andrew is usually the first to apologize. In the heat of a moment, my pride frequently blinds me to my failures. Instead of being humble, I have way too often dug my heels in and sat in my anger. Without Andrew modeling humble tenderness in the midst of arguments, I have no idea where our marriage would be. His humility has taught me a lot about the Christian walk—how being honorable before the Lord is more important than getting our way or proving we’re right.

No matter what the argument, I have always been able to find something I can apologize for. Striving after unity over proving a point or being right must be a habit in all of our marriages. May none of us allow pride to keep us from having a unified, flourishing marriage! If this is an area you struggle with, like I so often have, start praying for God’s help to overcome whatever pride or arrogance may be blinding you to sin.

 

4. Renew your intimate life

Sex is a vital part of a godly, vibrant marriage. It was not created by accident—God created it intentionally, fully aware of how much we would desire it, how good it feels, and also how much it can hurt when not used the way it was intended. Sex was created by God to be frequent (1 Corinthians 7:5), pleasurable, exciting and unashamed (Song of Songs; Genesis 2:25). It should never be used manipulatively. Instead, it should be a selfless act between a man and a woman within the covenant of marriage.

When we take a biblical approach, we have the opportunity within sex to create a foundation of selflessness and trust in our marriage that can extend to all other areas. If we seek to make the bedroom a place where we are selfless lovers instead of selfish lovers, we will not only find ourselves having a more vibrant sex life and a happy spouse, but a marriage that is drenched with the blessings that comes from obedience to God. Use the bedroom as a training ground to love one another selflessly—again and again and again. If you’re not making love frequently or are being selfish within intimacy, surrender that to God, ask for His help, and renew your commitment to love your spouse in this incredibly personal way.

Until recently, Andrew and I have never really prayed about our sex life. But we have realized that since we believe in the power of prayer, we have been foolish to not seek God in such an important part of our lives! We pray specifically for the ability to love selflessly, for pleasure, and for purity (that our minds would not wander to other people or experiences).

 

5. Date and get away often

The Bible calls husbands to die for their wives, giving up themselves as Christ gave Himself up for the church (Ephesians 5:25). The Bible also calls both spouses to love the other as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28-29). It is clear that aside from Christ, marriage is our highest earthly priority. Do we reflect that in how we choose to spend our time?

Time with our spouse—away from our normal routine, away from the kids, away from the house—breathes life into a marriage. And so we must prioritize it, schedule it, and budget for it. Set guidelines for this time. Does scrolling through our phones, talking about the budget, or discussing about the kids distract us from connecting? Turn off the phones and make kids and finances off limits. Not sure what to talk about? Print out questions from online or get books that have questions in them.

My hubby and I do this from time to time. We’ll bring fun questions into restaurants, have them along for car rides, and we are often shocked by the basic answers we either don’t know about the other or that have changed over time. Carving out these times regularly will rejuvenate our connection on all levels with our spouse.

Let’s make it our goal to never stop discovering who our spouse is. God is continually at work in those who are His, drawing us nearer to Him. The person we are married to today, even if we just got married last week, is different from the person on our wedding day. Make it a challenge—an exciting adventure—to continually get to know your spouse.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, may we give the gift of refreshment to our marriages. Anything in life that is worthwhile takes time and often sacrifice, and our marriages should be at the top of the list. As we all walk into the next months, may we be willing to do what is necessary to make our marriages not just survive, but thrive.

 

[1] Some of our favorite devotionals have been, Taste and See by John Piper, and the John MacArthur Bible Studies devotionals by John MacArthur. Some of our favorite books, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, The Holiness of God by J.I. Packer, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.

6 Questions to Consider If You’re Called to Full-Time Ministry

After graduating from Bible college and seminary, my husband Andrew and I stayed in touch with many of our friends—people with whom we dreamed of and prepared for ministry.

Within a matter of years, however, many of our friends had left ministry indefinitely. These are not all sad stories—some have felt a call by God to be elsewhere, but most cases are filled with immense pain, loneliness, anger, and sometimes even emotional and spiritual trauma.

We have been left asking: Why are so many pastors and leaders in the church leaving their ministries—men and women who once “knew” they were called to vocational ministry? What is the difference between these brothers and sisters and a sustained long-term ministry?

Andrew and I have talked about this a lot, especially now that he has been a lead pastor for several years. Our discussions have led us to some important questions that we believe will help Christians better discern whether or not they are called to full-time ministry.

If you are thinking about entering vocational ministry, Andrew and I pray that the following six considerations can help you think through your excitement with biblical wisdom. And for those currently in ministry, we hope that they will greatly encourage you and assist you as you press on faithfully.

 

1. Am I called?

My dad has been a pastor since I was young. He always says that ministry is the hardest thing that someone can ever do but that it is completely worth it. Though we have been in ministry for only a few years, Andrew and I have already found this to be true.

Ministry—whether full-time or part-time—is often so difficult that without a clear confirmation from the Holy Spirit, there is no way we will stay in the trenches when war comes. We will  begin to question if we heard the Lord correctly, if our mentors were wrong, or if there is something else we could be doing with our skills and education.

So, how can we know whether we are called to full-time ministry?

Here are two ways that helped re-affirmed our calling, and we hope you find them similarly fruitful:

  • We prayed and fasted to seek confirmation from God. Fasting is often used in Scripture to show a sincere desire to know God’s will or receive His deliverance (Joel 2:12, Ezra 8:21-23, Psalm 35:13). This desire is greater than whatever we might give up sacrificially (it was usually food in Scripture). As we fasted, God unified Andrew and my desires to serve Him full-time, and increased our joy in moving in that direction! What an affirmation this was.
  • People we respect in leadership and ministry affirmed our gifts. We kept in mind (and still do) that just because we want to do something doesn’t mean we are good or effective at it. We all need to sincerely ask ourselves, do people we respect agree with us regarding our calling and gifts? If they do not, we should slow down and re-evaluate.

 

2. Am I prepared to be judged more strictly?

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”.

Whether we are teaching passively—holding a leadership role as others watch our actions—or actively through preaching, teaching, or writing, James 3:1 should cause all of us to regularly pause and reflect on our hearts, asking:

  • Am I actively living a life of repentance before the Lord?
  • Am I actively seeking to live in a way that is above reproach?
  • Do I eagerly accept honest feedback from mentors even if it is uncomfortable?

If we answer “no” to any of these questions, we should think again before placing ourselves into ministry leadership. We all sin (1 John 1:8), but the call of being judged more strictly requires any leader to be soberly aware of the danger of complacency and be actively putting to death sin in their life (Romans 8:13).

 

3. Do I desire to please God and not people?

Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

In ministry, we often have to make decisions that may not please everyone. Because of this, we must make sure that our desire to please God outweighs the discomforts of displeasing men.

My husband was once asked to marry a couple where one was a Christian but the other was not. We felt that this was something we could not do in clear conscience before the Lord. The bride’s parents were extremely angry with us and uninvited us to the wedding. Several members of the elder board made their disapproval blatantly known to us as well.

When people attack us or dislike something in our ministry, they are often challenging not only our method or ability, but that which we hold most dear—our theology, our training, and our calling. No matter how lonely it becomes, we must be willing to be uncomfortable before man so that we can be blameless before God.


4. Have I been properly trained?

Andrew, as well as many other teachers I have known, have shared with me the weight they feel each week as they preach or teach—realizing that the words they speak are representing the very words of God. This weight should never go away.

Because teachers are called to accountability, those of us who lead—specifically those of us who teach—should pursue training so that we can understand and handle Scripture correctly.  The words of 2 Timothy 2:15 need to ring loudly in our ears: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker. . . who correctly handles the word of truth” (emphasis added).

In order to correctly handle Scripture, we should have at least some form of training in it, and be continually learning and growing through reading solid books, listening to sermons, attending conferences—relying not on our own understanding within a vacuum, but on the training and knowledge of those who have devoted their lives to understanding the Word.

 

5. Do I have a mentor?

When Andrew and I went through a very difficult season of ministry, a couple of veteran pastors were our lifelines.

During this time, my husband kept in close contact with these respected men—they had enough distance from our situation to think clearly and point us both to Scripture and to their decades of experience. They kindly corrected us when we needed to change something, and were fellow soldiers cheering us on to faithfulness in this difficult time. Without these men, it is very possible we would not have remained in ministry long term because of the pain we endured that season.

Mentoring is vital to a successful ministry. In order to withstand the highs and lows well, we must seek the wisdom and support of those who have gone before us. Find veteran pastors or pastor’s wives, or those who have done what you desire to do long-term (e.g., children’s ministry or eldership)—people who are able to tell you when you are wrong, and who also have the clarity to tell you when you need to hold firm.

 

6. Is my family or spouse 100% on board?

Being involved in the church—even if we have an unbelieving spouse—is the call of all believers. However, if you are married and are entering vocational ministry, this must be a call shared by your spouse. We may not necessarily both be vocationally involved in the work, but because of one spouse’s position, the other spouse will naturally be looked to as a leader, as an example, and as a source of wisdom.

Without the support of our spouse and family cheering us on, surviving the hardships above would be nearly impossible, and the loneliness suffocating. The prayers, encouragements, and championing of our families are lifelines in ministry.

This is why we must be willing to prioritize time nurturing these relationships. Because Andrew has chosen to block out time to intentionally build his relationship with our family, we are readily excited to support him when he’s able to do ministry because we’ve been invested into. Doing ministry as a family can be such a tremendous joy!

 

With this one life we have been given, may we all be found faithful in that which God has called us. If there is anything else you would like to do in life, anything else you may be gifted in, any other calling that excites you, do it well and do it for the glory of God!

However, if you truly feel called to full-time ministry, not only will the Holy Spirit walk with you each step of the way, but you are in for an exciting, worthwhile and eternally impactful life! The relationships we can build walking side by side with brothers and sisters in Christ, loving on others and battling against evil will truly be bonds that are unparalleled to any other relationship we have.

Ministry is precious and being called to it is a unique gift. My husband and I have no regrets about giving our lives to this calling and cannot imagine doing anything else with the years we have been given.