Study the Word (part two): Meet My New Teacher, Sherlock Holmes

This is part two in a series on what I have learned to help me study the Word more effectively. You can read part one here

Growing up at a Christian school, I had a Bible class built into my schedule each year, and many of my teachers were significant influences in my understanding of Scripture and my personal walk with the Lord. Other influences, such as pastors and mentors, have also been a blessing as I have learned how to move my knowledge of Scripture out of the classroom and into real life. And, as of late, Sherlock Holmes has been the newest addition to the list of Bible teachers who have impacted my spiritual life.

I started reading Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I was looking for something fun to read this summer along with some denser books that are on my coffee table. Each case that Sherlock solves is its own short story, so I can easily sit down and read a little bit, then not pick it up again for a week and not be out of the storyline. Plus, I somehow acquired this really pretty copy, and books are especially fun to read when they look and feel classic, like I should be sitting on a picnic blanket alongside the river with a parasol, or perhaps in Belle’s library in Beast’s castle. (I mean, it’s the dream library, am I right?)

This summer, I want to focus on learning how to study the Bible correctly and effectively, both for growth in my personal walk with the Lord as well as growth in how to equip the students I am ministering to. I am watching a short video series from Dallas Theological Seminary and reading a couple different books to help me gain an understanding and appreciation of studying the Bible methodically: Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks, How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor by Mark Yarbrough–and what was my for-fun book is now added to this list as well.

Of all of the different ways people have put together to help you study a Bible passage, Inductive Bible Study is perhaps the most commonly taught. This method teaches observation (what do you see?), interpretation (what does it mean?), and application (how does it work?).

I’m going to be honest, I learned this method in junior high or high school, and it has continually come up in other contexts, but I have always been resistant to it because the first step, observation, feels so tedious.

Observation is simply looking at what the words on paper say, but there are so many factors to consider when you observe. You want to consider the type of writing, the time period of the author, the grammatical significance of the words on their own, and the significance of the sentence in light of the paragraph, in light of the chapter, in light of the book. You should look for comparisons, contrasts, commands, promises, cause and effect statements, conclusive statements, etc. And when this method is taught, you are instructed to write all of this out.

My pride always convinced me that I have excellent reading comprehension–I mean, I scored pretty dang high for that section on the ACT­–so I was probably above spending much time on the observation part. That was just for people who weren’t good readers or who were baby Christians still unfamiliar with the Bible.

But I am learning that, when I skip observation, my ability to correctly interpret and apply the passage is hindered. I am not getting the full depth of the God-breathed words when I decide to just read it once then immediately determine what I think it means.

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle connection: the more Sherlock stories I read, the more I recognized that Sherlock Holmes follows the same method of observation, interpretation, and application. His ability to make keen observations then interpret what those mean is what has made him famous! It’s the key to solving each mystery.

There are a few (convicting) lessons I have learned from Sherlock Holmes about how to more effectively read and study my Bible.

  1. Don’t go into observation having already determined your supposed application.

It can be easy to open your Bible looking at a specific passage to prove a certain point, but all too often that results in our unconsciously trying to make Scripture say what we want it to say. Observation has to come before interpretation and application in order to correctly understand the Word.

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes receives a letter requesting an audience with him, and Watson asks, “What do you imagine that it means?” Holmes responds, “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

There are several ways I think this concept applies to our interpretation of Scripture. Don’t go to the Bible looking for Scripture to prove your own points. Be cautious that you don’t make up an application just to have something to say about a passage. And don’t assume you know what a passage is talking about just because of how you have heard it talked about in the past.

There’s a method and an order to most things in our world, from building a house to cooking a meal to solving a math problem, and reading the Bible is no exception.

  1. Nothing is insignificant.

In “A Case of Identity,” a Miss Mary Sutherland had entered Holmes’s house upset, and after asking her a couple of questions, he allows her to just talk, explaining her background and her family history and her relationship with her stepfather before she even begins to discuss the actual reason she was there. Watson observes: “I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.”

It turns out that these seemingly “inconsequential” details are a key in Holmes being able to understand what motives might have prompted her parents to be the conspirators behind Miss Sutherland’s mysteriously-disappeared fiancé.

When it comes to reading the Bible, there is a lot that is easy to overlook or skip. Genealogies, references to cities we don’t recognize, quotes from other parts of Scripture, metaphors that don’t make sense–these are all commonly skimmed over. In the past, if I was reading something that felt tedious or like background information, I had a habit of continuing to read ahead for the treasure instead of stopping to look for treasure in those verses, doing research to figure out why this would be in the Bible and even in this specific passage.

If every word of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), that includes endless lists of names of who begat whom. That includes the choice to mention a specific city, or closing greetings, or metaphors of animals and plants.

An example to study: the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1 versus Luke 3. Matthew’s record starts at Abraham and works forward in time, while Luke’s starts at Jesus and works backwards in time all the way to Adam. Matthew mentions key women in his, while Luke’s only mentions men. Matthew and Luke both had different purposes in writing their Gospel accounts, and these purposes are made clear in their selection of how to present the genealogy.

  1. Connect the passage you are reading to other parts of the Bible.

Look for commonalities in Scripture–how does it all connect? Though the Bible was written by over 40 different authors on three continents over 2000 years, because those authors were actually writing the words of God, it’s one cohesive book.

The ability to consider other situations is what led Sherlock Holmes to solve “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.” When Holmes amazes his client by stating that he already had a conclusion, he tells him, “I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarked before, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn my conjecture into a certainty.”

Sherlock Holmes considers other similar cases to aid in his present one; in the same way, consider what you know from other parts of the Word.

The ability to do this just takes practice. The more you read and study the Bible, the easier this becomes. The more I dig in to the different parts of the Bible (especially the Old Testament), the more I can connect various parts of the Bible as one whole book.

I taught through 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles this past semester while at the same time studying Jeremiah on my own. The Kings and Chronicles books provided me with an overview of the history of the divided kingdom, the generations of corrupt kings and disobedient people, and the development of what led God to the decision to punish his people through exile. Reading Jeremiah, I am thus able to understand the circumstances surrounding Jeremiah’s ministry and the examples of injustice he is referring to.

Another great example is the book of Hebrews. This powerful letter gains much more significance and depth when you have an understanding of the Old Testament, specifically the first five books of The Law. Being told that Jesus is your great high priest may not mean much until you know what a high priest was, just as learning that Jesus’ sacrifice once for all would have been an incredible relief to a people who were accustomed to the ongoing sacrificial system.

  1. Everything you need is there in the text, but observation is a learned skill over time.

In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes and Watson are trying to solve a mystery concerning an abandoned turkey with a valuable blue gem found inside, and their first major clue is finding the black felt hat alongside the turkey that was dropped. Holmes handed the hat to Watson and asked what he could gather about the owner. “I see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend. “On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

You can see everything (although, perhaps, there’s more to see if you know the original languages it was written in), yet you must learn know how to look at it, what questions to ask, and how to connect what you see to what it means.

Howard Hendricks wrote, “What makes one person a better Bible student than another? He can see more. That’s all. The same truth is available to both of them in the text. The only difference between them is what either one can see in a cubic foot of space.”

I am still learning how to slow down and spend time observing before I jump into deciding what a passage means, but my heart has been convicted that it is worth it to analyze and savor each inspired word. The following statement from Living by the Book really convicted me as I considered my perspective towards the Bible:

Too many “readers” are nothing but browsers. They turn pages the way they flip through channels on a TV set, looking for something to catch their interest. The Word doesn’t lend itself to that sort of approach. It requires conscious, concentrated effort. So read portions of the Bible over and over. The more you read them, the more clear they will become.

If you are looking for a good resource to teach you what to look for in observation, Dr. Hendricks’s book that I mentioned above is very thorough, almost to the point of being overwhelming, until you remember that the skill of observation will become more natural the longer you do it. While he is a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes’s own skills came through years of study and continuous involvement in cases that sharpened his abilities even more.

I want to dig in to everything God has revealed to us on the pages of Scripture, and I want to savor each word that he intentionally wrote to help us know him more and more.

the darkness, and the One Who is bigger

I’ve been rereading The Chronicles of Narnia this month. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the books, but each time I do, I learn something different about myself and about God. Different lines or phrases pull me closer to the heart of God, give me a deeper desire to know Him and to long for eternity.

“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me [Aslan] here for a little, you may know me better there [in your own world].”

And the part of the saga that grasped my attention this week came from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Towards the end of the journey to the end of the world, Prince Caspian and the crew on the Dawn Treader (including Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace) are sailing towards a dark mass that they thought was land but turns out to be an overcoming darkness. While they are rowing through the darkness, they hear the voice of a crazed man begging them to take him on board, so they pull him up and he tells them to row away as fast as possible, for they have reached the Island where Dreams come true – not daydreams, but dreams. As the crew tries to change direction and row away as fast as possible, each man begins to experience different dreams coming to life: they hear noises, sense presences, and start to feel mad and desperate themselves – until, of course, Aslan.

How many times have I felt myself being pulled by “the dark,” the voice of fear and the creeping sensation of doubt taunting me in what I cannot see? Or how often do I give in to comparisons and self-pity, not realizing the tight grip they gain around me as I give them room to come near?

A lot has happened for us in the past month. We realized there was a good possibility Eric would get a job he had been interviewing for in Conway. Then he was offered the job and set July 1 as a start date. Then we worked like mad people one weekend and listed our house for sale by owner, just to see what kind of interest we got. Four showings and two offers happened in the first two business days on the market (and the other two showings were trying to work with their banks so they could put together official offers). So I quickly had to learn next steps for selling our house on our own when we accepted one of the offers. Then we drove to Louisville and back for a wedding of a dear friend. Two days later, I drove to Lawrence, KS and back for a quick 24 hour trip to visit more friends. The day after, we went house hunting in Conway.

The word I would use to describe the past month is exhausting: emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally. And it won’t stop for awhile, between wanting to see friends here and say goodbye, to potentially going down to Conway again for round two of looking for a house, to packing up our things, to my brother’s wedding at the end of this month, to my sister’s wedding at the end of the next month, to a third wedding for one of my college girls in which I am a bridesmaid…

Despite so many things on the calendar, there’s also a lot of uncertainty in the immediate future. We don’t know where we will live in Conway. We don’t know how long we will need a temporary housing option. We will be starting over to make friends. We have ideas of what my job will look like, but there are some other options out there and nothing is set in stone. Eric’s job is pretty much the only certainty at this point (that, and my parents’ excitement to have us in Conway), and even his job contains some unknowns when it comes to how to transition from a corporate workplace to a church staff.

So yes, the darkness, and the voices from what I can’t see taunting me? That’s very real for me right now. The panic that builds in my mind is paralyzing when I start to worry what will happen if we can’t find a house we want to buy, or – worse – if we buy a house that we don’t really like and we feel stuck. Or, for some reason, having to rent for a year feels like the end of the world. But panic is like that – it is irrational, and it takes over all common sense.

When we give in to worry, our current, momentary situation feels bigger than we can handle. Our present troubles outweigh our view of an eternal God.

“We shall never get out, never get out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.”

When it comes down to it, I know that there’s always uncertainties in life. But there are some seasons where it is heightened more than others, and I am there now.

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.

The what-ifs can drown out the reality of how “okay” you are right now – unless you re-fix your perspective from the darkness to the truth of God that is not dependent on circumstances. God is God no matter the presence of darkness or light. And just as Aslan whispered “Courage, dear heart,” to Lucy before they were out of the dark, God whispers “Courage, dear heart,” to you and to me, even if we still have to walk through a little more of the unknown.

Like Lucy, I need to fix my eyes on the One Who is bigger than all of those fears and concerns. Instead of allowing the darkness to overcome me, I want to look for the Light, no matter how small it may appear at first, and I want to fix my gaze there. Salvation lies in rowing straight for that light, not in looking around at the darkness and trying to visualize what’s hiding there.

All at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been… “I reckon we’ve made pretty good fools of ourselves,” said Rynelf.

There’s still lots of things that I am tempted to worry about – friends, finances, a place to live, a continued desire to start a family even in the midst of all of this – but when I find myself drifting toward the darkness again, I want to instead more quickly re-fix my eyes on the One Who is bigger than all of those questions and concerns – and the One Who is even sovereign over all things.

“I was the lion.”

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one Lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and–”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

[C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy]

A friend and I talked this weekend about believing both the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God. She is in the midst of wrestling through life when it feels like things are crashing down, and I have been there, too. Times when you can’t see through the fog and you feel yourself falling with no rope to trust in catching you before you hit the ground. And while we often want a physical solution to our fall – we want that rope – God doesn’t always give the rope right away. Sometimes He simply wants your trust in the midst of your descent. He wants to get at your heart before He takes care of the visible problem, because the heart can be the bigger issue we are blinded to.

When you are falling, you have to believe that God is both sovereign and good – He is in control and is acting out of His love for You. I fully believe that God is in control, but I often struggle to believe that He is loving me through the trial. Instead, I feel like He is ignoring my prayers, or He doesn’t care about how I feel, or maybe that things will turn out okay in the end but not that they will turn out the best.  That it won’t turn out in a way that will make me happy, simply that I will survive.

Yet God’s love and His power cannot be separated. They go hand-in-hand, and when we look at our trials with this perspective, things change.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. (Isaiah 38:17 ESV)

What a beautiful juxtaposition. For my good I walked through bitterness. It was in love.

A Horse and His Boy is my favorite book in CS Lewis’s famous Chronicles of Narnia. Shasta feels that he is the most unfortunate boy in the world. He finds out that the man he has been calling Father, the man he works almost as a slave for, is not really his father. He and a talking horse (who was captured from Narnia years before and has pretended to be dumb like other plain horses) decide to escape together, and at the beginning of their journey, they find themselves chased by lions, forcing them to join company with another rider who is also escaping to Narnia with her talking horse.  Shasta gets mixed up in the big city with Narnian royalty and is separated from his group, finds himself alone among tombs while he waits for them, and then finds himself and his friends racing to the King of Archenland to let them know of a traitorous plan from the city to attack Archenland. During his race to beat the army to the king, a lion once again chases his group and wounds Aravis, the other rider, and he must run ahead, alone, to warn the king.

But we all know Who the Lion is.

The Lion’s purpose is not known by the children and their horses. They do not even know the name Aslan. Yet He has been present, guiding them on their journey, even having a purpose in wounding Aravis. Shasta believes he is the most unfortunate boy in the world, yet the Lion reveals that it was all done in love, to protect and care for and guide him to his prophesied destiny – saving Archenland.

horse and his boy

What Shasta thought was for his bitterness was for his welfare.

What we think is for our bitterness just might be for our welfare.

When we see a trial, we must look through the lens of God’s love to see something more. We can’t always see the “why,” but we can look for the Who.

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. (Job 23:8-10)

He works for our good, for His glory, in all things. So when you are falling, or all you see is fog around you, speak truth to yourself to remind you of Who is in control and how He can take care of you. His purposes are bigger than us, and His plans are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). Yet while He is sovereignly working throughout the universe, He is present to love us and care for us as we walk through what we don’t understand. He knows our frame – He remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14), and His loving care is as a Father cares for a child, who doesn’t understand yet finds security in his father’s arms.

Look for Him in the midst of what you are walking through. Rest in his arms. Trust His love in your bitterness.

The God Who controls the universe is the same God Who came as Emmanuel – God with us – to be our Savior and Redeemer. And He loved you enough to not only wrap Himself in skin and become a baby, but he loved you enough to die in your place.

accepting the wilderness

Have you ever wished that, if God wasn’t planning to remove you from a trial anytime soon, that He would at least tell you how long it was going to last?

I used to ask that when I was single. Lord, I am okay with not having a boyfriend right now, but can you just give me a hint of when I will meet him so that I can be content now?

Or when I was miserable in my job but couldn’t find another job. Father, please just give me some sort of “finish line” so that I can make it through all of this.

Or even now, while raising support, I find myself making this request. I just need to know when we will make it to the other side.

Living in a time-bound world, we want to know how to plan and what to expect. We think that if we can just understand God’s time frame, we will be able to endure where we are now. You can convince yourself when running a marathon or riding in a bike race to “keep going – just x-number more miles!” and you get to see your progress as the miles fall behind you.

But as Eric and I were talking about desiring to know more of how much longer the road ahead is, I heard a still small voice prompt me to research the Israelites.

Side note: God knows how much the Old Testament speaks to my heart – especially the Genesis through Judges portion. I am a wandering Israelite, but for some reason I can’t see my own sin until I point it out in those fickle people, and the Holy Spirit convicts me to turn and point to myself just the same way Nathan the prophet told David a story then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

So as I am processing timing and wishing I at least knew what to expect for this season, I turned back and looked at Numbers 14, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan due to the report from the spies.

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? … I have pardoned according to {Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the people}. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14: 11, 20-23)

I can’t say that they didn’t deserve this.  For the love.

Yet I can’t be quick to judge, since my heart fears and doubts with the best (or worst?) of them. And can you imagine being told that you were going to have travelled all this way only to die in the desert, just like you were dramatically complaining about a few verses earlier?

Then imagine being their children. Those under 20 years old were not held responsible and knew they would get to see the Promised Land. However, God also explained that their journey would continue until all of the older generation had passed – and He wasn’t going to send a plague or something to accomplish that. There would be a punishment for their disobedience.

But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Numbers 14:32-34)

The Israelites were told in the beginning how long they would wander. The adults had to walk through the wilderness daily, knowing that they really weren’t going anywhere. Knowing that they wouldn’t arrive at the destination, and knowing that it could take up to forty years of aimlessly traveling, depending on when they died. Forty years of kids probably asking, “Are we there yet?” and being reminded that you would never get there.

Then imagine being one of the children in the generation who was still going to get to experience the fulfillment of this age-old promise. They knew they would get there eventually. But they also knew that it wouldn’t be for a long time. Even the oldest – the nineteen year olds – would be almost sixty before they arrived at their destination.

We still see rebellions and complaining and doubts throughout their journey, even though they know how much longer it is going to be. They are unhappy with the day they are living, even with the ability to count down the days until things are different. That finish line doesn’t help because they are still unhappy with the present.

So maybe knowing God’s timing isn’t the solution to surviving a tough season. Knowing the details of God’s plan won’t provide contentment in your current situation. It might even make it harder to live in the present, knowing exactly what awaits you.

I want to change the desire of my heart. Instead of desiring what’s a few miles down the road, I want to rest in the walk the Lord has for me today. To not “wrestle, just nestle” (a la Corrie Ten Boom). To claim the name for myself “Acceptance-with-Joy” (reference this blog post I wrote sophomore year of college, then read Hinds’ Feet on High Places because it’s the best).

I’m not sure I know exactly what that looks like, though. It’s going to take some work on my heart, I think, and eyes to see the gift of today.

Do you have any advice for how to live with joy in the present? What are you seeking to “accept with joy”? 

taking sabbath seriously

I just finished reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. I’ve probably been working on it for two months or so, and – I’m not gonna lie – I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the epilogue. While it was a great book, it was a very dense book, and it just took time to completely grasp some of the concepts. 

The theme of the book is faith-and-work integration; the Gospel should not only affect our decision for salvation and our relationship with God, but how we approach life, and specifically, our view of work and the way we work. The theology of work and the idea of living a fully-integrated life has been a huge theme for me and Eric over the past couple of years, and it is actually a huge piece of the puzzle for us as we join staff with Cru and prepare to work with college students. 

While there are many things I could write about, some of which I will potentially write about later, the last chapter really resonated with my heart. I will do my best to not make this like a book report, but some of the background information might be necessary in helping relate this piece to the whole.

In discussing the “power” given for work by the Gospel, the chapter addresses “the work under the work” and “the rest behind the rest”:

But the relationship between work and rest operates at a deeper level as well. All of us are haunted by the work under the work – that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can e free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion.

Keller and co-author Katherine Leary Alsdorf expound on the idea of rest by providing three purposes behind the idea of rest as illustrated by God’s command to obey the Sabbath.

  1. Sabbath is a celebration of our design – “Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours… Overwork or underwork violates [that rhythm of work and rest] and leads to breakdown.” 
  2. Sabbath is a declaration of our freedom – “Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don’t have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath… It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph – otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug.” 
  3. Sabbath is an act of trust – “To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.” 

An act of trust – a moment to recognize that we are not in control. We are not the ones who are “making things happen.” Conviction came for me after this next section:

But by now you must see that God is there – you are not alone in your work. Jesus’ famous discourse against worry (Matthew 6:25-34) is set in the context of work. He chides us that the plants of the field are cared for, though “they do not labor or spin” (verse 28). He reminds us that we are obviously more valuable to God than plants – so we shouldn’t “run after” material things through our work (verse 32). So if you are worrying during your rest, you are not practicing Sabbath.

Yikes. I can’t count how many times I have spent my day(s) off worrying about the work I am not getting done, especially during this season of fundraising for Cru where work/rest boundaries are more blurred. The crazy thing is that it is during this season of fundraising more than any before where progress is completely dependent upon the Lord, yet I waste my energy and try to take control back by worrying about what I am doing to accomplish things by myself. 

Yet the enemy feeds us the lie that it is all up to me. The burden of success, whether material or spiritual, is on my shoulders, and if I am not being “productive,” then failure will follow.

Do I view both my work and my rest as sacred? As places where God resides and has the opportunity to be given glory? And, at the end of the day, do I let go of my efforts and entrust them into His hands? 

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. —Corrie ten Boom

My desire is to take my rest – the Sabbath – more seriously. If the Israelites could take a Sabbath year every seven years to give the land a rest (Leviticus 25), and if the Lord provided for them with a whole year off, then He can most certainly provide for us if I honor Him not just with my work but also with my rest

Do you struggle with this, too? How have you learned to “take the Sabbath seriously”? 

 

screwtape on prayer

What if we could figure out Satan’s specific strategies to deter us from God?

It would be like intercepting an enemy camp messenger and decoding his commander’s instructions during a war – we could take action to not only prepare for the attack, but also know how to gain victory.

C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a fictional take on the strategies and thought processes of our enemy, as portrayed through letters from a high-ranked “assistant” to the devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. Screwtape provides instruction and suggestions as Wormwood attempts to secure the eternal damnation of his “patient.”

In high school, a Bible teacher took us through several of the letters during a discussion on spiritual warfare, and I found it a really helpful way to look at things.* As Eric and I are beginning a season of raising support and preparing to enter college ministry, we are already starting to experience the resistance of the enemy, so I decided to pull out this book and re-read it as an aid in processing through this time.

NOTE: in excerpts from this book, “they” and “them” typically refer to believers; “the Enemy” refers to God

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them to do so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills… Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.

How crazy is it that, in our walk with God, we can finish time with Him on this great emotional high – and our enemy can use that for his own purposes? We can get so attached to that “feeling” (and this can be in prayer or in worship services or in reading the Word or anything) that, without it, we feel like nothing is happening. When we don’t “feel” in love with God, then something is wrong.

However, Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our enemy wants us to rely on our heart, our feelings, our flesh – because these do not result in truth. We are broken people, and on our own we cannot discern what is true or hear the voice of God.

So what is truth?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. {Hebrews 13:8}

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. {Isaiah 40:8}

He has not changed. His Word remains true. Even when we do not “feel” Him, He is there. He is faithful.The significance and results of our prayers are not a result of how we feel, but how big our God is. We are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), not to “pray when you feel like it.”

Screwtape explains that the situation they want to avoid is a believer’s “real nakedness of the soul in prayer.”

Once… the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why, then it is that the incalculable may occur.

Ways to fight this dependency on “feeling” when it comes to God?

Focus on the truth in the Word.
Allow yourself to be real with God.
Trust yourself to Who you do not feel or see.

After all, isn’t that the definition of faith?

Now faith is… the conviction of things not seen. {Hebrews 11:1}

*No work of literature, or no other writing in general, for that matter, should be given the authority that the Bible has. The Bible is the only book Divinely inspired. However, I do believe God has provided man with a creative mind to use for His glory, and many books can foster spiritual growth in our lives.

the gospel of my today

“We dilute the beauty of the gospel story when we divorce it from our lives, our worlds, the words and images that God is writing right now on our souls.” [Shauna NiequistBittersweet]

As I finished reading Bittersweet for the multiple-teenth time, this line convicted me. The essay discusses how essential our stories are – how our testimony is more powerful than any academic lecture. When people discuss who God is in their life, Biblical concepts become more relatable. Not only is it easier to listen to, but it is also easier to relate to.

But I don’t always want to share the messy parts of my life. Those are meant to be hid under the bed, in the basement, or on high closet shelves where I keep the rest of my stuff that I don’t want to organize or show off.

Even though that’s what the Gospel is based on. Jesus took our wreckage, and made it beautiful. His sacrifice changed us from hopeless to hopeful. If we were capable of taking care of ourselves, we would not need Him to rescue us. But I am finding I need this rescue daily. 

You could look at me right now, in this moment, and think that my life is picture perfect. I am lounging on patio furniture in our screened in porch (decorated with glowing stringed lights, of course), typing away, while my hunk of a husband serenades me with the guitar. Atypical for an Arkansas August evening, the weather feels like it is much cooler than the 89* my WeatherBug app tells me it is, and the crickets are chirping in a rhythm to match Eric’s strumming. It feels like a movie-worthy moment.

The truth, though, is that the past two weeks have felt like I am driving a car that breaks down every thirty-three miles. And never at the right exit signs. And always where there is no cell phone reception. And I could go on about how desperate I have felt at times.

Work has been a roller coaster of busyness but good conversations with coworkers but rude customers but friends leaving but small victories but stress. I don’t always handle the hard days like I should. Instead of leaning on the Lord’s strength, I choose to sulk or allow people whom I have never even met to hurt me, even though they don’t know me. And even though they are normally acting irrationally.

I choose to push forward on my own, convincing myself that I am tough enough, but at the end of the day, I repeatedly find that I have failed.

Eric and I had a rough week last week. Out of  the five weekday evenings, we spent four with other friends. We had separate plans every single morning before work. We had separate lunch plans almost every day. Eric had a couple of interviews which seemed unfruitful, and I didn’t know how to respond. We probably didn’t communicate like we could have. One night, I waited until he fell asleep then crept out to the living room to journal, because I was too embarrassed to admit to him how tired and distant I was feeling.

So where is the Gospel in this?

Right now. This redemptive moment. My day wasn’t any easier at work. My husband has two more interviews tomorrow.  We have lots more to sort out when it comes to our next steps together in life direction.

In the midst of what is the biggest storm we have experienced together through this point in our marriage (today is our nine month anniversary, by the way), we get to end the evening quietly. God is good. Though we are two broken people, we have a marriage that works despite difficulty. We are well taken care of and provided for. We have not given up in the midst of failures, and we are forgiven for our selfishness.

Redemption doesn’t always mean that you have reached the “happily ever after” ending of a story. Redemption happens while the story is still going on. Redemption happens even without a found resolution.

My story is certainly not over. But the Gospel is being played out daily, as I realize more and more how big God is, and more and more how much I need Him. I am going to be more honest about the state of my life, no matter how unorganized and out of tune it may seem, because I need to continually focus on the composition God is arranging and rearranging.