For the past month I’ve had the unexpected privilege of corresponding with an atheist. He first emailed me because he took issue with my post “I’m Falling in Love with an Atheist.” I responded, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since.
When I was your age, I would’ve freaked at the idea of dialoguing with an atheist. I’m not an apologist (someone skilled in the defense or proof of Christianity), and I’ve never aspired to be one. A fair amount of the time I feel simple and not-so-smart.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him.
But God brought this man across my path. Plus, I have the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help me. I might as well learn a thing or two about how to use them, huh?
You probably don’t feel like an expert either. But I want to encourage you to respectfully and kindly engage with that atheist rather than running in fear the next time you cross paths. Here are ten tips to help you as you do:
1. Don’t wait ’til you have all the answers.
You’ll never have all the answers or be able to fully wrap your mind around God. He’s way too big for that! Besides, how do you think you’ll learn? (With uncomfortable situations like this that will drive you to God’s Word for answers, that’s how!) What a great opportunity for you to stretch your brain—and your faith—muscles.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
2. Don’t freak out when your atheist friend makes God sound like a fool.
If their arguments appear convincing, if they sound like they know more about God’s Word than you do, that doesn’t mean God’s Word is broken. Go study the passages they mentioned in context (atheists and Christians can both be bad at taking verses out of context). Remember, God’s Word is perfect.
The word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps. 18:30).
3. Don’t feel like you have to offer an answer right away.
It’s okay to tell them, “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you,” and then spend time thinking, praying, and researching before responding. Some people are just “quicker on their feet,” and that’s okay.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things (Prov. 15:28).
4. Expect a whole lot of objections.
These will range from “the Bible is full of contradictions” to “the Bible has so many translations from so many different languages” to “the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament” to a whole lot more. (None of these objections “hold,” by the way, if you do your homework.) If you stick with your atheist friend long enough, these aren’t usually the main reason they don’t believe in God. Listen for their main objection. It might take several conversations to get there.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).
5. Be winsome in how you share truth.
When Jesus shared truth, it was “with grace.” (That is, except for the times He talked with the religious snobs who claimed to know God but trusted in their own “good” works.) Jessie Minassian writes about sharing truth in love. Here’s just a taste:
To paraphrase Paul’s famous love chapter (1 Cor. 13), if I can quote apologists, argue with atheists, and verbally spar with the biggest skeptics but don’t love them to pieces, then all my clever words amount to exactly nothing.
Your atheist friend is not your enemy. They’re held captive by your shared enemy: “The god of this world [notice the “little g” god—this is referring to Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
6. Continue to share truth from the Bible with your friend, even if they don’t believe in the Bible.
How can they believe if they do not hear the truth? If you ever offend your atheist friend, may it be with God’s words and not your own.
Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).
If your friend hears God’s Word but never believes it, the fault did not lie with God’s Word, but with the condition of his or her heart (see Matt. 13:1–23).
7. Know that answering their questions and providing “evidence” will never be enough to change their minds.
God’s Word is clear that the Holy Spirit must open our blind eyes and unstop our deaf ears in order for any of us to believe in Him. Pray, pray, pray that God will do just that.
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14, emphasis added).
My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Rom. 10:1).
8. It’s not about you.
Don’t let your hopes be dashed if your atheist friend doesn’t change his or her mind. Don’t think you’re the bomb-dot-com if he or she does. It has not been a waste if they don’t become a believer through your conversation(s). Who knows what God has done in their heart through their interaction with you. But even if their heart has only grown more hard, if you have studied God’s Word with a vengeance; if your faith has grown, it has been worth it.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6–7).
Keep sharing the gospel with them every chance you get.
Even as you’re seeking to answer their questions, don’t forget to point them to Jesus every chance you get.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16–17).
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Rom. 12:4–6).
I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever lovingly challenged an atheist’s beliefs? How did it go? Do you have any other tips to add to this list?
Christian guys can seem like an endangered species. So when suddenly you find yourself serving alongside a hardworking, Jesus-loving, baby-carrying brother, it can be easy to lose your mind.
If you should ever find yourself on a mission trip with an eligible bachelor or two, consider me your sane voice of reason and remember these five things:
1. Keep the mission the mission.
You didn’t sign up for this mission trip in order to snag a man, right? I know you chose to travel to this particular place because you want to share Christ with others through your words and actions. You want to bless others. Maybe even change a life or two for good. Don’t deviate from your mission. The mission hasn’t changed; your focus has just shifted momentarily. Cry out to God to help you live and serve fully in the moment—seeking His pleasure and others’ good rather than your crush’s attention.
2. Expect a struggle.
I’m about 92.385% sure you’ll develop a crush on someone on your team while you’re on this mission trip. (Been there, done that!) Speaking from experience, I’d encourage you to be suspicious of your sudden, intense feelings. Stop and think about it for a minute. You’re spending a concentrated amount of time with a member of the opposite sex in super-close quarters on an intensely “spiritual” trip. Throw in a little culture shock, and you’re sure to feel more for this guy than you would if you met him anywhere else.
Don’t beat yourself up over this inner struggle. Instead, share your innermost thoughts and desires with your Father God in your prayers and/or a journal. Don’t pretend that these feelings don’t exist, but also don’t let them steal the day (or week or month). Remind yourself of the mission. Stay focused, soldier!
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him (2 Tim. 2:4).
3. Guard yourself—and the guys on the trip—from unnecessary distraction.
Dress to serve, not to impress.
Reserve your deepest prayer requests and thoughts for your female team leader or trusted friend. Pray in group settings or with other girls, but steer clear of praying one-on-one with a guy on your team.
Keep your hands off the guys. Save your backrubs and hugs for those needy kids in the orphanage or that cute baby Koala.
4. Decide ahead of time not to start a romantic relationship during the mission trip.
Emotions run high on these trips, and your feelings may very well change after you return home. Also, you may find that the guy is someone different entirely when he’s back in his day-to-day routine. Now is not the best time for a brand-new romantic relationship. (Remember, I’m your sane voice of reason here!)
5. Be yourself.
While we should always be wise in our interactions with guys, this doesn’t mean you need to leave your personality or voice at home. Be your normal, lovely self. Enjoy this adventure of a lifetime!
Have you ever been on a mission trip? If so, was it a real struggle to stay focused on the mission? Can you think of anything else that might help other girls who are planning on going on one soon?
Her subject line caught my eye: “I’m so scared, trying to trust God with my love life.” The email continued:
I read the prayer you wrote on page 85 about relinquishing your desire to be married to God. That scared . . . me. I know what I’m doing isn’t working, but I’m so afraid that if I give God control, He’ll keep me single forever, and my one true desire is to share my life with someone.
I’d love your prayers as I read your book (got it today). I’m trying to trust God with my love life and am so afraid to pray the bold prayers you mention. I do know I need to take a break from dating for a while until I can truly feel God’s love for me and learn to love and respect myself. Thank you for writing it!
God Most High, thank You that You’re committed to giving me Yourself. You don’t want me to find my happiness—nor can I—with anyone or anything less than You. Why do I think I know better than You what I need? I’m miserable in my strivings and resistance against You. Give me the gift of repentance.
I confess my lust toward men and relinquish to You the desire, need, and hope of marriage. I’m sorry for living for guys rather than for You. Break me over this sin, God.
I seem to think my Creator, Father, and King is acting foolishly. I think I deserve more, that I’m pretty good. Who am I comparing myself to, God? Certainly not You. My heart is cold toward You. I want to be in control of my own life. I don’t want You to be Lord of my life—I just want to use You to make me look good.
God, I step down from the throne of my life and invite—no, plead—with You to assume Your rightful place as Lord, as Boss. Forgive me. Thank You that You have.
Take my love, Lord, even though it is barely alive, and fan it into flame for You.
I may have written that prayer, but I get the struggle to be okay with singleness. I really do. It took years of pain and desperation before I was finally willing to pray this “bold” prayer.
I had the same fear she did—that if I chose to trust God with my love life, He would take my surrender as an irretrievable permission slip to withhold my greatest desire from me.
Whether you “give” God permission to be in control of your life or not, He is.
Is that a legitimate fear? Let’s take a closer at her email and explore these fears, shall we? She wrote, “I’m so afraid that if I give God control . . .” This overlooks the fact that God already is in control. Whether you “give” God permission to be in control of your life or not, He is. There is nothing in this universe He does not rule and reign over.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
and on them he has set the world (1 Sam. 2:6–8).
Thankfully for us, we don’t serve a cruel God with a sick, twisted sense of humor who takes delight in giving us what we hate. Matthew 7:9–11 tells us just the opposite:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Being in a relationship isn’t a “right” and being single isn’t an accident.
So what does that mean if you don’t yet have what you want? I love how Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth talks about it in Singled Out for Him. She points out that being in a relationship isn’t a “right” and being single isn’t an accident. According to 1 Corinthians 7, both singleness and marriage (the closest human relationship possible) are gifts from a good God who only gives good gifts to His kids. Each gift is to be 1) received with thankfulness and 2) used to bring Him glory. If you are not currently in a committed relationship with a godly guy, you can know that at least for now, it would not be a “good thing” for you.
But don’t take my word for it. (Or Nancy’s.)
Get to know God yourself. You cannot trust someone you do not know.
It’s one thing to hear someone else say God can be trusted with your love life and another altogether to get to know Him until you know that you know that for yourself. Be patient; it’ll be a process. But do pursue Him each and every day. If you’re not sure how to do that, start here.
“My one true desire is to share my life with someone.” It’s a perfectly natural desire to share your life with someone, but is that your one-desire-to-rule-them-all? What are you willing to sacrifice or do for this desire to come true? Do you love the idea of being in love with a man more than you love the Maker of man? If so, you can expect God’s wrath.
The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . . For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they . . . exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! (Rom. 1:18–24).
If your desires are more dear to you than God Himself, repent over your misplaced worship.
“He’ll keep me single forever” overlooks the fact that marriage—the most intimate, lifelong, love commitment a human can make—is just a faint reflection of the more wonderful, forever relationship we will have with Christ. He is using this life to prepare us to be His pure, spotless bride. This sentiment shows a very limited view of the here and now at the expense of forever.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31–32).
As you think about your desire for a romantic relationship, are you focused on living for yourself or for your Creator?
“I’m so afraid.” Three times in her email this woman admitted she was “scared” and “so afraid.” She also said she needed to take a break from dating until she had a grip on God’s love for her. I think she’s on the right track. First John 4:18 says:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
Let His unmatched love drive away your fears.
You are perfectly loved by a perfect God; own this. You can know God loves you—not because He gives you everything you want right when you want it, but because He gave up His beloved Son to absorb the righteous wrath of the Father that you deserved for your sin. Let His unmatched love drive away your fears.
How about you? Do you trust God to do a better job than you can with your love life? If not, what can you do today to grow your trust in Him?
In order to prepare for December’s epic release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my husband and I had a Star Wars marathon. (Yes, I was one of the few remaining humans on this planet who had never watched Star Wars, but that has now been remedied!)
Do you remember the battle scene between Anakin Skywalker (before he officially became Darth Vader) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Darth’s old master)? Anakin is defeated, and then this video shows how he became Darth Vader just after.
As I watched these clips, I realized I was already familiar with a similar plot line—not from a fictional story, but from God’s infallible Word. Vader’s story parallels Satan’s story in at least three ways:
Just as Vader was once a good Jedi Knight, Satan was once a good angel of light.
We know this because all God created was good, not evil. Genesis 1:31 shows God standing back, taking His creation in:
God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (emphasis added).
Both Vader and Satan rebelled against their former masters.
Just as Vader desired more power, so did Satan. At some point before Genesis 3:1, Satan rebels against God. Jude 1:6 fills us in on his journey to the “dark side”:
The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.
Both Vader and Satan were wounded but given more time to work their evil.
Vader was severely burned in the lava pits, but Palpatine fitted the disfigured Vader with prosthetic legs and an arm as well as a life-supporting suit of armor, and his fight against “the light” continued.
God cast Satan out of heaven, but he was allowed to continue his work on earth for a time:
The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, . . . “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev. 12:9–12).
Satan was then crushed at the cross, as it had been foretold in Genesis 3:15:
“He [the offspring of the woman, Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Hebrews 2:14 tells us:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (emphasis added).
Yet the devil still limps around, like the propped-up Darth Vader.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Why didn’t God put a complete end to Satan long ago? Pastor John Piper explains it like this in this excellent sermon:
Jesus Christ will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.
A Very Different Ending
This is where the similarities between Darth Vader and Satan end. Because while someone else rose to take Vader’s place and continue his dark work, no one will continue Satan’s work.
Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one!
Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one! Soon, Satan, sin, and death will be utterly and completely done away with. Revelation 20:10 gives us a glimpse into the future:
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
This, my friend, is incredible reason to rejoice!
As phenomenal as the Star Wars movies are, they are just that . . . movies. But Satan’s final demise (and sin and death’s!) is as sure as an Imperial Admiral getting force-choked by Darth Vader.
I’ve been married to a wonderful man for over three months now. That’s no thirty years, but still, I know more about marriage today than I did three months ago.
Every man is different, so you may not relate to all thirty pieces of advice. But I pray something here will bless you in your new role. Here’s a taste of what I’ve learned over the last ninety days:
Read that recipe slowly, carefully, and all the way through before you begin cooking. Otherwise your special Thanksgiving breakfast will be served a day late because you’ll learn as you’re whipping it up that it has to sit overnight in the fridge.
He means what he says. It’s as simple as that. “I’d do this,” doesn’t mean, “You should do this, too.” It simply means, “That’s what I’d do.” Don’t read into his words or actions.
When he treats you better than you deserve, don’t think you have to slowly earn your way back into his graces. Receive his grace gratefully and keep on truckin’.
It won’t all be like you imagined. Let your expectations go.
Kindness is the new romance.
It will take longer than you think it should to get into a routine. That’s normal. You’ll get there!
Don’t nag, but also don’t “stuff” your feelings. Share your thoughts graciously once, and then be quiet and pray for him.
Don’t take it personally if he’s on his phone for a bit. It’s not your competition; it’s a way for him to relax.
You need good girlfriends. It will take awhile to develop those, so get to work now. Ask a woman over for tea once a week if you can (Prov. 18:24).
In the meantime, no friend compares to God. Cultivate this friendship each morning (Ps. 16:2).
Continue that premarital counseling post-marriage if possible. We still meet with a couple once a month, and it’s been so helpful as we’ve made this transition.
Celebrate your monthly anniversary.
Schedule a date night once a week.
You don’t have to solve everyone’s problems. This is a unique, important season for you and your new spouse. Be slow to say, “Oh, I can help with that!”
Care for your soul before you care for your home. If your soul is not at rest, no matter how clean your home is, its environment will not be restful.
Spend time together. It doesn’t matter if you’d get more done if you stayed behind and he went to the store; go together.
Don’t defend yourself every single time.
You will see a lot of ugliness in your life that you never saw before. Don’t run from it or deny it; embrace the gift of being able to see your sin more clearly as well as the love of God through your spouse.
Give your husband space when he’s frustrated. You don’t have to talk through everything immediately.
At the same time, don’t let too much time pass before you talk through an argument. Seek to understand. What was he thinking and feeling when this happened? What were you thinking and feeling?
Get on the same budget. It’s fun to work together toward a common goal.
Spend those wedding gift cards together. It’s fun to shop together, as long as it’s not clothes shopping. That’s a bad attitude waiting to happen.
Buy a chalkboard, and leave each other sweet messages.
Pack his lunch, and occasionally leave kind notes in it.
Don’t be easily offended. Assume the best (Prov. 19:11).
Leave your insecurities at the marriage altar. He chose you. You’re enough. Don’t try to impress him. He probably won’t be impressed by the things you’re impressed with about yourself. He chose you. You’re enough.
Don’t keep score of who’s doing more around the house. You’re a team. If you need help—rather than resenting him for not doing more—ask him for help.
Communicate, communicate, communicate—in and out of the bedroom.
Regularly ask him how you can serve him that day.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Marriage may mean a smaller, more isolated world. Remember that life is made up of many seasons. Thank God for this one—He sets your boundaries (1 Tim. 6:6, Acts 17:26–28).
What have I missed? What would you add to this list?
“How do you move a mountain?” the Chinese proverb asks. “One spoonful of dirt at a time.” Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin is a book about moving mountains—mountains of biblical ignorance.
You might not think you have a mountain of biblical ignorance to move. When Jen was a teen, she didn’t think she had a mountainous problem either. After all, she was a regular church attender, had a “quiet time,” memorized Bible verses, read devotional books, and attended Bible studies.
But when she was asked to lead a Bible study as a senior in college, Jen suddenly realized she had a problem: a problem of biblical ignorance. She writes,
I carried a secret not uncommon to people with my background: I didn’t know my Bible. Sure, I knew parts of it—I remembered stories from vacation Bible school and I could quote verses from all over the New Testament and Psalms—but I didn’t know how the parts that I knew fit with each other, much less how they fit with the parts I didn’t know yet.
So what did she do? She took the “spoon” someone handed her and began to dig and move that mountain “one spoonful at a time.” Listen to her tenacity:
I intend to go to my grave with dirt beneath my nails and a spoon clutched in my fist. I am determined that no mountain of biblical ignorance will keep me from seeing him [God] as clearly as my seventy or eighty years on this earth will allow.
Did you catch that? Her goal is not to master this Book so she can feel good about all she knows. Her goal is to see God, to know God, to enjoy God. In her words,
Our study of the Bible is only beneficial insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims.
As her subtitle indicates, this book is about learning how to study the Bible with both our hearts and our minds. Because, as Jen writes,
If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about Him. The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.
I want to know Jesus more and pursue Him, especially during this time of singleness. Would you mind sharing some thoughts on what pursuing Christ looks like? Does it go deeper than just praying, reading the Bible, fasting, and so on?
What a fantastic, practical question!
While it might not feel like a glamorous answer, the hands-down, number-one way to pursue Christ is to study your Bible.
If you’re anything like me, there’s a big disconnect there. I want to know a living Person . . . and you’re telling me to pick up a book?
Yep. One day soon—if all your hope for acceptance by God lies in Christ—you will interact in person with God. Not just that, you will live with Him (Rev. 21:3)! But in the meantime, God has left us a Book telling us what He’s like. That’s how He’s chosen to reveal Himself.
So in order to make sure you’re getting to know God as He actually is—and not as you want Him to be—you need to meticulously pour over this Book to learn about Him.
If that sounds too impersonal and intellectual to you, know this: just ’cause you’re using your head doesn’t mean you won’t be engaging your heart. Quite the opposite, actually.
What a Yale Study Has to Teach Us About Loving God
I learned about Paul Bloom’s “pleasure research” throughthis blog post by Jen Wilkin. Mr. Bloom, a Yale professor, set out to discover how we find pleasure in things, and this is what he learned: Pleasure doesn’t just automatically happen by doing something over and over; it develops as we learn more about it.
For example, the more you learn about Star Wars, the more pleasure you’ll experience from it (just ask my husband!). Similarly, “If we want to feel deeply about God,” Jen Wilkin writes, “we must learn to think deeply about Him. The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.”
May I give you a recent example of this from my own life?
My husband and I are studying a doozy of a book called The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod. I’m not used to such theological reading, but as I’ve stretched my brain and thought about the “pre-existence of Christ” (meaning that Jesus existed with God, as God, before He was born to a virgin in Bethlehem), I’ve been blown away by:
how God the Father must have ached for and missed His Son.
what a cost it was for the Father to send His Son to earth when they’d always existed together for eternity past.
how deeply God loved us to be willing to part with His Son.
Check out this paragraph by Mr. Macleod to see what I mean:
“There was a unique bond between the Father and the Son, arising from the fact that the Son was uniquely lovable and the Father was uniquely affectionate. God could not have made a greater sacrifice. His love is astonishing precisely because at this point he put the world before his Son. The statement ‘God gave the world for his Son’ would evoke no wonder. The statement, ‘God gave his Son for the world’ borders on the incredible. Conversely, the Son could not have suffered a greater loss. To have “lost” the Father, as he did in the dereliction (Mark 15:34), was the greatest of all possible pains.”
There are right ways and there are wrong ways we handle the Word.
But it’s true. And as an author, I should know better. I don’t want others reading my book and taking away whatever meaning they want; I wrote Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl with a very specific intent in mind.
“The Bible is not magical or mystical; it is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook. You would not flip to an Algebra book page and say, ‘How does this apply to my life today?’ and expect to pass Algebra. Am I reading historical narrative? Poetry? Prophecy? Wisdom literature?
“Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to ask what the text means. There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader—not assigned by the reader. Your job is to ask, ‘What did the author want me to know from what he wrote here?’”
In His kindness, God has given me a husband and brought me to a local church who are both serious about seeking out and understanding the original author’s meaning in the text.
And slowly I am learning that Bible study methods are not rules meant to stifle my creativity and squelch my fun; they are tools to help me get to know the living God as He really is.
So this new year I’m ditching the lie that reading the Bible should be as easy as skimming a novel. As Jen Wilkin says, “Disciples are called to be disciplined,” and “Everyone works diligently about what they care about.”
Here are the tools I’m currently using to study God’s Word. I got these from one of my local church elders. There are several other tools you could use to slow down and dig into the meaning of a passage, but I’m currently finding these super helpful.
The Five Bible Study Tools I Use
First, I write the date and the passage of Scripture I’m reading at the top of my journal:
January 10, 2016
(I try not to bite off a longer section than I can handle.) Then I write five headings in my journal:
Relationships between words and phrases
Now it’s time to get to work.
You rely on tone every day in order to understand meaning. Take, for instance, this sentence:
I don’t like Barry.
Now, let’s add in a little tone:
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Here’s what that might mean:
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: Someone else does like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I strongly dislike Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I love Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I like someone else.
Tone is just as important in written communication as it is in verbal communication. Is the tone of this passage encouraging? Sarcastic? Urgent? Harsh? Uplifting? Sober? Does it include a promise or a call to repent?
After I’ve identified the tone of a passage, I move on to repeated words and phrases.
If you call your friend and she mentions “Stephen” fifteen times in five minutes, it’s pretty obvious what’s on her mind. If your younger brother yells multiple times, “Stop it!” you know you’d better back off. Write down the repeated words and phrases you find and why they’re there.
Relationships Between Words and Phrases
Think of yourself as a detective, and watch for small clues like F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “so”). These words clue you in to connections between words and phrases that you won’t want to miss! What do these words teach you?
Throwback to English class, anyone? What is the main subject of this section of Scripture?
Don’t try to get creative—just stick to the words used in the passage. Be specific. What is the author communicating? (Don’t worry if this is hard at first—practice makes perfect!)
I’m trying to discipline myself to get into the habit of doing this detective work before I jump to what this passage means for me today. Because it’s not going to mean something for me that it doesn’t mean for all believers. So now that I’m done with the fact-checking, I can apply it to my life.
Is there a promise I need to believe? A command I need to obey? An aspect of God’s character to prompt worship?
Now that I’ve shared one way to study the Bible with you, what’s holding you back? Do you think that seeking God should come easily? What makes you think that?
As I’ve worked at Revive Our Hearts for the past decade, I’ve often wondered what the standard “shelf-life” for a ministry is. At what point does a ministry tend to grow stale and “expire”?
All I know is since I came here over ten years ago, this ministry has never been “static” or “stale.” In fact, it continues to grow, and grow, and grow—far beyond our little team’s wildest imaginations or abilities.
We’re hearing these days from every corner of the globe. Passionately fiery women are convinced that Revive Our Hearts is needed in their language, in their country, for their women, and they’re willing to sweat and sacrifice and do whatever it takes to make this happen. Here’s one such story from Kubamitwe, a remove village in Uganda Africa. Enjoy!
A Whole New World
If you wanted to pop in on Danielle Hurley, it would take you approximately twenty hours to get to her house—by plane, not including layovers! As you can imagine, this missionary wife and mother of six could easily feel isolated.
But thanks to technology, Revive Our Hearts is able to drop by Danielle’s kitchen every few weeks. “It opened a whole new world for me,” she told us when she discovered our online programs.
Worth the Wait
Danielle spends her days serving those in Kubamitwe, a remote village in Uganda, Africa, so she needs to be filled with God’s Word in order to continue pouring out to others. That’s why every few weeks she travels two hours from her small village to the capital to get the only Internet connection in the area—and even that’s slow!
It takes her about twenty minutes to download the Revive Our Hearts podcast in that little coffee shop, but it’s well worth the wait for Danielle.
She returns home with a couple of podcasts, and as she’s making dinner in the middle of the jungle, she listens to Nancy. “There has been many a day I have tears streaming down my face,” she told us, “because I’m feeling so ministered to by a godly woman who now is in my kitchen in the jungle. It’s an amazing gift.”
Spreading the Message
But what’s really amazing is that Danielle hasn’t kept that gift to herself; she’s been busy sharing it with others.
She and a team of elders’ wives are studying True Woman 101 together on Tuesdays, and then on Wednesdays each leader is taking the material to one of six surrounding villages in Uganda.
Danielle released each limited copy of True Woman 101 to these leaders on the condition that they would faithfully teach the material to their village Bible study each week. To ensure a thorough comprehension of all the material, they divided the eight-week study into forty weeks and translated each day’s homework into their local language, Luganda.
And . . . it’s spreading even further than that!
Just last month, Danielle taught True Woman 101 to over 400 young women at a National Youth Conference, and she has been given the opportunity to teach it to over 600 women at a National Women’s Conference this December.
Because of You
Thanks to your support, we can offer Revive Our Hearts programs and transcripts for Danielle to download all the way over in Uganda, for such a time as this. If you could drop by Danielle’s home, she would thank you for “the fellowship of women to listen to in my kitchen.” Somehow, I think the women she invests in each week would thank you wholeheartedly as well.
“It’s inevitable that our hearts will be revived,” Danielle says, “because that’s what the Word does, and that’s what the ministry of Revive Our Hearts is built on.”
God has provided new opportunities to speak to women around the world over the Internet.
Women around the world are being transformed through God’s Word for the first time. Would you help Revive Our Hearts take advantage of these opportunities for worldwide reach?
Now is the time to strengthen and encourage those on the front lines who are sharing the gospel with every nation on earth! Your gift by midnight tonight will not only do just that, but it will also be matched. Give now.
This post is a bit different than usual as I wrote it for Revive Our Hearts, but I still wanted to share this great story with you. It’s even more meaningful to me ’cause I’ve had the privilege of being in Cindy’s home, attending this same True Woman Conference, and seeing her and her husband just last month.
Cindy Cabrera couldn’t see herself in the traditional roles of mother and homemaker. Her father had drilled into her that children were an impediment to professional development and financial independence would serve as her ticket out of a bad marriage.
By age twenty-one, Cindy had earned a dental degree and began working at a prestigious dental practice. Ten years later she did marry a man—and even had a baby—but she didn’t let them interfere with her work.
Cindy always said she didn’t have what it took to be a mom, so she left her son with a nanny and headed back to work a month after giving birth. Cindy was the leader of the home and the main provider. The pressure, however, was getting to her.
She got pregnant a second time, then a third time. Finally the increasing pressure in their marriage, the power struggles at home, and the long hours managing the practice drove Cindy—and her husband—in desperation to church.
A Defining Moment
While there, Cindy heard about a spiritual conference in America. She had attended dental conferences in the States, so she signed up immediately, not knowing that this True Woman Conference would prove to be the defining moment of her life.
As Mary Kassian delivered her message “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” God destroyed everything Cindy had believed about her life in one fell swoop and gave her a brand-new life—His life.
She returned home realizing it was time to make some drastic changes. And she did. But it wasn’t easy. Several months later, after also being saved, her husband confessed his sin of infidelity. The Lord sustained Cindy through that trial through all He had done in her at the True Woman Conference. It was painful, but as a result, God has blessed Cindy and her family massively.
A 180-Degree Turn
A few years ago Cindy and her husband released their nannies, which is unheard of in their country. More recently, God has given Cindy the privilege of teaching her children at home, and she loves the daily opportunities to disciple them.
This year at the first international True Woman Conference, Cindy was able to share her story with the 2,300 attendees. She spoke from the stage:
I always said I didn’t have what it took to be a mom, and really, I was right. I don’t have what it takes, because what it takes is the grace of the Lord Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit working in my life.
Cindy will tell you that God has used Revive Our Hearts to change her life 180 degrees. Everything in her life looks different than it did six years ago:
The Lord changed my life at that True Woman Conference, and I give thanks to Him, because He redeemed me from a way of life that was so empty.