Do have trouble hearing God speak to you through the scriptures? Have you ever read the Bible and the words feel distant- like they were meant for another person in another time?
Hear this Good News-
You’re not alone. Many struggle with this.
You’re not slow. It takes time and practice.
You’re not getting the silent treatment from God for whatever reason you’ve invented. God is already reaching out to you. God already knows you, loves you, and yearns for a relationship with you. God wants to speak to you and with you through the scriptures.
On to the tips!
1. Use a modern translation
The King James Version is beloved and beautiful, but its like reading Shakespeare. It’s a challenge. Try using a modern translation like the New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), or my new modern favorite, The Voice.
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you
This may seem obvious, but its a gift often left unopened. God wants to be heard and is ready to help.
3. Eliminate distractions
Find a quiet place. Read the passage slowly, prayerfully, out loud, three times.
4. Insert your name into a scripture
Many passages are well suited for this. You simply replace some nouns with a blank for inserting a name.
Let’s try it with John 3:16-17. Read the passage. Now read it again inserting your name into the blanks. How did the experience change?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:16-17, NRSV
For God so loved __________ that he gave his only Son, so that __________ who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn __________, but in order that __________ might be saved through him. – John 3:16-17, NRSV
Now let’s try inserting your name into a longer passage, Psalm 23, NKJV.
The Lord is __________ shepherd
_________ shall not want
He makes __________ to lie down in green pastures
He leads __________ beside the still waters
He restores __________ soul
He leads __________ in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake
Yea, though __________ walks through the valley of the shadow of death,
__________will fear no evil
For You are with __________
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort __________
You prepare a table before __________ in the presence of __________ enemies
You anoint __________ head with oil
__________ cup runs over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow __________
All the days of __________ life
And __________ will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever
BONUS- You can also insert the names of other persons as a way of blessing them, encouraging them, or praying for them.
What other scriptures would be great for inserting a name?
What other tips do you have for hearing God speak to you?
A friend of mine works in the mental health wing of a hospital. Many persons with little to no spiritual background begin exploring faith while they’re there for treatment. They’re interested in knowing more about Jesus and in reading the Bible, but don’t know where to begin.
She asked for a simple Bible reading plan to get them started. Here’s what God and I came up with: Discovering Jesus- a Bible Reading Plan for Beginners.
I hope it’s helpful for you. I’d love to hear how you’re using it. – Lisa <><
30 Bible Readings
6 readings per week for 5 weeks
Week 1- Jesus’ birth through the calling of the first disciples
Week 2- a sampling of Jesus’ ministry
Week 3- a sampling of Jesus’ parables
Week 4- Holy Week, Jesus entering Jerusalem through his death on the cross
Week 5- Jesus’ resurrection through his ascension
Reminders for Sunday worship and rest
CLICK HERE for a PDF of the reading plan suitable for printing
Colorblindness affects 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. Most people see 10 million shades of color. A colorblind person only sees around 100,000 shades.
A company named EnChroma invented glasses to help colorblind people see color. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube recording the emotions of people seeing color for the first time. Here’s one of them.
Like these glasses, stories have the power to help us see, open our eyes, wake us up.
Sermon recording starts here
This morning, we’ll read a story from the prophet Nathan, praying God will use it to open our eyes and souls. As I read it, close your eyes and imagine the story.
After I read it, I’ll give you some questions to think about. This is not a quiz. Just jot down some impressions.
If you know the story or the reason the prophet Nathan told this story and who he told it to, set that aside for a moment. Look at it with fresh eyes. No spoilers for the rest of us
The Story of the Poor Man’s Lamb. 2 Samuel 12:1-4, The Voice Translation 1…Two men lived in the same city. One was quite rich and the other quite poor; 2 the rich man’s wealth included livestock with many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man owned only one little ewe lamb. He bought it and raised it in his family, with his children, like a pet. It used to eat what little food he had, drink from his meager cup, and snuggle against him. It was like a daughter to him.
4 Now a traveler came to the city to visit the rich man. To offer a proper welcome, the rich man knew he needed to fix a meal, but he did not want to take one of the animals from his flocks and herds. So instead he stole the poor man’s ewe lamb and had it killed and cooked for his guest.
What do you love as deeply as the poor man loved his lamb?
When you think about the rich man’s actions, what feelings are stirred up inside you?
Read the story again
How is the story speaking to situations in our country?
How is the story speaking to you?
Stories are powerful. They have the ability to help us see, to open our eyes, to wake us up. A story can help us better understand a situation, see something from another person’s perspective, or see our own prejudice and sin.
Stories like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood warns us about the abuse of power, the abuse of the Scriptures. How horrible injustices like slavery, oppression, and rape can become institutionalized with a society.
Stories by Dr. Seuss. I am The Lorax, I speak for the trees
What stories have opened you up, opened your eyes, awakened you to something going on in the world or going on within yourself?
The Scriptures are very powerful for doing this. The Bible is unlike any other book you will ever read. God’s Word is living, active. God communicates with us through the Scriptures.
If you go to the Bible looking for history or science, you will be disappointed. But if you go to the Scriptures looking for God, you will find God. By reading the Scriptures we learn what God’s voice sounds like. We learn the character of God.
God speaks to our souls and our character. It’s why we need to be reading the Scriptures regularly and reading the Scriptures with others. We read so it becomes more than head knowledge, it goes deep to become heart knowledge and soul knowledge. It brings a change in our life.
2 Samuel 12:1-15
The prophet Nathan tells this story to King David. David has an emotional reaction to this story, just as you did. He is awakened inside.
5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
David is read to ask, “Who is this?” David’s going to hold him accountable.
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
It’s a hit in the chest at this point. Truth bomb.
Nathan reminds David who he really is. What David has done is out of character. David’s become something twisted, having done great evil and sin.
Nathan is a close, good, faithful friend to speak the truth to David so he can be awakened to his true self, so he can see what he has done.
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. ….
Nathan lays it all out. I know exactly what you have done.
David, the one who is called the man after God’s own heart.
The faithful shepherd boy who defeats the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone
Who then becomes the leader of the armies of Israel, a brave warrior who leads them to great victories in the Name of God.
Who is chased by a jealous and violent King Saul. Does David fight him or take revenge on him? No, David forgives him and proclaims again he is Saul’s servant. David is a humble, disciplined man.
When Saul is dead, God raises up David to be King. David unites all the tribes of God’s people, bringing them into one nation. David sets up the capitol in Jerusalem and in the center of the capital, David places the ark of the covenant where the presence and worship of God will take place.
David, the one who writes many of the Psalms we still read today.
David, who dances with abandon in the worship of Almighty God.
David who has many wives and could snap his fingers and have even more.
David, who is now king, abuses his power. He looks down from his palace and sees Bathsheba bathing. (How crazy is it that Nathan doesn’t use her name!)
David sees her and wants her and summons her. What can she do? Nothing because he is the king. He rapes her. He commits adultery. Then she gets pregnant.
From there it gets worse and worse. There’s deceit. There are lies. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, is brought home. David tries to cover it up by manipulating Uriah, but it doesn’t happen. He’s a man of integrity.
So David basically puts out a mob hit on him, sending him back to battle in the very front of the line, knowing he’ll be killed, so he can marry Bathsheba.
It is awful. He has stolen the poor man’s lamb. A man who was faithful to fight for his country.
Nathan is calling him out on it. Because that’s what friends do and that’s what prophets do and that’s what a story does. A story opens us up to where we have blindspots. David is totally blind to how twisted he has become.
Nathan reminds David who is truly is. This is who you are and this is what God has done for you. What you have done is evil.
What does David do? David repents.13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Our sin does not just affect ourselves, it ripples. Look at all the lives- Bathsheba’s life, Uriah’s life, the lives of all the insiders who knew what was really going on in a breach of trust. It ripples all the way up to God. It breaks relationship.
God through Nathan calls David back to himself.
This is not a fairy tale. David repents and everything’s all right. It isn’t all right. The consequences of his actions ripple and tear his family apart. It’s a mess. God redeems it.
This is the power of a story. This is why we stay in God’s Word. This is why we have close friends who are going to speak the truth in love to us and call us back to ourselves. And this is why we worship the One, True, Living God who speaks us and forgives us and gives us eyes to see.
Do you want eyes to see? We live in a time where we need to be awake and alive and true and trustworthy. We need to be the people of hope. We need to be the people of integrity. We need to stay awake to all that’s going on because we have the Word of Life.
How did the story speak to you? Did it speak to you personally? A family, business, community, or national level? What is God calling you to do?
Prayer: God we thank you for speaking to us. It is amazing that you would want to have anything to do with us. Your love is that great and your patience is that great and your mercy is that great. We thank you that we can come to you just as we are. That we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to pretend. We pray for eyes to see. Awaken us and keep us woke. Give us a story to share, a story of mercy and grace and forgiveness. A story of new life and hope and truth and justice. A story of belonging. Thank you, Lord. Make us new. Give us eyes to see. Amen.
It’s time for the big game. How are you going to experience it? Are you going to…
Skip it and read about it the next day online?
Have someone tell you about it?
Watch it on TV?
Purchase tickets so you can watch it live from the stands?
What would it be like to actually suit up and get in the game?
How we engage the big game can be a metaphor for our life. Are we going to sit on the sidelines or watch it from afar or step out on the field and engage?
I’ll be honest. The idea of suiting up for a football game is absolutely terrifying to me. I am a wee little person and not in the best of shape.
Then it hits me. How many times have I said that about engaging life itself?
I’m not built to do that.
I’m not a professional.
I’m not trained. I don’t know what I’m doing.
I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m too frail. I’m too busy…
I don’t want to risk embarrassing myself.
I don’t want to hurt the efforts of the team.
The one that usually pops into my mind is, “I don’t want to get hurt.” Engagement goes hand in hand with risk.
We can sit on the sidelines of life. We can also sit on the sidelines of engaging God.
It’s easy to pick a devotional and read it, listen to a podcast, or say “Amen,” at the end of someone’s prayer. It’s easy to watch the preacher preaching, the teacher teaching, the worship musicians singing and playing their instruments for the glory of God. Thanks to online streaming, we don’t even have to change out of our PJ’s.
At their best, these beloved Christian practices draw us into the presence of God. Yet, so often, we are merely observing someone else’s encounter with God. We’re on the sidelines.
There’s nothing which can replace our own encounter with God.
As the old saying goes, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” Our faith, our engagement must be our own.
You know this. It’s one thing to watch a couple marry. It’s another to be the bride or the groom.
The beauty of this life is encountering God ourselves. The miracle of it all is the Creator of the Universe, our Lord and Savior, wanting us and wanting us in the game.
There are so many ways this can happen. One of the primary ways is through reading the Word of God for yourself.
There were years and years and years in my own Christian walk where I faithfully read devotion books. Devotion books are great. You read an inspiring testimony. You learn something new. But, they’re someone else’s encounter with God and God’s Word. They’re the view from the sidelines.
My faith changed radically when I started engaging the Word of God for myself. When I suited up and stepped onto the field and sought an encounter with God.
What do you need to read God’s Word for Yourself?
1. You need a plan. Click here for my post on the best Bible reading plan.
2. You need a designated place and time to read. Set an appointment with yourself and God and keep it.
3. You need a Bible Buddy, someone who is also reading the Scriptures. There’s a reason why Weight Watchers and AA works. Never underestimate the power of support and accountability.
4. Discover which type of engagement best works for you- listening to the scripture via an audio Bible, highlighting passages as you read, memorizing scripture, doodling or creating art based on what you read, etc.
I’m a writer, so journaling helps me engage God through God’s Word. My favorite Bible Journaling pattern is SOAP. The SOAP Method for keeping a spiritual journal is practiced by thousands of Christians. It was developed by Wayne Cordeiro, pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii.
S = Scripture
Read the Bible passage for the day. Copy the verse which catches your attention word for word into your journal.
O = Observation
What does this passage tell us about God?
A = Application
How will your life be different today because of what you have read?
Lessons to be learned
Examples to be followed or avoided
Promises to be claimed and enjoyed
A character trait of God revealed
Deeds to start, continue, or stop
P = Prayer
Include themes from your reading in your prayer time. I like to pray a keyword or theme from the passage over my prayer list. I keep my prayer list in the back of my journal.
I’d love to hear how you’re getting in the game. Leave a comment to encourage and inspire others. – Lisa <><
2. They update the reading schedule dates for each new year, but the reading plan itself stays the same.
3. It’s easy to print and slip it into your Bible or journal. (8.5 X 11, folded in half) You could even paste it into planner or hole-punch it for your planner.
4. There are boxes to check next to each day’s reading assignment and each week’s assignment. (a built-in habit tracker)
5. You can start anytime during the year.
6. It’s designed with grace. 5 reading days per week. There are days when I miss. If I use a 7 day a week plan I get behind and I get discouraged and I drop out.
7. It’s flexible. Do all the suggested readings and you’ll read through the entire Bible in a year. Or choose just the Old Testament readings or just the New Testament readings. Or choose the Old or New Testament plus the Psalms.
8. In this plan, you often read straight through an entire book of the Bible. There are some exceptions.
9. Big bonus- you read the Bible in chronological order rather than book order. This opens your eyes to the grand sweep of the Biblical narrative. It’s especially helpful to read the overlapping material in 1 2 Samuel, 1 2 Kings, and 1 2 Chronicles side by side. Plus, you will read one of the Gospels in each quarter of the year.
Well, there you have it, the best Bible reading plan I’ve found. I’d love to hear how it works for you.- Lisa <><
Bonus: Check out Steve Harper’s post entitled A Transforming Use of Scripture for insights on our motivation in approaching the Scriptures and the process God uses through Scripture to make us new.
Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
You are there in the midst of my prattle
and my hiding
Thank you for your patient presence
Thank you for calling me again to what is deeper and true
Forgive me for defaulting to well-worn words
Empty language borrowed from ritual or even scripture
Help me come to you honest and real
nothing veiled, nothing hidden
Help me come to you present and fresh
new every morning
Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Glory to You, Heavenly One
Abba, Maker, Creator
I long for your kingdom, the fullness of your grace and victory
The longing is a sign of you in me
Abide more and more, so I not only long but look and see
Abide forever, so I not only long but pray and speak and act
Full-filling your words
Click Here for more information on the Ephesians Reading Challenge
Read the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks
The main theme of Ephesians: Moving with Christ from death to life. Christianity is a movement, a journey of faith.
In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee divides the book of Ephesians into three main sections.
Sit, chapters 1-3
Sitting with Christ, Resting in God, Receiving from God, our identity and being
Walk, chapters 4-6:9
Walking the Walk, Living a life in the Spirit in practical ways, movement of faith
Stand, chapter 6:10-24
Sit, Walk, Stand seems out of order. A baby learns to sit, then stand, then walk. Yet in the spiritual life, we sit so we can walk. We sit so we can stand.
Walking the Walk – Making an Impression
Life looks different because we’re followers of Jesus Christ
Our character is transformed, taking on the character of Christ, bearing the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self- control
Our actions are transformed
generous in time talents treasure in serving others, forgiving folks and loving your enemies
We start taking our Baptismal Vows seriously
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, repent of your sin
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, oppression in whatever forms they present themselves
We accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in His grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to all people.
When you start walking the walk the Evil One is going to notice. Walking with Jesus, life becomes better and harder. We’re living a life of integrity plus all the normal trouble of life.
Life can feel like a battle.
Love is a Battlefield, song by Pat Benatar
God is Love. Walking in the love of Christ can feel like a battlefield.
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
We take on guilt and shame because we aren’t strong enough, we can’t handle it. It’s false guilt and shame. God knows we can’t handle it. Be strong in the Lord!
Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The Evil One wants us to trick us into thinking our battle is against blood and flesh, people vs. people. See people as people, not enemies.
The curtain is pulled back. We can see things now we couldn’t see before.
Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
3 types of standing- stand, withstand (take the hit), stand firm (push back)
Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
We sit with Christ so we can walk with Christ.
We sit with Christ so we can stand with Christ. God wants to strengthen you and protect you.
Ephesians 6:10-11 Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. (strength) Put on the whole armor of God (protection)
How we blow it-
We put on our own armor instead of God’s.
financial security, connections, achievement, expertise, stiff upper lip, my big girl pants
We put on some of God’s armor, but not all of it
We put on someone else’s armor
Someone else’s prayers, faith, encounter with God’s word, salvation. You need your own.
It’s like David going out to fight Goliath, the giant. King Saul wants David to wear his royal armor, his human armor. It doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, weighs him down. David refuses and faces Goliath in God’s armor.
We put on the Evil One’s armor. We choose the ways of the Evil One for my protection and weapons.
The Evil One focuses on attacking because Jesus already brought victory. The armor of God is defensive, not offensive.
Ephesians 6:10-11 Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God
Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus in Turkey from his prison in Rome. He uses the image of a Roman centurion because that’s what he can see.
Belt of Truth
Like Batman’s utility belt. Holds everything in place
God’s Weapons- integrity, honesty, we humbly take the high ground because Jesus is already victorious
Breastplate of Righteousness
Righteousness = Right Relationship with God and Others
The battle for your heart.
Who is on the throne of your heart
What are your primary motivations in all you do
The Evil One wants broken relationships. Anyone or anything on the throne of your heart other than Jesus. For your primary motivation to be a heart of war, looking at people and treating people as if they are not people. Go to war with flesh and blood.
God’s Weapons- Jesus on the throne of our heart. Our primary motivation is a heart of peace- looking at people and treating people as people.
Shoes for the Gospel of Peace
How and why we move
Battle for our Mission and Priorities
Weapons of the Evil One- Busy, Distracted, using our time talent and treasure for missions not of God
God’s weapons- bringing glory to God, building up others, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We do this by making peace and offering the Good News of Christ’s peace
Shield of Faith
We hold on to faith like we hold on to a shield
The Evil One will throw everything at us in order to get us to give up- give up the mission, give up our heart, believe a lie instead of trusting God.
We claim who we are in Christ. We claim the promises of God. We hold on to faith and hope. We persevere. We endure.
Helmet of Salvation
Battle for your thoughts, your mind.
We ruminate- we replay situations over and over. This is not of God. Jesus take the wheel of my monkey brain!
Let the same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus- Phillippians 2:5
The Evil One wants us distracted, discouraged, and despairing.
I know who I am in Christ- I am a child of God. I am beloved and blessed of God. I am made in the image of God and nothing can separate me from the love of God and my salvation in Jesus Christ.
I know it in my head and my heart. Salvation means wholeness and I am whole in Christ.
Sword of the Spirit
The Evil One wants us to use the weapons of the world
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12
We claim the Word of God and pray in the Spirit for ourselves and others.
It is always scripture and prayer. Always and forever.
This is why we always sit first.
I need to sit in the presence of God. I need to sit with the word of God so I can walk, live this life so that it’s worthy of Jesus. So it overflows in love and good deeds.
I need to sit with the word and in prayer so I can stand when the Evil One takes notice because the Evil One will.
This is why we sit first. We receive when we rest- we receive our identity in Christ, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s strength and power, we receive the Armor of God.
What would it be like if God’s people sit to receive, and then when we’re finished we live in such a way the Devil says, “Oh no, they’re up!”