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 <><
Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, 61).
What a powerful reminder of the benefits to memorizing scripture. Let’s add one more, especially regarding Numbers 6:24-26. You will always have something to offer when its time to pray out loud.
Many people are terrified of praying out loud. Some are scared of public speaking, but far more are concerned they won’t choose the right words, or say them in the right way. (That’s a whole discussion for another blog post!)
Numbers 6:24-26 is an ancient, timeless blessing packed with rich, deep meaning.
Asked to say grace before a meal? Use Numbers 6:24-26.
Asked to say a few words for a graduation, anniversary, birthday, retirement, or other celebration? Use Numbers 6:24-26.
Use it when someone just shared their troubles with you.
When someone is ill or headed for a medical test.
At the birth or adoption of a child.
When its the last time you’ll see a dear one before a move or a trip…
It’s always the right thing to say because its a blessing straight from God’s Word.
The easiest way to always have Numbers 6:24-26 at the ready is to memorize it. Then you can look the person in the eye, and offer the blessing with every ounce of your being.
Numbers 6:24-26 (NRSV) The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The Meaning of Numbers 6:24-26 24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord constantly bring good into your life
May the Lord protect you and guard all that is sacred and precious about you
25 The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
Imagine how a person’s face lights up when they hold a baby. God’s face shines on you in the same way. This is a reminder that God delights in you. May you know how beloved you are.
Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting better than what we deserve. We all need grace. Grace upon grace.
26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Imagine you walk into a room and a person is working at a computer. She stops what she’s doing and looks up at you, giving you her full attention. God is fully attentive to you. God is here, already at work, already reaching out to you, already loving you.
May you know God’s presence and peace
Fun Facts: In ancient times, God through Moses instructed Aaron and his sons to give this blessing to God’s people. Aaron and his sons served God’s people as priests, thus the name priestly blessing. This blessing is still used today by both Christians and Jews.
HOW TO MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE
Dr. Andrew Davis memorizes entire books of the Bible. In his free, online memorization method booklet, he says, “Saying a verse one hundred times in one day is not as helpful as saying it every day for one hundred days. The absolute key to successful Scripture memorization is repetition over a long time period. This is how you retain old verses while learning new ones.”
Applying Dr. Davis’ method to Numbers 6:24-26
Read Numbers 6:24 ten times. Take a mental picture of the verse as you read it.
Recite Numbers 6:24 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Recite Number 6:24 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Read Numbers 6:25 ten times. Take a mental picture of the verse as you read it.
Recite Numbers 6:25 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Recite Number 6:24 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Recite Numbers 6:25 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Read Numbers 6:26 ten times. Take a mental picture of the verse as you read it.
Recite Numbers 6:26 from memory ten times, using the Bible as little as possible.
Recite Numbers 6:24-26 from memory and continue to do so daily.
Other helpful memorization techniques
Write the scripture you want to memorize several times for several days
Post the scripture where you will see it often- on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, in your planner, on your calendar, etc.
Make up a tune or find a tune so you can sing the scripture. If you aren’t a singer, say the scripture rhythmically.
Create hand motions or use American Sign Language to help you remember the scripture.
What other scriptures have you memorized and how have you found it helpful?
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to read and reflect on the entire book of Ephesians three times in three weeks.
The suggested pattern is one chapter per day, Monday through Saturday.
Here are some suggestions to help you with your reflection. Write or draw your answers on a piece of paper or in a journal.
1. Read the chapter for the day. Copy the word, phrase, or verse which catches your attention word for word.
2. What does this word, phrase, or verse reveal about God? Our world? Ourselves?
3. How will your life be different today because of what you have read?
4. What are your next steps in putting this into practice?
5. Speak with God about this. (a written or verbal prayer)
Or read the chapter and just sit with it. No striving for knowledge or answers. Being rather than doing. Listening. Resting. Jesus, I just want to be with you.
Feel free to share this challenge and/or leave a comment about what God reveals to you.
I look forward to hearing from you. – Lisa <><
PS- The Ephesians Challenge accompanies our new sermon series, Sit Walk Stand which beings Sunday, May 19th. You are most welcome to join us in person at 9am or 10:30am at Trinity Sarasota or online at 9am on our Facebook Page. I’ll also post the messages here.
Followers of Jesus nurture their relationship with God by “doing devotions.” We head to the bookstore, or maybe even our local church, to pick up a guide to read on a daily basis. It’s a great way to build a habit of spending time with God and very helpful for stretching us in our understanding of God’s character and Word.
Here’s where it can be problematic:
We’re always reading about someone else’s encounter with God in place of having encounters ourselves. We stay at a distance from God.
Our devotions become knowledge-driven or emotion-driven rather than Scripture-driven and encounter-driven. We may find what we read interesting, we may be stirred by the story, but are we receiving it as a call to apply spiritual truth to our life?
Our prayer life stays shallow if we only use the prayers of others and never practice praying ourselves.
We can become forever dependent on an “expert” rather than trusting God wants to speak to us right now, at whatever point we are in our journey of faith.
So do we dump the devotional books/guides and just read the Scripture? Well… Reading Scripture can be a powerful daily devotion option, especially when you use one of these approaches to give you some structure. “Just me and my Bible” can also be intimidating, confusing, and lonely.
It’s no wonder we struggle.
For many of us, we need something in between. We want to encounter God in a transforming way through the Scriptures, but we also need some guidance. I found this in between, this sweet spot of devotional practice, through a resource called Pray as You Go.
Pray As You Go is an audio and written prayer practice offered six days per week via a free website and app by Jesuit Media Initiatives. It is helpful for both Catholics and Protestants because it’s so Scripture driven.
Each session begins with a bell or chime followed by music to help you settle into a prayerful frame of mind
A Scripture is read
Reflection questions based on the Scripture are offered with time for you to respond by simply talking or listening to God
The Scripture is read again followed by a closing blessing
The aim of Pray as You Go is to help you to:
become more aware of God’s presence in your life
listen to and reflect on God’s Word
grow in your relationship with God
How I find Pray as You Go helpful
Its peaceful meditative tone is a very different tone than my loud, full, rushed day. I need this time of stillness and contemplation.
The questions appeal to my imagination. They open me to explore the Scripture, to listen deeply, to engage it for myself. It is an experience. The questions can also challenge me to look at a passage in a new or deeper way.
The open-ended questions help me apply what I’m hearing
I feel connected to a community of believers rather than by myself. I especially like the music selections from around the world.
It uses texts throughout the Bible so I don’t just read my favorite passages
I like to settle into a comfortable chair when I use Pray as You Go. Others use it during their morning commute, on a break during the work day, while out for a walk, etc.
After the 10-13 minute devotion, I’m motivated to continue praying or journaling
I’d love to hear from you!
Give Pray as You Go a try. How was the experience?
What is your current devotional practice? How is it helpful to you?
How have your devotional practices changed as you’ve matured in faith?
May the Lord bless you and bring strength and transformation into your life through your devotional practices. – Lisa <><