Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Fitting Concentrated Study into a Busy Life

I have an occasional series in my blog entitled “Tools for the Journey.” Today, we’re talking about concentrated study.

Before I dive into this tool, I must mention how much God loves you. The God who spoke the universe into being loves you so much that He sent His Son down to earth as a man – to live as we live, to experience life as we have, and to even face the same temptations we face. That’s how important it was for this God to connect with you.

When I talk about studying or reading the Bible, often what we hear through our filter is, “I need to read the Bible to be a good Christian.” I hope today what you will hear instead is, “God loves me so much that He desires to connect with me all day, every day. One way I can connect with God is through His Word. There, I learn about His character, His promises and His heart for me.”

So, that said…..

I was recently listening to some teaching by Ian Green (he did some leadership training for Chi Alpha campus missionaries back around 2004, and then more recently at my church). He mentioned how, when he was younger, he took one night a week to spend concentrated time with God. He would read the Bible for 30 minutes, pray for 30 minutes, read a Christian book for 30 minutes, and then repeat.

I used to do something similar when I first became a Christian and wondered if I could somehow find a way to do this again. On a smaller scale 🙂

So for the last 2 weeks, I have been doing this in 10-minute increments. I read the Bible for 10 minutes, pray for 10 minutes, read a book for 10 minutes, and then repeat (if I have time). I set a timer on my phone for each increment, and keep my journal close by to jot down any thoughts. I use the prayer time to mostly pray for the needs of others. Sometimes, I send them a note of encouragement based on my prayers if I feel led to do so. This type of rotating study has been a welcome relief from the type of reading I normally do, which is much more academic.

You could also do this on a smaller scale. If you only have 10 minutes, you could do each segment for 3 minutes each. For your book reading, grab a devotional like My Utmost for His Highest, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (a favorite of mine, and only 99 cents for Kindle), or another I’ve been using lately, John Maxwell Daily Reader (a book my mentor Mike Olejarz gave me on the topic of personal and leadership development).

One of the warnings Ian Green gave is that when he began to set aside time for this purpose, all of a sudden, everyone wanted to visit him on that night. The phone would ring, and lots of things would cry out for his attention. He was living with his parents at the time, and simply told them to not interrupt him, no matter what.

It is easy to put our time with God as a secondary priority. There are other priorities that seem more immediate, more pressing (like little kids, dirty kitchens, incomplete work assignments). As we begin to be more purposeful about study and spending time with God, we need to guard that time. Block it off on your calendar. Ask for His grace and favor in getting that other stuff done as well. You will find the investment of time to be well worth it.

What methods do you use to make sure you get in your study time? 

Monday Morning Meditation: How Do You Start Your Day?

Good morning, Living Unveiled readers! I have a very important question for you.

How did you start your Monday?

Did it start it quietly soaking in God’s truth in prayer and Bible-reading?

Or did it begin with frantically grabbing something to eat as you ran out or pushed your kids out the door?

How your day begins sets the tone for hours to come.

I posted something on my Facebook page last week (have you “liked” my Facebook page yet?). I have been in the habit of almost-daily Bible reading for about a year now. This consistency is new for me. Recently, I thought I missed a few days due to work, etc. and had felt “off” as a result. I sat down to read that night, only to realize I had missed just one day. My heart is now so accustomed to the daily bread that every day missed impacts me.

I used to read the Bible regularly because that’s what good Christians do. I now recognize a difference in myself when I read the Bible, process it and pray through it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Have you consumed your daily bread today? 

Start your week with true humility. Dive into the Word and find out what your loving Father says about you. Read about all that Jesus died to give you. Soak in the Spirit’s presence. Ask God to fill you again.

For Freedom Friday this week, I’ll be sharing an exciting method I’ve been using to structure some of my study time. See you then!

Freedom Friday: Are You Being Honest?

We have a serious problem in the church today.

We lie to each other.

We lie every time that we feel deeply broken and in pain, and yet we say we’re fine.

We lie every time we skip church because we don’t want to face the question, “How are you?”

We lie every time someone opens up about a struggle and, because of pride and fear, we pat them on the back, saying, “I’ll pray for you, friend!” rather than sharing how we’ve faced a similar struggle.

We lie to each other.

In Russell Willingham’s amazing book, Relational Masks, he addresses the core beliefs that make us feel as if we must put on our smiles and act as if everything is OK.

One major core belief is this: If I am honest, I will be abandoned. 

Shame runs deep. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve tried to cover up the truth for their all-knowing Creator. If Adam and Eve struggled with honesty in their relationship with God, how much more so do we need to fight against this tendency in our lives.

Russell Willingham stated this in a teaching I once heard: we demonstrate the above core belief by always putting our best foot forward and never letting anyone see our weaknesses. We have this secret fear that if we’re honest about how deep the brokenness goes, we’ll be thrown out on our ears.

A lot of these core beliefs are based on experiences we’ve actually lived through. Some of our families would shut down our honesty. We’ve shared our struggles and experienced rejection. Thus, we don’t risk with people. We’re always respectable. We act like we have it all together.

Paul address in the church in Ephesus. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). You can read the context of the passage here. Paul was giving the believers instructions on new ways of living and interacting.

Paul was basically telling Christians to stop lying to each other. 

Because that’s our tendency. Our tendency, since the Garden, is to hide. Hide our sin, hide our brokenness, hide our shame. Act as if we’ve got it all together and we don’t need help.

Russell Willingham states that we need a commitment to truth-telling in our lives.

What have you gained, spiritually, by being dishonest?

With God?
With your friends?
With those around you who can help you?

Why do we put on our smiling faces and go to church when we are totally broken inside? Or worse yet, skip church all together during those tough weeks?

I know from my own life and years of ministry, we have a desperate need to be seen. That is the imprint of God within our hearts. He did not create us for isolation. He created us for love, acceptance and support in the safety of authentic, healthy community. He deposited in us a need for affirmation, for honesty, for the freedom that is found when we bring our struggles to the light.

Here’s the thing: not everyone can handle honesty. And not everyone has earned a place of trust in our lives that we should tell them our struggles. Remember Jesus’ example of 3 intimate friends and 9 other good friends. So you may have to go to a number of people before you find a safe place to share your heart. But it’s worth the risk. You were created for relationship. God designed freedom, healing and growth to happen in the context of community.

Will you take a risk today? Would you risk being honest, and, in the process, risk finding the freedom you long for?

Monday Morning Meditation: Undistracted Devotion

This weekend at church we sang:

I don’t wanna talk about You like You’re not in the room
I wanna look right at You, I wanna sing right to You

We sang these lines as part of the song, “You Won’t Relent.” When I looked up the lyrics, I realized the lines are actually part of another song entitled “Dove’s Eyes.” It’s quite mellow and introspective compared to the passion (and volume!) of the other song, but there’s another line in the song that grabs my heart.

Give me undistracted devotion to only You

Oh, how easily I am distracted from my devotion to God! Every worry that comes my way, everything that’s not part of my plan, every stumbling block and obstacles takes my eyes off my Lord and on to my troubles.

It’s Monday. I hope you gathered with other believers this weekend. I pray you dove into the Word of God and soaked in His Spirit this morning.

Many things will cry out for my attention this week. The cry of my heart is to have undistracted devotion to my Lord, that my response to all else will be tempered by my love for Jesus and my passion to know and serve Him.

Will you pray for undistracted devotion to God today?

Freedom Friday: The Battle for Your Gifts

There is a battle raging.

It’s a battle for your gifts.

It’s a battle for the unique things you have to offer the world.

We hosted a guest worship team at church a few months ago. The worship leader shared something that I’ve been thinking about since then:

“The enemy wants to destroy the call on our lives.”

Oh, friends, how I’ve felt this intimately over the past few months.

I was certain 2012 would be “the year of the book.”

Then, I was positive that it would be done by my 2013 birthday (almost 4 months ago now).

I have lots of excuses.

As I try to grieve the loss of my father in the midst of life carrying on…

As I fill out death-related paperwork that I’ve put off until the last minute…

As I once again try and stuff my emotions with food (something I’m quite good at, apparently)…

And God is His faithfulness keeps poking me, every month or so.

You know, my love, I still want you to finish that book.

Sometimes He’s not so gentle. In fact, He told me in December (yes, almost 9 months ago) to get over myself because the book isn’t really about me anyway. It’s about Him. It’s not about how awesome I am (because Lord literally knows that apart from Him – yeah, not much to impress anything); it’s about how awesome He is.

Well, the book is at the copy editor, and all I have left to do is write the back cover.

It has been a battle.

God has given you something unique, something particular that He wants you to offer to the world.

What is stopping you? The enemy? The negative self-talk? All the excuses about why we’ll do it later?

Here’s the thing about your gifts: they’re not for you anyway.

You may not think you have much to offer. Well, that’s a lie. That is where the battle rages because that’s exactly the position Satan wants you to stay in. Satan easily convinces us that we can’t make an impact and thus paralyzes us from doing the little (or lot) that we can do.

It’s time to declare war on the lies you believe.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NLT)

What is standing in the way of using your gifts today? What can you do today as a step of obedience toward God and what He might be calling you to do?

Monday Morning Meditation: Is God Writing Your Story?

Steve Saint is the son of Nate Saint, a man who was killed in Ecuador alongside Jim Elliot and 3 other missionaries by the Waodani Indians in 1956. I learned of Steve and his father Nate through the film, End of the Spear.

In many ways, Steve has continued the work of his father through his organization I-TEC. The organization’s focus is “opening doors to the gospel by meeting needs with innovative tools.” In the testing of one of these tools in June of 2012, Steve was seriously injured by a falling piece of equipment. He was partially paralyzed from the neck down. He has made some progress since then, though he is still quite limited in many ways. I-TEC recently posted this challenging video with a one year update. Grab a tissue – it’s worth watching all 7 minutes.

Here are a few excerpts of what impacted me.

“None of us knows what our life is gonna be like. I wouldn’t mind dying, but I’m gonna stay here longer. I want it to count. And I want my grandchildren to see that life isn’t good when everything is fitting together right. Life is good because we know that we have a hope when this life is done.”

“My theme has been ‘Let God write your story.’ He doesn’t promise all easy chapters, but He does promise that if we let Him write our story, that in the last chapter if not before, He will make sense of all the other chapters and then He will take us to live with Him in paradise.”

“I want God to still write my story.”

Are you allowing God to write your story? As a song line I love states so clearly*, are you opening your eyes to let Him rewrite even tragedy?

As your week progresses, as you find yourself confused or frustrated about how God is allowing things to play out, shift your perspective. Surrender to God, the all-knowing author and perfecter of your faith. Believe He has what is best for you.

Let God write your story.

*Sara Groves “Rewrite this Tragedy”

Bible Haikus

My friend Pastor Craig Burns posts haikus based on his Bible reading. I’ve adopted the idea myself. Here are a few recent haikus:

Joel 1 
4 kinds of locusts.
Food and water disappear.
Joel cries, Lord, help us!

Nehemiah 10
Lots of tricky names
Trying to say them out loud
Kids laugh at Bunni

Philippians 3 
Everything but Christ
Discard it all like garbage
Become one with Him

1 Timothy 1 
Christ Jesus our hope
Jesus came to save sinners
Cling tightly to faith

1 Timothy 6
Run from all evil
Follow what is right and good
Obey His commands