Devotional Study Form

In order to get the most out of personal Bible study, try using a form like this one:Devotional Study Form

This form comes from Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods, chapter 1, pp.33-47.

Reading the above is like a flashback from the old Masterlife days; very similar…

  1. Perimeter the Verse – what is before or after the verse.
  2. Paraphrase the Verse – into your own words.
  3. Pulverize the Verse – emphasize each word by exclamation.
  4. Personalize the Verse – what is the significance to you?
  5. Pray the Verse Back to God – lift his own Word to him.
  6. Parallel Verses – other passages on a similar theme.
  7. Problems in the Verse – what needs resolution in your mind and heart?
  8. Possibilities of Helping Others in the Verse – actions to consider.
  9. Protracted Study – other notes, ideas, outlines, etc.

[ Masterlife I, Guide to Meditation, pp.195-196, Waylon Moore]

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Applying Scripture is Not Easy

Read this today and it seems right on target:

Applying Scripture to our lives isn’t easy. Think about it, if it were easy, more people would be doing it. Most people who read the Bible don’t really apply what they read to their lives. Why? Because it’s hard work!

So what makes applying God’s Word so hard? Here are three reasons it’s hard for you and me to apply Scripture to our lives.

Application Requires Serious Thought:
It takes long periods of concentrated prayer and thought before you can apply the Scripture you’re learning. You won’t always understand the application immediately. You have to think about what you’ve read. You have to meditate on it. That takes time most people often don’t want to give.

Satan Fights Application:
The devil’s strongest attacks are going to come in your personal devotional time when you’re trying to apply what you’ve studied. Satan knows that as long as you’re content with merely hearing the Word or reading the Word, you are not much of a threat to his plans. But as soon as you get serious about making changes in your life, he’s going to fight you tooth and nail because he hates doers of the Word (James 1:22).

We Naturally Resist Change:
It’s human nature; no one likes to change. But that’s God’s main purpose with his Word; he wants it to transform our lives. He wants to make us more like Jesus. The key to making us more like Jesus is applying God’s Word. That’s why most churches focus on interpreting Scripture and learning about the Bible’s background. Most people are happy to do that. You can learn all about the people of the Bible, the background of the Bible, and the doctrines of the Bible, and still live like the rest of the world. We’re happy to apply God’s Word to other people, but we don’t like doing it to ourselves.

We grow spiritually and become mature Christians by applying God’s Word to our lives. You and I need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us the strength, because we don’t have the strength on our own to obey (John 15:5). The Bible calls us to ask God to empower us through his Spirit: “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).

These obstacles will get in our way every time when we act in our own power, but God has “unlimited resources” to help us apply his Word to our lives. We just have to ask him.

So, what are the distractions today that are keeping you from deeper meditation on God’s Word? When you pray for strength, God may use people in your life to provide the support you need. Do you have people in your life with whom you share your struggles and who will hold you accountable to grow spiritually?

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Application in Seeking God’s Will

It is one thing to ask to know God’s will, it is another to seek it. Seeking requires work and effort. Many Christians would rather be told what to believe or what to do than labor in the discernment of God’s will. Sometimes we ask the wrong question. It is not, “what is God’s will for my life?” The more accurate question is, “What is God’s will?”

Discerning the Will of God:

  1. Here is a mental picture, a man lost in the woods.
    1. We do not decide whose fault it is that he is lost.
      1. Whether he is misdirected.
      2. Whether he is the victim of an accident.
    2. He asks, “Where do I go from here?”
      1. He feels there must be a path which is the path of God for him to follow in those circumstances.
      2. How do you know that you wont make a mistake?
      3. How do you know if it is God’s way or just my best guess?
    3. He will not know for certain until he gets to the end that he did not make a mistake.
      1. He will travel by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
      2. He must be willing and able to read the signposts and follow.
      3. Remember that God always deals with us where we are.
  2. The greatest help: deepen our relationship with Him, because those who know Him are the quickest at discerning His will.

The Dangers:

  1. The tyranny of “should.”
    1. The question is asked, Should I do this or that?
    2. It implies that if you should, and don’t, that you are not in God’s will.
    3. This lays a burden of finding THE right answer (the center of God’s will).
    4. It is better to say the wiser choice, rather than saying the right choice.
  2. Confusion concerning the work of the Spirit.
    1. Some people neglect the Spirit’s power, believing they know what’s best and then ask God to bless it.
    2. Others overuse it: Like claiming that the Spirit led them to do something which is not part of the Spirit’s work.
      1. How to dress, eat, and other simple decisions.
      2. Usually this claim is based upon the “right feeling” at the time.
      3. When you claim that the Spirit led you, use criteria other than your feelings (Jeremiah 17:9)
  3. A job description for the Spirit:
    1. The Spirit always relates to Jesus (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15).
    2. The Spirit enables people to know Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-13).
    3. The Spirit brings people into the body (1 Corinthians 12:13).
    4. The Spirit gives people the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) .
    5. The Spirit enables people to avoid sin and adopt a new way of life (1 Corinthians 6:11).
    6. The Spirit leads people to know that in Christ they call God “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4: 6) .
  4. The Spirit’s work points to Jesus.
    1. He does not make personal decisions for you.
    2. As you seek to be in union with Him, you will know what He wills and you make the wiser decision.

The Search for God’s Will:

  1. In the Bible, this is our only source for faith and practice, so let’s use it.
    1. Some people believe the Bible tells us what to do in all of life’s situations.
      1. Don’t randomly open the Bible to find an answer, it’s not a Ouija board.
      2. What if you make a serious blunder, like pointing to 1 Samuel 31:4?
    2. The Bible leads us to know Christ.
      1. The Bible provides us with basic principles for living (John 15:12-13, Romans 15: 1-2) .
      2. These principles influence our decisions as we struggle with life’s questions.
      3. Direct answers from the Bible…
        1. Are a way of avoiding the hard decision-making process. Jesus told me right in this verse what to do. Sometimes we are not willing to wrestle with seeking His answer.
        2. Do you want a surgeon to quote Scripture to decide whether or not to operate? NO, use his medical knowledge, judgment, experiences and principles regarding the sanctity of life.
  2. In the clouds.
    1. Many people look for signs above, like in the clouds.
    2. The problem with signs is interpreting what they really mean.
      1. Gideon’s advantage (Judges 6:36-40) he placed a sign and the interpretation with God in advance.
      2. We can interpret a sign to mean exactly what we desired anyway.
      3. On the farm, the clouds formed a “P.C.”
        1. The son said: Preach Christ, and go to seminary.
        2. The father said: plant corn.
    3. We have the ability to think, seek counsel, collect information, to make the best decision we can, and trust He will bless your efforts.
    4. Getting lost in trivia.
      1. If you worry too much about finding God’s will for your life, you will likely lose sight of God’s love.
      2. The key is to find God more than finding His will.
      3. Too many people love trivia (like the Pharisees) and get lost in it.
        1. Details were put on following God’s will to the letter.
        2. They lost sight on true worship and relationship.

Numerous signposts:

  1. Conscience.
    1. Men have done a lot of evil things believing that they were following their conscience.
    2. Slavery was uncondemned by the conscience of men.
    3. A psychopath has no moral compass.
  2. Common sense.
    1. I’ve heard it said, “I prayed, and nothing happened. So I used my common sense.”
    2. Who has given common sense? And why?
    3. Sometime the will of God is opposite to what common sense would dictate. It is sometimes called foolishness by the world (1 Corinthians 1:18; 3:18).
  3. Advice.
    1. “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14) .
    2. Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
  4. History and biography.
    1. There are few problems that we face that have not been faced by those before us.
    2. Read the Bible, and even secular literature.
  5. The voice of the Church.
    1. Jesus recommended that people consult the church (Matthew 18:17).
    2. Remember that a democracy (majority rules) does not always make it right.
  6. Pray.
    1. Praise Him, give thanks, and then lay things at His feet.
    2. God cares (even about your confusion), and will help you work through your decisions.
  7. Use a sound decision-making process.
    1. Make a list of pros and cons.
    2. Brainstorm options.
    3. Gather information.
  8. Live boldly.
    1. Be confident that your decision will turn out well (forget “What if?),
    2. God will not keep scores of your decisions (He sees the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:9-11.).
    3. Ask, “What would Jesus do?” then do it.
    4. God will bless you here or there (Job change).
      1. His will is for you to love and serve Him (Matthew 22:36-40).
      2. He does not have this secret plan for which we must hunt.
      3. His secret is this: Christ is in you (Col 1:27).

God’s Will, at the Point we Need Help, can be Discerned:

  1. It is a mistake to try to discern His will years down the road.
    1. John Piper writes about future grace.
    2. How you will deal with something in the future is not God’s plan, He will meet you at the point of your need.
    3. He will give you His sufficient grace at the time you need it, not in preparation for the future.
  2. His Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
  3. You can not be certain that you have not made a mistake until you get to the end. Hind-sight is always 20/20.
  4. We will not miss our “providential way” even if we make mistakes (in good faith): the result will not be our being lost.

Final Challenging Questions:

  1. Do I want to discern God’s will, or do I want Him to bless my own?
  2. Have I got the courage to do God’s will once I discern it?

We need more than discernment: we need strength, courage, faith, determination and perseverance to will God’s will and then to do God’s will.

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Leaders Ask Application Questions

The point of this post is to challenge leaders and teachers. To be effective in leading your class, make sure to ask application questions that lead your group to spiritual growth. This is perhaps one of the most quoted passages in the Bible Study business:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25)

To study the Bible, or to take a class on prayer, or discuss compassion for the poor but not do anything about what one has learned, is a waste of time.

The Word of God holds up a mirror in which we can see our own face: our character, values, attitudes, and habits. It offers us a perspective on our situation and relationships that we can’t get on our own. It also opens up a window into the realm of God, in which we see the face of Christ looking back at us. We get to compare our face to that of Christ, noting the similarities and differences. The Bible promises that we can change (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Extensive psychotherapy doesn’t change most people all that much. When change does happen, something on the order of a miracle is occurring. But the gospel insists that the Spirit of God (through the Word of God and with the help of the people of God) can and will perform this miracle in any person willing to cooperate.

So many study groups settle for educating people about God and the Christian life, but they don’t believe it’s possible for them to really become like Jesus. People like the idea in theory, but the actual process scares them.

  1. Do we really want to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, week after week? Can we bear to see and examine the face of Christ?
  2. Do we really want to give up our familiar paths and strike out on the uncharted territory of God’s ways?
  3. Do we really want the Spirit breaking up our concrete habits with a jackhammer?

Likely, your group contains decent people who sort of want to follow Christ but aren’t all that eager to see their lives disrupted. They are busy people who have jobs, families, bills, and housework that don’t leave them hours and hours to contemplate Christ and their lives. Discussion questions that invite them to apply the Word of God to their lives need to take into account both the mandate of the gospel (big changes) and the realities of the human condition (big obstacles to change).

Go Slow and Deep: People who are asked to take drastic action too often and in too many different directions eventually go numb in order to survive. Consider the person who hears a Sunday sermon, reads the Bible even once or twice a week, and attends Sunday School each week. If this person encounters three, four, or more calls in one week to change drastically, it’s overwhelming. Over time, people learn to tune out the guilt feelings triggered by such calls.

In your small group, learn to ask, “So what?” regularly and systematically, but ask, “Now what?” sparingly, yet with focus and detail.

  1. “So what?” invites group members to think about the implications of what they are studying. “Now what?” asks them to take action individually or together, to do something concrete about those implications.
  2. “So what?” is theoretical, general application. “Now what?” is practical, specific application.
  3. “So what?” helps people think an issue through. “Now what?” guides them step by step in a realistic plan to be doers of the Word.
  4. “So what?” questions work in at least two dimensions.
    1. The first dimension is when: helping the group bridge the gap between when the passage was written (then) and our current situation today (now).
    2. The second dimension is who: discerning how a passage applies to people in general, to them as individuals, or to them as a group.

Then and Now: One common error in Bible study is to assume that something God told someone to do in 605 B.C. is what God wants each of us to do today. A related error is to assume that God wants us to imitate everything the first Christians did without regard to the differences of situation. These errors overlook the fact that God deals both in timeless principles and in unique situations.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is a timeless principle.
  2. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household” (Genesis 12:1) is an instruction to a particular person, Abram.

When we get the particular and the timeless confused:

  1. We may conclude that God wants all men everywhere to be circumcised and all women everywhere to cover their heads.
  2. We may conclude, like many 19th-century Americans, that because Paul treated slavery as OK in A.D. 50, it was still OK in A.D. 1850.
  3. We may decide that since God told Joshua to practice genocide against the utterly degenerate Canaanites, then maybe our enemies deserve genocide, and maybe we have been called by God to imitate Joshua.

1. “So what?” questions always begin with what was then. The first “So what?” question should point to the original purpose of the writer or speaker in the passage:

  1. What do you think Jesus wanted His audience to do in response to this parable?
  2. What action does Paul tell the Galatians to take?

With a story, it may be more helpful to ask about how the various characters responded to the challenges they faced:

  1. How did Abram deal with his doubts?
  2. How did the apostles handle the conflict between the Greek- and Aramaic-speaking believers?

2. Next we look for bridges between then and now by asking how our situation is like and unlike the situation addressed in the passage:

  1. What conflicts do we face in our ministry? In what ways do they resemble the conflict described in Acts 6? In what ways are they different?
  2. Do you identify with the Galatians in any ways? In what ways are you similar or different?

As the leader, you should always ask yourself, “How is our situation different?” This question will help you guide the group away from erroneous applications. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was in many ways a unique situation. The founding of the first Christian community in Jerusalem was also unique in many ways.

3. Finally, with the similarities and differences between then and now in mind, we can ask whether the passage offers any timeless (always) principles, like, “What can we learn about good and poor ways of handling doubt from Abram’s example?”

Principles can include a sin to avoid, a promise to trust, an example to follow, a command to obey, or a truth to believe. It is essential not to generalize a universal principle from a specific situation without careful thought about the differences between then and now.

Sometimes you’ll want to help people apply the passage to their personal lives. At other times, you’ll draw out a group application. Most of the Bible was written not to individuals, but to groups. The “you” in many passages is plural.

Another way of asking, “So what?” is to point people toward listening to the Holy Spirit:

  1. What do you sense the Holy Spirit is saying to us about how we relate to others in our lives who don’t know Christ?
  2. What is one key truth from this passage that you sense the Spirit is urging you to embrace?

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your group meeting to contemplate questions. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to speak. Then talk, with ears open.

Now What? “So what?” questions are general and ask for relevance. “Now what?” questions are pointed. They ask us to take action.

  1. How can you put this insight into practice this week?
  2. What can you do to cultivate this into a habit?
  3. What will it mean, in practical terms, for you to seek God’s kingdom first this week?
  4. How can we, as a group, obey Isaiah’s call to a true fast?

Many of your discussions will end with “So what?” questions. It is not a waste of time to help people think and feel more biblically. But sometimes, action is called for.

“Now what?” questions require specific, realistic, and measurable answers.

  1. Specific means that definite actions, rather than general goals, are specified.
  2. Realistic means that the person has devised a plan he can reasonably carry out within the limitations of his life, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the group to back him up.
  3. Measurable means something concrete will be done, and at the end of a month or a year, the shift in the person’s attitudes or actions will be noticeable by an observant outsider. We shouldn’t become obsessed with measuring spiritual growth, since the most important changes are internal and may take time to affect our behavior dramatically, but it is possible to ask ourselves. What can I do to become a significantly more compassionate person by this time next year?

Bear in mind that questions about the future are often more intimate than those about the past or present. Most people don’t talk about their hopes and goals casually. When the group has been together for about six sessions or more, members will find it extremely bonding to begin discussing their hopes for who they want to become and how they plan to pursue their goals. One way of formulating this question is, “In what ways do you want to be different as a result of our studying Philippians?”

Counting the Cost: Jesus told a parable about two sons, in which one son agreed to do what his father asked but then didn’t follow through, while the other balked but eventually obeyed (Matthew 21:28-32 ). People frequently talk about how a passage applies to them but don’t do anything about it after the discussion. One reason for this is that they don’t consider the risks and costs of living the gospel. Jesus urged His followers to count the cost and to be sure they knew what they were getting themselves into before embracing the kingdom of God. Here are some questions you can use when studying a passage that you know asks something difficult, such as turning the other cheek:

  1. What are the risks of doing what Jesus says here?
  2. What would it cost you to do that?
  3. What obstacles hinder you from living that way consistently?

Then, having looked squarely at the downside, invite people to weigh it against the upside:

  1. What would be the benefits of living like this?
  2. What would motivate a person to take those risks?
  3. How can you overcome those obstacles? How can we help?

Not Just the Facts: Application questions provide the potential for spiritual growth. They take us beyond learning facts about a passage of Scripture. We discover how the passage applied to its original readers, how that ancient situation connects with our modern world, and how to do something with what we’ve learned. This process helps us become doers of the Word, not merely hearers, and as the Scriptures promise, such people (and such small groups) “will be blessed in their doing.”

Thanks to Karen Lee-Thorp, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1998 [print_link] [email_link]

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