3/28/12

God's 'Lifelong Learner'

Wise people know there is always more to learn, and they are eager to learn!

One of the best decisions I made was to go back to school at age 48 to get my Bachelor's degree by the time I was 50. It expanded my perspective and gave me practical knowledge to use in ministry and some of the various roles of my life. It shouldn't surprise us that God can use everything that we learn and experience in some way.

The difficulty sometimes is in deciding what to learn ~ what is of the most value.

Years ago, I might have taken up crocheting or learned how to write computer code, but (even though there's nothing wrong with those activities) I've decided not to waste time on these "lessons" at my age. I want to instead ask God to teach me what will make me a better servant of His kingdom, and to help me learn things that will improve my relationships with Him and others.

So I believe God wants me to be a "life long learner" in the Word and in understanding who He is, and the book of Proverbs bears out the value of this choice.

Solomon, the son of King David, was said to have written more than three thousand proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), and many of them are found in this book of the Bible. As a young child, in a little white church in Illinois, I remember asking God to make me wise like King Solomon. I believe God has answered my prayer, in some measure, as He directed me in His Word.

The truth is, we are to pursue wisdom! "Wisdom is supreme," Proverbs 4:7 (NIV) says, "therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."

Proverbs 1:5 (NIV) says, "let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." Proverbs 10:14 (The Message) says, "The wise accumulate knowledge ~ a true treasure." Without a listening, learning spirit, we may stray from wisdom and practical knowledge (Proverbs 19:27).

True wisdom comes from God, so God's lifelong learner might want to pray these words from Psalm 25:4-5 every morning, "Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."


There are many practical ways to develop the habit of lifelong learning ~ the habit of buying up truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding (Proverbs 23:23).

Here is how I've become a lifelong learner in my spiritual journey:

(1) Books ... and the Book ~ I have plenty of resources about the scriptures and helpful books for topical studies, but first and foremost in my "library" is the Word of God itself. And I keep copies of "the book" near me at all times ~ in my purse (on my iPhone) and in my home. That way I can always use any waiting time to read and study.

Beyond my Bible, I try to add to my learning by reading one book per week ~ practical nonfiction, usually ~ that will either stretch my thinking, supplement other studies, or meet a need.

(2) Lean on Lists ~ I not only have a list of books I want to read, I also have a list of topics I want to study, and they aren't all "spiritual" topics. (For example, I am such a techno-blonde, I need to read some "Dummies" manuals so I can improve my computer skills.) But I might not get to all of these studies right away, so whenever I'm motivated by something I want to study, I write it on my list.

Sometimes we need to supplement our Bible study with topical studies that can expand our learning. We might need to study statistics, examine a survey or technical study, or even learn a new language (Greek perhaps?) so we can better understand what we read.

(3) Spend Time with Wise Guys (and Girls)! ~ If I want to continue to learn, I need to rub shoulders with people who aren't just smart, but also wise. They have invested time in learning and have plenty of experience to share. "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm" (Proverbs 13:20, ESV).

(4) Meditate and Contemplate ~ I take time to mull over what I'm learning. Sometimes I do this alone; sometimes I brainstorm with others. I consider how facts fit together, and meditate on how to use what I'm learning. I don't journal (although I often encourage it), but I do sometimes write down what I've learned, a practice that helps me see if I'm thinking clearly or if my thoughts are muddled. I check my thinking with the scriptures to be sure I'm not believing lies of the enemy or unbiblical philosophies from the culture.

(5) Act It Out
~ I can read and read, but if I'm not practicing what I read ~ if I'm not applying it ~ my knowledge is useless to me. (It's pretty simple. I can read about making omelets, but if I don't get out some eggs, there won't be an omelet.) It's foolish to learn for learning's sake. Whenever my knowledge can be applied, it's to my benefit (and others) to apply it. Application also helps us remember what we've learned.

(6) Pass It On
~ Another way to remember what we've learned is to teach it to others. I can teach through blogs like this one, or by speaking at a women's group, or even sharing what I've learned over soup and salad at Panera's! Pass it on and you benefit others as well as yourself.

(7) Purge and Re-focus
~ Whenever I find that I'm getting dull in learning, I look for something fresh to jog my brain cells.

I discovered recently that I wasn't even reading some of the blogs I'd subscribed to, so I did some housecleaning and eliminated some. Scan and read the blogs you really want. Search for others that challenge your thinking. Purge so you can refocus.

The same is true for books on your bookshelves. Ask yourself, "Why are these books here?" Are they to help you in your family roles or ministry? Or are they there because they "Look good" or someone gave them to you. Purge (and donate) your books. Re-focus. Buy new books that you can really use ~ books that will help you move forward as a lifelong learner.

(8) Be Brave ... Be Very Brave ~ One of the scary sides of learning, for me, has been stepping outside of my comfort zone to consider topics that are "foreign" to my thinking.

Stretch your thinking. Think outside the box! Even if you disagree with someone's theology, you can read others' thoughts with your Bible alongside, comparing their statements to scriptures. It will help you know why you believe what you believe. Perhaps, in some cases, you may discover that what you've believed was tradition or others' opinions rather than the pure Word of God.

(8 ) The Socializing Strategy
~ Again, it's not wise for me to always go it alone. Beyond spending time with individual wise friends, as a learning strategy, I have joined groups and organizations that encourage me to learn more about the Word of God or teach skills I can use in my ministry.

Rubbing shoulders with others isn't just for fellowship and encouragement; it's also for instruction, correction, and motivation.

(9) Start Early, unless... ~ If you need to study, aim for the earlier part of the day when you are more alert ... unless, of course, you aren't alert until your afternoon coffee! I tried "morning devotions" and "morning Bible studies," but found that my prime study time was the hour before lunch! Be wise about the time when you're trying to "buy wisdom!"

(10) Create a Consistent Habit. Make lifelong learning a powerful habit by being consistent. Discipline your life and make study appointments. Create and anticipate study retreats. Make and take the study opportunities God brings your way. Be intentional!

Perhaps you have other methods to gain wisdom as a lifelong learner. Please share them!

Friend, God will reward your efforts to become wise for His glory, and perhaps He will even open up new opportunities for you to minister in His kingdom with your new-found understanding and skills.

3/20/12

Am I Good Enough?

The lies of the enemy are so strong that we need to be persistent and bold in exposing and confronting them.

Two women I respect have written books on this topic. I've written previously about one, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who wrote Lies Women Believe: and the Truth that Sets Them Free. (1) She exposes many of the lies that pertain to biblical womanhood, as well as some of the emotional frustrations that women face that are rooted in lies.

Sharon Jaynes also wrote about lies in her book, "I'm Not Good Enough"... and Other Lies Women Tell Themselves. (2) Her title, "I'm Not Good Enough," captured my attention, because this is an issue I struggle with all the time. I'm like Moses in the Old Testament. God gave him an assignment, but He complained that he was a nobody, not worthy of God's calling, and not eloquent (Exodus 3:11; 4:10-12).

I'm always making excuses for why God can't use me. I'm not smart enough. Not popular enough. Not young enough. Not attractive enough. Not savvy enough. Not talented enough. Not spiritual enough.

Never "enough."

Sharon said the root of this ~ "I'm not good enough" ~ is one of the enemy's favorite weapons, and he uses it to keep God's children in bondage to feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and inadequacy." (3)

"But you are enough," she said. "You are enough and have been equipped and empowered to do everything God has called you to do."

Maybe it's twisted, but I take comfort in knowing that I'm not alone in my "enough" insecurities. As Sharon says, "Many women are living in silent defeat, comparing themselves to other women who likewise are living in secret defeat." (4)

We have to remember that the same God who calls us will enable us. God said to Moses, in effect, remember who it is that is calling you. Just go, and I'll help you! (Exodus 4:11-12) God just wants our obedience, and He is sufficient for all our needs as we obey (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Many of the characters in the Bible were imperfect, yet God used them when they surrendered to His will and control. He used a liar (Jacob), a coward (Gideon), a prostitute (Rahab), an orphan (Esther) and many other "unlikely" servants.

"God chooses to do extraordinary work through ordinary people who will bring glory to His name," Sharon said. "It is through men and women who know they are not good enough in their own strength but incredibly powerful in God's strength who slay the giants of this world." (5)

It is foolish to put my trust and confidence in my own flesh and abilities, but as a child of God ~ a believer in the work of Jesus Christ on my behalf ~ I have the incredible power of the Holy Spirit working in me. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead empowers and enables me.

So I need to recognize and reject the lie that I am not good enough, and I need to replace that ugly lie with the beautiful truth of scripture: Christ is with me (John 14:20), God has prepared work for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), and His divine power and nature will give me everything I need to accomplish His will and bring Him glory (2 Peter 1:3-4).

In Jesus, I will always be "enough." He will do more than I dream to ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), but I need to walk in faith with my eyes on Him, not on myself.

(1) Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Lies Women Believe: and the Truth that Sets Them Free (Moody Publishers, 2000).
(2) Sharon Jaynes, "I'm Not Good Enough"... and Other Lies Women Tell Themselves (Harvest House Publishers, 2009).
(3) Ibid., p. 66
(4) Ibid., p. 67
(5) Ibid., p. 70

3/14/12

Overcoming the Counsel of the Ungodly

It takes courage to be a woman (or man) of integrity in today's culture. So many influences ~ both overt and subtle ~ conspire to bring a woman down and encourage her to compromise her standards.

Integrity is the state of being whole or undivided, and it is usually associated with the quality of being honest and with strong moral principles.

One or the easiest places to compromise our principles is in the privacy of our own homes. As we watch television programs, download movies, read novels, or listen to music we have the opportunity to live out our core, biblical standards ... or succumb to the voices of the culture that lead us away from God and His plan and direction for our lives.

I found myself struggling in my spirit recently as I watched a sitcom. It was funny, no question about that, on a purely human level; but it couldn't be funny on a spiritual level, because it contradicted what God's Word says about purity, sex, and marriage. As the Lord brought a scripture to my mind ~ "I will set no worthless thing before my eyes" (Psalm 101:3) ~ I changed the channel, but not soon enough. I found that the images and conversations were unforgettable. I thought about them the next day and the next. I felt dirty.

I had allowed myself to listen to the foolishness of the world concerning these important issues of life. Psalm 1:1 (ESV) describes a better way to respond to the pull of the culture. "Blessed is the man (or woman)," it says, "who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." God says that if I want to have a happy life and be blessed, I won't follow the advice of sinful people or join in with those who mock God with their humor and philosophies of life. I won't allow the worldview of the godless to take root in my heart. The truth is, much of the entertainment available today will corrupt and destroy my heart's sensitivity to the things of God.

God has always been concerned that His people avoid the counsel and wickedness of the ungodly. In Jeremiah 10:2, He told his people not to learn the way of the heathen. In Deuteronomy 18:9, He warned them that they would face temptations ~ various "abominations" of the nations ~ that would pit them against following Him faithfully.

The ungodly will always want to "counsel" us, believing in arrogance that their ways are better than the Word, will, and ways of God. They will seduce us, if we are not careful (Proverbs 12:26).

God's instruction to New Testament Christians, through the apostle Paul is to "come out from among them" and be separate from anything that is unclean (2 Corinthians 6:17). We have to guard our heart and mind, and then our eyes and ears, from even well-meaning voices in the culture that do not have a heart for God.

In Psalm 1:2, the Psalmist describes another way ~ a better way. He counsels us to delight in the law and instruction of the Lord (the Word of God) and meditate on what He says all day long. Then verse 3 lists the benefits of focusing on God's instruction rather than the advice of the world. We will be firmly planted, able to stand against the storms of life. We will produce life-giving "fruit" and prosper.

God wants us to see a clear contrast between what the world offers and what He wants to build into our lives. The wicked, He said, are temporal, and their lives lead to ruin (verses 4-6). They are unfit company for the Child of God.

The most convicting phrase to me in these verses is "The Lord knows [is fully acquainted with] the way of the righteous" (v. 6a). In other words, God is watching. He watches over me to care for me, but also, my Father watches to see whether I'm going to be a woman of integrity.

God was watching when I sat, too long, viewing that ungodly sitcom. God watches when I pay attention to the lies of the enemy, in whatever form they take. He observes whether I turn away from temptation or linger with the potential of becoming ensnared in the strongholds of sin.

His answer is so clear. God's Spirit will guide us in truth, but we have to listen to His words. Overcoming the counsel of the ungodly begins with a right focus. I must delight in His Word, in the same way that a woman focuses on her beloved ~ she can't see anyone or anything else. It's like putting horse blinders on so we see "straight ahead" and aren't distracted by sin and foolishness.

God wants us to read His Word, memorize it, meditate on it ~ mull it over ~ and apply it in all the circumstances of life. We "hide" God's Word in our hearts so we have it as ammunition to use in the battle against sin.

God wants us to have integrity, to act in accordance with the standards of holiness that we find in the scriptures. No excuses.

3/7/12

Linking Scripture Memory to Life

I still remember the scriptures that I memorized as a child. It's harder, somehow, to memorize new ones, but it's still a valuable discipline.

There's no question that we should memorize scripture because it is beneficial to us ~ it keeps us from sin and foolishness, arms us for battle against the enemy, prepares us for a life of service and spiritual growth, and enables us to meditate wherever we are (Psalm 37:30-31; 119:9-11, 97; Ephesians 6:13-18; Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 4:12; 5:13-14).

But as a busy, type A+ woman, I used to rationalize that I didn't have any "chunks" of time to memorize scripture verses. But I've learned that ~ whatever scripture memory system* I used (cards, verses on key rings, memory box, fancy scripture cards in albums, etc.) ~ I could incorporate significant portions of scripture memory into my life if I linked the habit to things I was already doing.

I started memorizing by reviewing, at first ... reviewing verses that I had down 75 percent of the way, but had forgotten partially. Then I tackled scriptures that I found myself using in ministry, over and over again. Then I tacked some topical verses that helped me personally in dealing with some "pet sins."

I found that I could memorize scriptures while folding laundry, washing dishes, and all sorts of formerly "mindless" chores. I memorized while waiting at doctor appointments, standing in line at the grocery store or Wal-Mart, and while driving the car (actually, that was review time, because I thought it would be dangerous to read my scripture cards). I've joked about this ~ and maybe I shouldn't ~ but I've even used bathroom breaks for scripture memory, along with "potty prayers."

There are many ways that we can saturate our minds and heart with scripture ~ including through music. You might also want to listen to a scripture Memory CDs produced by Revive Our Hearts and called "Hidden in My Heart" ~ peaceful musical arrangements with scripture lyrics.

I wish I'd started linking scripture memory to everyday life sooner. I'd have a lot more wisdom, for sure, but also more "ammunition" in my battle against the enemy. I'd have a greater stock of biblical answers in counseling and ministry, too.

But it's never too late to start to memorize scripture. Make the choice and do it, no matter your age, because the benefits are incredible, over time. My sweet grandma said she memorized scripture when she could barely see to read the Word; and she said the words she remembered from earlier days of memorizing comforted her heart and she could meditate on them any time.

What is keeping you from memorizing scripture? How can you incorporate it naturally into your day? Do you post scriptures around your house? Where?

Link your scripture memory to everyday life events
, and you'll be surprised how often opportunities pop up to store the scriptures in your heart.


* Two scripture memory programs that many use are the Simply Charlotte Mason program and the Navigators' program. If you're looking for a simple way to beef up your REVIEW of scripture, here's a helpful article, "Scripture Memory 'Queen of Bad' No More."