All posts by Heather

How to Grow in Bible Literacy, Part 1

Most Christians want to know their Bibles better. Of course we do. It is the word of God written for his people. But in order to do that we need good tools. Below are some of the things I’ve learned over the years of trying.

Make it a Habit

All the books about habit building that have come out recently should tell us something about the usefulness of habits. If we try to study God’s word only intermittently, we will grow in our knowledge, but not by much. Just like every teacher you ever had said, you’ll learn a lot more if you study a little bit every day than if you try to cram in long study sessions every few months.

Don’t Just Read, Study

Many of us were taught to read our Bibles daily, and that’s great place to start. In fact, reading is the first step of studying. But it is only the first step. I don’t follow a Bible reading plan anymore because studying has produced so much more fruit. I followed one for years, but eventually gave it up so that I would have more time to study. It’s been a good decision. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible as a whole or have never read the whole book, reading it through will help you know more context as you study. As you read, make at least a little time to practice the habits of closer study.

Read Repetitively

Even though we want to do more than simply read scripture, in order to study well, we must read a lot. For shorter passages, plan on reading them through at the beginning of each study session. When studying large sections of scripture, like a whole book, read it through two or three times before digging into the details. As you go, study the passage a few chapters at a time. At the beginning of each study session, read those chapters. In addition, occasionally re-reading the whole book will help you to put everything in context.

Have a Plan

I usually have a game plan for what I want to work on during my study time. When I sit down, I already know that I will compare two passages, or look for all the characteristics of God I can within a passage. This means I can use the full half hour I have for studying, rather than spending the first ten minutes figuring out my next step. Not only does this strategy mean I use my time better, it also makes one day’s learning flow into the next more effectively.

However, sometimes I hear my son stirring before I even get to my desk. Toddlers don’t regard clocks. They just wake up yelling “choo choo” for no apparent reason. When that happens, I save my plan for the next day, and just read the passage as much as I can before he comes running to me, demanding snuggles. Even in this unplanned reading, I generally notice something I hadn’t seen before or think of a question. I usually can’t do anything except mark it in the margins, but it helps move my study process forward despite the abbreviated time.

Employ Marginalia

Read from a copy of the text with lots of room for marking things. It should be double spaced with a good sized margin. Plan on filling it up as you go along. If you have a beautiful Bible that just feels to precious to write in, take that to church along with a notebook, but study out of something you can write all over. I have a growing collection of black binders full of printed copies of various passages. The printed pages give me the mental freedom to write all over the page, no matter how insignificant a note seems, because I’ll never run out of room. I can just print another copy.

Pray the Scriptures

As you study, pray through the passage. Pray not only for your study, but also pray the scriptures back to God. This practice deepens my understanding and helps me connect what I’m learning to the character of God. My cerebral self needs to slow down and be with God through his Word, not just study it. Otherwise, I’ll slip into treating it like a text book rather than the living word of God.

Apply What You’ve Learned

Most of us jump to application. We do our morning quiet time and try to find something to take away, to apply and obey. The desire to obey is good, but we need to do a lot more work to get to applications that are actually from scripture, rather than what we think scripture might be saying. However, we should not study to the neglect of applying God’s word to our lives. In fact, in the application of God’s word, we develop better eyes to see the truth of God’s word, which grows our love for Him and his word. 

If you feel lost in getting started studying the Bible, I pray that these tips help you along your path. I’ve never implemented these perfectly, nor do I think I ever will. But by coming back to them again and again, I have had the joy of growing in my knowledge of the Lord. God has made his word accessible. We just have to do the work to understand it. 

Next week, I’ll share some more practices I’ve learned over the years of trying to grow in my knowledge of scripture.

My Struggles in Growing in Bible Literacy

I constantly advocate for the average Christian to grow in Bible literacy. I talk about it a lot because a thorough knowledge of the Bible on the part of individual Christians will empower the church to engage our culture while remaining faithful to God. But as much as I encourage Christians to develop Bible literacy, I struggle with the process myself. Studying scripture is hard work, and we each have a multitude of obstacles that would keep us from succeeding. Today, I’ll share a few of the challenges I’ve run into.

Distractions 

Life gets in the way of our priorities so easily. Often times, I find my gas tank empty just keeping up with the demands of life and I fight to delve deep in God’s word. The constant siren call of entertainment or less important things frequently wins. When I sit down, my brain can fog over from tiredness (I do have a toddler) or distraction. 

I also find myself distracted within the Bible itself. It’s a big book. One person can’t master everything scripture offers in a hundred lifetimes.  So, when I set out to study a book or a topic, I have to discipline myself to follow through and not get pulled about by curiosity. In order to reach a depth of understanding, I know I need to spend weeks focused on one book or one set of questions. Again, this demands discipline, which I struggle with constantly.

On top of that, my personality is not meant to sit still for long periods of time. Take my entire school career as proof. My poor teachers! To this day, my ADHD has me frequently fighting to wrangle my brain into submission to read a single sentence. The deep work of studying, comprehending ideas and synthesizing it into knowledge feels like a miracle.

Can’t it be Easier?

I would love to be spoon fed Bible knowledge. Can’t I just have these things laid out for me in a book or sermon? Can’t I just let someone else with more time, more focus, more discipline, more intelligence, more training do this hard work and tell me what they learned? I receive of the most information in my life that way, so why can’t I just have a newsfeed of Bible knowledge? Wouldn’t that be easier?

Of course, it would be nice if I could learn the deep things of God as easily as I can zone out online. But that’s not how it works.

I read and listen to sermons frequently, so I value those things. However, the most fruitful lessons I’ve learned have not come from books or sermons. They’ve come from me investing the time and effort into knowing Scripture to the best of my ability and applying it to my life. Through these things, God has drawn me into communion with him to enjoy his presence.

The books and the sermons help the most after I’ve done the work to learn as much as I can. I learned this through experience when I studied a passage in Romans. My efforts were faltering and uncertain. I really didn’t know how to go about studying scripture. I just tried my best to keep noticing details and asking questions. When had I done what I could to study the passage, I looked up what Calvin’s Commentaries had to say about it. Imagine my shock when my own conclusions stared back at me from the page. I had the same insights into scripture as John Calvin. Granted his were more developed and better stated than the notes I had made. But we had the same insights into the nature of God, conclusions, and applications. 

In that moment, I realized that I could actually do this. It doesn’t take extraordinary intelligence or profound reading ability to know God through his word. What I learned from the commentary impacted me and my understanding of God so profoundly because I had done the work of digging  for myself. And the other insights about the passage — the things I had not seen — were additional treasures that took me back to the scriptures looking for more.

Where to Start? 

I’ve been taught to read my Bible regularly, but when I tried to start studying God’s word more closely, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to go about it. Ironically, I could pick up a novel to read it closely to write a paper analyzing the structure and themes. I could even do that in an all-nighter. Even though I purportedly considered the Bible the most important book in my life, I didn’t really know how to study it. Thankfully, the Lord has provided lots of opportunities to learn and practice. 

From what I’ve seen most churches don’t equip people to study God’s word. As a result the average person in the pew can find it difficult to move beyond simply reading every day. Over the next two weeks, I’ll share some of the tips that have helped me grow in Bible literacy. I’ve found that the most important thing is to just keep trying. I struggle daily in pursing knowledge of God through his word, but I keep going because I know how good he has been to me to show me himself in my times of study. I encourage you to as well. 

Three Elements of Bible Literacy

The average person can read and understand the Bible. Let’s not skip past that too fast. God intends the Bible for the average believer. The Lord did not give us an academic textbook meant only for those sequestered in seminaries. His word is not obscure or opaque. He didn’t hide what it has to say in convoluted language. He gave it to us to read. He means for us to understand.

We shouldn’t walk away from Bible study bewildered. We can expect unresolved questions, but the Bible isn’t cryptic or impractical. God gave it for the everyday life of everyday people. We can each grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s word. Familiarity with the scripture is called Bible literacy, which has three major components.

Knowledge

Bible literacy begins with knowledge. This can start with kids in Sunday school learning songs to help them know the order of the books. I still speed-sing through an old Sunday School song to find Obadiah. Of course it goes deeper than that. Knowledge consists of recognizing and being able to retell Bible stories, quote some verses, know generally where to find passages (i.e. “That’s in one of the Pauline letters, I think.”)

The Bible is a large enough collection of literature that this base of knowledge always has room to grow. An early Bible learner might be able to tell about David and Goliath and the Nativity and quote John 3:16, but many who have cherished the word of God for a lifetime cannot summarize the message to the church at Pergamum in Revelation from memory. 

Understanding

Bible literacy continues with the second element: understanding. While knowledge means a familiarity with parts of scripture, a person with understanding will have clarity on how those parts fit into the whole. Understanding requires familiarity with the overarching story of Scripture and how the narrative weaves together.

For instance, a knowledgeable person can recount with reasonable accuracy the story of David and Goliath. But a person who understands the narrative arch of Scripture knows that David will become Israel’s king, and that the Messiah will come from his line. So in this story, not only does God raise up David in the eyes of the current king, Saul, he also foreshadows the coming Christ who would rescue Israel. 

Application

The third element of Bible literacy is application. We cannot just develop knowledge and understanding as if for an academic exercise. God has given us Scripture as his mediated presence so that we may know him more. As we know him more, we can love and obey him more. To truly have Bible literacy, we must apply the knowledge and understanding to our lives.

Knowing the story of David and Goliath foreshadows Christ, then the believer can understand that as God delivered Israel from the Philistines through one man, David, he has delivered the Church from our own sin through one man, Christ. Seeing this picture of the Gospel reminds us of the great grace we have in Christ, which should lead to worship. God had a plan for salvation all along. He was woven the story of Christ through the scriptures so that we may know he is good and keeps his promises. We can trust him. 

Knowing, understanding, and obeying the Bible is one of the ways in which God in his grace has chosen to sanctify his people. He has not hidden his Word in obscure, difficult language, but has made it possible to read and understand. We can develop Bible literacy, but it takes work. Next week, I’ll share some of my own ongoing struggles in growing in Bible literacy.

Seeking Salvation in Everything but Jesus

Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? I wrote mine down in November. Like many people, I indulge in calendar induced optimism every January. New Year’s Resolutions can be fun and useful, but contrary to everyone who’s trying to sell you something this time of year, they will not save you.

I love self-improvement practices. I work to form habits that overtime will increase my capacity to live the life I want. I get up at 4:50am to go to CrossFit. I track my steps and make time to read everyday. I eat a lot of vegetables. I use a Bullet Journal to keep myself organized, and I schedule my tasks in advance. I’m a complete sucker for online classes. I love learning and growing so that I can thrive and help people around me thrive. 

These habits have made my life better. CrossFit has improved my physical strength, and helped me cope with Northeast winters. Instead of drowning in sticky notes and forgetting appointments, I put everything in my handy little BuJo. But in the midst of all this I can loose sight of the fact that these things are not my salvation. They are good gifts from the Lord, but they will not save me. They will not fix me. They will not make me whole. 

No matter how much improvement we make, we remain broken apart from the saving grace of Jesus. Without him taking on our sin and shame and giving us his righteousness, we would still be held captive to sin. 

Things like exercise, healthy food, and good organization systems are part of the Common Grace of God, his gifts to all of humanity whether or not an individual worships him as Lord. They can and do improve lives. My Bullet Journal helps me manage my time better, but it cannot change a sinful heart that desires to use my time for myself rather than for other people’s good and flourishing. Regular exercise improves my physical and mental health, but apart from finding my worth in Christ, my arrogance will increase with my physical strength. Healthy food can quickly become an outlet for my desire to control rather than good stewardship of my body. 

The Lord has given us the ability to learn, grow, and improve. The countless resources available for these purposes are gifts from the Lord, and we should avail ourselves of them to the degree that they are helpful. However, they will not fix the brokenness in us. Only Christ can change our bent toward sin. 

If we hope in the trappings of self improvement culture, then we will always come up empty. The story of Scripture teaches us that no matter our effort, no matter the systems in place — even the Mosaic Law — we cannot fix the brokenness in ourselves or society. 

But Christ. For those who trust in Christ, he takes on our sin and shame and places it on his own head. In its stead, we receive his righteousness. He pays our debt, and we receive his inheritance. Before God, it is as if we have perfectly obeyed the law with a joyful heart. From that position of right standing before God, we get to enter into a transformative relationship with him. In his grace, he doesn’t leave us in sin, but invites us into greater holiness. He transforms our hearts so that we bend toward obedience rather than rebellion. All of our self improvement efforts cannot change the states of our hearts — but grace upon grace — God gives us a new heart.

Advent

Christmas hasn’t felt cheery for me since I was a child. All of my adulthood, the season has felt like a letdown. But I love Advent. Advent reminds us that so much of life doesn’t feel cheery and happy. Instead, we’re waiting in the midst of brokenness for light to shine through. We wait with hope, but the waiting itself is painful. 

In my experience, church has been a hard place to acknowledge difficult things. People want to get to the “fix” so quickly. They want the neatly wrapped up story of redemption and restoration. But the story of our lives don’t often go that way. We want Christmas morning with it’s perfectly wrapped packages and bows, but we’re living with the mess inside. 

During Advent, we get an opportunity as the Church to collectively acknowledge the pain of waiting for all things to be made right. While we are hopeful, we are also acquainted with grief, pain, suffering, and loss. In fact these are the reasons we need the hope so much. We wait with hope for restoration and redemption within each our stories. But we also wait with hope for when Christ will return — not as a crying baby — but as a returning king who speaks and ends the darkness. Christ came into a world of darkness. He came to a world that needed light. His coming — his glorious, angel proclaimed, shepherd guarded coming — is good news because the brokenness was so bad. In order for the joy of his coming to break upon our hearts as it should, we must see our need, our brokenness as it is. 

So often the holidays are a painful time. Grief and loneliness get heavier. Pain feels sharper. As the world seems to get taken over with cheeriness and jingle bells, our lives don’t look like a Christmas card. There’s sin, addiction, and broken relationships. There’s the empty chair and the shorter gift list reminding you of the buried loved one. Or like last year, the person I put on my Christmas list who died before December waned. As the year ends, we feel the sting of the still unfulfilled hopes, the losses and the consequences of our own sin.

Advent is the season for people who are hurting during the holidays. It’s the season that calls us away from the lights and trees and Holiday Cheer to remind us that the Lord sees our suffering. He sees all the reasons we need hope. He sees us and has sent a Savior. 

We have so much to celebrate because our Savior has come, but we live in the “not yet” of a world waiting for his return. As the Lord remembered the cries of His people waiting for the Messiah, he hears our cry, sees our tears and brokenness and will send his Messiah. This time as a King coming to claim his throne. All will be made right. Tears will turn to joy. Brokenness will be healed. Darkness will turn to light. 

Bible Study Resources

In pursuing more serious Bible study, I’ve found a few resources immensely helpful. If you’re just starting out in study the Bible or trying to grow in Bible Study skills, these resources will be helpful to you as well.

A Good Study Bible 

I use the ESV study Bible, but any reputable one from a major translation will serve you well. I’m hoping to get one in a different translation soon. 

A Printed Copy of the Text 

Copy and paste the text from Biblegateway.com in to a document and double space it. Be sure to keep the footnotes. Print it out on actual paper with actual ink so you can mark it up with a real pen.

Colored Pens or Pencils 

Since I’m a bit of an office supply hoarder, I have a set apart set of pens for this: my fancy Japanese ones with the super-fine nibs. You don’t need fancy Japanese pens, but if you want some, it’s a good excuse to buy them. Having multiple colors helps you to see patterns and themes as you mark up the page. For instance, you can underline a frequently repeated phrase or theme and see patterns that you wouldn’t have spotted otherwise.

An English Dictionary 

I’m not talking about a Greek to English dictionary. Webster’s will do. As I’m reading closely, I come across words that I think I know the definition for, but looking them up gives me a better understanding of the text. Of course you can just use Google for this, but I tend to get distracted the moment my computer is open, so I use an actual paper dictionary that I got for less than a dollar at a thrift store. 

A Class on Bible Exposition 

This one is more of an investment —definitely in time, but possibly in money as well. I recommend Crosslands Seminary’s class on Bible Exposition. It’s $120 to access the material for a year, and you’ll need to purchase a few books to complete the course work. While there are other course available, I’ve really appreciated Crosslands because it’s mostly reading rather than lectures, which is much easier online. If you tend to learn best from listening rather than reading, you should probably find a different class. But for this American who struggled in the lecture-heavy American education system, a UK based reading-heavy class has been a delight. 

If you’re looking for a free (donation encouraged) class that is not a full seminary class, but still immensely helpful for the average lay person, Dallas Theological Seminary, has a four week long course that will equip you for years of Bible study. 

 A Set Time 

Serious Bible study takes focus. Focusing takes time. I have a scheduled time each week that I get to dig into whatever portion of Scripture I’m studying. It’s during my son’s nap times on Saturdays. That way, if he doesn’t nap well, my husband is the one who takes care of him and I still get my study time. Many people set apart certain mornings to study. I’ve tried this before and found myself sleeping at my desk with my coffee growing cold. Even when I was able to stay awake, I couldn’t make the words on the page make any sense to my brain. So now, I happily sleep to a reasonable hour and study while the sun is in the sky. 

Commentaries 

This is my last used tool. After I’ve studied a passage, read it repeatedly, asked questions of it, and sought for the answers within scripture, then it’s time to reference a commentary. Start with a classic full Bible commentary like the Matthew Henry Commentary and build your library from there. 

Most of all, in order to read and study the Bible well, I’ve need to commit and recommit myself to doing the work over and over again. There are weeks that I slog through my Bible Study, unsure of what the pay off is. I know it’s good for me to do. I know it will help me to know and worship the Lord better. But I still find myself looking for the instant gratification. The way studying will change and sanctify me today. However, I don’t always or even usually walk away from my study time with a clear understanding of how the Lord is working in my life through it, but looking back, I can see the transformation he’s work. As my knowledge of and love for his Word has grown, he has used that to transform my heart and make me more like him. It’s a lifelong work, and for that I’m thankful.

Do you have any recommendations for Bible Study resources? If so, I’d love to learn from you. Comment below.

Misreading Exodus

I once taught children’s Sunday school and was given a curriculum to use about the Exodus story. The gist of the lesson was that Pharaoh disobeyed God, so God punished Egypt with plagues. Therefore we should obey God unless we really like frogs. I ignored the curriculum and told the class of thirteen kindergarten boys the story of God revealing his glory to the world.

Ancient Egypt was the most powerful kingdom in the world at the time. And Pharaoh was the most powerful man on earth. Egypt had the strongest military and the most wealth. They had enslaved whole people groups, like the Hebrews. It seemed no one could defeat or diminish Egypt.

Enter Yahweh

Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, told Pharaoh through Moses to let his people go. Pharaoh would have scoffed at letting such a large part of his workforce go. Who would make him?

As an answer, God sent a series of plagues to dismantle the image of power Egypt had created for itself. Each plague showed God’s dominion over something the Egyptians worshipped or drew their power from. The Nile, both an object of worship and their source of agriculture, was turned to blood. Their cattle died. Locusts ruined their crops. The sun went dark.

The Lord was shouting to everyone in Egypt, from Pharaoh to the lowliest slave, that He was greater than the gods of the strongest kingdom on Earth.

Anytime Pharaoh seemed to relent, God would harden his heart. He was not done yet. He had more false gods to dethrone.

Salvation Through a Lamb

Then God foretold the tenth plague. The firstborn in every household would die unless they obeyed God’s command to spread lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their house.

Pharaoh lost his son and heard the grief of his people. He relented. He let God’s people go.

But the story did not stop there. Once again, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he regretted what he had done and sent his military to stop them. The strongest military in the world chased down a group of recently freed slaves including elderly people, children and animals. Pharaoh could be assured of his success.

Except God.

Except God had just defeated all of Egypt’s gods. Except God had destroyed Egypt’s crops, and shown His might over and over and over through a stuttering shepherd and his younger brother.

Even so, Pharaoh sent his armies. And God showed the world that he could protect his people from the mightiest army in the world.

God is Mighty to Save

If we make this a story simply about obeying God or else he will destroy you, we miss what the story is teaching about God. Yes, God sent plagues to Egypt in response to Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. But he did it for a reason: to show the world his glory.

His power to save was made known throughout the surrounding nations. Everywhere the Hebrews travelled, kings had heard of what Yahweh had done for his people. They heard that He had rescued His people and believed that He could do it again. The world heard that the God of the Hebrews was mighty to save.

He also did it to fulfill his promise. He had promised that he bring his people out of Egypt and into the promised land. The God of the Israelites is not a capricious God. He does what he says He will do. 

In the middle of showing his glory to the world, God offers salvation through the blood of a lamb. God would continue to use the imagery of blood on wood as a means of salvation until it’s ultimate culmination in Christ’s death on the cross. 

In short, the story of Exodus shows that God is mighty to save.

Learning from my Emotions

I’ve been in numerous Bible Studies that seem more like collective naval gazing rather than studying scripture together. The focus of the conversation is how the participants feel about Scripture rather than the content of Scripture itself. However, the gap between discussing Scripture and discussing our feelings about Scripture is wide. In my experience, women’s Bible studies frequently fail to bridge that gap. 

I confess, I’ve been arrogant and dismissive toward a lot of Bible study groups that I’ve been a part of because of the emphasis on feelings. A more loving response would have been to try to draw the participants into a conversation about what the Scripture actually says. Instead, I sat in a silent tiffy and didn’t show up the next week. 

However, recently I’ve been learning the role that examining our feelings toward a passage can actually have when we’re studying the Bible. While it is not the whole of Bible study, it can have a small role. When I read the command to do everything without grumbling or dissent, I get a little annoyed. I like to grumble. It makes me feel better than other people. 

My annoyance reveals sin in my heart. Pressing into and examining that emotion helps me to face my sin so that I may repent of it. What about this annoys me? What potential effects of this command on my life am I recoiling from? For me, its that in order to not complain, I have to find constructive ways to communicate about problems. In other words, I can’t leave in a self-righteous tiff. 

In acknowledging what we feel, we give room for the scriptures to teach us. Emotions do have a role in studying the Scriptures, but it’s not always a pleasant process. And while I am not fond of admitting my sin to people, the times when I’ve opened up about my less than pretty emotional responses to Scripture have been good for my soul. 

However, we need to be able pair this emotional intelligence with a deepening understanding of scripture. As I keep reading the passage in Philippians, I see Paul talking about some really negative, difficult things: someone he loves almost dying, a church that he’s worried about, his own sorrows and hardships. He’s not complaining about them. But he’s also not ignoring them. Through this, I learn that “not complaining” doesn’t mean “never communicate things that are hard or wrong”. It means trust the Lord, deeply and fully, so that when you’re talking about difficult things, you do it in a way that reveals more about your faith in the Lord than the difficulty of your circumstance.

If you’ve been in church long, you’ve probably been around someone who does this in a way that seems like they are putting on a face. Or maybe you’ve been the person glossing over hardships with a veneer of faith in the Lord, never letting people see how much you’re really struggling. I have too. When I read Philippians 2:14, Paul challenges me toward a genuine rootedness in the Lord so that my faith in Him is seen in the struggle. 

The only way I can cultivate that trust in the Lord is to know him through his Word. And the only way I can cultivate that emotional intelligence that true vulnerability takes is to examine my emotions before the Lord. 

Why You Don’t Have to be Married to be Holy

In my single years, I went to a church that had a lot of singles. The pastoral staff spoke purposefully to us from the pulpit. We constantly heard that we were not second-rate church members, that we were deeply valued and needed, that our gifts, our time, ourselves were a vital part of this church. It was a good place to be single.

But on other Sunday mornings, I heard a different message, usually when there was a sermon on marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. It’s a common refrain in the Body of Christ. After the aside to singles about how being single didn’t discount us from fully participating in the body of Christ, we heard how sanctifying marriage was. Specifically, that there is nothing quite like marriage for sanctification. With that one statement, all the inclusive rhetoric toward singles was negated. Because if there’s nothing quite like marriage for sanctification and godliness, then by being single, I am lacking the necessary prerequisites to be truly holy.

This didn’t add up with the other teaching of the church. So I knew the pastors’ ad nauseam statements about the value of singles within the church were false, or marriage does not have a unique ability to sanctify. I chose to believe the latter.

Now understand that I am not saying that marriage is not sanctifying. Not for a moment. Marriage can be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, and our sin. But it is only a tool. It is God who transforms us, whatever our life situation, into a clearer image of Himself. Singleness can also be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, our sin. And since it’s the same God wielding the tool, it has the same potential for sanctification as marriage.

Over the years of being single, this unstated message wore down on me. It was demoralizing to hear a statement on repeat which had as it’s logical underpinning that I simply didn’t have the same potential in my walk with the Lord as my married friends. Especially, as I got older and more people I knew – many of whom were selfish and immature – were pairing up and getting married. If it was true that there was nothing quite like marriage for sanctification, then I wasn’t just lonely and bored, I was lonely, bored, and unholy.

I didn’t speak up on this when I was single because there was always a small voice in my head that said, “But you don’t really know that. You’ve never been married.” I see now that I should have combated that voice with the simple truth that God will provide everything I need for life and godliness. My sanctification does not depend on my life circumstance, but on God. My husband and I are only a few years into marriage, so I know there will be people who will read this and think “Just wait till you’re five years in. Wait till you retire, and he’s home all day.” To that I say, “No”.

No, I will not wait to find out what the ideal situation for growing in holiness is. No I will not wait for my real growth in the Lord to start just because someone tells me that their real growth in the Lord started at such and such point in their life. I will pursue growth now. Where I’m currently at: as a “young married” who thinks this marriage thing is pretty fun and easy.

You see, if difficult things are sanctifying things, than for me, singleness was far more sanctifying than marriage. Over the last few years, there have been moments that were challenging, when I had to consciously choose to be selfless, or remember that I have a share in conflict, and it’s not my part to blame my husband when something doesn’t go right. I have had moments like that. But those are the exceptions. For the most part, it’s been just like normal life, but with less stress and more fun.

When I was single, especially before I met my husband, I was faced every day with a situations that demanded that I live selflessly. When I walked in my door in the evening and there was no husband, no partner in life, to enjoy the evening with, I had to choose not to wallow in loneliness, though it was deeply felt. I had to choose to use my time instead to serve, or to rest well, or pray. I couldn’t succumb to the pull of Netflix or the internet just because I was in my house by myself, though those things would numb the ache I felt.

Every time I spent time with friends and was the third, fifth, or seventh wheel at the table, I had to choose to enjoy the time and not focus on how everyone was paired up and I was not. I had to choose thankfulness over focusing on what I didn’t have. Each of those daily, moment by moment choices, drove me to the throne of God. To live life genuinely celebrating with others while walking in deep loneliness requires a profound dependence on the Lord. That is sanctifying.

You see I was single, not because I really wanted to be, but because there were a plethora of amazing Godly women around me, and very few men stepping up to the plate. The numbers just didn’t work in my favor. I’m a fairly logical person, so I couldn’t delude myself into thinking that marriage was a guarantee for me, though my happily (or sometimes not-so-happily) married friends liked to insist that it was.

In the middle of that day-by-day loneliness, I also had to wrestle with the fact that I was watching the majority of the people around me get their turn at this marriage thing, and my part was to celebrate with them, all the while knowing that I may never get my turn. If I wanted to be genuine in my friendships, then selfishness could have no role.

No matter your circumstance in life, hard things will happen, challenges will come up. There will be relationships or situations that demand more love and selflessness of you than you care to give. God uses those moments, even those years, to sanctify us and draw us to Himself. Marriage will bring up those opportunities for growth. But so will singleness.

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Noah’s Ark is Not a Children’s Story

Noah’s ark is not a children’s story. It’s about God killing all of humanity with a flood. Everyone on Earth, except one family, drowned to death.

Oh and there’s some animals too.

Obviously, this story appears regularly in children’s Sunday school because little kids love animals. In telling the story to children while focusing on all the cute animals, we’re teaching children and ourselves to tame scripture, to ignore what it actually says and make it more palatable to our modern sensibilities.

But scripture is not tame. It is not easy to read. You can either ignore the hard parts and focus on the encouraging bits, though many of those are misquoted and misunderstood. Or you can wrestle with the difficult passages and through them know God more.

Let’s not miss the point of the story: God judges the wicked and saves those who follow him.

The story of Noah’s ark includes God judging humanity for its sin, picking one family to save, and willingly destroying those he chose not to save. This is not a story meant for our modern sensibilities.

But what do we learn in the story?

God Desires Righteousness

Sin demands death. In Genesis 3 we see that rebellion to God, whose very person is the source of all life, necessarily brings about death. Humankind had devolved into rampant depravity and perversion. They were rebelling against God who had created them and made them in his image. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen 6:5) Instead of living in glad submission to God, humanity was rebelling against him which only leads to destruction.

The Lord had made it clear to previous generations that sin was not ok. And yet Noah’s generation filled the earth with violence due to their rebellion.

The Lord decides that he will start over with the family of a righteous man. What does “righteous” mean? Surely not infallible, because Noah had a major drunken carousing sort of failing after the flood.

Based on Noah’s actions in the story, righteous refers to someone who trusts God. Noah trusted God enough to obey him and build the ark, to gather his family and the animals. He trusted God through the storm and weeks of flooding. He trusted God enough to praise him in the midst of devastation. He was not perfect, but he trusted the Lord.

God is Gracious

God is gracious to Noah in that he gives him a chance to be saved from the flood. However, God didn’t just miraculously protect Noah. He gave him a command to obey: “Build a big boat.” If Noah had disobeyed, he would not have been saved. But he took the opportunity given to him by God to trust God. Noah had a faith that showed in his diligent work of building a boat even in the midst of mocking neighbors.

Noah’s obedience shows a deeply formed character and a heart that trusts God. Building a large boat by hand is not a short project, and Noah persisted in obeying over the long-haul.

God Keeps Promises

Even though sin demands death, God promises that he’ll never destroy the earth through flood again and puts a sign in the sky as a symbol of that promise. Those who keep reading know that God already has a plan to defeat death caused by sin. Christ would come, and instead of God destroying the world because of sin, Christ would allow the world to destroy him. In his death and resurrection, we are freed from the price of our sin.

God has promised that he will make the world whole again. Far from destroying the world, he will renew it into what the Earth was always meant to be. And just as he kept his promise of a savior, we know that he will keep this promise. We can trust him.