FOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR SUCCESSFUL JOURNALING

by Roger Severino  

  

I am not consistent in my journaling, but have at one time or another practiced each of these methods. Maybe you will find at least one of these helpful to you.

  1. Journal Your Experiences. I know people who do this on a consistent basis. They keep a diary of their experiences and then can look back on ways God has been at work in their lives. Without capturing these with pen and paper, we can lose the opportunity to see how God delivered us from a trying season, or miss the chance to see growth in our lives. Unfortunately, I have tended to practice this only during particularly dark or difficult times, so if someone reads my journals when I die, they will think I lived a pretty sad and sorry life. Nevertheless, it has been therapeutic for me to write out what I am feeling and invite God’s presence into the experience.
  2. Journal Your Bible Study. Donald Whitney has said that the difference between Bible reading and Bible study is pen and paper. I have been a little more consistent in this area. Sometimes I take notes on what I am reading, perhaps writing out the main principles or how I will apply the text to my life. Occasionally, I create an outline of a passage as if I would teach it. There are times I merely copy onto paper the exact words I am reading. That might sound strange, but I absorb and process a text differently when I write out the words compared to when I simply read them. I would encourage you to have pen and paper in hand when you do your Bible study.
  3. Journal Your Prayers. Why write out your prayers? This process gives structure and coherence to your prayers. If you’re like me, my mind often drifts when I pray, and writing out my prayers has helped me to stay focused and voice what I wish to pray. It helps me be intentional on what I want to praise God for, or what I want to confess, or what I need to request for myself or others. This is not a daily habit of mine, but I have found this profitable when I have practiced writing out my prayers.
  4. Journal Your Prayer List. OK, this relates to journaling your prayers, but this is a little different. Do you want to be intentional about who you pray for? If so, write out a prayer list in your notebook or journal. For example, I want to pray for my family members each day. This goes on my daily prayer list. Also, there are other things I may wish to pray for daily, such as my Oikos list (5-10 unbelievers who I have identified that are in my sphere of relationships). There are others who I want to pray for on a weekly basis. In the back of my notebook, I have divided the sheet into eight quadrants by drawing a line down the middle and three horizontal lines. The top left quadrant is for daily prayers. The remaining seven quadrants are the days of the week. Under each of these, I have identified family, friends, missionaries, countries, co-workers, ministers, etc., that I wish to pray for on a weekly basis.

THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK IN YOUR PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY

by Roger Severino

 

  1. What did this text mean to the original readers (as best I can discern)? The basis for trying to understand any text is to discern the author’s intent. It’s the courtesy we try to provide for anyone in communication. If you and I have a conversation, and I take your words out of context and interpret them in a way you did not intend, then I have not listened well as a hearer. The same goes with the Bible. What did the biblical author intend for his readers to understand? Now, this is not always easy. It requires some basic practices, knowledge and discernment. You want to read a passage in its context—what comes before it, what comes after it. At times, it is helpful to know the historical context and cultural context. It can be helpful to know what type of literature this is—is it poetry, narrative, or some other genre? Here is where Bible study tools can be helpful. A Study Bible can help with its introductions to the book and the commentary it provides. Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries, and other resources can also be useful. You can ask a trusted spiritual leader for helps with resources.
  2. What principle from this text can and should be applied across time, geography, and cultures? Once I have attempted to discern what the author wanted to communicate to his original audience, then I look for principles from this passage that transcend the circumstances of the author and reader. If I’m reading Leviticus and its various sacrifices, I consider the principle applied today. We know from the New Testament that Christ’s sacrifice is “once for all” and that there is no more need of animal sacrifices (see especially the Book of Hebrews). But, I may still understand that God has to deal with sin and that sin is serious enough and requires a payment. This principle may allow me to consider and reflect on the cross of Christ and gain new insights on what Jesus has done on my behalf. When looking for a principle, I should consider the whole story of the Bible and how a passage applies in light of being a part of the New Covenant in Christ.
  3. How does the truth of this passage relate and apply to me? Why can’t we simply start with this question and skip the first two? The danger of only asking “What does this text mean to me?” is that it can easily digress into rampant subjectivism and narcissism. That is, I am in danger of reading into the text whatever I want through the lenses of my life and circumstances. I may try to make the Bible say something that it never intended to say. I can make the Bible all about me, where I am the main point (hint: it’s not about you). But…once I have done the hard work of thinking about and praying through the first two questions, then it is important and necessary to ask this third question. Bible study should never simply be an academic exercise. Ultimately, studying the Bible should result in life transformation as I submit myself to the teachings of Scripture.

The first question grounds my interpretation in the historical meaning related to the author’s intent. The second question tries to discern which principles rightly apply to other contexts, bridging the text to the modern reader. The third question insures that I apply the Bible and its truths to my life, and do not make Bible study simply an academic exercise. Ultimately, I engage the Word of God because in these pages I believe I can encounter the God of the Word. This is an academic exercise, but never merely an intellectual routine. I wish to present myself as a worker approved by God, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

FOUR MOTIVATIONS TO SHARE MY FAITH

by Roger Severino

 

I have a confession to make. Though I work in vocational ministry as a minister in a church, I am not drawn to canned approaches to evangelism, or programmatic ways of sharing my faith. I’m not saying God cannot use these approaches, and I do believe there are Christians who are gifted in using these methods. For me, I often feel like a salesman or someone peddling his wares. Having said that, there are things that motivate me to engage in sharing my faith. Here are a few:

  1. God is both Holy and Merciful. The holiness of God is a reminder that He is perfect and perfectly just. The apostle John put it this way: “God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” God’s perfect justice is good news because we know that righteousness will ultimately prevail in this world, but it is bad news in that my sin and evil thoughts, intents, and actions must be addressed. There is a Judgment Day in which everyone will stand before a holy God. Fortunately, there is more good news. “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”[1] God was in Christ providing the way of forgiveness and reconciliation, and now gives me the privilege of joining with Him in this ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
  2. God Values Lost Things. I think I heard pastor Bill Hybels first share this phrase in unpacking Luke 15. In this passage, we learn about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or sons, if you factor in the older brother). When the lost sheep and lost coin are found, there is celebration. Jesus teaches that “in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”[2] When the prodigal son comes home, the father (or Father, if we remember that this figure represents God) celebrates because his son was lost and is now found. These stories Jesus told remind me that God cares about my unbelieving friends, neighbors, and family members even more than I do. He loves them and longs for them to be found.
  3. Jesus’ Example of Loving Sinners. Whether it was joining a party with Levi (Matthew) and his friends known as sinners (Luke 5:29-32) or allowing the “sinful woman” to wash his feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), there is ample evidence that Jesus loved sinners. This truth is a reminder that unbelievers are not the enemy, but rather victims of the Enemy. Christians can distort this truth when we develop an “us vs. them” mentality and treat unbelievers as opponents to be fought against. There is one Adversary. Question: Do we love those who have different beliefs, morals, and values than we do? Do we love those who vote differently or advocate for causes contrary to what we believe? Do we show them the love of Christ and pray for their salvation?
  4. I am Commanded and Privileged to Work with God in Reaching the Lost. Jesus commissions all believers to share the good news with the entire world (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8). Why would I withhold this from anyone I love? My only responsibility is to be a witness; not a prosecutor. I can leave the results to God. He promises to be with me and to empower me by His Holy Spirit. It is a privilege in that I have the opportunity to participate with God in His work in the lives of others. I must, however, be willing and obedient to join Him in this work.

[1] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Ro 5:8.
[2] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Lk 15:10.