2016 is upon us and maybe you have set a goal in your mind to read the Bible all the way through. If you have (which I think you should), I have a couple of tips that will help you not only get started but also follow through with your ambition. There are three things that are needed to follow through with reading the entire Bible this year:
1. Have A Set Time & Place
Much Bible reading is not done because it is not planned to be done. I suggest finding a regular (if possible) time everyday to sit down and read your Bible. I have found that the early morning hours work best for me since I am most attentive and alert. On top of finding a regular time, find a place that you can read your Bible regularly. For me, it's in my office. For others, it may be in their living room, Starbucks, etc. Having a regular time and place to meet with God in His Word is helpful in getting in the routine of reading the Bible.
2. Get A Reading Plan You Like
This is important. Find a reading plan that you like. Justin Taylor recently wrote a huge post for the TGC blog on a variety of different plans (you can read the post here). For me, I enjoy using the reading plan laid out in D.A. Carson's For The Love of God. There are a lot of plans out there. So be sure to find the one that you like the most! My church is going through the Bible this year and has a great reading plan put together that you can download here.
3. Read Out Loud
This may seem strange, but I read my Bible out loud. I have found that when I read out loud, I am not prone to wander off in my mind or get distracted by other things. Instead, I am focusing on each word I am saying. This helps me not only truly read, but meditate at the same time. Give it a try!
2013 will forever be etched into the fabric of my memory as the year in which I stumbled upon the Valley of Vision. Perhaps you have never heard of this book, so allow me to introduce it to you.
The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers bound together in one book. The Banner of Truth published it in 1975 and eventually it was republished several times. The book contains 'themed' prayers written out by a variety of Puritans such as Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, Charles Spurgeon, Henry Law, among many others. The themes include Redemption and Reconciliation, Needs, Approaching God, and many others. You may ask the question 'why would I want a book filled with written-out prayers from hundreds of years ago?' I have three reasons:
1. They Awaken My Dull Heart
The Valley of Vision has been used by God to raise my affections in prayer when I often feel my heart is dull. I cannot begin to count how many times I have stumbled into my office at home in the early hours of the morning, gotten down on my knees to pray and have felt as though my heart was indifferent towards God. It has been in those very moments that The Valley of Vision was used by the Spirit of God to raise my affections and inject passion into my heart for God as I pray through that book.
2. They Cultivate Creativity In My Prayer Life
I don't want a boring prayer life. I just don't. I want a prayer life that is real and moving. 'What do you mean by boring?' Here is what I mean: If someone were to be a fly-on-the-wall in my office at 6:00a on Tuesday morning and heard me pray, I don't want them walking away uninspired to pray themselves. I once read that an unbelieving man who was prayed for by Charles Spurgeon one night walked away telling his friends 'That man prays as if the Living God hears him!' I want that. The Valley of Vision moves me to be creative in my prayers. Praying the Bible in ways that are fresh and powerful. It has been an immense help in this area.
3. They Challenge Me To Devote Myself To Prayer
The prayers recorded in this book spur me on to faithfulness in my prayer life. As I read the prayers of the Puritans of old I am humbled because I realize how devoted those men were to prayer. I want to be like that. With every page you turn you cannot help but see the years of experience these men have at dining with God on their knees. I pray that God would continue to teach me and push me to pray as I flip through the pages of this priceless book.
Enter for a chance to win a copy of The Valley of Vision
Because I love the Valley of Vision so much, I want to give away a copy to one person on January 4th. To enter, fill out this form:
For the first time in my life, I am writing out some initiatives that I want to have in the upcoming year. These involve a whole host of things such as losing a certain amount of weight, reading an allotted amount of books, and spending more time with Clarissa. I want to encourage you to do the same! To help you, I want to walk you through the process I went through this year to determine what my 2016 initiatives should be.
1. Ask The Right Question
The first thing I did this year before planning out initiatives was ask myself this question: What do I want to see God accomplish this year in my life and in the lives of those around me? I wrote down several things from getting healthier to going on more dates with my wife. Do that. Sit down and ask yourself that question. Then write down all the things that flood your mind on a piece of paper.
2. Sort It Out
After asking the right question, take the things you have written down and divide them up in categories. I divided mine up into four categories: Mental, Physical, Spiritual, and Relational (see my attached file at the bottom of this post). Dividing those things into categories make it easier for you to organize that list.
3. Pray and Purge
After dividing everything up into categories, pray and purge. I did this for about a month with a list I had made in October. I had around 50 things that got dwindled down to around 10. Ask God to give you direction in the things you have written down. Which things are self-gratifying and self-serving? Which things are centered around God getting glory? Ask questions like this and scratch out any initiatives that you feel God leading you away from.
4. Get Specific
This is my favorite part. Now that your list is dwindled down, get specific about what you want to see accomplished in 2016. For example, if you wrote down 'I want to lose weight' get specific. How much weight do you want to lose? How are you going to accomplish that. You will see on my Leadership Initiatives sheet that I was very specific about how I wanted to go about losing some weight I had gained this year. Do the same for each category to give you direction and clarity.
5. Stick To It
This is by far the hardest part: sticking to it. I printed out my Leadership and Ministry Initiatives sheets on nice paper and laminated them. I placed a set in my office at home, in my office at church, and in my briefcase that I carry everywhere. I do this so that I don't forget what I have committed to. This helps me focus and realign my schedule to try and accomplish the things that I have written down at the beginning of the year.
My Leadership Initiatives For 2016
So what about you? What are some things that you want to see God do in your life this year? How do you go about setting goals for the new year? Comment and let me know!
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about Christianity. From the validity of the Bible to the purpose of the church, people have thoughts that can tend to be too far left from the real truth. A misconception that I have seen in my own life for many years is that the Christian life is full of big moments. Let me step back for a moment to give you a glimpse of what I mean...
The Old Days
When I became a believer in 2010, I had the misconception that the Christian life is full of the extraordinary. I had thoughts that I would pray and see God move in incredible ways (with hardly any need to "wait upon the Lord" of course), feel God's presence every time I pray or read the Bible, and that every time I shared the Gospel with someone they would be converted within a week. I am now wiser enough to know that God never promised any of those things. In fact, the more I live the Christian life, I am finding that God works more in ordinary ways than He does extraordinary ways.
Ordinary Isn't Bad
This realization came to me about a year and a half ago when I read Michael Horton's book Ordinary. In the book, he talks about how God is at work through the ordinary means of grace. God pours out His grace into our lives and is at work in us as we do the ordinary things of everyday life. So what does this look like practically speaking? A couple of months ago I committed to doing more around my home so that my wife could be freed up to do things that she enjoyed and found refreshing after she got off at work. This meant that the first thing I do when I get home is take out the trash, do the dishes, wipe the counters, vacuum, change light bulbs, and a host of other tedious things. I have seen God change me through committing to do something so ordinary like things around the house. He gave me a greater care for my wife and appreciation for all she does in and outside of our home. He instilled in me a greater work ethic and discipline to do things even when I don't feel like it. He taught me the discipline of slowing down and breaking away from my constant non-stop pace. God met me in the ordinary. But this is not easy for us. Because we are so oriented to want to 'change the world', we bypass the ordinary. As Horton says, "Everyone wants to change the world but no one wants to wash the dishes." So what are we to do?
"The Christian life is this: doing ordinary things through the extraordinary power of Jesus Christ."
Commit Yourself To The Ordinary
We desperately need to view life in light of what it truly is: small moments. Our lives are made up of small moments. There may be a handful of big moments in our lives, but for the majority, we live in a world made up of small moments. Therefore, there is no such thing as an insignificant moment. There is no conversation that is 'too ordinary'. We must view every moment as a God-given opportunity to bring Him glory, regardless of how small it may seem. Zack Eswine wrote about this in his book The Imperfect Pastor:
"As you enter ministry, you will be tempted to orient your desires toward doing large things in famous ways as fast and as efficiently as you can. But take note. A crossroads waits for you. Jesus is that crossroads. Because almost anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly overlooked things, over a long period of time with Him. The pastoral vocation, because it focuses on helping people cultivate what truly matters, is therefore no exception."
The Christian life is this: doing ordinary things through the extraordinary power of Jesus Christ. That's it. We cannot lose sight of this, because if we do, we lose sight of what matters most: Bringing Him glory in all that we do. So do those dishes, clean the house, teach the kids, watch a movie with your spouse, go on a walk with a friend, and do it all for the glory of Him who has called you to something extraordinary: Himself.
Do you treasure Christ? How are you to know for sure?
I've recently been reading a book by the Puritan Thomas Watson entitled A Godly Man's Picture. The book is a part of the Puritan Paperback series available at Banner of Truth (They are on sale right now!). In the book, he lists eight characteristics of those who hold Christ as their supreme treasure. Read these slowly and introspectively. Ask God to reveal to you the true condition of your heart:
1. "If we are prizers of Christ, then we prefer him in our judgments before other things."
Watson expands on this point: "He who prizes Christ counts the worst things of Christ better than the best things of the world... You will hear some say they have honourable thoughts of Christ, but they prize their land and estate above Him... May it not be feared, if an hour of trial comes, that there are many who would rather renounce their baptism, and throw off Christ's livery, than hazard the loss of their earthly possessions for Him?" People who treasure Christ want Him more than riches, success, or any other worldly gift.
2. "If we are the prizers of Christ, we cannot live without Him; things which we value we know not how to be without."
Are you content having the things of this world without Christ? If so, your treasure if not Jesus. Watson continues: "Let us test by this - do they prize Christ who can manage well enough to be without Him? Give a child a rattle, and it will not want gold. If men only have worldly provisions, 'corn and wine', they can be content enough without Christ." What is it that you want more than anything right now? If you could only have one thing in the world, would it be Christ?
3. "If we are prizers of Christ, then we shall not complain at any pains to get him."
Watson is saying that people who claim they love Christ, yet will not do anything hard to know Him more, do not really love or treasure Him. He asks an important question, "Does he who not take medicine or exercise prize his health?" In other words, can someone who claims they care about their health eat junk food all the time and never work out? Can someone claim Christ as their treasure yet never spend any time with Him in prayer or in His Word? By no means.
4. "If we are prizers of Christ, then we take great pleasure in Christ."
"He who prizes Christ makes Him his greatest joy." If Christ is your treasure, He is your greatest joy. He will be the One that lifts your affections and joy to the utmost place.
5. "If we are prizers of Christ, then we will part with our dearest pleasures for Him."
The person that treasures Christ forsakes all worldly pleasure for the greatest pleasure, Christ Himself. Watson says, "How can they be said to prize Christ who will not leave a vanity for Him? What scorn and contempt they put on the Lord Jesus who prefer damning pleasure before a saving Christ!" In other words, you can't treasure Christ and treasure sin too.
6. "If we are prizers of Christ, we shall think we cannot have Him at too dear a rate."
There is no price to great to pay to treasure Christ above all. There is no amount of famine, persecution, or loss that can ever be 'not worth it' to treasure Christ. As Watson puts it, "We may buy gold too dearly but we cannot purchase Christ too dearly."
7. "If we are prizers of Christ, we will be willing to help others to get a part in Him."
"If a man has found a spring of water, he will call others that they may drink and satisfy their thirsts." It is impossible to truly treasure Christ and not tell anyone about Him. A sure sign that you do not treasure Christ is that your lips are sealed when you meet unbelievers.
8. "If we are prizers of Christ, then we prize Him in health as well as in sickness; when we are enlarged, as well as when we are straitened."
People who treasure Christ do not forget about Him when things are going great or run from Him when things are going bad. They love and cherish Him when the bank account is overflowing and when it is empty. Sinners run to Christ when things are bad, but deny His existence when things are good. As Watson says, "Godless persons never look for Christ except at death, when they are in danger of hell."
John and Jill are both Christians who are in a relationship with one another. They've been dating for a year and truly want to live for God and hold Him as their highest treasure. One night, after a romantic date out on the town, John and Jill head back into their car with feelings of delight and a strong desire to be with one another sexually. One thing leads to another and before they know it, they've done the very thing they swore to never do: sex outside of marriage. The next morning they both meet up and agree that should never happen again. They feel genuine sorrow and ask for God's forgiveness.
Fast forward a week.
John and Jill are hanging out with friends in John's apartment. Because it is getting late, John's friends leave. John and Jill are alone and strongly desire to be with one another sexually. Knowing they should part ways, they decide to stay together and watch a movie on the couch. One thing leads to another and John and Jill find themselves doing the very thing they swore to never do again a week ago.
Maybe you have found yourself in a place like that. You sin, feel guilt and shame, and then swear to never do it again. A few days later (for some, less than that) and you find yourself in that sin again. Here is the question we must ask: How do I know I'm repentant? In other words, how do I know I mean what I say when I speak the words, 'I don't want to do this anymore'?
The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11:
(10) For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (11) For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
From this passage, we learn that there are five marks of a truly repentant person:
1. Genuine Sorrow.
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..."
When you sin, do you just feel bad that you did it because it was wrong? Or do you feel bad because it grieves the heart of God? You know you are repentant when you look at your sin and say with David, "Against you and you only have I sinned..." (Psalm 51:4).
2. No Rationalization.
"Whereas worldly sorrow produces death."
We've seen it a thousand times. That hollywood or sports star gets busted for doing something illegal and they say sorry mixed in with 'If it wasn't for _____, I wouldn't have done it'. Worldly grief is defined by rationalization. People who have this are quick to blame others for their sin and slow to take ownership of what they have done. Do you make excuses for your sin? Do you blameshift? Do you fail to take ownership of your sin when you fall? The Bible promises that a lifestyle of blame shifting does not produce salvation, but "death".
3. A Brutally Honest Confession of Sin.
"For see what earnestness this godly grief has produces in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves..."
Repentant people are people who confess their sin. They don't hold back in confessing their sin to one another. Repentant people don't try to cover up their sin, they don't put on a mask for people, and they don't lie about where they are at. Do you refuse to confess your sin to the people you respect in your life? Do you put on a mask before people, hoping they think you're alright, all the while knowing your heart is breaking?
4. Strive To Make Things Right.
"What indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!"
Paul here says that those who are characterized by repentance are those who have a hatred and fear of their sin. People who hate their sin strive to make things right that they did wrong. Those who steal give back what they stole and strive to live a life of generosity (Eph. 4:28). Those who lie confess their lie and seek to live a life of truth-telling. What does this look like for those like John and Jill who can't reverse what has already been done? To answer that, let's look at the fifth mark...
"People who are repentant make a plan of action that will set up boundaries for them to not fall back into the sin that they are repenting of."
5. Initiate A Plan For Victory
"At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter."
People who are repentant make a plan of action that will set up boundaries for them to not fall back into the sin that they are repenting of. This is done in the spirit of Matthew 5:29-30 where Jesus tells us that repentant people take radical measures to cut off all opportunities to fall back into sin. This means that John and Jill set up rules where they will not be alone. This means the porn addict puts a web filter like Covenant Eyes on their computer and gets accountability. This will look different for everyone, but the point is that the repentant person wants to change and thus makes a plan for how they will change.
Maybe you are reading this and you find yourself discouraged because you seem to keep falling into the same sin over and over again. Friend, look at your life and see if these five marks are a part of your life. If they are not, repent and God would flood your life with grace to live a life well-pleasing to Him.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.