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10 PRINCIPLES for STUDYING your BIBLE
By CHARLES F. STANLEY
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Moses lifted his eyes and saw the flames in the distance. Something was burning on the side of the mountain—something unlike anything he had ever seen. He watched it—at first with curiosity, but then with wonder. It was a consuming fire. Yet the bush that contained the flame was not destroyed. For years, he had shepherded his father-in-law's flocks and on occasion noticed fires burning in the distance, but this one was different. It was more than a campfire of a neighboring shepherd. This fire burned with intensity and contained no hint of going out. Moses stood and watched this sight. Maybe he continued to move the flock from one place to another, noting that the fire was just as powerful in the evening as it had been in the first part of the day. Finally, he could wait no longer. He said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, [and discover] why the bush is not burned up" (Exod. 3:3).
God has a divine purpose resting behind events in life. Nothing is coincidental. The bush burned because He wanted to gain Moses' attention. He wanted Him to draw near. Sometimes His purpose for our lives is very clear. Sometimes it is not. It can appear to be very mysterious, but it never is to God. We may find ourselves asking, "God, what are You doing?" Certainly, Moses was in wonder over the sight of the burning bush. And more than likely, he wanted to know why it was not consumed.
Have you ever wondered why God allows certain challenges, events, and trials to take place? Most of us have. We encounter a serious problem and immediately are tempted to feel hopeless. Other times, when we sense a change we may actually welcome it. We find ourselves longing to have His wisdom, but how do we gain this? There is only one place, and that is in the company of God. God drew Moses to Himself. He knew exactly how His future deliverer would respond, and He knows how we will respond when He calls to us. "When the LORD saw that [Moses] turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here I am'" (v. 4). Forty years of living in a vast wilderness changed Moses. God had used the experience to prepare him for service. There probably was a time when he would not have noticed the flame that burned on the side of God's holy mountain. But this was no longer the case. God was drawing him close to Himself. How does He draw you and me close to Himself? Often it is in the same way, but the circumstances are different.
He may allow us to experience a challenge that is much greater than our ability to handle it. Moses spent forty years in a wilderness without the comforts that he once knew in Egypt. But each day was a day that God used to shape his life and prepare him for what he would do in the future. Each step he took was a step closer to becoming the man God created him to be.
He may set up a scenario to gain our attention. Moses saw a bush that was in full blaze, yet it was not destroyed. It definitely caught his eye, and he wondered how this could be happening. You may find yourself in a situation that is nothing like the one Moses saw unfold before him. It could be something as simple as standing in line at the grocery store and suddenly becoming aware of God's awesome love. Or you may be at home reading your morning devotional and suddenly you know God wants to speak to you about an incident or challenge that you have encountered. How do you know this? The words written on the page of your devotional book or Bible almost leap off. It is as if they are underlined and you are stopped by what you have read.
Regardless of how God draws us near, our response should be this: "Lord, I am here; speak to me and show me what You want to teach me." He may just want you to worship Him for a few minutes as you step away from the hurried pace of our world. Or He may want you to draw even closer through the study of His Word. This is where we uncover the deeper things of God—His nature, characteristics, and way. You cannot truly know God until you take time to read and study the Bible. Every question you have is answered within its pages. There is nothing you can think of that God has not thought of before you and fully explained in the text of His Word.
God loves you so much that He wants you to have His very best, but you cannot experience this outside of knowing Him. When you spend time studying His Word, you begin to realize that you are gaining the knowledge you need for a lifetime of devotion to Him. He also provides the wisdom you need for every circumstance of life. He withholds nothing. "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Ps. 84:11). But you cannot discover God's will for your life or for the situation that you are in apart from spending time with Him. This includes studying His Word with a notepad and an open heart.
I Want to Know You, Lord
When Moses stepped into God's presence for the first time, an intimate relationship began to form between him and the Lord. At the burning bush in Exodus 3, we read that Moses "hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" (v. 6). However, by Exodus 33, there is an entirely different account of their meetings. Verse 11 states, "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend." Moses drew near to God and became so involved with Him that he wanted to learn His ways. And this made the difference in his life and in the relationship he had with the Lord.
Often I ask people if they study their Bibles, especially when they are seeking counsel about an issue that is very clearly outlined in God's Word. I'm always surprised at the number of times I hear, "I try, but it is too hard to understand. I just leave the preaching and the studying up to you. I try to listen on Sundays." There is nothing difficult about reading God's Word. If you are having trouble, it could be the result of something that needs to be addressed such as a lack of faith in God or some unconfessed sin.
When we doubt His Word to us, we will not have the tools we need to see the circumstances of life clearly. I've counseled people and reminded them of God's promises for a certain situation. Before I could finish my sentence, they began talking, and usually their sentence began with, "But," and then they went on to give one excuse after another as to why God would not work on their behalf. This is what I mean by a lack of faith. God's love for us is everlasting. When you turn and come to Him, He will not cast you away. Moses lived on the back side of the desert for forty years. He probably thought no one cared for him, but God did. He loved Moses with an everlasting love. This is the same love He has for you and me. Moses, however, did not have the Holy Spirit or the Word of God to guide him. He had to rely on entering into God's presence and listening for His instruction.
Without the Holy Spirit we do not have the ability to comprehend God's truth. Yet the moment we surrender our lives to Him, He pours out His truth to us in such a way that we understand all we are being taught. If there is a question, He will take as much time as needed to teach us His truth. But if we want to unlock the truths the Bible contains, we must pick it up and begin to study it. God's Spirit is willing to teach us what we need to know, but first we must make ourselves available to Him.
Through the study of God's Word, we also learn the deeper things of God. It is one thing to know He loves us, but it is entirely different to realize that He has a plan for our lives. One of Satan's greatest lies is that we can do anything we want to do and still be in the will of God. I have watched as young men and women become frustrated in their Christian walk and drift in their faith. Years ago, when I was first offered a position at First Baptist Atlanta, I remember thinking, God is going to have to make His will crystal clear. I was the senior pastor in Bartow, Florida. If I took the position in Atlanta, I would be an associate pastor. It did not make sense to me, but I also realized that many times God's plan is not something we can understand from a human perspective. I had a pressing desire to pray and read His Word.
There was also an emotional churning within me that would not stop. I found great comfort through reading the Psalms and studying how David gave himself completely to the Lord. He held nothing back, and this is exactly what God wanted me to do—give all of myself to Him. Over a few weeks He revealed to me that He was indeed going to move me. Even though I did not like the idea, I surrendered myself to Him. And the moment I said yes, the inner churning in my spirit stopped. The way I discovered God's will for my life was through submitting and studying what the Bible had to say about situations similar to my own. The way I learned to obey was through prayer, surrender to God, and also by continuing to read about the lives of men and women who gave themselves to be used by God.
God's Spirit gives us discernment. What we believe about God determines how we live! Far too many believers go through life without being grounded in the Word of God. They take a wrong turn because they have not taken time to learn what God wants them to do. I could have said no to the Lord and not moved to Atlanta, but think of the blessing I would have missed. At the time of my decision, I had never visited the city. I had driven through on my way to another destination, but I did not know anything about it. One day while I was praying, it was as if I saw the skyline of the city within my mind.
A dark cloud was positioned over it. My heart sank because I knew God was forewarning me that while this was His will, I was going to have a hard time in my new ministry. This has been true, but I would not change a thing concerning my ministry in Atlanta. God has done amazing things, but if I had refused to obey Him, I never would have experienced His blessings in so many ways. Nor would I have learned all that I have over these thirty-plus years. I took time to ask God to show me His will through His Word. The discernment I needed for this situation and all the others in my life came as a result of studying the Word of God. We can have "common" sense, but it is so much more advantageous to have godly discernment. When difficulty comes, we can turn back the pages of time in our minds and remind the Lord that He brought us this far and we believe that He will carry us on from here.
The apostle Paul writes, "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thess. 5:16–22). One of the ways you quench God's Spirit is when you ignore His call. He may be leading you to spend time in the morning with Him in prayer and Bible study. For days and weeks, you have felt a sense of drawing within your heart and you keep saying, "I'll do it tomorrow." If you do not have a godly grid system within your thought processes, then you cannot detect error and will be drawn away into all kinds of erroneous thinking and ventures. The Word of God was given to us, not only to lead us into salvation, but also to lead us into a godly way of life. If we are to have lives that reflect God's love and grace to others, we must know Him and His truth.
Years ago I met an older woman who began to tell me how long she had been a Christian. She talked about the size of the church she attended and the degrees her pastor had. "We can seat over fifteen hundred in our sanctuary," she said proudly. Suddenly I was struck with one thought: I don't want to know about a church building. I want to know about Christ's life within you. What is He teaching you? Are you learning more about Him each day? Have you developed an awesome relationship with Him that goes beyond anything we can have this side of heaven? Buildings are places where we gather to worship the Lord, but God's temple is within the lives of those who love Him.
Are you living to know Him? If you are, then you will have a single desire welling up within you and that will be to "come" to Him. Like Moses, you will say, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight."
Chapter TwoLive a Surrendered Life
The burning bush encounter was a critical juncture in Moses' life. Not only was it the place where he was drawn to the Lord; it also was a place of ultimate surrender to God. When we read through Exodus 3, one of the things we notice is how God addressed every issue Moses had considered while in Egypt and probably during the years he was in the wilderness. It was as if God worked His way down Moses' list and then said, "Here is what I am going to do and what I want you to do." There was no time to argue. The Lord was ready to go to work. Moses was being given marching orders, and he could either say yes or no, but he wasn't given an opportunity to debate God's will with Him. He did ask God to tell him who was sending him. I believe Moses knew better than to refuse God's call.
He approached the burning bush and immediately the Lord instructed him to remove his sandals. From the start, God wanted Moses to know He was holy and worthy of honor and respect. People ask me, "How can I learn to study the Bible effectively?" The best way to begin is with unconditional surrender—on your face before the Lord in prayer. The Word of God is very clear to those who come to Him with open, submissive hearts. However, if we are consumed by the pressures of life and come to Him demanding that He answer a list of questions that we deem as being important, we will never experience what Moses did standing in God's awesome presence. He is not "on call" for us. Instead, He calls us to come to Him with an open heart.
Moses realized he was in the presence of holiness. He did not stop and think about how it would feel to have sand in his shoes, nor did he consider whether or not he would step on something that could hurt his feet. The most important thing to him at that moment was bowing down before the God of the universe. Our decision to trust Christ as our personal Savior was a starting point. God's goal is for us to live unconditionally surrendered to Him every day of our lives. If you study the life of Moses, you will find that many times, he had as much difficulty doing this as we do. But he never turned away from God. He experienced times of frustration that even led to sin. Yet he always honored God by seeking His restoration and forgiveness.
Surrender to Christ is a necessary part of the Christian life. Moses surrendered to hear God's voice. This is what He calls us to do as we read and study His Word each day. Moses obeyed the Lord because he realized very quickly that he was being led to do something he longed to accomplish. Often we hear people talk about not wanting to submit to God's will because they are afraid of what He might require of them. This is very sad because people run the risk of missing God's best for their lives. Usually, when God leads us to do something, He places a desire for it within our hearts. Then if we are sensitive to His Spirit, we will hear His voice leading and motivating us to walk in a certain direction. Regardless of where this leads, obeying God is better than any sacrifice you could offer Him later in life. Reading and studying Scripture provides the perfect atmosphere for God to reveal Himself and His promises to us. Worry, doubt, and fear fade as we say yes to Him. How do you surrender your life and your concerns to God?
Realize your need. Moses had heard of the Lord, but it wasn't until he stood in front of the burning bush that he realized his need for God. He could not do what the Lord was asking him to do on his own. Neither can we. Life's challenges require God's intervention and power. The Lord spoke to Abraham, and he obeyed. God called to Moses, and he submitted his life to the Lord. Joseph knew the Lord had something special in mind for his life, but he had to learn to trust God even when it appeared that there was no hope for his future. David was the anointed king over Israel, yet he also waited for years to see this become a reality. But he waited, he obeyed, and he did not say no. Jesus called His disciples, and none refused the call. None of the twelve said, "Let me think about it overnight and I'll get back with you." When God calls, we need to respond.
Recognize God's call. God desires our fellowship. He doesn't need our fellowship in order to be God, but He desires it. Surrender does not mean we stop living. In fact, if you go through God's Word and study the lives of the people who followed Him, you quickly realize each one lived a highly productive life. The apostle Paul was a Jewish scholar who studied under Gamaliel—one of the most highly respected rabbis of his day. Yet nothing Paul learned in this man's classroom compared to what he learned in the presence of God. You have the same awesome opportunity to study God's truth. If there is a need for wisdom, He provides it. Yet I watch people live lives that are partially surrendered and never quite achieve the goals the Lord has for them.
Excerpted from 10 PRINCIPLES for STUDYING your BIBLE by CHARLES F. STANLEY Copyright © 2008 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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