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Experiencing Spiritual Revival
Renewing Your Desire for God
By MARGARET FEINBERG
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Margaret Feinberg
All rights reserved.
In the Bible God gives us revelations of Himself which lead us to worship, promises of salvation which stimulate our faith, and commandments expressing His will which demand our obedience. This is the meaning of Christian discipleship.
John Stott, Christian leader
The Gift of Scripture
Throughout history, we find many men and women who were passionate about reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture, and their stories remain a source of inspiration for those of us on a journey of faith. Consider the following:
Fanny Crosby, a renowned hymn writer who was blind, learned to memorize the Bible as a child. By the time she was ten years old, she had committed the first four books of the Old Testament to memory, as well as the four Gospels. This may be one reason she was able to pen more than eight thousand hymns during the course of her lifetime.
William Wilberforce, famous for his role in abolishing slavery in England, was also known for his memorization of Scripture. Wilberforce would recite psalms while on walks—especially Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.
Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II, noted that though they took away her Bible, they could not take away all the Scripture she had stored in her heart.
Each of these individuals discovered the incredible power of the Bible—the inspired Word of God. They knew and understood that the Bible is more than a collection of teachings or a recording of history; it is one of the primary tools through which God communicates with us and changes us.
In John 8:32, Jesus tells us, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." As we study God's Word, we're exposed to the truth of who God is and the work He longs to do in our lives. Reflecting on the truth of God's love, faithfulness, goodness, and justness, as well as His purposes for our lives, is one of the ways He works through us and begins changing our hearts to be more like His.
Regularly reading, studying, and obeying Scripture will transform us, because through the Bible we find encouragement and correction and are challenged to become more Christlike in every area of our lives. And when we use Scripture as the filter and the foundation through which we navigate opportunities and decisions in our lives, then God's Word becomes the standard for how we live.
The apostle Paul writes, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16–17). God uses the Bible to instruct, correct, and grow us. We don't study the Bible so we can win trivia quizzes, but so that we can become the kind of people through whom the love and goodness of God freely flows.
The way we approach reading the Bible matters. Before we ever open the great, big Book, we need to take a moment to ask God to meet us and reveal Himself in Scripture. It's as simple as asking God to speak to us through His Word. And as we read, we need to do so with a humble heart; this isn't about reading to simply gain more knowledge or to prove a point, but to encounter God and experience transformation.
As we read and study the Bible, we can know with confidence that God wants to speak to us, transform us, and make us more like His Son, Jesus.
While rewarding, reading the Bible can also be challenging, especially for those who are new to it. If you're struggling to read the Bible, it may be because of the translation that you're reading. Consider looking for a new translation—one that's much easier to digest, such as the New International Version or the New King James Version.
If reading in general is challenging for you, one idea is to consider listening to the Bible. We're blessed to live in a time when even if you can't read the Bible, you can still enjoy listening to an audio Bible. Listening to the Bible allows you to dive into the big story of God wherever you are.
It's also important to remember that some parts of the Bible are much more difficult to read than others. That's where a study Bible can come in handy and help unlock some of the history and context of the time in which the book was written. With a little background, passages that seemed strange and hard to read can become clear and accessible and applicable to your life.
Like any new spiritual practice, studying Scripture may seem hard at first, but know that with practice it will get easier, more enjoyable, and more exciting.
1. What role does studying Scripture currently play in your spiritual life? What's the greatest struggle you face when it comes to engaging in the spiritual practice of reading and studying the Bible?
2. Describe what it looks like for you to read or study Scripture in an average week.
3. Read Philippians 4:8. How does your perspective on life, others, and God change when you read the Bible frequently? How is your perspective on life, others, and God affected when you don't read the Bible for a while?
Even in Jesus' time, reading and studying Scripture was an esteemed practice. Each week, people traveled to their local synagogue to read the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and some of the prophetic books out loud.
At the start of His ministry, Jesus traveled to the synagogue on Sabbath and stood to read from the book of Isaiah. The passage He read was a specific prophecy of the people's long-awaited Messiah.
4. Read Luke 4:16–20. How did Jesus fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah and bring good news?
Scripture is one way God chooses to reveal Himself to us. Through Scripture, we catch a glimpse of God's character, unrelenting love, and faithfulness.
5. How did you first become aware of the good news of Christ? Did you first hear the good news through someone else or through reading Scripture?
Not only does Scripture give us a peek at God's heart, it transforms our hearts into Christ's likeness.
6. What do the following passages reveal about how the spiritual practice of reading and studying the Bible will affect your life? Place a star by the ones that you've found to be particularly true in your own life.
Psalm 119:9, 11:
Immersing ourselves in God's Word also filters our thoughts and purifies our hearts. We are faced with a daily, ongoing battle for our hearts and minds. The things of this world tell us to live one way, but Scripture encourages us to become more and more like Jesus each and every day.
In Ephesians, Paul describes Christ's love for the church, which he compares to a relationship between a husband and wife. As the husband, Christ so loves His church that He sanctifies, cleanses, and presents her as pure. Through Jesus, we have been made perfect in God's sight, and like soap bubbling over dirty clothes, Scripture washes and renews our minds, drawing us back to God.
7. Read Ephesians 5:25–27. Why is it important for you to be washed by the cleansing of God's Word?
8. What steps can you take to make your time of personal Bible study more meaningful and impactful?
Four Ways to Four Ways to Practice Scripture Reading This Week
1. Consider reading a large chunk of the Bible this week. Read an entire gospel, such as Matthew or John. As you read, mark sections that you'd like to return to later and study in more depth.
2. Choose one chapter of the Bible to read this week, such as John 17 or James 1, and study the passage in depth. Use online tools, such as Bible word searches on biblegateway.com and commentaries, to learn as much as you possibly can about the chapter. Share what you discover with the group the next time you gather.
3. Commit to memorizing at least one verse of the Bible this week. You may want to choose a selection of Bible promises, such as Isaiah 40:29–31, or you may want to select a longer passage to commit to memory, like Psalm 139.
4. If you've never read the Bible all the way through, consider committing to reading the entire Bible in a year. Lots of free reading plans are available online, and with a commitment of only about four chapters per day, you can read the entire Bible in one year.
Read Proverbs 30:5 and Isaiah 40:8. On the continuum below, mark how much of an impact the Bible plays in your everyday decision making. How does knowing that the Bible contains eternal truth affect the way you make decisions?
Little impact Great Impact
Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.
Brother Lawrence, Carmelite monk
The Gift of Prayer
When Great Britain's Prince William married Kate Middleton, their wedding attracted international media attention, with more than two billion people from around the world tuning in to watch the festivities.
The limited space at Westminster Abbey meant that only about 1,900 people were given a gold-stamped invitation to attend the wedding. Those who received invitations ran the gamut from the rich and famous to the commoner. Undoubtedly, some difficult decisions were made. For example, the president of France and his wife received an invitation, but the president of the United States and his wife did not. The invitations were exclusive because they were limited. Not everyone was invited to the celebration.
Yet the royal invitation by the King of Kings is different. He isn't constrained by space or limited by time. He doesn't need to make difficult decisions between national leaders and everyday citizens. Instead, He issues an invitation to each of us to come into His presence at any time, in any place, through the spiritual practice of prayer.
Put very simply, prayer is communicating with God, and we are invited to engage in a free, open, ongoing dialogue with Him throughout each and every day. Through prayer we can take our personal concerns to God, as well as the concerns of others. Through prayer we can express our adoration and affection for Him. We can make requests or petitions. We can confess our brokenness to God and ask for forgiveness. We can thank Him for His presence and His work in our lives. Through prayer we can learn to abide in Him.
Prayer is a spiritual discipline we simply can't live without because prayer is one of the ways we open the door for God to transform us. Talking with God and taking the time to listen for His voice changes our desires so they are aligned with His will for our lives. Praying helps us make God our priority. The more we practice prayer, the more natural prayer will become. And when we don't know what to pray, we can cry out to God, who promises that the Holy Spirit will help us in prayer when we don't have the words to say (Romans 8:26–27).
However you choose to engage in the spiritual practice of prayer—by sitting down, standing up, kneeling, or walking—prayer is a gift and one that comes with great joy. Whether you've been praying for years or you're just learning to pray for the first time, growing in a life of prayer is a never-ending journey that takes you deeper into your relationship with God.
1. Describe a specific time when you experienced how your own prayers made a significant difference in your life.
2. Describe a specific time when you experienced the prayers of others making a significant difference in your life.
3. What do you imagine life would be like if you couldn't talk to God or have a close relationship with Him? How do you think it would affect your outlook and daily living?
Thousands of years ago, the church in Philippi withstood severe persecution from its unbelieving neighbors. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged the people to bring their anxieties, fears, and requests to God through prayer. He explained that God's peace would protect their hearts and minds like a military garrison protected a city.
4. Read Philippians 4:6–7. What situations do you face that are most tempting for you not to take to God in prayer? How does prayer impact the level of anxiety or worry you feel over a situation?
Throughout Jesus' earthly ministry, people in need surrounded Him. Yet despite the pressures and demands, Jesus took time to pull away and connect to God through prayer. Jesus recognized His tremendous dependence on God. He boldly declared that He couldn't do anything apart from God, and He only did what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19). One of the primary ways Jesus kept focused on God was through prayer.
5. What do the following passages reveal about the prayer life of Jesus—where He prayed, when He prayed, and who He prayed for?
The prayer life of Jesus revealed that He didn't only pray for Himself, but He also prayed for others. Jesus sometimes withdrew to pray by Himself; sometimes He took His friends. His prayer times varied. One of the keys to Jesus' prayer life was that He committed to pray regularly, and His prayer life often impacted His decisions.
6. Read Luke 6:12–16. What decisions did Jesus make after He prayed? What role does prayer play in your decision-making process?
There is no cookie-cutter formula when it comes to how to pray and what to say. God gives us freedom to express ourselves in prayer—whether that's walking, standing, kneeling, praying aloud, silently, with a group, for ourselves, or for others. Just as a relationship with your best friend would go sour if you stopped speaking, prayer invites us into a constant conversation with God so our relationship with Him can flourish.
7. In the space below, place a check mark by the types of prayer that you've tried. Then circle the ones that you've found most help you to engage in the spiritual practice of prayer.
_____ Prayer walking, or walking through an area of a community to pray for the individuals who live and work there.
_____ Praying the Bible by using passages of Scripture as prayers to God.
_____ Popcorn prayers, or small prayers, that you pop out to God in the midst of your day.
_____ Online prayers, when you post your prayer request on a website and invite others to join you in praying.
_____ Praying repeated-breath prayers as you inhale and exhale to remind you of God's presence in each moment.
_____ Praying during fixed times each day—praying at the top of the hour, spending each morning in prayer, or praying before a meal.
_____ Sharing your prayer requests with a group and interceding on one another's behalf.
_____ Memorizing and reciting liturgical prayers, such as the Lord's Prayer or the Aaronic Blessing.
8. What methods or practices have you found most helpful in learning to live a prayer-centered life?
What changes would you like to make in your life to grow in the spiritual practice of prayer?
Four Ways to Practice Prayer This Week
1. Commit to set aside five to ten minutes each day this week specifically for prayer. Retreat from the busyness of life to talk to God with honesty and sincerity.
2. Instead of speaking your prayers aloud or in your mind, choose to record your prayers in written form each day this week. Pick up a notebook or journal and write down your words of thanks, requests, and adoration to God.
3. Choose a passage from the Bible such as the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) or Psalm 23, and pray the passage for five minutes each day this week. Ask God to help focus your heart and mind as you pray. Focus on each word as you speak them to God.
4. Limit the length of your prayers each day this week. Instead of using long-winded prayers, consider limiting your prayers to three words. Rather than thank God for this amazing day, simplify the prayer to, "Thanks for today." As you distill your prayers to their simplest form, reflect on what you're really saying to God and how much you are trusting Him.
Excerpted from Experiencing Spiritual Revival by MARGARET FEINBERG. Copyright © 2013 Margaret Feinberg. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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