A popular Bible teacher offers practical guidance and helpful tips for women who want to go deeper in their study of the Bible and learn how to teach others to do the same.
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About the Author
Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her seventeen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
Matt Chandler (BA, Hardin-Simmons University) serves as lead pastor of teaching at the Village Church in Dallas, Texas, and president of the Acts 29 Network. He lives in Texas with his wife, Lauren, and their three children.
Read an Excerpt
Turning Things Around
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Tim. 3:16–17
This is a book about equipping women through Bible study. Outside of my family, it's the thing I care most about. But this hasn't always been the case. Long before I had a passion for teaching the Bible, I had a deep and abiding passion for something else. Four-year-old-me had a passion for rhumba tights.
You remember rhumba tights — those tights for little girls made extra fancy by four rows of ruffled lace sewn across the seat? I absolutely loved them. I wore dresses to preschool every day so I could wear my special tights. When I ran out of dresses, undeterred, I crammed those tights under my jeans. Bulky? Yes. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. Beautiful? You know it.
I loved everything about them, except for one thing — the ruffles were in the back where the wearer could not enjoy seeing them. All that beautiful lace out of eyesight? Unacceptable. But a simple solution presented itself: I began wearing them backwards.
Problem solved. Until my mother caught on.
I don't know if it was the heel section of the foot flopping out the top of my Mary Janes or the way my stomach bulged suspiciously beneath my skirt. Maybe it was the funny way I had to walk to keep them from falling down, or my frequent habit of twirling in front of mirrors. Let's just say that wearing my rhumba tights backwards presented some coverage issues that wearing them correctly did not. My mother informed me that improper usage was not an option. Rhumba tights were made to be worn a particular way for a particular purpose, and I either needed to turn them around or give up the privilege of those four glorious rows of lace.
I wish I could say this was the only time in my life I got something backwards. It wasn't. In fact, my passion for teaching women the Bible is actually the result of getting other things backwards as well. I want to tell you about two approaches I took to being equipped by Scripture that seemed right at the outset but were completely backwards.
It might seem that studying the Bible would be something we should know how to do intuitively. After all, if God discloses his will and character there, wouldn't the Holy Spirit just open up its message to our hearts? But this is not the case. Yes, the Holy Spirit opens the Word to us, but not without some effort on our part.
Do you know that the word disciple means "learner"? As a disciple of Christ, you and I are called to learn, and learning requires effort. It also requires good study methods. We know this to be true of our schooling, but do we know it to be true of following Christ? Though I was a good student in school, I was not always a good student of the Word, and left to my own devices I probably would not have become one. But through the faithful teaching of others, my tendency to get a good thing backwards came to light. Turning around my two backwards approaches to Bible study started me toward a lifelong love of learning, applying, and teaching.
Turnaround 1: Let the Bible Speak of God
The first thing I got backwards seems so obviously backwards that it's embarrassing to admit: I failed to understand that the Bible is a book about God. The Bible is a book that boldly and clearly reveals who God is on every page. In Genesis, it does this by placing God as the subject of the creation narrative. In Exodus, it places him in comparison to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. In the Psalms, David extols the Lord's power and majesty. The prophets proclaim his wrath and justice. The Gospels and Epistles unfold his character in the person and work of Christ. The book of Revelation displays his dominion over all things. From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about God.
Perhaps I really did know that the Bible was a book about God, but I didn't realize that I wasn't reading it as if it were. This is where I got things backwards: I approached my study time asking the wrong questions. I read the Bible asking, "Who am I?" and "What should I do?" And the Bible did answer these questions in places. Ephesians 2:10 told me that I was God's workmanship. The Sermon on the Mount told me to ask for daily bread and to store up treasure in heaven. The story of King David told me to seek after the heart of God. But the questions I was asking revealed that I held a subtle misunderstanding about the very nature of the Bible: I believed that the Bible was a book about me.
I believed that I should read the Bible to teach me how to live and to assure me that I was loved and forgiven. I believed it was a roadmap for life, and that in any given circumstance, someone who truly knew how to read and interpret it could find a passage to give comfort or guidance. I believed the purpose of the Bible was to help me.
In this belief, I was not so different from Moses standing before the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Immediately within his view was a revelation of the character of God: a bush in flames, speaking audibly to him, miraculously not consumed. When charged by this vision of God to go to Pharaoh and demand release of the captives, Moses self-consciously replies, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" (Ex. 3:11).
God responds by patiently making himself the subject of the narrative: "But I will be with you" (Ex. 3:12). Rather than be reassured by this answer, Moses next asks, "What should I do?": "Then Moses said to God, 'If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?' " (v. 13).
Notice that rather than telling Moses what he should do, God instead tells him whathe has done, is doing, and will do:
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt...."' And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.' But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty." (Ex. 3:14–22)
The dialogue continues in this manner. For an entire chapter and a half of Exodus, Moses asks the wrong questions: Who am I? What should I do? Rather than answer him, "Moses, you are my chosen servant. You are my precious creation, a gifted and wise leader," God responds by completely removing Moses from the subject of the discussion and inserting himself. He answers Moses's self-focused question of "Who am I?" with the only answer that matters: "I AM."
We are like Moses. The Bible is our burning bush — a faithful declaration of the presence and holiness of God. We ask it to tell us about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about "I AM." We think that if it would just tell us who we are and what we should do, then our insecurities, fears, and doubts would vanish. But our insecurities, fears, and doubts can never be banished by the knowledge of who we are. They can only be banished by the knowledge of "I AM." We must read and study the Bible with our ears trained on hearing God's declaration of himself.
Does this mean that the Bible has nothing to say to us about who we are? Not at all. We just go about trying to answer that question in a backwards way. The Bible does tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there can be no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. He is the only reference point that is reliable. So, when I read that God is longsuffering, I realize that I am not longsuffering. When I read that God is slow to anger, I realize that I am quick to anger. When I read that God is just, I realize that I am unjust. Seeing who he is shows me who I am in a true light. A vision of God high and lifted up reveals to me my sin and increases my love for him. Grief and love lead to genuine repentance, and I begin to be conformed to the image of the One I behold.
If I read the Bible looking for myself in the text before I look for God there, I may indeed learn that I should not be selfish. I may even try harder not to be selfish. But until I see my selfishness through the lens of the utter unselfishness of God, I have not properly understood its sinfulness. The Bible is a book about God. As Moses would learn during the Exodus, who he was bore no impact on the outcome of his situation. Who God was made all the difference.
In the New Testament we find Jesus addressing the same problem with the Jewish leaders: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (John 5:39–40). The Jewish leaders searched the Scriptures asking the wrong question, looking for the wrong image to be revealed.
If eternal life is found in the Scriptures, it is found through the lens of who God is. If our reading of the Bible focuses our eyes on anyone other than God, we have gotten backwards the transformation process. Any study of the Bible that seeks to establish our identity without first proclaiming God's identity will render partial and limited help. We must turn around our habit of asking "Who am I?" We must first ask, "What does this passage teach me about God?" before we ask it to teach us anything about ourselves. We must acknowledge that the Bible is a book about God.
Turnaround 2: Let the Mind Transform the Heart
The second thing I got backwards in my approach to the Bible was the belief that my heart should guide my study. The heart, as it is spoken of in Scripture, is the seat of the will and emotions. It is our "feeler" and our "decision-maker." Letting my heart guide my study meant that I looked for the Bible to make me feel a certain way when I read it. I wanted it to give me peace, comfort, or hope. I wanted it to make me feel closer to God. I wanted it to give me assurance about tough choices. Because I wanted the Bible to engage my emotions, I spent little time in books like Leviticus or Numbers and much time in books like the Psalms and the Gospels.
The Bible commands us to love God with all of our hearts (Mark 12:30). When we say that we love God with all of our hearts, we mean that we love him completely with our emotions and with our wills. Attaching our emotions to our faith comes fairly naturally for women — generally speaking, we know how to be emotive without much guidance. If we think of the heart as the seat of our emotions and our will, it makes sense that we so often approach God's Word asking, "Who am I?" and "What should I do?" Those two questions uniquely address the heart. And we speak often in the church about how Christianity is a religion of the heart — of how Christ comes into our hearts, of how we need heart-change. It is right to speak of Christianity in this way, but not exclusively in this way.
Interestingly, the same verse that commands us to love God with all of our hearts also commands us to love him with all of our minds. Our minds are the seat of our intellects. Attaching our intellect to our faith does not come naturally to most of us. We live in a time when faith and reason are spoken of as polar opposites. At times, the church has even embraced this kind of language. For some of us, the strength of our faith is gauged by how close we feel to God at any given moment — by how a sermon made us feel, by how a worship chorus made us feel, by how our quiet time made us feel. Hidden in this thinking is an honest desire to share a deep relationship with a personal God, but sustaining our emotions can be exhausting and defeating. Changing circumstances can topple our emotional stability in an instant. Our "walk with the Lord" can feel more like a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys than a straight path in which valleys and mountains have been made level.
Could this be because we've gotten things backwards? By asking our hearts to lead our minds, have we willingly purchased a ticket to the roller-coaster ride? Unless we turn things around, placing the mind in charge of the heart, we could be in for a long, wild ride.
Asking us to put our minds before our hearts sounds almost unspiritual, doesn't it? But notice the way that Scripture talks about the role of the mind:
In repentance: "If they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies ... then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea. ..." (1 Kings 8:48–49)
In seeking God: "Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God." (1 Chron. 22:19)
In finding peace: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Isa. 26:3)
In right worship: "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also." (1 Cor. 14:14–15)
In understanding the Scriptures: "Then [Jesus] said to [the disciples], 'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:44–45)
In transforming us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom. 12:2–3)
Don't rush past that pivotal truth you just read in Romans 12:2–3. What Christian doesn't desperately want life transformation and knowledge of the will of God? In these verses, Paul states unequivocally how we can have them: by the renewing of our minds — not our hearts.
For years I tried to love God with my heart to the neglect of my mind, not recognizing my need to grow in the knowledge of the "I AM." Any systematic study of the Bible felt mechanical, even a little like an act of faithlessness or an admission that the Holy Spirit's insight during a quiet time wasn't enough for me. But I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know. This is the message of Romans 12:2–3 — not that the mind alone affects transformation, but that the path to transformation runs from the mind to the heart, and not the other way around.
The scientific community has noted this mind-before-heart connection. Paul Bloom, a Yale professor with a PhD in cognitive psychology, specializes in pleasure research — the study of how we as humans develop the ability to derive pleasure from people, experiences, and things. He has discovered through his research that pleasure does not simply occur, it develops. And how it develops is a point worth noting: "People ask me, 'How do you get more pleasure out of life?' And my answer is extremely pedantic: Study more. ... The key to enjoying wine isn't just to guzzle a lot of expensive wine, it's to learn about wine."
Bloom has found that pleasure results from gaining knowledge about the object of our pleasure, not, as we might assume, from merely experiencing it over and over. Specifically, our pleasure increases in something when we learn its history, origin, and deeper nature. This is particularly relevant to Christians. We are called to be a people who delight ourselves in the Lord, who can say with conviction that "at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11) Many of us identify readily with the call to Christian hedonism. Yet we fight daily to live as those whose greatest pleasure is found in God. If Bloom is right, finding greater pleasure in God will not result from pursuing more experiences of him, but from knowing him better. It will result from making a study of the Godhead.
Think about the relationship, possession, or interest you derive the most pleasure from. How did you develop that delight? Whether you are passionate about modern art, your car, conservation, your spouse, nutrition, education, or baseball, my guess is that you became that way by learning about the object of your passion — and that your pleasure in it grew as your knowledge grew.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Women of the Word"
Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Wilkin.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Matt Chandler,
1 Turning Things Around,
2 The Case for Bible Literacy,
3 Study with Purpose,
4 Study with Perspective,
5 Study with Patience,
6 Study with Process,
7 Study with Prayer,
8 Pulling It All Together,
9 Help for Teachers,
Conclusion: Seek His Face,
What People are Saying About This
“Wilkin’s challenges to the status quo, grounded in years of observation, ring with gentle wisdom and guide readers in how to study the Bible with greater depth.” (July 14, 2014)
“I have a passion for people to see and savor the God of the Bible, and a corresponding frustration when I see the hurt, loss, and lack of confidence that accompanies a lack of biblical literacy. That’s why I’m glad you are holding this book. Jen Wilkin takes knowing the God of the Bible seriously. She is one of the better Bible teachers I’ve had the opportunity to hear. Her approach in teaching people how to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures is accessible and helpful regardless of whether you have been a Christian for decades and feel like it’s too late for you or you are a young believer who is hungry to know and understand the God of the Bible.”
Matt Chandler, Lead Pastor, The Village Church, Dallas, Texas; President, Acts 29 Church Planting Network; author, The Mingling of Souls and The Explicit Gospel
“I found Women of the Word to be so practical in the way it demystifies serious Bible study. Too many peoplemen and womenopt for just reading a few verses and hoping for some inspiration, rather than discovering the meaning of the text in the sweep of God’s redemptive plan. Women of the Word will help all who read it to find their way deeper into the Word of God without having to be seminary educated, a genius, or even an especially good student. My only caveat is that I wish the title didn’t make it hard for men to read . . . they need it, too.”
Kathy Keller, Assistant Director of Communications, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, New York
“I’ve seen eyes misty with tears as women come to understand for the first time that the Bible is actually, literally God’s Word. What great mercy we have been shownthat the Creator who spoke everything that ever was into existence would give us his Word. Jen Wilkin knows this mercy in the core of her being. She has tasted and seen God’s goodness in his Word, and she doesn’t want a single woman to miss it. Read Women of the Word with your Bible open and your friends alongside you. Think of this book as a maître &dgrave; of a Bible study banquethave a seat, here are your utensils, dig in, and enjoy.”
Gloria Furman, author, Missional Motherhood and The Pastor’s Wife
“Jen lives what she teaches. Her servant heart in unpacking the Scriptures as well as her affection for the women she is teaching is evident the moment you meet her. I’m so glad she was obedient to the Lord’s call to write this book! It has served to clear the fog in my heart and mind when it comes to studying God’s Word, and I absolutely cannot wait to purchase many more copies for the women in my life who I know will love it too!”
Bethany Barnard, singer/songwriter
“This book responds to the feelings-driven, me-centered approach that has too often dominated our study of the Scriptures. Jen encourages women to grow in knowledge of the Word in order to know our Lord. She speaks out of her own joyful and growing experience of learning to dig in. May her voice be joined by many others!”
Kathleen Nielson, author; speaker; Senior Adviser, The Gospel Coalition
“Reading the Bible can sometimes seem daunting. There are difficult passages, many interpretations, and often so little time to read thoroughly. Jen Wilkin recognizes this and provides tools to help us navigate it all. Women of the Word gives us a blueprint for Bible literacy. If we want to know the God we love, we must engage our minds and know his Word where he reveals himself. Wilkin’s tools may be new for some, but the effort will be worth the reward. Ultimately, it’s about seeing and savoring our Savior.”
Trillia Newbell, author, If God Is For Us: The Everlasting Truth of Our Great Salvation
“Jen Wilkin’s book is written with a winsomeness and warmth, which makes it easy to read. But she also writes with clarity of purpose that rightly pushes the reader to want to read God’s Word well. The bottom line: this book encourages women to know God better by developing good habits of reading his Word. Amen, sister!”
Jenny Salt, Dean of Students, Sydney Missionary and Bible College
“How can we go deeper than a little dabbling in the Bible for inspiration? Jen Wilkin shows us how in this must-read for every woman interested in teaching and leading Bible discussion groups in your church.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher; author, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story