Engaging in God’s Word

I have scripture in various places around my house. A printed canvas in my living room reminds me of new mercies every morning. I wake up to Jeremiah 17:7-8 next to my bed. A sweet gift from a friend meant to carry me through a difficult season. There is a hand written note card from my spiritual mom in my bathroom reminding me who I am in Christ. Some of my favorite books are on my mantle. These are ones that have helped to produce some sort of transformation and stirred up my affection for God, increasing my scope of who He is.

While it’s trendy to decorate with word art right now, that’s not why I do it. Mostly, it’s because my mind has a tendency to go to dark and unhealthy places. Sometimes I get so caught up in my worries, I can’t think clearly about what is actually happening right now and it robs my joy. There are mornings I wake up restless because I’m thinking about what may or may not lie ahead whether it’s today or five years from now. Most of the time, I am worried about what I cannot control.

When I started leading women’s ministry, we would have Bible studies and gatherings leaving room for conversations on how we would actually apply the things we’ve learned to our lives. We would share our struggles. Some of us would confess our hesitancy to trust God. Some would speak openly about broken marriages devastated by addiction. Some would open up about the pain of abuse and old destructive messages playing in our heads from childhood that affected the way we lived. Then often in these settings, there would inevitably be another woman who would say something to the effect of, “You should just read your Bible and pray more.”

I would get so irritated at the motive or lack of motivation behind that piece of usually unsolicited advice. It often felt trite to me, as if what was really being said was, “this is too messy and I don’t want to deal with it, so let’s put a pretty bow on it and end this conversation.” I felt protective over the person with the struggle because what was meant to be encouragement felt like shame. Shame that she wasn’t doing enough, being enough or doing enough of the right thing. People seemed more interested in the happy and victorious outcomes but not willing to get into the uncomfortable, sometimes disorienting and challenging battle to get to the victory.

A few years have passed and in every area of my life, it seems God is calling me to a deeper and much more simple place. I have come to a place where I realize what I really need is…wait for it… to read my Bible and pray more often. Not in that trite, defeatist way. In fact, I would even say, it’s not even about reading my bible and praying more, often but rather engaging with God’s word and being with him. I’m not even talking about having a “quiet time” in the morning, which of course is good. What I’m learning is what actually transforms is not only reading scripture but allowing scripture to read me. To listen to it and allow the words to penetrate my very being. Going slowly and understanding the words are the actual utterances of God through man and His desire is to speak to me, give me a mind like His and help me with all my troubles.

Recently,  I wrote Philippians 4:8 on a chalkboard and I asked one of the boys if he knew what it meant.

I’ve had this verse memorized for many years. But when I asked the question, I couldn’t even really answer it myself when it came to explaining to a child the differences between all those words… true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence. They all have shared meanings, but God doesn’t waste a word so why would he use all those words?

They are all similar and yet slightly nuanced:

True – Genuine

Noble – Worthy of respect

Right – Righteous and upright

Pure – Innocent (free of guilt)

Lovely – pleasing

Admirable – worthy of praise

Excellent – goodness, virtue (moral excellence)

Praiseworthy – worthy of a commendation for a job well done

If I’m going to simply read this passage, it will make me feel good for a while. It will serve as a great reminder to think good thoughts. But if I actually engage with it and read it in its full context and think about the words, the author, where he was coming from and the purpose of it, I’m further engaged.

Paul wrote this letter while chained to a wall in a Roman prison. Chained to a wall, people. So when he says things like “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” A sentence like “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” And get ready for this (remember – chained to a wall) “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Guard your heart AND your mind. Paul was interested in the mind of the believer and probably understood better than anyone what anxiety can do to a person. Though he is a man marked by boldness and courage, his success as a Pharisee most likely came from a place of great pressure to fill the shoes of his family line. To step away from all of that to follow Christ and then have a bounty on your head multiple times, repeated stints in prisons, shipwrecks, beatings and sharp disagreements with dear friends are among a few things that can really mess with your head.

If I take into account the fact that he writes multiple times about anxiety, renewing your mind and guarding your mind I can engage with Philippians 4:8 in a different way and understand God knows I am prone to have wandering thoughts that lead me to empty places but in these verses is giving me clear guidance on how to battle. He doesn’t just say “don’t be anxious,” “rejoice and be thankful” he actually understands it’s NOT easy and trite and there are things we can proactively do to think well and cultivate a heart of gratitude and sense his peaceful presence among us.

The definition of the word engage is to occupy the attention or efforts of a person or persons. In a way, those women who used to make me angry were right. Who am I to judge their intentions? I was probably wrong about those as well. When I am engaged in the word of God, I am less quick to judge, more prone to patience and compassion and I begin to see things more clearly. God is not just about the victorious outcome, he is all in through the process and has not left us without words to live through it.

Praise be to God.

I have scripture strategically placed around my house because I need the reminder to occupy my attention and efforts with Him.

Otherwise, I forget.

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