Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: memorize

Finding guidance

When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs.  From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires.  I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like

When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction.  The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing.  Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.

Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense?  Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide.  So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives.  By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing.  By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.

One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.

Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.

I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:

Proverbs 3:11-12
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.

God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us.  If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished.  Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.

[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;

[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Remembering God's words

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He directly quoted two different psalms.  With everything He had endured in the previous 24 hours, how was He able to keep His mind focused enough to recall something David had written 1000 years previously?

When we think about the various settings around Jesus during His week before the cross, it becomes obvious that He wasn’t spending His time skimming the scrolls or trying to cram in a phrase or two during the Last Supper.  For Jesus to clearly recall God’s Word on the cross, in the midst of such intense trial and pain, He must have spent time previously with the Scriptures available to Him…and not just a little time, either.  To have Scripture at the tip of His tongue, to be able to recall God’s exact words while the whole world is crashing down…would require both preparation and repetition. 

The Jewish education system at the time was founded upon the student’s ability to memorize large portions of the Old Testament, beginning with the first five books of our Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  If a student did well, he would move on to the prophets and wisdom literature. 

Certainly Jesus did well, not only memorizing Scripture but also understanding it.  This was evidenced when He was 12 and went to the temple:

Luke 2:46-47 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.

His ability to converse with the teachers of the Law would have come from the amount of time spent in the Scriptures.  A fair assumption would be that a significant amount of time in the Old Testament Scriptures before His public ministry began at age 30.  Doing so helps explain why Jesus was ready and able to quote Scripture when being tempted by Satan…because as a youth, He spent His time preparing for the days ahead when He would need to recall God’s Word.

The same principle is available to us as well.  The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more ready we are when difficulties arise.  When a crisis hits, how comforting would it be to be able to remind ourselves of what God has previously said?  In fact, this coincides with one of Jesus’s last promises to His disciples:

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit – the Father will send Him in My name – will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

However, it is more difficult for the Holy Spirit to remind us of what Jesus said, if we haven’t been looking in the first place…

Putting the same Scriptures in front of our eyes often and meditating on them helps commit them to memory.  So let’s do the same with the psalm we’ve been looking at.  Having the promises we’ve learned – that when our hearts are without strength, we can trust God to handle our current circumstances.  We can trust God with our present struggles, as well as our future issues, because we remember how God has protected and strengthened us during previous crises.

Let’s take Jesus at His word and follow His example.  Pay attention to these four verses this week.  Read them often, say them out loud.  Do your best to bury these words deep in your mind, so that when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will be able to bring them to the front of your mind and the tip of your tongue.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Forgiveness and prayer (part 2)

While looking at the text of the model prayer that Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, we’ve found a challenging connection between God forgiving us and our willingness to forgive others:

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

The verses closely around the model prayer gave us better insight into what Christ meant when he said we should pray that, based upon our forgiveness of others, God would limit his forgiveness of us.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive people their wrong-doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrong-doing.

This is a challenging command for us, because we like to compartmentalize our relationships with others away from our relationship with God.  With Jesus teaching that these two areas affect each other, it forces us to look at others in the same manner that God looks at us.

However, part of me wants to argue that I should be able to just talk to God and resolve my issues with him before I worry about resolving any issues with others.  And a passage of Scripture comes to mind that appears to support that desire.

As Christians, we love to quote 1 John 1:9 as the remedy for when we stumble and sin:

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This is a verse that every believer should have memorized.  There is a great assurance of forgiveness found in this verse.  And all unrighteousness means ALL unrighteousness.  In addition to the sins that I confess, this verse tells me that God will also clear our relationship with him of any other sin or error – even if I forgot about a particular sin or didn’t recognize something as sin. 

However, nothing in 1 John 1:9 says I have to forgive anyone else before God forgives me.  So it appears that we have John, a disciple of Jesus, contradicting what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  How do we deal with this?

First of all, we need to remember who the immediate audience is in both passages.  Jesus’ teaching is directed toward those who view him as the Messiah.  John is writing to those who have already placed their faith in Jesus as Savior.  The kind of prayer that John and Jesus are teaching us about is not the “sinner’s prayer” where a person begins a relationship with God by placing their faith in Jesus…the kind of prayer that both are dealing with pertains to our on-going relationship with God as we live our day-to-day lives.

Secondly, the “cure” for this apparent discrepancy is the same skill we applied to understand Matthew 6:12 – we need to look at the surrounding context for 1 John 1:9

1 John 1:6-7 If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” and walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

From these verses, we see again that when our faith-walk doesn’t match our faith-talk…our relationships with others AND our relationship with God is affected.  And if, by some chance, we’ve convinced ourselves that we couldn’t possibly be that hypocritical, John has a warning for us:

1 John 1:8-9 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

When we go to God in prayer and expect Him to forgive our sins when we haven’t forgiven others, we deceive ourselves…and are hypocritical before God.  This isn’t to say we can’t talk to God until all relationships are fully healed, rather the aim is to walk in the light as He Himself is in the light and be ready to forgive others, just as God stands ready to forgive us from ALL unrighteousness.

Our Father in Heaven…forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Excellent and profitable

Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things,

The New Testament church was living during the time when the New Testament was being written.  While that seems like an obvious statement, we need to remember that when Paul wrote this letter to Titus, the amount of Scripture available to believers was significantly less that what is available to us. 

If an actual parchment copy was available, then the Cretan believers would have had the Old Testament, and perhaps a few of Paul’s early letters.  That’s it.  So the first century church developed Creeds, or statements that could be memorized, which explained their faith in Jesus and encouraged the believers to live out their faith before others.  These Creeds needed to be dependable and worthy of confidence, short enough to memorize, and pity enough to communicate truth.  The section we have been looking at contains one of those statements.

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

While it might seem impossible to memorize this much of Scripture all at once…when we’re honest with ourselves, we know many songs longer than these verses, and we know the songs word-for-word as soon as we hear the first three chords. 

Memorizing these five verses helped the first century believers stay on track with their relationships with God and with those around them.  If we take the time and put in a little effort, they can be the same life-giving reminder to us as well.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at what Paul told Titus about this Creed:

Titus 3:8 And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Strive to have everything we do be something both excellent and profitable.  Committing God’s truth to memory will definitely do that.  You’ll be surprised at how easy it really is to memorize Scripture, and you’ll be even more amazed at the impact it will have on your life.

Keep Pressing,
Ke

Encouragement to do good

We have been walking through one the most clear and concise explanations in the entire Bible of what the Christian life is all about.  With that said, it is beneficial for us to step back and read Paul’s statement in its entirety.  Read slowly, and let these words resonate:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Statements like these are worth committing to memory.  I highly encourage you to do so.  In times of trouble, or even in those moments waiting for the stoplight to turn green, being able to remind ourselves of God’s plan can breathe life back into us.

Paul also wanted Titus to remind the Cretan believers of these things:

Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach.  Encourage and rebuke with all authority.  Do not let anyone despise you.

The root word for encourage means to call, invite, or summon…but the strength of the call depends on the one who is making the call.  Friends invite, Kings summon.  As a representative for the Apostle Paul, Titus would be in a position to greatly encourage and exhort the Cretan believers to live in a way that reflects their faith in Christ.  They would need encouragement and correction to live differently from their past, a life that would be different from the cultural around them.  Paul instructs Titus to use the authority he has to spur the people on to do what is good.

Paul ends this section of the letter detailing some practical ways that the Cretans could live the lives God has called them to:

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Once again, we see Paul’s emphasis to Titus – to have the Cretan believers focus on doing good.  That is where they will be challenged by the surrounding culture, but that is exactly the area where are going to grow. 

God has done good towards us, even when we did not deserve it.  Now it is up to the Cretan believers to mimic God to their countrymen.  It will be challenging to do so…but it is the hard things that make us grow up and mature.

Keep Pressing,
Ken