What are Your Study Habits?

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When I was a green seventeen-year old beginning my first year of college, I went through an orientation week affectionately called “WOW week” (aka Week of Welcome). In one of our mandatory sessions, the Dean of the College of Sciences asked us the following:

How many hours did you study in high school?

Do you know how to take notes?

Do you know the importance of rest?

Having graduated second in my high school class, I had little concern about my study habits because I knew they were sound. I am not a genius so I had to spend hours (about 30 hours/week) studying, taking detailed notes, recopying my notes as a study method, and prioritizing my projects. I continued these habits in college and managed to graduate cum laude. Persistence really does pay off.

A few years after college, this question was posed to me:

“Do we devote as much time to studying the Bible as we did studying for our chosen professions?” Continue reading

Preparing for the Next Circuit

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I’ve been a bit reflective the past few days. Holidays do that to me.

 

The earth makes one full rotation each day. Rotate implies circular motion.

The earth makes one full rotation around the sun each year. Again, a circular motion.

We are going in circles.

Does that mean we aren’t getting anywhere? Continue reading

Have you read the most influential bestseller in history?

20150807_005I remember the day they released the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I sped home from work with the afternoon commuters, ate a hurried dinner and headed over to Costco to pick up my copy. I didn’t do the midnight event at Barnes & Noble or Borders (I’m not that die-hard), but I had been counting the days nonetheless!

In the weeks leading up to it’s release, somebody (probably Rowling’s P.R. team) “leaked” the following teaser:

One major character will die. (cue the sinister music!)

This one-liner stoked the excitement of fans everywhere.

Stephen King publicly appealed to J.K. Rowling to spare Harry (the protagonist) from death. I knew, as well as he did, that Rowling was not one to shy away from tragedy.

Filled with anticipation, I raced home, found a comfortable spot, briefly savored the new-book smell, gently opened the cover and began to read.

I kept saying I’d put it down at 1 a.m….

…well, ok, maybe at 2 a.m….

…had to finish that chapter…

…maybe 3 a.m…

As the soft light of dawn crept through the window, I gently closed the book, replete with satisfaction. I finally knew the ending… what a luxurious moment.

My best friend awoke, came out to the living room and laughed at me, utterly dumbfounded by my quick read and thoroughly amused that I had lost a full night’s sleep to finish a book.

Have you ever had a similar experience with a novel?

Well, get ready, because I have an embarrassing confession to make:

I have not always possessed the same all-consuming appetite for God’s Word.

I am extremely shamed by the admission, but I would be a liar if I said otherwise. When I get my hands on a great novel, I can’t put it down unless there is a compelling demand, but with the Word of God, there are times I just can’t seem to get into it.

Anybody else have that problem?

Reading God’s Word, like so many worthwhile tasks, is not always easy. It takes concerted effort to understand many of the passages therein and, as such, is difficult to digest. When we are tired, foggy-headed or distracted, it’s all too easy to give up time with the Word for things that are less taxing on the brain. Things that are thoroughly entertaining, but not life-changing.

What are some reasons we fail to read the number one most influential bestseller (not to mention the Word of our all-powerful God) daily?

1) It’s not our top priority.

My second job out of college was a Customer Service Support position with a mid-size corporation in El Dorado Hills. I reported directly to a Sales Director and provided support to business clients nationwide.

Shortly after my employment began, my boss enrolled me in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People training course offered on our corporate campus. Since my load of clients at that point was still minimal, the all-day training wouldn’t greatly interfere with my work. I was acquainted with the book of the same title, yet I was in for a real surprise. I discovered that many of the principles of the class were aligned with Biblical truths.

The third habit, “Put first things first,” included a video of Stephen Covey demonstrating how priorities work. A woman walked nervously onstage and was provided with sand, pebbles, stones and one large rock which she had to fit inside a glass jar. She tried putting sand, pebbles and stones in first, with the result that the large rock jutted grossly out of the mouth of the jar. Covey then advised the embarrassed woman to try again, only this time, he asked her to first insert the large rock, followed by the stones, then the pebbles, and lastly the sand. As the grains of sand poured into the jar, all the glittering specks rolled easily into the nooks and crannies between the large rocks. The jar was full, with no substance jutting from the top. Everything fit because the larger materials were handled first.

Our priorities are like those rocks. We have to start with the most important first (i.e. your large “rocks”) and let all the little stuff pour into the crevices afterwards.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told the crowd:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

And why are you anxious about clothing?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 7.25-33

Focus on that last sentence: Seek first the kingdom of God.

How do we seek the kingdom of God? How can we know what God requires?

Begin with the source.

Devotionals, sermons, songs and blogs are helpful and they stimulate the mind, but they aren’t the source. If we truly desire to know God—how He interacts with people, what His purpose is for us, His personality, His character—we need to read the Word that He supplied. It’s too easy to be deceived by false teaching when we aren’t reading the text personally.

Make reading His Word a top priority. Think of it as a large rock that you have to squeeze into that tiny jar of time. If you have time to eat, check your phone or watch a show, you can make time for the Word.

Recently, I have made every effort to read the Bible before I leave my room in the morning. Sometimes, I listen to an audio version while I get ready for the day. With three little ones, it’s easy to get sidetracked, so it is preferable to do this task before they wake up.

So, put first things first and get into the Word of God. It should be our top priority.

2) It’s too difficult to understand.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25.2

Truly understanding the Bible takes a lifetime. Even after a lifetime of study, many mysteries will remain unsolved until we meet our Maker face to face. The Bible is not a single book, it is a collection of books. Connecting the dots is much more difficult to do.

When I was 12, my dear friend Cecil McFarland (who was significantly older than my parents) was teaching our home study when he made the statement, “I’m still learning new things from the scripture.” When you are 12, everybody older than 30 is old; everyone over 60 is ancient. At that time, I assumed that elderly Christians knew just about everything; and Cecil was wise. Even now, after all the experience I have gleaned, I still consider him one of the wisest Christians I’ve had the privilege to know.

So, imagine my shock as my 12-year-old self took in his words, uttered in quiet humility. After all his years of study (more years than I had been alive), he was still discovering.

I pray that I have the same humility of spirit that allows me to learn more and more about God as I age.

Since the Bible is challenging to understand, let me make a couple suggestions, particularly to those who are new in the faith:

1) Get a version that is easy to read like the New American Standard Version or the English Standard Bible. Steer clear of the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and if you do decide on the NIV (New International Version), read it with another version nearby.

2) Start simple. Do not begin daily reading with the prophets or Revelation. Start with one of the following:

  • The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
  • Genesis through Ecclesiastes
  • Read a chapter of Proverbs every day for 31 days (there are 31 chapters—one for every day of the month!)
  • Read the Psalms
  • Use a daily bible program.

Note: I said to start there, but don’t ignore the rest! Once you get a feel for the easier-to-read books, move on to the harder ones. Get into a class with a solid teacher who has a firm grasp on prophetic language.

At 19, I had a one-time study with a young man in the book of Acts. Based on his love for God, his kind, charitable nature, and the fact that he always had a bible with him, I assumed he knew the Word pretty well. So, in our study, I said, “You know about the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, right?”

He looked at me blankly, shook his head and smiled sheepishly.

“Well, are you familiar with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8?”

Again, he shook his head.

I was utterly perplexed. These were accounts I had learned since childhood. I thought all Christians were familiar with them.

I had assumed too much.

I was embarrassed, because I had unwittingly made him feel foolish, and I hadn’t intended to do that. I have no way of knowing, but I have often wondered if he thought me arrogant. That whole scenario still makes me cringe!

The problem wasn’t that he was failing to read daily. The problem was that he only read his favorite sections. He felt that the rest was too hard for him to understand. In our class, we read those passages I mentioned and more. I was determined that he should read the Bible’s account and not my synopses.

(I realize that my approach was not the best one, but hey, cut me some slack… I was only 19 and not experienced nor trained in teaching people.)

My friends, I cannot say it enough: open up God’s Word and read, read, read.

Read and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Ask heaps of questions and read it again!

Be curious!

Think critically!

If something in the Word of God doesn’t jive with what you espouse or what your preacher is teaching, question it! Be a critical thinker! I am amazed at how many Christians blindly follow charismatic preachers and teachers, never realizing the rank contradictory teachings to God’s Word.

One more thing: Have you ever noticed that when someone challenges your beliefs, your faith grows?

Why?

Because you have to dig into the Word to mount your case. Once you do that, you have to be able to formulate your answer in your own words.

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Now, I know some things are beyond a six-year-old’s experience, but you should be able to articulate the basics…

To understand the Word of God takes seeking. Seeking takes effort. Effort takes time. Time is in short supply, so use it wisely.

3) We already know the plot.

“I know all the stories.”

“God created the world, people sinned, it got bad, there was a flood, Abraham had a son and the Jewish people began. That Moses guy sent some plagues, the Israelites left Egypt. They went to the promised land, did some stupid things and had some ups and downs. Somewhere in there (before Jesus came) there were some people named Daniel and Jonah and Esther. Then Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead and His followers spread the gospel.”

Does that sum up the Bible?

I’d say that it’s a start, but so much pertinent information is excluded from that summary. It isn’t even good for Cliff’s Notes!

My best friend is not quite the bookworm that I am. When go to a movie adaptation based on a book, I’m always filling him in on the “whys” if the screenwriter has failed to make good connections. My friend may know the plot, but the depth and emotion of the book is lost.

Have you seen the movie Unbroken?

I read the book long before the movie came out and I can tell you why the movie fell flat—it lacked substance.

A quick synopsis: A young soldier and olympic athlete is lost at sea when his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean during the hostilities of World War II. He survives in a life raft for over a month with his best friend only to be captured by the Japanese military. He’s placed into a prisoner of War camp where he spends the remainder of the War. He is later released and succumbs to drinking and PTSD. When he is close to falling apart, he remembers the promise that he had made to God that if God saved his life, he would serve him until he died. He turns his life around and goes on to help hundreds of troubled youths and save his marriage.

First of all, the movie ended when Zamperini arrived home. It left out the most compelling and redeeming part of the book!

The movie failed to capture the interminable length of Zamperini’s time lost at sea, his inhumane imprisonment with the Japanese, the severity of his torture, the self-destructing lifestyle he succumbed to after the War, his remembrance of promises he had made to God, his subsequent redemption, and the lengths to which he went to meet with his torturers to express forgiveness.

It’s not an easy book to read, but it was one of the most inspiring non-fiction books (other than the Bible) that I’ve read in years. The movie just didn’t cut it. My friend knew the plot, but the movie just didn’t do anything for him. It did not inspire. So he survived. Big deal. I could survive a couple hours of torture, couldn’t you?

How about weeks? Months? Years?

Could you handle PTSD? What if your life began to fall apart and you felt helpless to put it back together?

The basic thread of plot wasn’t compelling. The details, the unremitting suffering is what made the redemptive portion inspiring. Leave that out and it’s just another story.

The crux is this: Don’t allow your basic Bible plot knowledge trick you into thinking you know it all. If you read the Bible with the purpose of knowing the Lord, it will be an inspiring read.

The Bible is often considered one book, but it is actually a collection of 66 books. Those 66 books were hand-written by many different people and cover thousands of years worth of history.

Those 66 books are the key to better things.

Those 66 books outline the plan of God.

Within those 66 books is the meaning of life.

Within those 66 books lies the ultimate way, the ultimate truth and the ultimate life.

Open the number one bestselling book of collected works in history and discover what you’ve been missing.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Make time today, while you still have breath and access to a Bible.

Special thanks to Albert Krabbe of Studio Twenty Photography for the awesome photograph. Visit studiotwenty.net to view their excellent portfolio!