JUST DO IT
Few people noticed on Saturday, January 25, 1964 when two friends pooled their resources and launched a new company with only $1,200.00 in the bank. They christened their new company Blue Ribbon Sports—and there was little to suggest it was destined for greatness. Seven years later, in 1971, they decided to rebrand—and they purchased their new logo from a local college student for just thirty-five dollars. They didn’t create their first product until 1974—and they used a waffle iron from home to design it. But none of that mattered. They were off and running—and Nike is now the most successful athletic company in the world—and one of its most recognizable brands.
When you think of Nike, one of the first things that comes to mind is their famous tagline: Just Do It. Though they didn’t introduce it until 1988, it has become one of the most iconic slogans in the history of advertising. When it comes to studying the Bible, Nike’s tagline says it all. The way we study the Word is to—Just Do It.
Up to this point in our study, we have focused on the first two steps of Bible study: observation and interpretation. Now we’re finally ready for the third step: application. And this is the most important step. This is what studying the Word is all about. As Rick Warren writes in Rick Warren’s Study Methods,
The ultimate goal of dynamic Bible study is application, not just interpretation. We do not want to settle for understanding alone; we want to apply the biblical principles to our daily living. Dwight L. Moody, a great evangelist and Christian educator of the late-nineteenth century, used to say, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.” It was given to change our character and bring it more into conformity with Jesus Christ. All our efforts in Bible study are valueless if in the final analysis we do not change and become more like Jesus. Rick Warren
The whole point of studying the Word is to grow and change and become more like Jesus. But for change to happen, we can’t listen to the Word—we have to do it.
Do not merely listen to the word . . . Do what it says. James 1:22
The third step of application often happens naturally as we take the first two steps of observation and interpretation. The Holy Spirit is faithful not only to “open our minds to understand the Scriptures”—but also to supernaturally apply them to our lives. As Mark Batterson writes in his book Whisper,
We don’t just read the Bible; the Bible reads us. The Spirit who inspired the ancient writers as they wrote is the same Spirit who inspires modern-day readers as they read. The Holy Spirit is on both sides of the equation. The Apostle Paul described Scripture as “God-breathed.” When we read Scripture, we’re inhaling what the Holy Spirit exhaled thousands of years ago. We’re hearing the whisper of God in breath tones. Mark Batterson
The Holy Spirit may speak to you about your relationship with Him, or your relationship with others. He may give you new insights into your character, finances or priorities. He may convict you about an attitude, relationship or lifestyle. And in these sacred moments, when God whispers, we need to be ready not just to listen but to do what He shows us. In Hearing God, Dallas Willard writes,
We will be spiritually safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: Read with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are—all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never study merely to find the truth and especially not to prove something. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out! Dallas Willard
Tomorrow we will explore six specific questions to ask to apply the Word to our lives. But the most important step in application is to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is impressing on us, and then—Just Do It.
Think back over your life. Can you think of times when the Holy Spirit revealed some truth to you through Scripture while you were studying on your own—and you applied it to your life in a very specific way? What did He show you? How did you respond?
During the course of this study has there been any area of your life where God has been calling to you? If so, how have you responded?
Read and reflect on James 1:21-25. Write a prayer to God based on today’s study and this passage.
6 KEY QUESTIONS
He had come to Jerusalem to die—though few of His friends and followers seemed to realize it. Even so, He continued to teach most days on the campus of the temple in Jerusalem—which only stirred more conflict with the religious leaders who had already decided to kill Him. They were just waiting for the right opportunity.
On this day, in the temple courts, Jesus boldly challenged these leaders with a simple story about a father and his two sons.
Once upon a time, there was man with two sons. He went to his first son and asked him to spend the day working in the family vineyard. The son refused and walked away. But later, his conscience got the better of him and he returned to work in the vineyard as his father had asked. In the meantime, the father approached his second son with the same request. This son said he was glad to help—but he never did.
After telling this short story, Jesus asked the crowd: “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” The answer was obvious. The first son—the one who refused, but later changed his mind. Matthew 21:28-32, Paraphrased
While the story was simple, the lesson was profound.
The first son represented the “super sinners” in the nation—people like the tax collectors, the prostitutes and everyone else the religious leaders had written off as unsalvageable. These people had done what was wrong in the past but were now turning their lives around towards Jesus.
The second son represented the religious leaders; they were the people who had said “yes” to the Father. They claimed to love God and said they were happy to serve Him. But the reality was, they weren’t. They said ‘yes’ with their words, but ‘no’ with their lives.
This story highlights an important principle for us today—one that is easy to miss: studying the Bible can be spiritually dangerous. That may sound strange, but it’s true. If we read God’s word, but do not obey it, our hearts become hard—like the religious leaders. Slowly, we begin to lose perspective, like a person with failing eyesight, until we can no longer perceive the truth—like these religious leaders who had studied the Scriptures their whole lives.
Here is a powerful quote by Howard and William Hendricks from Living By The Book. Read it slowly and think about its implications:
Observation plus interpretation without application equals abortion. That is, every time you observe and interpret but fail to apply, you perform an abortion on the Scriptures in terms of their purpose. The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life. The ultimate goal of Bible study, then, is not to do something to the Bible, but to allow the Bible to do something to you. Howard G. Hendricks and William D. Hendricks
The Apostle James issues a similar warning, but uses fewer words:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
Deceive yourselves. The high cost of studying the Word, but not applying it to our lives is self-deception. This is why it is so important for God to show us how to apply His Word to our lives whenever we study it. Here are six questions to help us do this:
1. Is there anything You want to say to me through this passage?
This is the most important question. We need to read the Word with open hands and an open heart, asking God to show us if there is anything He wants to say to us (Psalm 139:23-24).
2. Is there a command to obey?
Many passages in the Bible have specific commands. For example, in your study of Philippians last week, there were many explicit commands:
Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (2:3).
Do everything without grumbling or arguing (2:14).
Rejoice in the Lord always (4:4).
Let your gentleness be evident to all (4:5).
Whenever we read a command, we need to search our hearts, evaluate our lives, and ask God to show us how to put it into practice.
3. Is there a principle to apply?
When we study the Word, the Holy Spirit will reveal important principles to apply to our lives. For example, last week we learned in Philippians that God will meet our financial needs when we give generously to advance His kingdom. This is an example of a principle to apply.
4. Is there a promise to claim?
There are many promises (or implied promises) in the Bible. Last week we studied this one in Philippians.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13, NASB
Once we interpret the promises in the Bible in their proper context, we need to apply them to our lives.
5. Is there a model to follow?
The Bible is a rich source of models and examples—both good and bad. The Philippians were a model of generosity (1:3-5). Paul modeled courage and contentment (1:20-21, 4:11-13). He even challenges us to follow his model (3:17, 4:9). He also warns us about some shady leaders not to follow (3:18-19). So, are there any models to follow (or avoid)?
6. Is there a sin to forsake?
One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. Sin is much more than just “breaking the rules”. When we sin, we are shattering the bond between us and God and violating the law of love (Matthew 26:36-40).
Therefore, all sins—whether they seem big or small—are deeply offensive to God and highly destructive to our lives. God often uses His Word to “prune away” the “dead wood” of sin that is sapping our spiritual strength, robbing us of life, and undercutting our impact (John 15:3).
Many passages in the Bible warn us against specific sins. We can use these passages to conduct a moral inventory of our lives to help us grow.
While all six of these questions are helpful, the most important question is the first: Is there anything You want to say to me through this passage?
If we are hungry to grow, and willing to listen, the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to important applications which will lead to freedom, transformation, and a closer relationship with God (John 8:31-32).
When we study the Word—here’s a great place to start:
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Psalm 119:34
Read Jesus’ story in Matthew 21:28-32. Which son do you relate to the most and why?
Which of the seven questions do you find most helpful?
As we have studied Philippians during the past two weeks, has the Holy Spirit revealed any new principles for you to apply in your life? If so, explain.
Write a prayer asking God to teach you how to hear His voice and apply His Word in a consistent and life-transforming way.
THE THREE R'S
If you look at the lives of famous people from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin, from Leonardo da Vinci to Marie Curie, and from John D. Rockefeller to George Lucas—you will find one thing they all have in common. Can you guess what that is? They are all avid journalers.
Despite the fact that many people recoil from the idea of journaling, it has the power to change our lives. So why are so many reluctant to start? Sometimes it’s because we don’t know how to journal. Other times we’re afraid it will take too much time, or we simply don’t enjoy writing. But more often than not, we just don’t see the value in it. We see the obvious value of the Word and prayer, but we’re not convinced of the value of journaling.
However, if you study the lives of those who have walked well with God, more often than not, you will find they testify to the tremendous power of journaling. In his book, Too Busy Not To Pray, author Bill Hybels shares his own personal reluctance to journal. He envisioned it as something that required too much time and energy. However, one of the things that changed his mind was the testimony of the Christ-followers who influenced him the most with their writings. He writes,
Over the years, I found myself drawn to the writings of a wide variety of people—mystics, Puritans, contemporary authors rich in their devotional handling of Scripture—who seemed to have one thing in common: most of them journaled. Bill Hybels
His reluctance to journal is very common. But his discovery is not a surprise. Journaling is a very powerful way to document, process, and remember the most important things God is doing in our lives.
When it comes to journaling, there are many different approaches—and there is not one size that fits all. Some people journal every day. Others only from time to time—when God gives them an important new insight. Some will write more. Others less. Some prefer a hard copy. Others a digital version. Whatever your approach, there are three basic reasons why journaling is so helpful: to Record, to Reflect, and to Remember.
The 3 ‘R’s of Journaling
The first reason to journal is simply to record what God is doing in your life. Chuck Swindoll defines a journal is “an intimate record of the journey the Lord and I are traveling together.” A journal is the place to record the important milestones and insights God gives you along the way.
So, what do you record?
One of the most important things is what God is showing you in His Word. As you follow the steps of observation, interpretation and application, write down your thoughts and insights. It’s as simple as that.
As you seek God’s word with an open heart, He will be giving you fresh insights into the Word and your life. You will also experience the Holy Spirit shepherding you throughout your day. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to capture these insights in writing. When He reveals new things about your relationships, character, priorities, family, ministry, finances and so on—write them down.
In addition to recording insights, make sure to document key events in your life and your emotional and spiritual responses to those events. Take the time to record all the ups and downs of life—along with your hopes and dreams, thoughts and emotions, wins and losses. And don’t forget, your journal is also a great place to record prayers, requests and answers to prayer.
The second reason to journal is to practice the art of reflection. One of the challenges of modern life is that we often don’t take the time to stop and think. This causes us to lose touch not only with God, but also with ourselves. A journal is not just where we record our journey, it’s where we process our journey — in the presence of God. In Plato’s Apology, Plato quotes Socrates as saying,
An unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates
He’s right. If we want to live out the epic vision God has for our lives, we must examine and reflect on what is happening in our lives. This will help us get in touch with our own hearts and minds.
In the book Ordering Your Private Word, Gordon McDonald shares what it was like for him when he first started journaling:
At first, it was difficult. I felt self-conscious. I was worried that I would lose the journal or that someone might peek inside to see what I said. But slowly the self-consciousness began to fade, and I found myself sharing in my journal more and more the thoughts that flooded my inner spirit. Into the journal went words describing my feelings, my fear and sense of weakness, my hopes, and my discoveries where Christ was leading me. . . . Slowly I began to realize that the journal was helping me come to grips with an enormous part of my inner person that I had never been fully honest about. Gordon McDonald
A journal is a place to reconnect with our own thoughts. Often just the act of writing our thoughts and emotions down will lead to greater clarity and intentionality in our lives. This can lead to powerful new insights and life transformation.
When we don’t take time to examine and reflect on our lives, we tend to not change. We need time not just to listen to the Word; we need time to process it and apply it to our lives. This often happens when journaling. Sometimes just the simple act of putting pen to paper and turning our thoughts, emotions, and insights into words helps us think through, clarify, understand, and “name” them. Once they are identified, we can take action and change.
One of the most important reasons to journal is to remember. As human beings, we are surprisingly forgetful. This is why throughout the Bible God’s people often create physical reminders of spiritual milestones. It’s why Abraham built an altar when God appeared to him. It’s why Joshua created a memorial with twelve stones after God led Israel through the Jordan River on dry land. It’s why Jesus taught us to celebrate communion together—to remember His sacrifice.
It is so easy to forget what God does in our lives and the insights He shows us—even when they are really big (like the death of Christ). A journal keeps us from forgetting. A journal is where we document our journey—so we can go back and remember the most important things He has done and the most important lessons He has taught us.
In his book Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes,
If you are not keeping a spiritual journal or diary, you need to. When the Creator of the Universe tells you something in your quiet time, record it before you forget it. Then write a prayer response. I record the verse of Scripture through which God speaks to me and what He has said to me about Himself from that verse. I write down the prayer response I am making so I have a record of the encounter with God, what He said, and the way I responded to Him. I also write what I need to do to adjust my life to God so I can begin to experience Him relating to me this way. Henry Blackaby
Have you ever tried journaling? How did it go?
Do you prefer using a hard copy or a digital journal?
How often do you journal?
What do you journal?
Write a prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to show you if He is calling you to journal. If so, ask how to start journaling and what approach to take.
7 TOOLS OF
If you’ve ever painted a room, assembled a dresser or changed your oil you know how important it is to have the right tools for the job. Without them, the same job will take much longer and will be much more frustrating. In fact, it may not get done at all!
The same is true when it comes to studying the Bible. As promised, today we will be reviewing some helpful tools for your own Bible study. This is a key part of our process as we learn how to study and apply the Bible properly. Especially when we encounter more difficult passages, study tools help us to discern the context, follow the author’s train of thought, and provide helpful cultural and historical background so we can come to accurate conclusions. At the end of today’s study, you will get the chance to apply these new tools by doing a topical study on your own.
As we mentioned before, a good Study Bible is the first tool you need in your tool chest. Its resources are miniature versions of all the more complete resources we will talk about today. Here is a brief description of seven of the most important tools you can use in your studies.
1. BIBLE TRANSLATIONS
The Bible was written in three different original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). As such, it’s helpful to read several different English translations to help you understand the nuances in each passage. There are three main types of translations—literal “word for word” translations, “thought for thought” translations and paraphrase translations.
The first type of translation is a “word-for-word” translation. These translations are valuable because they are very accurate. They stick very closely to the words, phrases and sentence structure of the original language. However, this tends to result in a more stilted translation which is harder to read. Also, literal doesn’t always mean better. If you’ve ever studied a second language, you know that translating words and phrases literally is not always the best way to communicate. If you are looking for a solid word-for-word translation, the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) are two excellent examples.
The second approach to translation is a “thought-for-thought” approach. One of the advantages of these translations is that they are easier to read and understand. The New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) are two of the best examples of thought-for-thought translations.
The third approach to translation is a paraphrase—which is basically an extreme example of “thought-for-thought” translation. These versions are usually translated by a single author (as opposed to a team of scholars). They are usually very easy to read, but not as accurate as a word-for-word or thought-for-thought translations. Two good examples are The Living Bible and The Message.
When it comes to selecting a translation, it’s important to remember that every translation has its strengths and weaknesses. This is why it’s so helpful to use several when studying the Bible. For serious Bible study, it’s best to use more accurate translations like the NIV, ESV, or the NASB as your main texts—and then supplement them with paraphrases.
A concordance lists the individual words used in the Bible in alphabetical order along with their scriptural references. This is a great resource for doing a word study or for finding a verse that you know but can’t remember its reference.
3. BIBLE DICTIONARIES AND ENCYCLOPEDIAS
Both of these references provide a wide range of articles on just about everything in the Bible (e.g. people, places, history, plants, customs, theology, etc.). For example, if you want to learn about the city of Jericho, the prophet Isaiah, Canaanite worship, or the Atonement, there’s an article for you.
4. TOPICAL BIBLE
A topical Bible lists a wide variety of topics covered in the Bible with passages that address that topic. For example, if you are doing a study on “love”, it will list many passages from the Bible on this topic. Unlike a concordance, it will not only list passages that include the word “love”, it will also include passages that touch on the topic of love whether the word “love” is used or not. A topical Bible also prints the entire verse or passage on this topic—not just the word and the reference, like a concordance.
Commentaries are books written by pastors and scholars to help the reader interpret the Bible and apply it to life. Commentaries come in all shapes, sizes and theological perspectives. Some focus more on interpretation; others focus more on application. Some are designed for pastors and scholars, while others are intended for everyone. There are so many options when it comes to commentaries that it’s wise to check with one of your pastors for good recommendations.
6. BIBLE ATLAS
A Bible atlas provides maps, photos, and geographical information about important locations in the Bible along with information on important events that happened there. This is especially helpful if you are a visual learner and want to see the locations of various Biblical events.
7. BIBLE SOFTWARE AND ONLINE RESOURCES
One of the most efficient ways to study the Bible is by using Bible Software, such as Logos Bible Software (logos.com). While this option doesn’t come cheap, it is well worth the investment. This type of program gives you instant access to all the above resources and many more (including original language studies) with just a couple clicks. Logos works on most digital platforms including smartphones, tablets, and computers and is available at a variety of price points. There are also many free online Bible resources and apps to help you with your studies. The YouVersion app (available at youversion.com) and biblestudytools.com are two good examples.
Are you ready to give some of these tools a try? Let’s head into our ‘Daily Response’ and get some practice.
Have you ever used any of these resources to help you study the Bible? If so, which ones have you found most helpful?
Do a quick word study on the word “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs. Use a concordance or a topical Bible. If you don’t have either, go to biblestudytools.com and do a search for “wisdom” in Proverbs in the NIV translation. Spend 20-30 minutes reading several of these verses. Jot down any insights you learn about wisdom to share with your Life Group.
Turn these insights of wisdom into a prayer. What would you like to ask God for in the area of “wisdom”?
THE CALL TO OBEDIENCE
For the past three weeks, we’ve studied the Word. We’ve learned that the Bible is a supernatural book and has the power to transform our lives. We’ve also learned that we need the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures so we can understand them. We’ve explored the three steps of Bible study so we can interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. But without obedience, none of this matters. Today as we wrap up this section of our study, we will explore two short stories that illustrate the important role obedience plays both in our lives and our study of the Word.
STORY #1: JOSHUA
It was a dangerous time in the life of Israel. Their larger-than-life leader Moses had just died. Even during his lifetime, the nation had been hard to govern. Joshua’s very first assignment as their new leader was the one thing even Moses had been unable to do—lead them across the Jordan river to conquer the heavily fortified cities of this foreign land. This was the biggest challenge Israel had ever faced—and there stood Joshua, right in the thick of it—terrified.
In this pivotal moment, God came to him and strengthened him. He promised to be with him every step of the way. He told him the key to success was obedience:
Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:7–8
God promised to give Joshua success. But it was a conditional promise. Joshua’s part was to study the Word—and then follow it.
STORY #2: JESUS
When Jesus arrived on the scene, He knew He was not the Messiah Israel was expecting. His teaching was fresh, bold, and different—but it also very controversial. This was confusing to the people. They were having a hard time discerning whether He was from God and whether they should trust Him. This is what He told them:
Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. John 7:17
Read that again—slowly, and out loud.
He said the key to discerning the truth about His teaching depended on their willingness to do the will of God. If they were willing to do God’s will, God would reveal the truth about Jesus to them. If not, He wouldn’t.
From Joshua we learn if we want to experience God’s presence and blessing in our lives, the key is to listen and follow the Word. From Jesus we learn our ability to discern and understand the Word is dependent on our willingness to obey it. These are the two most important truths we need to take with us as we continue this journey learning how to pursue God one-on-one.
Consider this quote by Henry Blackaby from Experiencing God:
What you do immediately after the Spirit speaks to you through His Word is critical. . . . Regularly review what you sense God has been saying to you. If God speaks and you hear but do not respond, a time could come when you do not hear His voice. Disobedience can lead to a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11-12). . . . If you hear God’s Word and do not apply it to produce fruit in your life, even what you think you have will be taken away. Be careful how you listen to God! Make up your mind now that when the Spirit of God speaks to you, you are going to do what He says. Henry Blackaby
Once again, we’re back to the “dimmer switch principle”. When we are willing to listen and follow, God will speak—and this will lead to blessing and spiritual success. If not, over time we will lose even the capacity to hear His voice.
God’s promise to Joshua is His promise to us:
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8
Read and reflect on Joshua 1:3-9. God told Joshua to “meditate” on the Word “day and night”. What do you think He meant by this? Why did God tell him to do this?
What are the implications of this for your life?
Read and reflect on John 7:14-17. Is there any area of your life where you need to “choose God’s will” so you can continue to grow and hear God’s voice?
Write a prayer based on these passages (Joshua 1:3-9, John 7:14-17) for your life.
Remember the ‘3 R’s of Journaling’: Record, Reflect and Remember. Take a moment now to look back at your previous responses in your Pursuing God journal. Do you see any patterns of how God has been speaking to you so far through this study? If so, is there some action God is calling you to take in light of this reflection?