How To Help A Family Who Lost Someone

This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.

During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.

As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.

Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.

Paint a bigger picture of heaven.

In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.

Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.

Keep your grieving in check.

When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”

I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.

Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.

Put a pause on your personal issues.

Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.

Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.

Do your job.

This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.

I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).

Help with the basics.

That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.

Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.

Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.

Help To Better Read

My goal in this post is to help people read more. I am acutely aware that there are great books about this, but I also understand that many people I know don’t read books at all. Reading for them isn’t something they don’t do well, but rather something they don’t do at all. It is for these people I write this post. I want to give some helpful tips on how to cultivate a simple reading life.

Some may ask though, “Why is reading books important? Isn’t reading my Bible enough?” I will let John Piper answer this question brilliantly:

Some may also say that they don’t have enough money or time to read. I will focus on time in a moment, but let me address the money concern. I understand that money is tight in many families (although we typically find a way to buy things that we have prioritized as important) but let me offer you two options that may help you:

  1. A Kindle
    I bought my Kindle 2 years ago for $70 (it took me a few months to save up for it) and it pays for itself again and again every 3 months. Why? Because thanks to certain blogs and Twitter accounts that I follow, I find discounted deals for books. I have bought brand new theology books that would typically cost $20 for 99 cents, because the Kindle version was on-sale for a day. While I like paper books, the cost saving has made me a Kindle-only person.
  2. Your local library
    You would be impressed on what you can find at your local library. My city’s library has the newest & hottest worship cds. They also keep a great collection of books. I can even ask them to add a book into their inventory, and thanks to God, my requests have never been rejected. Typically, they also have a wide catalog of good audiobooks (on CD) available. I’ll talk more about these shortly.

Now that I’ve dealt with the reasons to read and how to read for cheap/free, let me offer a few helpful tips on how to cultivate a reading life.

Read small chucks consistently

Make a plan to read for 10 minutes right before bed. That’s it. Get yourself in a habit to read something every day. You would be surprised how quick you could read a book if you just read for 10 minutes a day. Take one of your work breaks and read a book. If you do that consistently, you should be able to read a book every 2-3 weeks (depending on page length).

Read something worth it

Don’t read things that you think are going to be a waste of your time. If you’re out of school, then you are probably out of the required reading stage. Find something to read that interests you. Check the Amazon reviews to see what people are saying about the book and if they enjoyed it.

Read something fun

Don’ just read systematic theology books. Read some great fiction books. Read books like The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. Let your imagination loose and have fun. If you never read anything enjoyable and fun, I’ll wager that you will rarely read.

Highlight and make notes

This is important. When reading a non-fiction book, highlight all you can. Make notes throughout the book. This helps you to engage with the book more and remember more of the material you’re reading. It also helps to quickly read the important passages when you re-read the book years later.

Listen to audio books

This is one of my favorites. As I said, the library has audio books for free. I listen to a book every two weeks in my car just by listening to it on my way to work and church. Personally, I listen to fiction books while I’m in my car (I get less sleepy that way). This means that my ten minutes each night can be spent with something that will grow me in biblical knowledge or leadership skills (my two most often read subjects). If you want a great place to start, I encourage you to get the Chronicles of Narnia (unabridged) audio books from your local library.

Help To Better Learn Theology

I find many people who want to learn more about what they believe and also how to think rightly of God. They just don’t know how. They think of seminary and shudder. They think of massive books that are completely boring and they lose all desire to pursue a greater knowledge of God. I wanted to share some simple pointers of how I’ve learned and have grown in doctrine.

Understand what theology is.

Remember, “theology” simply means the study of God. We’re not talking about timelines or pointless facts and arguments. We’re talking about knowing Him more. I used to find it easy to excuse myself from learning theology when I thought it was just useless trivia. Everything changed when I realized it was simply the process of knowing a person, Jesus, and who He is, what He is like, and what that means for me in response of Him. It also helped to know that it was His desire that I pursue knowing Him, and therefore growing in doctrine and theology. I knew He would help me understand all that I was studying.

Read the Bible without filters.

I find the greatest cause of wrong doctrine is reading the Bible with a filter, either our own or someone else’s. It is critically important that the start of our theological education (and the core of it) centers around the Bible. Just as important is to read the Bible without preconceived ideas/doctrines of our own or from others. For example, when reading Revelation, I never understood it till I (chose to) forget all that I had been taught about it (I was taught pre-tribulation rapture, so Revelation was quite confusing). Once I did, the Spirit opened the book to me and I saw it clearly.

It’s also important that we read the Bible with our heart continually ready to love the Lord as the scriptures reveal Him to be. I missed out on a lot of good and passionate theology growing up because I formed a theory of God with my own mind, a god that that was easily lovable. When a tough theological subject such as hell or election comes up, I often hear people say “I don’t know if I could love a God like that.” Abraham Joshua Heschel says:

To retain the holy, to perpetuate the presence of god, his image is fashioned. Yet a god who can be fashioned, a god who can be confined, is but a shadow of man.

Read the Bible to see God for who He truly is, and be ready to struggle against some of the things that make Him altogether different than us (like how He defines love). Choose to love Him regardless of how unpleasing you may find Romans 9 or other passages.

Read the Bible with commentary.

While we should read the Bible without filters, it is good after reading it ourselves, to read what others have thought about it. We call these collection of thoughts about the Bible “commentaries.” Instead of going and buying a bunch of new expensive commentaries that you might not know if they are good or not, let me encourage you to read commentaries from some of the old preachers and fathers of our faith. Many of them are free. You can read commentaries from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and others. After you read a portion of scripture and pray about it, look up the portion in these commentaries. Just be careful not to read/listen to only one person. Reading commentaries from multiple authors keep us from erring easily.

Follow theologians on Twitter (or Facebook).

This is my favorite. Thanks to the age of the internet and social media that we live in, there are many theologians that are posting short theological truths and teaching on Twitter and Facebook. I follow several of such people and I’ve been amazed at my spiritual growth just by reading some of their thoughts. Many of them also have blogs where they write out some of their thoughts in a slightly longer form. This is a quick and easy way to learn theological truths randomly throughout the day.

Here are a few I personally follow on Twitter:

All of these people are serious (yet still fun) about theology. Whoever you follow, if you listen to their theological remarks, make sure they are serious about theology, that they appreciate it and are trying to see God rightly, truly, and in a way that’s consistent with Christian history. There are many who are part of an anti-intellectual/relativist movement. These people are constantly dogging general (and widely-accepted through time) doctrines. They are trying to re-invent Christianity into something more palatable, but in the end, unbiblical. They don’t believe in any set standard of truth. Beware of such people and their candy-tasting social media accounts. Find preachers and teachers who are in line with church history who are passionate about Jesus expressed through the Bible.

Read theological books.

Finally, start reading (light) theological books. I’m not talking about reading a Systematic Theology book or something like Kingdom Through Covenant, a crazy deep 828 page book on the biblical covenant of salvation. I’m talking about reading easier yet potent material that focuses on knowing God more, through scripture and doctrine.

Some examples are:

Fiction series like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy are also great to learn doctrine and theology from. I should mention that many fiction books don’t have accurate theology in them, particularly for those trying to, so be careful (I’m looking at you, The Shack). Sometimes it’s better to read someone who is choosing clarity rather than allegory.

Also, if you get a Kindle, you can find many theological books for free or cheap. They are often on sale on Amazon.

Help To Better Worship

As a worship ministry leader, I often have to think about the congregation we’re serving. While I find there to be many reasons why people struggle to worship, both at church and in their personal lives, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest reasons why people don’t worship is that they don’t know how. I admit that it can be a little discouraging looking at others who seem caught up in a worship time when you’re not feeling or experiencing anything. Hence, I wanted to write a few tips I’ve learned over the years that will help people worship better.

Pray for revelation

The first and greatest thing we must realize about worship is that it is not something that we create. There is no such thing as self-sustained worship. The origin of all worship is God. We give Him nothing that wasn’t first given to us by Him.

Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:35)

If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? (Job 35:7)

When God gives us revelation of Himself, who He is and what He is like, our hearts naturally respond in worship. Our hearts can’t be still or quieted when we see God. It’s a natural overflow. Therefore the first thing we do when worshiping is to ask God to reveal Himself to us. God wants worshipers and is more than willing to make worshipers by revealing Himself to them.

Remember, be thankful, and praise accordingly

We are people with short memories. Israel was a perfect picture of this. Many times in the Old Testament, the author would write “but they did not remember the works of the Lord.” The Bible links Israel’s problem with worshiping God wholeheartedly with their memory problems. We should learn from them. During worship times, focus your mind on what the Lord has done for you. This will stir up thanksgiving in your heart, and thankfulness is the key to the door of praise and worship.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28)

Remember your salvation, how lost you were without Him; how He has forgiven your every sin, how He has protected you through every trial, pain and sickness. Remember His mercies and gifts He has given you — family, friends, a job, breath, and all things you need for life and godliness.

Think about what you’re singing

Many times the reason we’re not engaging in worship is because our brain is turned off. We may be singing, but we’re not comprehending what we’re singing. Take a moment and think about the words you’re hearing and singing. Think about how they apply in your life. If they don’t, pray that they would. Our worship many times takes form as a prayer to God. Certain statements like “there is none else that I desire but You” are biblical but are not true of our current life. Take those words and pray them while singing them.

If a song is describing what God is like, stop and think about it. Songs like Revelation Song are great to think about.

Follow the Bible’s physical instructions

Many times we look at someone dancing or shouting and wish that the Lord would “move us that way”. Yet, this isn’t how it works.

God created us and created worship. He knows what will unlock our heart and worship Him in spirit and truth, like He requires. The Bible doesn’t say “wait till you are experiencing the Lord in worship and then clap your hands.” No. Rather it says “clap your hands.”

There are physical things we can do, in obedience to the Word of God, that will unlock our hearts to love God more. When I lift my hands, it’s not usually because I’m overwhelmed. Rather, I lift up my hands in worship, like the Bible commands me to do, and then something unlocks in my heart and I experience God in a different way. The same with all the different physical acts of praise — dancing, clapping, bowing, shouting, etc — the more I humble myself and praise like the Bible commands me to, the more my heart opens to worship God.

Sing spontaneously

Even though we may do the physical acts of worship, there are times where our heart is cold and unengaged. I have found two remedies for this problem.

  1. Sing spontaneously
    To engage my heart, sometimes I need to stop singing the words everyone else is singing and sing my own song to God. I call this “letting your heart sing.” Many times it is just giving thanks to God in song, singing my testimony and singing about His recent faithfulness in my life. Sometimes I just sing to Him how much I love Him. Sometimes I open the Bible, particularly Psalms, and sing some lines I read there. 
  2. Sing in tongues
    While I do not believe that all people have the gift of tongues (per Paul), I do believe it is a gift and a often given one to people. I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.

Do it often

Although worship is not self-sustained, the act of engaging your heart is like muscle memory. The more you do it, the easier and more subconscious it becomes. Worship every chance you get — in the morning, in your car, during breaks at work, on your way to church, etc. The more you do it, the more you remind your heart where its focus should be continually on.

Help To Better Pray For Our President

It’s election season again. During these times, it can be easy for us as Christians to get caught up in the verbal abuse of candidates instead of praying and blessing our governmental leaders like the Bible calls us to.

Here are a few helpful tips on how to better pray for our president.

(Note: I will be writing this article around President Obama, our current president)

Pray Humbly

Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are Matthew 5:3-7:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

These verses are key to us praying rightly and effectively for our president. These beatitudes are a progression. I talked about this progression before:

Being “poor in spirit” is simply to realize where you would be without the mercy and grace of God. It is a realization that you cannot save yourself and you are forever doomed without God intervening into your life. The next step is to mourn that you are living for far less than what God wants for your life (Matthew 5:4). After that happens, when you realize who you are apart from God and you mourn consistently for all the things you do apart from God…true meekness and humility set in (Matthew 5:5). Something comes over you that you realize that there is no judgment or consequence you don’t deserve. That causes a hungering and thirsting for God to start in your life (note: the true realization of weakness always draws us closer to the Sufficient One) and you start desiring God above all else (Matthew 5:6, 6:33) and then because of the hunger and because of the true humility…you are compassionate towards people. You feel for them. You desire mercy for those in the struggle and you pray and long for mercy for those who don’t want to struggle anymore.

I also stated a huge outcome that comes out of following these beatitudes:

We stop judging and start giving mercy to others (deserving or not) in view of our need for mercy.

I find that many of our prayers and comments that we use towards President Obama come from a place of pride. Somehow, we forget our sinful nature, our helpless state apart from Christ, and start judging the president for his. We become like the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

God calls us to pray for our president out of humility in view of our (and his) need for mercy.

Pray Contextually

I am a huge fan of praying the Bible. When we pray the Word (in correct context), we pray the perfect will of God. The problem comes when we start taking verses out of context and twisting their meaning.

I’ll use Psalm 109:8 as a example. This is a verse that is often quoted and prayed about President Obama from many Republicans/Tea-Partiers. Here is what it says:

May his days be few; may another take his office! (Psalm 109:8 ESV)

This, on the surface, looks like a great Biblical prayer to pray for a president you don’t like. There are a few issues with this though. First, this verse does nothing to bless or help our president. It’s the equivalent of praying for someone to get fired. It’s not mercy, it’s judgment. Secondly, and most importantly, it is a verse taken completely (and wrongly) out of context. Let’s look at what that portion of Scripture is talking about.

Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death. He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat; may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones! May it be like a garment that he wraps around him, like a belt that he puts on every day! May this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life! (Psalm 109:6-20 ESV)

This will not be a popular statement, but if you quote verse 8 towards Obama, you are wishing (consciously or not) this entire portion of Scripture on him. I think we all can agree that this portion of Scripture should never be praying towards another human being before the mark of the beast. Yet, because we don’t strive to be contextual or positive in our prayers, we say and pray things that are totally against God’s heart for the president.

The Bible is not meant to be a weapon used by our anger and self-righteousness. It is a guide on how to effectively touch God’s heart. Let’s remember mercy in all our prayers and use verses that correctly, and contextually, help give words to that end.

Pray more for the person instead of the issue

I fear that many of us tend to focus on a particular issue than about the person who is behind the issue. The reason why this is a problem is because God always cares about the person, but may or may not care about the issue. God cares more about the soul of our president than He does for universal healthcare. We have made lesser things the major things we focus on.

I also think that most of our prayers are about wisdom more than salvation, mercy or revelation. Now I think praying for our president to have wisdom is a great prayer, but it is a short-term prayer. A person can only be president for a decade at the absolute longest. While his position will require much wisdom, those four or eight (or possibly ten) years will be quickly spent. What will happen to him then? What will happen after people stop praying for wisdom for him? What about his soul? Much better is it to pray for him to fall in love with Jesus and fear Him than it is to pray for wisdom alone. So pray for wisdom. Just don’t forget about the eternal.

Example Prayers

To help show how these three points work together, here are a few short 15-second prayers for President Obama. These prayers are taken from Ephesians 1:17-18, 2 Peter 3:9, Timothy 2:1-4 and others.

  • Father, I thank You for President Obama. I pray that You would give Him a spirit of wisdom and revelation…so that he would know Jesus better. Open the eyes of his heart. Enlighten them to the glory of the cross of Jesus. Make Yourself known to him. Visit him, speak to Him, reveal Yourself to him. In Jesus’ name, amen.
  • Father, I thank you that you are as patient towards President Obama as you are to me. You don’t desire any to perish but that all would come to repentance. So I ask that You would draw him closer to You. Convict his heart with Your truth and give him the grace to respond. Continue pouring out your mercy and patience on him. In Jesus’ name, amen.
  • Father, grant President Obama peace, both temporally by calming stress and frustration in his life and eternally by leading him to find the peace that Your Son purchased on the cross. Protect him from wicked men. Put godly men of influence (Daniels, Josephs, etc.) in his life and on his staff. Bless his family. Keep them healthy and safe. Use the Obamas to glorify Your Name in the earth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Help To Better Read The Bible

For years I’ve read the Bible and rarely enjoyed it. Most of my devotional times were done out of duty, instead of out of passion to know God more. More recently, my passion and Bible reading have come together and I wanted to share a few tips regarding how I now read the Bible. Most people after becoming a Christian are told to start reading the Bible but rarely are people coached on how to read the Bible. Hopefully this helps bridge that gap.

Also, check here for more “Help To Better” articles, including ones on prayer, fasting and marriage.

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The Bible is about God, not about us. We are not the heroes of the Bible, Jesus is. (He’s the better David, Adam, etc.) While the Bible does contain practical wisdom for our life, it is primarily a book that tells us who God is and what He like.

Mark Driscoll writes:

Luke records, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Talk about the most epic Bible study ever.

Importantly, we learn from this story how Jesus taught the Bible. There’s morality in the Bible, but it’s not primarily about morality. There’s religion, tradition, history, and miracles in the Bible, but it’s not primarily about those things. What Jesus teaches us is that the Bible is primarily about him.

Since the Bible is the only sure way we have to know God better, we should give it the time and focus it deserves.

Schedule time to read the Bible

Schedule time to read the Bible. If you don’t schedule time, you will never read it regularly. I encourage reading in the morning before the normal routines of the day have started. This gives you the least burdened and distracted mind to read the Bible with. If also done after breakfast and a shower, it becomes the most awake your mind is while reading the Bible.

Get a good & markable Bible

There are two kinds of Bible translations:

  1. Word-for-word.
    This is where the Bible was translated as close to word-to-word as possible. This translation type usually prefers the literal meaning of the words rather than the emotion/thought of the whole sentence or paragraph.
  2. Thought-for-thought.
    This is where the Bible was translated to convey the emotion and the thought behind the writings. Many of these use modern-day verbiage. Since they may (or may not) be 100% exactly right, we also term these as paraphrased translations.

There are many versions of the Bible out there — get one that you can understand but is not paraphrased. Some Bibles have questionable things in their translation which are debated among pastors and scholars. Recently it was agreed and decided that the English Standard Bible (ESV) is one of the most accurate translations English people can get. Other good versions include New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the Revised Standard Bible (RSV). Feel free to get a paraphrased Bible (like The Message), but do the majority of study with a word-for-word translation.

Also, I highly encourage to buy a paper Bible. I am not against digital Bibles on phones, computers and tablets but a written Bible can be well highlighted and noted. If you use a digital Bible, either (1) use one that does highlighting and note-keeping or (2) use a journal to keep notes of what you read and learn. Two digital resources that do this are:

  1. http://www.youversion.com
  2. http://www.esvonline.com

Accounts are free and sync to all devices.

Get a Bible study plan

Just as you should know and plan when to read, you should also plan what to read. There are many plans on reading the Bible. I simply pick a book of the Bible and start reading it until I’m done and then I pick another one. The key is to stop from playing “Bible roulette” where you open the Bible to a random place and find something that either “speaks to you” or that you like. As believers, we ought to be familiar with the whole Bible, not just the popular and most well-known sections. I encourage you to read the Bible all the way through at least once. It doesn’t have to be in 3 months or 6 months, but the whole narrative of the Bible should be seen in context.

Youversion.com is a great resource for Bible study plans.

Pray while reading

Since God wrote the book, human understanding will only take you so far. We need divine revelation to understand what God wrote about Himself and the way He made everything. Pray what you’re reading whenever possible (“God, let this be true of me”) and pray about what you’re reading (“What does this mean Lord?”). I also often pray the acronym “I.O.U.S.”:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. (Psalm 119:36)
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. (Psalm 119:18)
  • Unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
  • Satisfy me with you steadfast love. (Psalm 90:14)

Here are some short prayers you can pray using those verses:

  • Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive.
    That is, focus my affections and desires upon you, and eradicate everything in me that would oppose such a focus.
  • Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word.
    That is, let your light shine and show me what you have willed to communicate through the biblical authors.
  • Unite my heart to fear your name.
    That is, enthrall me with who you are.
  • Satisfy me with your steadfast love.
    That is, fulfill me with the fact that your covenant love has been poured out on me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(taken from http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/one-way-to-avoid-vain-repetition)

Memorize the Bible

I encourage scripture memorization regularly. Why? Because scripture interprets itself. The Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance the other verses you have read and will use them to show you what the current passage that you are reading means. This will cause a few things to happen:

  1. Hides the Word in your heart to guard you against sin.
    Speaking to temptation what God says about it and the sin behind it is one of the best ways to get (and stay) free from sin.
  2. Saves time.
    Remember a verse and where it is helps you save time from searching your Bible trying to find it.
  3. Builds a solid theological foundation in your heart and mind.
    The more you read and retain, the more you recognize error/heresy and are able to guard yourself from deception/

Brush up on your English.

This is the most ignored yet one of the most important things. Someone once said, “The problem isn’t that the American church doesn’t know Hebrew or Greek. It’s that they don’t know English.” If you are reading a word-for-word translation (particularly the ESV Bible), much attention was put into correcting translating the text into English, even up to where the commas and periods should go. Brush up on some basic english and grammar skills so that you don’t read/interpret scripture wrong. “Therefore”, “by” and “for” are very important words in the Bible. Personally, I always stop and find out and remember what those words are linking to.

Example:
The “therefore” in Romans 12:1, in context, is a follow-up to the doxology in Romans 11:33-36. Basically what Paul is saying is “In view of this great God….present your bodies…”

Help To Be A Better Husband

My wife and I just recently celebrated our one year anniversary. It has been the best year of my life. Although I feel I am completely unqualified to do so, I wanted to mention a few tips on how husbands should act to best love their wives. I believed these before I was ever in a relationship. They are simple principles that I learned by reading the Bible and watching the successes and mistakes of others. This past year of marriage has helped me apply them and prove their wisdom.

Die to your selfishness and serve your wife

As a husband, I love reading Ephesians 5 cause it reminds me quickly of what my responsibilities are as a husband.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…. (Eph 5:25-29)

My responsibility as a husband is to follow Christ and lay down my life to better love and serve her so that she is free and pure. My standard on how well I am loving my wife is measured by how Jesus loves us. In fact, Ephesians 5:31 states that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. That should imply to us how high and serious God takes marriage and how we serve in it.

Looking back on my past year of marriage I realized that out of all our fights: 5% were because of good arguments (God’s will, theology, illuminating/breaking personal strongholds, etc), 10% were because of in-laws, and 85% were because of selfishness! The Bible is clear: when there is a argument because both parties are being selfish (whether it’s well-meaning or not), the husband is to die to his rights and desires and serve his wife as long as it does not violate Scripture or the husband’s spiritual discernment regarding God’s will and direction.

There have been many arguments avoided cause I have died my own desires and helped my wife have hers. Men, it is not worth the fights to have your own way when it comes to how to squeeze the toothpaste or how to load the dishwasher. The only time I risk the fight is to better purify and refine her. Serving my wife means braving the times when I am called to smooth some of her rough edges. She braves the harder task of doing the same to me.

Praise her publicly and privately.

All humans love affirmation. God has blessed the marriage covenant in that each spouse can greatly influence how the other sees themselves based on what’s spoken over them. Speak over your wife blessings instead of curses, praises instead of criticisms. Proverbs 31 says:

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:28-31)

This portion of scripture says several things regarding husbands praising their wives:

  1. It says that husbands should praise their wives.
  2. It says that husbands should praise their wife more than any other woman.
  3. It says that the praise isn’t just about beauty or doing a good job, but also about her spiritual life and growth.
  4. It says that this praise should also be shouted in public in the midst of people.

I encourage all husbands to take those four points regarding praising your wife to heart and start practicing them every chance you get. Show your wife you’re  more pleased and happy with her than any other woman. Tell her how beautiful she is. Tell her how amazing she is when she’s working. Above all, praise her for her spiritual life, devotion, giftings, growth and passion. Praise her at home and praise her among friends and strangers.

Praising your wife like this will do wonders for her self-esteem as well as continue to open her heart to further receive the same love and affirmation from Jesus.

Cover her

Like publicly praising your wife, covering your wife is important. To cover your wife means to not speak of her faults for your or another’s gain. The Bible says:

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9)

A wife should be a husband’s closest friend. Yet when we bring up past failures in order to get the upper hand in a argument or when we bring up a past mistake or failure about our wives in a conversation with other people around (friends or strangers) to make a joke or point, it causes deep pain in our wives.

When we first got together, my wife and I realized that as we were hanging with friends, we would make jokes at the expense of each other. Many tears and long conversations afterwards led us to commit to only speak of each other with grace-filled words and a covering love. In fact, if we want to joke about a situation that’s personal, we will talk about ourselves and not each other. Don’t embarrass and uncover your wife for a joke. Love her enough to make yourself the joke if you have to. Also don’t bring up her past failures in the heat of an argument. Jesus doesn’t do that to us and He has the right to. Remember, we are to follow His example.

Pray for her

This should go without saying but I find it amazing how it is the last thing I often do. As the husbands and the priests of the home, we ought to visibly show our wives and families that we are the leaders of the spiritual life and growth within our households. We should be leading the way in prayer times, devotional times and studying the Word.

Yet we shouldn’t be just praying for our personal growth, but also directly praying into the challenges and needs we have inside our house. Prayer builds faith and faith helps us combat fear. There have been multiple times where my wife and I have been troubled and fearful about finances or health or safety (etc). Whenever those times arise, I hold her and pray out loud to God about the situation, helping her put her trust in God by showing her that I’m doing the same. Without fail, her nerves calm and she feel less burdened. That’s how you use prayer to lead your house.

Remove “divorce” from your vocabulary

Leaving is always the easy way out. Refuse to do it. Refuse to ever have the word “divorce” come up in your marriage. Don’t even let it be an option on the table. Don’t use it as a threat or to gain the upper hand in an argument. In Malachi, God states:

And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:13-16)

Jesus also states:

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

God hates divorce. I believe we have done a disgrace to the Bible by, in the name of love and grace, condoned divorce in the church. Divorce is a serious matter if our Forgiver says we’re guilty of adultery if we do it. Although God offers forgiveness and cleansing for past mistakes, we must not take this mercy and grace as a licensed to sin. The Bible has some choice words for those people who “trample the grace of God.” (See Hebrews 10:26-31)

Choose to live in this marriage for better or worse and you will start making decisions to help make the marriage better instead of worse. Also be cautious of storming away and leaving the house in the midst of an argument. Refuse to even hint at walking away from your wife, even if it’s just an argument. If allowed, it’s a little fox that will spoil the vine of love over time.

Now I understand that there are times that we as husbands need a “Bethel” time to get away and think by themselves to sort things out. This is fine. Just reassure your wife before doing so. The book “For Men Only” states (based on a poll) that most women feel more secure if before leaving in the midst of an argument, he says to her “I need some time real quick to sort some things out and think about things…but I want you to know that we’re ok and I love you. We can finish this when I cool down and think about this by myself. Is that ok?” I can attest that this works. Most women know that men work things out differently then women. Men are the ones who usually forget that. So feel free to take a break in the midst of arguing, just reassure her first and make sure you come back and finish the conversation, cause that’s how she works things out.

Help To Better End A Fast

This is a follow-up post to Help To Better Fast. I believe that fasting can change people, cities and even nations. That said, I believe it’s what we do after the fast ends that brings about the longterm difference. I consider seasons of fasting to be like a powerful conference — God can speak to you during it, you can feel moved, dreams can be reawakened, but if you don’t follow through after it’s all over then it’s been little of actual value for the long run. These are just a few practical things and a few spiritual things to make sure your fast is as effective in the long run as it was in the short run.

Don’t binge

Practically speaking, this means that if you haven’t eaten food for over 3 days then you should take it slow. If you haven’t ate anything for a week or so, don’t try eating steak right away, no matter how good it smells. I promise you it will be painful later, if not dangerous. Start off with bread, soup and salad. This is why Olive Garden is my favorite place to end a fast. The soup, salad and breadsticks combo is filling yet safe to eat.

Spiritually speaking, this means that you should not try to make up all your lost time by binging on media, food, or other things that you were fasting. Especially with longer fasts, you have trained yourself to eat and live a certain way. Do your best to keep the godly parts of that.

No spiritual vacations

Tailing off the end of point one, it is imperative that you decide not to take any spiritual time off after the fast is over. The few weeks after a fast is over, when the flesh is regaining it’s normal strength, are the most important to cement habits and practices you established when your flesh was weak during fasting. I encourage you to strive to keep your same prayer and devotional schedule the same as it was while you were fasting till it becomes a normal day to day habit and something ingrained into your life.

Fast again (and regularly)

Fasting should be a regular spiritual discipline in our lives. It’s a excellent way to keep our hearts and spirits in check and to make sure we’re not slipping into apathy or coldness of heart. I encourage you to plan and schedule your next fasting time before you end your current fast. I say this cause your spirit will look forward to it but your flesh will fight it tooth and nail once you end your fast. I know that most people are more quick to say “we should fast more” at the end of the fast than they are a week later. Schedule your fasting time and stick to it.

If you don’t know when to fast, pray and ask God when you should. He may call you to something weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. I highly encourage a few continual days of fasting every month at least. Again, this helps makes sure that every month we’re evaluating our hearts in the place of prayer and fasting. We ought to do it more than once a month, but monthly is better than never doing it.

For those monthly fasts, I highly encourage you to join the Global Bridegroom Fast (GBF). The fast is held the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of every month during the months of January to November, and the first Monday through Sunday of December, making a total of forty days of fasting each year. You can find out more information about the fast here.

Surround yourself with prayer

Decide to keep the atmosphere in your house and your life acclimatized to prayer. Choose to make sure your friendships and relationships are those who pray and who encourage you to pray in return. I also encourage you to start listening/watching the IHOP (International House of Prayer) 24/7 Prayer Stream. It’s free and it’s a way to use your speakers and/or TV in a way that’s not going to numb your spirit to God. You can view it free here.

Start a Bible study

Finally, the last thing I would suggest to make sure you don’t waste your fasting after you end your fast is to start a Bible study. This can be by yourself or it can be with your spouse, your family or a group of friends. The point of this is to move past the point you are during the fast, that you would grow after you fast not just during it. There are many great personal Bible studies. I personally recommend any from Beth Moore or Mike Bickle (free!). Many of these can be adapted for a small group. I also recommend doing any from John Piper as a group study (especially his Seeing & Savoring Jesus Christ DVD/book study). At the same time, sometimes the best thing to do is get together, open the Bible and pray and talk about it. Decide that you want to know Jesus better before the next fast and this will make sure that your fasting propels you somewhere deep in God.

Help to Better Fast

A couple weeks ago I wrote on Help To Better Pray.  I felt it might be helpful to post a few thoughts and helpful tips regarding seasons of fasting in general.

Biblically, there is one main way to fast and that is to fast everything but water. When the Bible talks about fasting, it is usually talking about a water-only fast. The Esther Fast (no food, no water) was only done once in the Bible and was done in light of a coming holocaust. Many people talk about doing a Daniel Fast, but there is no mention that what Daniel and his friends did was a fast. Though in some ways what they did was fast, the Bible never calls it a fast. The reason I’m bringing this up is that many take the easy way out by deciding to do a Daniel Fast.

The main reason why we fast is to create hunger in our hearts for God by making our flesh uncomfortably weak.

In your Christian walk, you will realize that the quickest way to stir up hunger and longing for God is to deny your flesh food. When our flesh is weak, our spirits become strong. A second reason why we fast is for discernment. The more we starve our flesh, the clearer we hear from God.

In reality, when it comes to fasting, there are only a few things that are required:

  1. Do whatever God tells you to do.
    If God tells you to fast by only eating vegetables, then do it. If He doesn’t tell you any particulars, don’t wimp out. Fast like the Bible says to.
  2. Fast only what is doctor-approved and authority-approved (parents/pastors/doctors).
    If “God told you” to not drink water for a week, your doctor, parents and pastors will tell you that you didn’t hear from God. These checks are there for our good.
  3. Avoid media and other time-wasting activities.
    If we’re not careful we dullen our spirits and hunger by consuming crumbs and trash from media. Do you best while fasting to spend as much time with God as you can. There’s always time to go to the beach, shopping or to watch that TV show.
  4. Seek God.
    If we hold back food from our flesh but don’t seek God, we’re not fasting, we’re dieting.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your fasting time.

Practical Tips

Overcome the first 72 hours

When doing an extended fast, whether 7 days, 21 days or 40 days (or longer), the hardest part of the fast is the first 72 hours. It is the time that the body realizes it’s not getting it’s normal diet and lifestyle. This can begin some slight pains both physically, mentally or emotionally (such as hunger, boredom, loneliness, etc). It is important to remember that all these things are fleeting. Your body will adjust after the few days. I find myself at the end of the fast wanting to continue the fast instead of ending it, but those first few days can be killer. Remember to see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep praying for grace. You’ll make it.

I will say to expect free food during the fast. Also expect your favorite shows or movies to appear while your fasting media. There’s something about fasting that draws people and media to tempt you in every way, but be strong. The Lord loves our seeking Him!

Buy mints and gum

This point sounds silly, but trust me, your breath will reek after a day of fasting. Help yourself out and buy some mints and gum. Another benefit is that you trick your stomach into thinking you’re eating if you chew gum. I’ve had major stomach pains lighten up simply by chewing a piece of gum.

Drink water

On a water only fast, I think the hardest thing to do is to drink water. After about a day, I begin hating water. I feel sick of it. It is  incredibly important to keep drinking it. The average person should be drinking 3-4 liters of water a day. Force yourself to drink or you will become dehydrated.

Suspend exercising

I advise suspending exercising while fasting if you’re only drinking water. It’s not healthy to work out your body without feeding it. You will force your body to start eating muscle, and your heart is the most vital muscle in your body. Don’t mess with it. Doing this opens the door to anorexia and bulimia.

Spiritual Tips

This is a fast, not a diet

It’s so easy to start thinking about how to lose weight while we’re not eating. Resist the temptation to think that way. It will turn your fast from a spiritual act into a carnal one. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Pray during the fast

This may sound like an obvious point, but I find it amazing how many times I’ve fasted and I rarely ever pray. I’ll read the Bible some but I’ll seldomly enter the place of prayer during this time. There is a tendency while fasting to focus on the hunger (or whatever it is you’re fasting) instead of focusing that attention and time to God in prayer. I also think that we try to bear the fasting “burden” ourselves thinking that God will call us a wimp if we approach Him complaining or speaking how we’re hungry. This is not how God thinks. He is moved that we desire Him enough to put away things we enjoy to better seek Him and better stir our heart to love Him. If we pray for grace and strength when we are struggling in our fast, He will gladly give it. Use this fasting time to speak and pray to Him more. Let it stir you to seek Him longer and more regularly.

Remember the phrase “in secret”

The phrase “in secret” comes from Matthew 6:16-18:

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jesus states that fasting is something done in the privacy of your life. Our fasting time should be between the Lord and us. There is no need to proclaim what sacrifices we are making for the Lord. Neither should we look all depressed and hurting during the fast. This can be a little challenging especially if you’re fasting all food for the first time; the hunger pain can be quite intense for the first few days. Regardless, Jesus calls us to be joyful, keeping our fasting secret to all but Him. (Note: As a husband, the only one besides Jesus who knows what I’m fasting is my wife. We fast together as one flesh. Also I highly encourage all children and youth to tell their parents what they are fasting, if they are.) If hiding the discomfort of fasting from others seems too hard, then pray (point #1) that God would give you grace and joy to fast.

It’s about love, not legalism

If you don’t make it and you cave into your desires for food or entertainment, don’t stop! Remember, the act of fasting is not about the human will trying to prove itself to God. It’s about love. It’s not about legalism. Reject any lie that tells you that you’ve ruined the fast and that God is disappointed with you. Pick yourself up and continue fasting and seeking Him. The Lord delights in us. He remembers that we are weak and that we stumble and fall and He rejoices when we get back up and continue to do that which we originally set our hearts towards.

Help To Better Pray

I decided to post some quick points and resources to help people pray, particularly for my church during this 28 day prayer initiative we’re in.

Pray 15-30 second prayers.

The point of prayer is not to give God a laundry list of things to do. It is two-way communication. It is intimacy. It is relationship. The point of praying is connecting and talking to God for the entire day, not just a hour in the morning. Try praying a quick 15 second prayer every time you think about it. Put notes around you so that you are reminded to pray these short prayers. Here is an example of a 15 second prayer:

Jesus, I pray for my church. I ask that you would pour out Your Spirit upon us. I pray that right now You would reveal Yourself to every member and every leader. Speak to their hearts and encourage them with Your love.

Praying quick prayers like that out loud or under your breath will keep your heart engaged with God throughout the day — and that is the point of prayer. It will train you to pray more and longer. It will also keep you connected to the Spirit to hear what He speaks to you. 15-30 second prayers will change your life completely if you do it consistenly.

Pray the Bible.

James says that we don’t have answers to our prayers cause we pray amiss, asking for our own selfish desires instead of what’s on the heart of God. When we pray the Word, we are assured we are praying the perfect will of God. Take a portion of Scripture and apply it to what you’re praying for. Here is an example prayer for the lost in the city using John 3:16 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1:

Father, You love all the world. You love the lost. You desire none to perish but all to believe in Jesus Your Son. I pray that Your Word would run swiftly in the city, that as Jesus is preached, You would convict hearts and bring them to salvation. Make people’s hearts tender to receive You I pray in Jesus name.

Here is what I advise doing when starting to pray:

Pray in the Spirit.

This is something that I find myself neglecting in prayer. I have a tendency to think of tongues as something used just for corporate prophecy, but it is primarily a tool for prayer. There is nothing that will engage and focus your heart to seek God and pray like praying in tongues. If you are not filled with the Spirit, ask the Lord to baptize you with this gift. He loves you and desires for all His children to have it. After you ask for the gift of tongues, open your mouth in faith and start speaking.

There are also times where we run out of words to pray or we don’t know what to pray for a certain focus. The Bible says that during these times, His Spirit prays through us the perfect will of God. He does this through tongues, groanings and utterings.

I hope this has helped equip you to better engage with God in the place of prayer.