Prayer for Individuals and Families Living in Poverty

In 2013 I was very blessed to be teaching an eight-week course to a church women’s group. The focus of our course was on the challenges of poverty in the community and the church’s response. We worked through a book on poverty. To use with their reading, I printed up and gave each woman a bookmark containing Bible verses that focus on poverty:

Community prayer for persons living in poverty

The Bible passages that focus on poverty include the following verses:

  • Leviticus 19:18
  • Deuteronomy 15:11
  • 1 Samuel 2:8
  • Psalm 82:3
  • Proverbs 14:31
  • Proverbs 19:17
  • Proverbs 21:13
  • Proverbs 22:9
  • Proverbs 28:27
  • Isaiah 58:6-7
  • Matthew 5:43-45
  • Matthew 10:30-31
  • Matthew 11:28-30
  • Matthew 13:31-33
  • Matthew 13:44-46
  • Matthew 15:32-39
  • Matthew 18:10-14
  • Matthew 19:19
  • Matthew 22:35-39
  • Matthew 25:37-40
  • Matthew 26:11
  • Mark 14:7
  • Luke 3:9-11
  • Luke 6:38
  • Luke 10:27-37
  • Luke 12:30-34
  • Luke 17:20-21
  • Luke 21:1-4
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7-15
  • Galatians 5:14
  • Ephesians 2:8-10
  • 1 Timothy 6:17-19
  • James 1:27-28
  • James 2:14-17
  • 1 John 3:17-19

Those are just a few of the places where poverty is discussed in the Bible. There are many more such Bible verses on poverty, and I encourage you to search for them and pray over them. A wonderful way to pray is to turn a Bible verse into a prayer, by praying that verse back to God and thanking Him for His Word and for His heart for people living in poverty. You can do that for each of the Bible verses listed above, and more as you search for them with God’s help.

As an example, let’s look at Isaiah 58:6-7:

“’Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?'” (Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV)

Our prayer could be as simple and powerful as this, praying that scripture passage back to God:

Lord, thank You that You have called us to pray and fast, to invite You to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. Thank You, God, for calling us to share our food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, and when we see the naked, to clothe them. God, don’t let us turn away from our own flesh and blood, Your children whom You have given us as brothers and sisters in the family of our community. Thank You for teaching us how to live and empowering us, by Your Holy Spirit, to live this out in our daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Pray that together with others in your community. Be expectant and sensitive to how God will respond.

During our class time with the women’s group, I invited a guest speaker to give us insight into how widespread poverty is in our own community. One of the reasons I asked to teach this class is because when we read a book together as a group of women (we had a women’s reading group that met quarterly), we then need to put those ideas into action in some specific way. That’s exactly what I wanted to do with this class, to give them an opportunity to respond to their reading. And we did it. We created specific action steps that the women considered, discussed, and agreed on. And we took those steps together as a group and as individuals.

Because I believe prayer is the first action step to take, I also asked our group to create a prayer for persons living in poverty in our community. And then pray it together often, expecting change in our community and in our own hearts and families.

I wanted each person in the class to contribute to creating the prayer. We took some time to be quiet and listen to God. Then we went around the table, and each person suggested one prayer point to include in our prayer:

Pray for

  • Strength
  • Not accepting but trying to get out and not with violence
  • Us to see a way they can get out
  • Physical needs – shelter, food, clothing
  • Peace
  • Courage
  • That they will not feel judged
  • Opportunities to receive and give back
  • Joy of the Lord
  • Transportation problem (in our county)

It would have been enough just to have those prayer points in front of us and pray them in unity at the beginning of our class time each week. But I wanted the women to have a full prayer they could read out and share. Together we created the following prayer. I hope you will join us in praying this together in unity for your community:

PRAYER FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES LIVING IN POVERTY IN OUR COMMUNITY

Lord, we pray for everyone who is living in poverty in our community.

We pray that You would lift them up and give them hope.

Show us how to do our best and Your best for other people.

Help us try our best each day to pray for individuals and families living in poverty in our community.

Show us how to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to show His love.

Help individuals and families in poverty to have a voice, and help us to be Christ’s voice on their behalf.

Lord, we pray for people who become suddenly impoverished, because of accidents, health crises, job layoffs, natural disasters, etc. Give them strength and let them know hope and know that there is a way out, and help them not to give up and lose heart.

For individuals and families living in poverty in our community, Lord we ask that You would help them to realize who they are to You. For them to know there’s somebody who cares and who prays for them and who will walk beside them.

We ask this all in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen

Writing While Growing: Some Tips for Christian Writers

A friend and I were talking this weekend about Christian writing. Our conversation touched on a common concern of Christian writers, the concern of writing something that will lead someone astray. I have often told writers (and prayer ministers) that as long as you have that healthy concern, I am not worried about you. You are likely to be diligent and discerning, bringing everything before God and asking for feedback from trusted individuals before you publish anything. You will also be more humble in your writing, acknowledging what you don’t know and inviting your readers to explore along with you as you grow together. That is a healthy approach to writing.

The problem is that sometimes this healthy concern expands into paralyzing fear, and nothing ever gets written. The question “When do I know enough to write about it?” never finds its answer. Readers miss out because you were ready and you had something helpful to share, but fear kept you from publishing.

The conversation with my friend went more in-depth about this concern, and I would like to share some of what we touched on, in case it helps another writer with similar questions.

Sometimes Growth Means Re-Editing at a Later Date

My friend had observed how sometimes people write and publish their perspective on a Christian-related topic, assuming they have done their research. Then at a later date, after continued research and growth, they change their perspective. Should they have written that first piece or waited until they learned more? Of course, every situation is unique, so it’s hard to answer that question in general. But here goes my attempt.

Here is one example that came immediately to mind. This weekend, I re-edited one of my blog articles I wrote 7 years ago about centering prayer. Recently, I have discovered that some of the books I’ve read about centering prayer have been confusing for readers who are new to the topic. So I don’t want to refer to those books in a basic blog article. I went back to edit and remove the book references. If I had time to give a thorough background teaching, I might have left the book references in. But really the article was about spending quiet time with God. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive teaching about centering prayer. So I removed the reference to the books and republished the blog post with just the centering prayer reflections I had shared.

That’s an example of how we can write something where we are at in the moment, and then re-edit it later as we grow, learn, and discuss. In September 2012 when I first published that blog post, I was actively engaged in dialogue with those books for my own learning. I was also being taught about centering prayer in two separate venues: in seminary and in a ministry internship. So I had a deep contextual understanding (historical teaching, experiential training) of centering prayer. The books made sense to me, and I was able to take the meat and spit out the bones. But it wasn’t until I engaged those topics in a wider audience that I realized those books are not for newbies. If I didn’t plan to share the entire training in that blog post (would have been a book, not a blog article!), then I needed to not make reference to those particular books.

The Challenges for Readers and Writers

The reason for my concern is, as my friend mentioned in our conversation, unfortunately many people will read something and take it in at surface level without praying about it, asking questions, or digging deeper. Unfortunately many people who read Christian online content aren’t taught about accountability, even though the Bible reminds us of wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). But many people aren’t taught that. Ideally when someone reads an article written by someone they don’t know, and it hits them sideways, they should go to people they trust and get their feedback. And also take it to God for His guidance. But so many people aren’t taught to do that. And if they know the author personally, then ideally they should ask the author first to explain. That not only helps the reader find clarity but might also help the author rewrite to clarify. So that is one of the challenges on the reader’s side.

On the writer’s side, often we write from the season we are in. And where else can (or should) we write from? We have to write from where we are sitting at the time. Otherwise we will never write. Then later, we experience growth, and maybe that shapes our perspective in ways that the reader can see the growth in our writing over time. Think about an author you have read for many years. I’ll bet you can literally see that author’s spiritual growth and life experiences shape the things she writes. In most situations, this growth will be gradual and will tend to move more deeply in the same direction. But in other cases we, as writers, may do an about face and realize something we said earlier does not line up with where our spiritual growth has brought us.

Ideally we will remember things we wrote earlier. If something needs to be edited or updated, we should go back and either change it or write a note updating it (or possibly delete it), or we can even create a new edition of a book with a new introduction explaining the changes. The reason for doing this is that the meat of the book is still valid, but we want to add a new perspective or context based on what we have learned over the years.

Sometimes an author has to just say they have changed their view, especially when it’s a sea change. And they need to be transparent and public about this. If they are influential or have a big following, they need to say it out loud and publicly. A prominent author that I read did that recently. He did a complete about face on a writing practice he had promoted for years. He publicly wrote a letter to his readers and told them he had changed and why he had changed.

For my own example, I originally wrote a guide to devotional writing. I wrote it 13 years ago, and 99% of it is still correct. But I no longer believe that a writer should write a devotional every day. I can’t even believe I said that, let alone believed it. That was before I had any inner healing. I hadn’t learned how to rest, to just “be,” and to let God order the rhythm of my day. If I were still in the writing community I was with at that time, I would issue a public correction of that guide. But that community no longer exists. So I simply took the guide off my website. Maybe one day I will have time to change the guidelines and republish them. But for now, they are just removed from my website because I no longer want to say anything remotely like that to a writer. Instead I spent the summer telling my online writing group why I haven’t been writing lately and why it is okay if they are having the same experience.

Writers Are Always Growing

We are always in a growing process spiritually. As Christian writers, we have the responsibility to do due diligence and make sure what we write lines up with scripture and God’s nature at the time when we are writing a particular piece, whether it be an article or a book. We need to be sure to ask for feedback on our work (before we publish) from trusted individuals who have a clearly demonstrated close walk with the Lord. This step is especially important in the age of blogging and self-publishing, where we lack the traditional layers of feedback that we would have found in working with Christian publishing houses. We also have the responsibility to follow spiritual health and growth practices like accountability, inner healing, and spending time with God and in His Word.

But we are always going to be growing. So we may, to the best of our understanding, write something that rings true at the time. But later we change our understanding and rewrite it from a place of growth. And ideally we help our readers see that transition where necessary, especially with a major about face.

We are accountable for the words we write – not just at the moment, but long after they are in print. While we are not responsible for someone’s response to our words, we do need to be aware of what we have spoken and repent when we realize our words may have been amiss. If we wrote and published something in the past, and now we realize that we were wrong, we ask and receive forgiveness. We ask God to help those who may have been confused by our words. That’s all part of growing up in Christ. And we take whatever steps are needed to publicly correct or remove those words so they don’t affect others. We’re like teenagers growing up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We make mistakes. We learn. We repent (means a complete change of heart in a new direction, i.e., the direction of God). We take responsibility for what we have published in the past to the best of our ability and ask God what we need to do to make it right. We don’t engage in self-destruction by beating ourselves up. And we move on as God leads us. We write again.

As writers, we engage in a two-way interaction with readers. The reader also has the responsibility to use discernment, feedback, clarification, and accountability rather than just taking things in superficially. If something doesn’t sit right, the reader needs to look into it or take the meat and spit out the bones. So both the reader and writer share responsibility for how a piece is written and consumed, always taking things before God and getting wise counsel on both ends of the process.

As writers, we are also avid readers (or should be). So, we need to remember this responsibility when we are in reader mode as well. And as reader-writers, we need to be careful not to judge the authors we read for the mistakes they make. Not only does the Bible tell us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1-3), but also in the ways we judge other writers, we might end up reaping those judgments in possibly greater proportion in our own writing (Galatians 6:7-9, Hosea 8:7). We need to read responsibly and stay accountable for the words we consume as readers. When we read something that seems amiss, we need to realize it could just as easily be us writing that way. We are called to forgive that writer for their mistakes, as we would hope others would do for us (Luke 6:31-36). Reading the heartfelt words of other writers is a privilege that comes with a reminder to stay humble in our writing.

No Fear

As long as we do our due diligence in our writing, we don’t need to be bound up by fear that would prevent us from publishing where we are in the moment. If we have done our best to use discernment and to be sure our work lines up with God and His Word, and if we have sought healthy and trustworthy feedback, we don’t need to be afraid to publish our work. We are always growing. If we wait till we have completely grown, we will never publish anything. (See my article “When It’s Time to Hit ‘Publish.’”) And people will miss out on the blessing of the writing we could have shared with them.

People read things from where they are spiritually at that time. So a writer who has just gone through a stage of growth may be writing for someone just going through that stage, and who better to write it? Further down the road they might both be in a different place. But the writer can trust that God used that written piece to encourage that reader at that particular point in time.

Limits, and What to Do with Them

I do think also a writer has to know her limits. If there is a part of the Bible she doesn’t understand, maybe she needs to write about something more familiar to her. She might need to spend a season growing in that area she doesn’t understand, before writing about it. But she shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that area of growth and step into it.

The writer may say, “I should just forget about that passage. It’s too hard for me.” But if God prompted it, that’s a great invitation to learn and grow. She shouldn’t just dismiss it as “out of reach.” Maybe she has a helpful perspective for sharing it with readers, and maybe that’s why she should be writing about it. The writer’s personal and unique life experiences might give her the right approach to share that scripture passage in a way that will resonate with certain readers. If the writer is willing to learn and grow, she may be writing about that passage before long in ways that surprise her.

Or maybe that particular Bible passage is not for her to write about but for her own personal growth instead. It also might be a stepping stone that will lead to writing about something else altogether.

No matter what, if she feels prompted by God, she shouldn’t dismiss it. I never thought I could write about Exodus 32-34 (or any passage from Exodus for that matter) until I took the time to immerse myself in Inductive Bible Study of that passage. I would have thought it was impossible for me to understand. But if I hadn’t worked through it, I would have missed the rich teaching and truths in that passage that are so helpful for intercessors in understanding how God responds to our intercession.

Granted, the writer who moves forward with a passage that is difficult for her does need to take the time to understand it first, at least enough for what she will be writing about. This is where the use of reliable, trustworthy commentaries can be helpful. Also, the writer should know (or get to know) some pastors or Spirit-led teachers that can help give feedback and perspective. It’s helpful to have several such people to ask questions of (wisdom and safety in a multitude of counselors, Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6) and be sure they come from different life perspectives.

Seek Feedback from Trusted Individuals with a Variety of Life Perspectives

I once had a pastor disagree with how I wrote about a particular Bible story. So I quit writing about that topic. Later I talked with other pastors who agreed with my perspective. What I realized was that the first pastor I asked about it was a happily married man. He didn’t see things from the perspective of a woman who had been through an abusive marriage. He didn’t understand the dynamics that come with that experience.

In the story I wrote, my emphasis was on how my personal anger (although certainly understandable and even partly righteous anger) had turned into bitter, long-term anger that continued to hurt me. This anger would have led me to cause further abuse if I hadn’t allowed God to heal me. My anger certainly did lead me to many more years of self-abuse. That wasn’t something the pastor could relate to. I believe he thought I was being unmerciful toward people who have been abused (in his defense, he didn’t know I had been abused). In reality, I was talking about the long-term damage that continues to affect a person long after they have been removed from the situation of abuse – the pain that comes with long-term bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and self-hatred. Often that damage has far worse consequences over time than the initial abuse, no matter how violent that abuse had been. We often do far deeper damage to ourselves than anyone else ever could. (I am the poster child for that, and I thank God for my healing.) The story I wrote ultimately showed how both abuser and abused person needed to seek Jesus’ healing at the cross.

It’s unfortunate that I stopped writing about those topics at that time. I would have written from a fresh perspective on it that might have resonated with people going through or recovering from abuse. I was remiss in not seeking out other pastors to talk to, instead of just listening to one person’s opinion. I failed to recognize that he didn’t have the life experience to see where I was going with the story I was writing. I also neglected to push back and discuss it further with him. That last point, had I done it, might have led to a fruitful discussion where he could have helped me see how to write it more clearly, and it also might have helped him grow in his understanding of his parishioners who were struggling with abuse. If not, the discussion might have led me to see why he couldn’t understand, so that I wouldn’t have dismissed a potential calling to write and publish on the internet for readers who were struggling with abuse.

Not All of Your Readers Are Christian

Whether we write on the internet or write books or articles for magazines, many of our readers may not be Christian. That is all the more reason for us to do our due diligence as writers and communicate clearly when we have experienced growth that changes or clarifies something we wrote – or in some cases to remove it or take it out of print if we are concerned it would lead someone astray.

At the same time, when we are writing pieces about spiritual growth for Christian readers, we don’t have the time or space to include everything that someone would need to understand if they are not Christian or if they are a new Christian. They are not our intended audience for that article or that book. The church needs to provide that growth and understanding for them. So we need to point them in the direction of a healthy church.

This is a reminder that we, as writers, should offer (in our books, on our websites, etc.) an invitation to pray for salvation, an actual prayer of salvation, and encouragement for that person to find a good church (and explain what that looks like). I try to include a salvation prayer and encouragement to find a healthy church in each of my books. But as I write this, I realize I don’t have such a prayer on my website or my blog. That will be the next section I add on my website.

Do Write

To sum up, I think it’s important that writers do their best to bring due diligence into their writing, to be sure it’s in line with God’s Word and His nature, and to get feedback and wisdom from multiple and trusted perspectives. I also think writers need to be diligent about their continued spiritual growth, inner healing, Bible study, prayer, accountability, and intentional quiet time with God.

Additionally, I think writers have a responsibility to be aware of what they have published in the past. When they experience a major change in perspective through a season of growth, they should make those new insights publicly available for their readers, either by publishing a new book edition with a new intro or republishing an article with a new intro. If that’s not possible – e.g., if a publishing company won’t let them – then at least they can share their insights publicly by writing a new article or delivering a podcast that informs their readers of their new perspective.

At the same time, I believe readers need to take responsibility for how they take in and respond to what they read, similar to those things mentioned above – accountability, wisdom from a multitude of counselors, their own Bible study and spiritual growth, and asking the author to clarify when they have questions. I think this is how God designed us to be in the body of Christ. And how wonderful if a piece of writing can inspire and remind us to practice these spiritual disciplines and ways of fellowship and accountability in the body of Christ.

If you are a Christian writer, let God lead you in all that you write. Practice spiritual health, growth, and discernment. Ask trusted people for feedback on your writing. Stay accountable and humble.

But do write. Do not be afraid. Trust the Holy Spirit to prompt you and help you. So many readers will be blessed.

Don’t Let Commentaries Slow Your Christian Writing

When I teach Christian writing classes, I emphasize the importance of Bible study. Christian writers have an incredible privilege of inspiring and encouraging readers to draw closer to God and to dig deeper into His Word. That means writers need to know the Bible and have a solid foundation for presenting scripture in their writing.

This doesn’t mean a devotional writer needs to be a scholar of biblical texts. But there are some basics that anyone writing about scripture needs to practice. One of these is the use of reliable biblical commentaries.

When I mention commentaries, a creative writer may sigh and think, There goes the inspiration or There goes the fun or even There goes the Holy Spirit. I get it. I often have the same response. But learning how to use reliable commentaries in minimal ways is important for Christian writers. And the use of commentaries does not need to slow or make tedious our inspirational writing.

I am creating this article as an encouragement to Christian inspirational writers on the importance of using commentaries and some simple and interesting ways to do so.

Why Should We Use Commentaries in Our Christian Writing?

As Christian writers, we need to look at reliable commentaries. Through our writing, we are expressing our voice in Christian community. We need to converse with others in the community over time and space. That need to engage in dialogue is also why we check more than one commentary and see where we find overlap, consensus, or disagreement. I recommend always consulting at least two commentaries to enhance our understanding of a particular Bible passage.

In our writing, we are pointing our readers to God’s Word. We need to understand the weight of doing that. We want to be sure we are presenting scripture in a way that reflects our own dialogue with Christian community, so we are presenting to the reader as a representative of that community. We’re all in this together.

We need to take some effort to grow in our understanding of scripture over the course of our writing lives. The Holy Spirit leads us as we search the depths of scripture. Commentaries offer a good aid along the way.

Our own wounding can cause us to skew the way we understand a Bible verse. Commentaries can help us sort it through and see more clearly.

The enemy loves to mess with Christian writers, telling us one or more of the following: our understanding of scripture is wrong or not good enough; we don’t have the biblical foundation to write about scripture; or we’re going to lead readers astray. The enemy wants to stop us from writing because he knows how powerfully God will use our writing. By consulting reliable commentaries, we will be able to discern and dismiss the lies of the enemy.

When we love scripture, as most Christian writers do, a good, trustworthy commentary can also provide insights that deepen our understanding of a Bible passage. That experience is something to treasure and appreciate. Good commentaries should add joy to the inspirational process of our Christian writing.

Some Tips for Using Commentaries with Ease

Consider your use of commentaries as part of your ongoing long-term biblical growth as a writer. Don’t let it slow your writing. Let your exploration of God’s Word (a lifelong process for all of us) continue to shape your writing as you go along. Start with where you are right now. Take it as God leads. He will guide you for sure!

1. When you start working with a Bible verse, don’t go to the commentaries right away. Begin with your own prayerful work with the Holy Spirit. Don’t consult commentaries until after you have done your own study of the Bible verse and surrounding passages. You want God to work the scriptures into your heart first. Then use the commentaries for confirmation and to shed light on additional layers to explore later.

2. Find your go-to source of commentaries now, so it doesn’t become a big deal each time. It is worth the up-front investment of time to line up the commentaries you will use as a writer. Start with your church. Does your church have a library? Ask your pastor for suggestions on how to find good, reliable commentaries. (Sadly, not all commentaries are trustworthy, so seek advice from your pastor.)

Do you have a college nearby with online databases? Many local colleges give free public access to databases, and many of those databases contain biblical commentaries. Some school library databases also have free online access to full-text articles that may focus on particular biblical passages. You can often search by chapter and verse. I recommend peer-reviewed articles as the most reliable. Talk to your local college reference librarian for help. They will be glad you’ve asked.

Commentaries can be expensive to buy, but keep your eyes on your favorite publishers. Sometimes they run sales on commentaries, and you will often find good discounts on e-book versions. If you enjoy working with a particular book of the Bible, it might be worth it to buy a good commentary focusing on that book.

Do you have fellow Christian writers in your church or community? Maybe create your own co-op for commentaries. Each person buys one, and then you share with each other.

If you invest the time up front to find good sources of commentaries, you will save time down the road when you are ready to consult those commentaries. You will know exactly where to go each time.

3. Start with Bible verses you know well. One of the best ways to get your feet wet with using commentaries is to start with Bible verses you already know. When you know the meaning of a verse really well, the use of a commentary won’t bring a huge learning curve. It will simply confirm what you already know. That’s one of the easiest ways to get used to looking at commentaries.

A commentary brings you into dialogue with Christian community regarding the interpretation of a Bible verse. For some of the more commonly referenced Bible verses, you have already lived out that dialogue in Christian community. You know the interpretation of that verse and can be confident of how you are sharing it with your readers.

When I chose the Bible verse for my devotional, “Firelight,” I was very certain the core message in my devotional expressed at least part of the meaning of that verse. Why? Because I’ve heard that verse taught, preached, sung, and lived out over my entire life. I had already experienced conversation about the verse in Christian community.

So, start with Bible verses you have heard taught and discussed many times. Verses you know well. Then see how the commentaries reaffirm what you already know. That’s a great way to get used to using commentaries.

4. Start by reading just a few paragraphs from a commentary. For devotional writing and many other inspirational writing projects, you will most likely focus on one Bible verse at a time. You don’t need to read a huge portion of a commentary, just the part that covers your verse. You can read more, of course, but don’t let that cause you to put your writing project on hold. Take baby steps and grow from there. Take a quick peek at the commentaries and keep writing.

5. When you start out, you will notice how much the commentary agrees with your own understanding of your Bible verse. That shouldn’t surprise you because you know God’s Word. That’s really all you need to do: just confirm your understanding of that verse with reliable sources. It’s great if you want to explore further and discover where the commentary offers new insights. If you have a really good commentary, you may find that enjoyable. But you don’t need to do that at the start. Simply confirm: “Yep. We agree!”

6. Remember Bible verses will often have layers and nuances of meaning. If you are writing devotionals, your message will be very focused. You will just be looking at one aspect of the Bible verse you are writing about. You can skim the commentary, looking for your particular focus, and skip all the other aspects the commentary covers. That way you won’t get overwhelmed by all the layers of meaning.

When you are starting out as a Christian inspirational writer, keep it simple. Take one step, then another. With each step, you will move more deeply into your journey of Christian writing. Before long, commentaries will become a simple and natural part of prayerful preparation for your writing.

 

When God Prompts You to Write – Write

I can’t tell you how many times the enemy has planted seeds of doubt regarding my calling as a writer. I’ve also talked with so many writers who feel the same way.

I’m writing this first of all to tell you – do not listen to the enemy. He lies!

Secondly, if God has called you to write (you wouldn’t be reading this if He didn’t), step into your calling, knowing God has an amazing purpose in everything He gives you to write.

Let me share an example. I am currently reading the second novel in a Christian series. The reviews of this novel have been harsh.

While I understood why those readers were disappointed (there are so many typos and cliches that suggest another round of edits and proofreading were needed), I felt like I wanted to continue reading the series, despite those distractions.

Why? Mainly because I fell in love with the characters. I wanted to continue to see how their fictional lives grew and transformed.

So here I am, halfway through the second novel. The main character has been facing a lot of adversity. I haven’t missed the irony that her situation is painfully similar to mine.

Maybe I have sensed a kindred spirit in the author’s description of this character. And maybe I am persevering to see what God will do in her circumstances, to add to my own hope for my struggles.

And there, right smack in the middle of the book, a woman asks the main character if she can pray for her. And the author writes the prayer. (I noticed many Kindle readers highlighted that prayer.)

As I read the words of the prayer, they spoke exactly to my situation. By the end of the prayer, the main character and I were both in tears. And I absolutely received that prayer in my heart, just as if I had been standing in the room with that character and hearing those words prayed over me.

God gave the author the words of that prayer – for me and obviously (by the number of highlights) so many others like me. The author was faithful to write and publish those words – even at the cost of getting harsh reviews. Today, that prayer has made an impact in my life. I am so grateful the author was obedient in her calling.

If you are called to write, I can assure you God has a purpose in everything He will give you to write. Sometimes the purpose will be for you, your growth, and your relationship with Him. At other times, the purpose will be for a reader like me, to give God another way of speaking into that reader’s life at a crucial moment.

He knows what the purpose is. He just asks that you write. Don’t let the enemy or your own self-doubts stand in the way. When God prompts you to write – write.

 

 

10 Things Moses Has Taught Me about Intercession

I did an inductive Bible study of Exodus 32-34, looking especially at the role of Moses as intercessor between God and His people. Being an intercessor myself, I was curious what Moses could teach us today about intercession. Following are just a few of the takeaways I learned from studying this passage:

Students of Inductive Bible Study will note that for each number below, the first paragraph is my “inference” and the second paragraph is my “observation.” While I made each observation first, I listed the inference first in this article because I want to emphasize the takeaways (inferences).

1. Exodus 32:7

Moses’s intercession is based on two truths: These are God’s people, and Moses is identified with them.

God associates the people with Moses and says Moses brought them out of Egypt. By contrast, in 32:11-12 Moses counters that the people are God’s (and repeats this in 33:13) and that God brought them out of Egypt. Meanwhile the people attribute this feat to “gods” represented by a molten calf (32:4, 8).

2. Exodus 32:12-13

God’s plan for the people is greater than the people’s sinful actions. God’s mission in the world is not thwarted by their actions.

This passage shows a contrast between God’s wrath and His promises. Moses is the mediator who voices this contrast. In response to the contrast that Moses presents, God turns from His desire to destroy the people (32:14). In this passage, we see that God “thought” to do this “evil” rather than “planned” it (32:14).

Note that God doesn’t really do “evil,” but it was perceived as such by humans. God’s wrath comes only from His holiness and our violation of that holiness through idolatry and other sin. That’s why we need a savior: Jesus Christ.

3. Exodus 32:14

Moses says “Yes” to God’s own plan, and God responds to affirm that plan. Moses doesn’t ask God to do anything He hasn’t already planned to do by His own power.

The turning point of 32:14 follows several reminders: the people belong to God (32:11); God led them out of Egypt (32:11); God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (32:13); and that God’s promise was made by God’s own power – that God swore by His own self (32:13).

4. Exodus 32:11

Moses’s intercession appeals to God’s plan and promise and does not deny what the people deserve.

Moses’s intercession is described with the word “besought.” The Hebrew word is חלה, defined in this context as “mollify, pacify, appease,” seeking favor in place of wrath (Brown-Driver-Briggs). The same dynamic seems to take place in 33:13. The connotation acknowledges the reality of God’s wrath and seeks favor despite it. Moses places that search for favor in the promises of God (32:13).

5. Exodus 32:7-8

The relationship of Moses toward God is characterized by trust.

Moses learns about the people’s rebellion at first, not by sight, but by God’s words. Moses’ response (32:11-13) indicates Moses believes God.

6. Exodus 32:12

God wants the nations of the world to recognize who He is. God’s promise and plan is for the world.

The words of Moses acknowledge that the way God deals with His people will be seen by the Egyptians. Even though the people have been delivered from slavery in Egypt, the reader of this passage is reminded that the nations are watching.

7. Exodus 32:9-10

God’s promises and covenant, not His wrath, constitute God’s plan to overcome the pride and stubbornness of the people. God’s focus is on restoration, not retribution.

Although Moses asks God to turn from His anger, Moses does not express any disagreement with God that the people are stiff-necked. The Hebrew word for “stiff-necked” is קשה ערף, a figurative description of Israel’s obstinance (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Moses reminds God immediately of His promises to the ancestors of the people.

8. Exodus 33:12-16

Intercession is corporate. Individual relationship with God has a corporate impact and is for the sake of the people. Moses identifies with God’s people and approaches God corporately on their behalf. The characteristics that God has given to Moses in approaching Him are meant for the entire people. Corporate intercession is focused on God’s larger plan of restoration in the world.

This passage interweaves Moses’ personal interactions toward God along with Moses’ corporate identification with the people he belongs to. Twice Moses mentions “I and thy people” (33:16). When Moses asks for favor, he speaks first personally and then reminds God that the people are God’s (33:13). Moses identities himself with the nation and reminds God that the nation is God’s. Moses reminds God about qualities that characterize their relationship (presence, favor), and he connects these with a larger corporate relationship.

9: Exodus 32:8-13, 33:16

God allows intercession despite the scope of the people’s sinful disposition. The turning away of God’s wrath is not because punishment was undeserved or because His holiness could tolerate idolatry and rebellion. Rather, the turning away of His wrath was for the sake of the bigger picture of God’s mission in the world and His desire to bring restoration to His people. God is faithful to keep His promises for the sake of His mission in the world – not because anyone has earned it, but because He has a plan.

Moses pleads with God despite the people’s rebellion, idolatry, self-absorption, worship and sacrifice to a false god, and stiff-necked obstinance. Moses reminds God of the details of His history with these people. Here the scope of this passage widens for the reader, so the current rebellion can be set against God’s larger work in the nation of Israel and in the world. There is a common factor in Moses’ first and third attempts at intercession that both receive a positive response from the LORD. That common factor is Moses’ mention of how God’s relationship with Israel is distinct in the world.

10. Exodus 32:30-35

Sin has a corporate impact. Corporate relationship with God is just as important as individual relationship. The role of intercessor between the people and God does not carry the power of atonement.

Moses offers himself as atonement for the people’s sin. God does not seem to accept Moses’ offer. Throughout this paragraph, the author refers to “the people.”

This last observation and inference are very important because this passage points us to Jesus as our ultimate intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; 4:14-16). As intercessors, we invite Jesus into each situation, and we say “Yes” to His plan.

Moses has a lot to teach us about intercession: corporateness, God’s holiness, God’s plan for the restoration of His people, God’s mission in the world.

Most importantly, this passage about Moses as an intercessor points us toward the only One whose intercession carries the power of atonement and the gift of salvation: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who leads us as intercessors in God’s great big mission in the world.

Zooming in on God’s Peace (A Review of “Contrast” in Inductive Bible Study)

In the previous lesson on Psalm 46, we looked at the structure of Interrogation. Now let’s look at another structure in this psalm: Contrast.

You may remember looking at Contrast in an earlier lesson. Feel free to review that here, if you’d like a refresher: Ever Notice All the Opposites in the Bible?

In our study of Interrogation in Psalm 46, we noticed that the author describes many problems and shows how God is the solution. You can see the structure of Contrast (opposites) overlapping with those Problems/Solutions. The peace we find in the presence of God is a direct Contrast to all the problems in the world.

Here is what I noticed about Contrast in Psalm 46:

In the first main unit (verses 1-3), the psalmist focuses up close on natural disasters. The second main unit (verses 4-7) steps back from this, almost at a distance, and brings the reader into the peaceful setting of God’s dwelling. This encourages the reader to exhale and watch as God deals with the raging nations from His place of peace (verses 4-6). It’s the change of setting that shows the Contrast: from up close in the midst of disaster to stepping back to a place of peace. Even though the disasters have not gone away, God’s peace becomes the focus.

Then in the third main unit (verses 8-11), the psalmist seems to return to a more close-up view, this time to man-made disasters such as war. And there, God’s peace and power are experienced directly on the earth, in the midst of all of the upheaval. Therefore, this contrasting structure shows similar situations and a similar response from God, but in different aspects of God as a refuge.

It seems that in the third main unit, the psalmist combines what he teaches in the first two main units, and brings them together in the midst of chaos in the world. The reader is invited to experience God’s peace in the chaos.

Take some time this weekend to meditate on Psalm 46, looking particularly at the Contrasts used in the psalm. Why do you think the psalmist showed those Contrasts to his earliest readers? What would that message have meant to them? Ask God to reveal their perspective to you – to see how the earliest readers would have heard this message of Contrasts. What truths of God would they have seen in this passage? Prayerfully write about that in your journal.

Once you can truly see a Bible passage as it was written for the first readers, then you can take those truths and apply them to your life today.

God bless.

*****

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Shalom: A Biblical Hebrew State of Being

“Shalom” (peace) is one of my favorite words in biblical Hebrew. I yearn for God’s peace, especially in areas of my life where I don’t have it.

It’s an interesting journey to look up “shalom” in the lexicon. I encourage you to try it, and use this opportunity also to pray for greater “shalom” in your life. Continue reading “Shalom: A Biblical Hebrew State of Being”

Devotional Writing: Two Ways to Begin

This lesson is taken from my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.”

While a classic-style devotional begins with a Bible verse and is followed by a reflection (sometimes called a meditation, or story), that may not be the order in which the inspiration comes to you.

Sometimes you will start with the Bible verse, and then you will ask God to help you write a reflection that relates to the verse.

At other times, you will start the other way around – you will know the story, the object lesson, or the testimony first, and then you will ask God to lead you to the scripture verse which that story expresses.

Notice I said that the story expresses the scripture verse, and not the other way around. It is tempting to make the scripture verse fit the story, but that’s not what you want to offer to your readers. Whether the Bible verse or the story comes to you first, you want your readers to begin with scripture. The story should help your readers see the scripture verse at work in daily life. So, even if you get the story first, and then you find a scripture verse to go with it, be sure you are using a scripture verse for which that story is a natural expression – as if it had come to you the other way around.

For example, if I am writing a story about hope, I want to be sure the scripture verse is about hope. If my reflection or testimony is about healing, I want to be sure the Bible verse I use speaks a message of healing that sheds light on my story. A common mistake is to write the story, quickly grab a Bible verse that “sounds like” the story, and put them together. Take the prayerful time you need to find the right verse. If God gave you the story, He will give you the verse.

This is where it helps to dig deep with the Holy Spirit into your study of the Bible. Be sure you know the verses you are using and what they mean. Spend regular time in the Word. Let the Spirit lead you. Look at each Bible verse in the full context of the surrounding passage.

Make Spirit-led Bible study a spiritual practice – not just when you are preparing a devotional. The more you meet God in His Word, the more that understanding will come to you as you write. Even when you gain a deeper understanding of the Word, always stay humble and be open to God’s instruction and leading. This process is as much for your spiritual growth and your relationship with God as it is for your readers. God will use it for both, if you let Him.

Activity:

Begin with prayer and ask God to lead you in this process. Choose a Bible verse. Read the verse several times, meditating and praying over the verse. Then read the surrounding passage. Ask God to help you see how that verse connects with the larger context of the whole passage. The process of lectio divina is very helpful here. If you are not familiar with lectio divina, you might enjoy learning about it. This is a common way of scripture meditation practiced at monasteries.

After you understand the verse in its own original context (as those who heard it for the first time would have heard it), then pray about what that verse means to you today. Write down whatever God shows you – it might be emotions, a story you have experienced, ideas, specific problems people struggle with, or even a different Bible passage. Don’t edit yourself. Just makes notes in your journal – whatever comes to you. Don’t leave anything out.

That is the depth of immersing yourself in the Word that you will want to bring to every scripture verse in your devotionals. It takes time, but it is worth the effort, and God will use that time to work in your heart as well. Get in the habit of doing this every time you write a devotional, whether you begin with scripture or come to the Bible verse after you have the story. The time with God will affect your life in so many ways beyond the devotional you are working on.

At the end of this time, if the Bible verse turns out not to be the right one for your devotional, that is okay. You had an amazing time with God. You were shaped by His Word. And you have still come away with journal notes that might lead to other devotionals in the future. Keep those references in your journal. You never know when God will prompt you to use them down the road.

God, thank You for every moment we get to spend with You in Your Word. What a life-changing privilege every time. In Jesus’ name. Amen

*****

If you would like to learn more about devotional writing and take a guided, self-paced, online course where you will write a devotional and receive feedback from your instructor, you might enjoy my online course, “Let’s Write a Devotional.” Come visit the course page, and you can get started with devotional writing today.

Praying in Your Dreams

If you have made yourself available to God as an intercessor, don’t be surprised if He prompts you to pray in your dreams. I can remember several instances of prayer during sleep. When I awoke, I knew I had been praying for someone. I’ve heard similar situations from intercessor friends.

One situation I remember vividly. In a dream while sleeping, someone called to me and asked that I join others in prayer. In my dream, I followed this person to a place where a large group of people stood in a circle, praying. I joined the circle and began to pray.

I could see there had been an accident. Two people had been critically wounded. Paramedics attended to them.

Leaning over the paramedics stood two large angels. I had the immediate sense that the two wounded people would not survive. The angels were there to minister salvation. That’s why we were praying and interceding: that the two people would be saved before they died.

We stood there quite a while, praying. And then I awoke from my dream.

It was early morning, and I felt disoriented because the scene had been so vividly real.

I turned on my radio, and the newscaster was saying two people had just been killed in a bomb explosion in Baghdad. I knew immediately those were the two people we had been interceding for, and I had incredible peace that they were now with Jesus.

If you, as an intercessor, make yourself available to God for however He wants to direct your prayers, don’t be surprised by the ways He will use your intercession. God bless your intercessor’s heart.

God Is the Solution (“Problem-Solution” in Inductive Bible Study)

In this lesson, we are going to continue learning Psalm 46 through Inductive Bible Study. If you are just joining, you may first want to read Bible Meditation on Psalm 46: Preparing for Inductive Bible Study.

One of the major structures of Inductive Bible Study is called “Interrogation.” This can come in the form of “Question-Answer” or “Problem-Solution.”

When Interrogation appears in a Bible passage, you will notice the author devotes part of the passage to raising a Question, and then he offers an Answer. Or the author might point out a Problem and then offer a Solution.

The structure of Interrogation may be immediately obvious. It might be very clear that the author spends the first part of the passage describing a big problem or question. Or perhaps he begins the passage by describing a lot of problems and questions, all tied together. And then he points to the solution or answer.

However, often the structure won’t be this obvious. You will have to spend time meditating on the Bible passage to see the structure. Maybe the problem/question is woven throughout the passage. Maybe it is subtle, or implied. The author might also weave the solution/answer into the passage. Perhaps the problem/solution or question/answer will bounce off each other, or interact with each other.

In some passages, the solution might not be stated directly, but the solution is still obvious if you are paying attention. In the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit is always present “behind the scenes.” You might not overtly read a reference to Him in a certain passage, but you can see Him at work. That may be an example of where the solution is implied but not directly stated.

God uses those subtleties to draw us deeper into the scripture, so we will seek Him. That is the biggest benefit of Inductive Bible Study – seeking to move closer to God and to listen for His voice speaking from the pages of scripture. If you come away from every Inductive Bible Study session feeling that you have had an encounter with God, you have truly experienced the depths of this process.

Psalm 46

Let’s look at Psalm 46 for an example of Interrogation – in this case, “Problem/Solution.” The following is what I observed in my Survey of Psalm 46 (to review the role of “Survey,” visit Inductive Bible Study: An Overview):

The world of the psalmist is filled with problems, including natural disasters (verses 1-3) and upheaval among the nations (verses 6, 9). This constant turmoil and churning is the overarching problem addressed by this psalm. This problem could lead to fear (verse 2) but it does not. That is because God offers a solution in being a refuge for people and even for communities and nations (verses 1, 7, 11).

The first main unit (verses 1-3) suggests that God offers a solution in the midst of natural upheavals. The second main unit (verses 4-7) describes God’s peaceful presence (verses 4-5) and His power (verse 6) as a solution. The third main unit (verses 8-11) demonstrates God’s power over desolations, wars, and the instruments of war (verses 8-9). Then the psalmist quotes God’s own words declaring God as the solution to this overarching problem (verse 10).

Do you see the beauty of what the psalmist shows us? He begins with God offering a solution, and then reveals that God is the solution. The psalmist uses the backdrop of numerous problems of daily life and global strife to focus on all the ways God provides His solution, i.e., His presence and His peace. What an encouraging psalm!

At first glance, this psalm seems to be about upheaval and problems. Many people would prefer to skip this psalm because the problems seem to loom so large – just as they do in life. But it’s worth pressing into this psalm to find the solution to our problems – our awesome God. By looking through the lens of Interrogation used by the psalmist, we are able to focus on the solution and not be overwhelmed by the problems.

God bless.

*****

To read the next lesson on Psalm 46, please visit Zooming in on God’s Peace (A Review of “Contrast” in Inductive Bible Study).

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