The discipline of memorizing Bible verses pays great dividends in the life of a Christian. Having Scripture stored up in our hearts helps us to remember God’s promises in tough times, flee from sin in moments of temptation, possess greater confidence in sharing the Gospel, and give fresh words of encouragement to struggling Christians.

The problem for us is that while memorizing a verse presents a challenge, remembering it in three months is a great difficulty. We often find ourselves wanting to quote something that we spent two days memorizing but cannot remember the exact wording of the verse or the precise reference to save our lives.

How can we remember the Bible verses that we memorized a week, a month, or a year ago?

Memorize Bible Verses for the Long Haul

We often fail to learn Bible verses well the first time we memorize them. We can’t remember them a month later because we never really got them into our minds and hearts the first time.

When you memorize a Bible verse, make sure that you are learning the precise wording of the verse and the exact reference. Do not be content with forgetting whether the verse says “so that” or “in order to.” The scholars who worked on the translation that you use made the choices they did for good reasons, so learn it as it is printed on the page.

In addition, think of memorizing Bible verses as a multi-day task. Too often, when we memorize a Bible verse, we work on it for one day, say it somewhat correctly, and then move on to the next verse. If you struggle to remember a verse a month after you memorized it, work on memorizing it for three days instead of just one day. The first day, read it repeatedly until you have the flow of the verse. On the second day, read the verse out loud several times again, then cover up the verse and say it at least five times, only looking at it to make sure that you said it correctly. Use the last day to read the verse out loud again. Then say the verse multiple times without looking at it. If you memorized it correctly, move on to the next verse you want to learn. If not, work on it one more day to make sure that you have it down.

Memorize Bible Verses in Their Context

Often our Scripture memory consists of individual verses we learned from many different books of the Bible. We struggle to remember what they say because we plucked them out of their context and we have no frame of reference for remembering what the verse said.

One tactic that will help you down the road is memorizing the entire paragraph where the verse you want to memorize is found. For example, let’s say you want to memorize Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That seems easy enough to remember, but our minds are clouded with lots of information. So, in order to better recall the verse in the future, memorize Romans 3:21-26 instead of just Romans 3:23.

This approach has practical and theological advantages. Practically, you get into the flow of how Paul wrote the letter and this always helps recall move more smoothly. You start with the first few words of a paragraph and the rest has a way of coming back to you as you pick up momentum. Theologically, this method helps you to keep Bible verses in their proper theological context. You won’t quote Philippians 4:13 to get your team psyched up for the baseball game when you remember that Paul was initially speaking of his learning to be content in whatever position he found himself.

Review Bible Verses on a Schedule

In order to remember the Bible verses that you memorize, you must get on a review schedule. Ideally, you would spend a few days memorizing a verse and then the next couple of days reviewing it. Then, let it sit for a couple of days and review it again. After that, review it next week, the in two weeks, and then in a month. Determine the maximum amount of time that you can allow between reviews to keep the verse fresh in your mind. (For me, it’s three months. And honestly, this may be too long. I worked back through some verses I had not reviewed in three months and struggled with them mightily.)

Here is one area where our smartphones can be an aid to our devotional lives, as there are several helpful Scripture memory apps on the market. Both Fighter Verses and Verses have great interfaces and use multiple types of interactive quizzes to memorize Scripture. (Fighter Verses also has music and other resources to aid in memory.) My personal favorite, though, is ScriptureTyper. For me, ScritptureTyper allows me to keep verses in collections the way I prefer to have them and puts verses on a review schedule. You can manually set the maximum time allowed between reviews.

Put Bible Verses You Have Forgotten in a “Microwave”

Using a review schedule to keep our Scripture memory fresh will reveal verses that have slipped from your grasp. You may stumble through portions of the verse or have forgotten it completely. When this happens, you need to pull this verse out and treat it like you are memorizing it for the first time. Think of it as sticking leftovers in the microwave. (I borrowed this terminology from my father-in-law, Mark McCullough, who is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Frisco City, Alabama.)

The first day you put the verse in the microwave, read it out loud multiple times and then cover it up to try to say it from memory. On the second day, read it out loud a few times and say it from memory again. The final day should consist of ensuring you have it fully memorized. After you have done this, review it once a week for the next month to ensure you have it down before putting it on a less consistent review schedule.

I know this sounds like a lot of effort. It is, and it is worth every second to have God’s word stored up in our hearts.

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

The First 15 Bible Verses a Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

His Word in My Heart by Janet Pope

Some books land in your hands at just the right time. This was definitely true for me with David Murray’s new book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. Dr. Murray tells the story of his own struggle with overwork and burnout then helps men understand how they can refresh and recover when they are worn out. (Refresh, which he coauthors with his wife Shona, will be out this fall.) His advice is rooted in the truths of the Gospel and work out practically in the real world.

Any man who feels overwhelmed by life’s realities will benefit from Murray’s work. Here are my favorite quotes from Reset.

“I want to help you reset your life so that you can avoid crashing, or recover from it, by establishing patterns and rhythms that will help you live a grace-paced life and get you to the finish line successfully and joyfully.” (24)

“We are independent, self-sufficient men who find it hard to admit weakness, seek help, and change deeply ingrained addictions to overwork, busyness, and productivity. For pastors and ministry leaders, it’s especially difficult; since so much of our work is invisible and intangible, we can be tempted to go into overdrive in more noticeable tasks in order to prove that we are busy and strong.” (24)

“Physical warning lights: You are putting on weight through lack of exercise or eating too much junk food, or you are drinking too much alcohol or coffee.” (26)

“Mental warning lights: Concentration is hard; distraction is easy.” (26)

“Many of our problems happen not only because we do the wrong things, but also because we believe the wrong things. Behind many seemingly practical problems are theological problems.” (38-39)

“Few things drain me as much as conflict; not just those I end up in, but also those I’m asked to mediate. Then there are church conflicts and splits. I’d rather go into the ring with Mike Tyson; at least so I’d be unconscious.” (46)

“Few things are as theological as sleep.” (54)

“On a more mundane level, I notice (and so does my family) that I am much more irritable, bad-tempered, and likely to end up in conflict when I’ve skimped on sleep. No amount of productivity is worth that damage to precious relationships.” (59)

“Men talk to me about their mental and emotional exhaustion, and all through the conversations, their phones are lighting up with a distracting blizzard of sounds and images. And they wonder why their brains feel fried! They’re giving themselves continual mental whiplash as they pour stimuli and data into their brains from every direction.” (92)

“The longer I go uninterrupted, the calmer my mind, the better my focus, the deeper my thinking, and the more efficient my time management. And it’s not just that I will not be interrupted; it’s that I know I will not be interrupted. That produces a totally different mindset and mind depth than one that’s sub-consciously waiting for the next beep or ding.” (93)

“To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, ‘All our miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone [with God].’ We’d like it to be different. But as Psalm 46 confirms, God has inseparably and irrevocably joined quietness with knowledge of him. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (95)

“God designed this pattern of six days of work and one day of rest for perfect people in a perfect world. How much more do we need it now in such fallen bodies in such a fallen world? This is a divine gift for our good, as Jesus said: ‘The Sabbath was made for man’ (Mark 2:27). It’s needed now more than ever before, considering that in the last twenty years working hours in the United States have increased 15 percent and leisure has decreased 30 percent.” (99-100)

“Based on the truth that we are made in the image of God and therefore are called to reflect, to some degree, his purposeful sovereignty, I believe that every Christian should build on the firm base of a Well-Planned Life.” (126)

“In our interconnected world, there are far more activities and opportunities than we have time and resources to invest in.” (137)

“Remember, it’s rarely one extra big thing but the addition of lots of little things that tend to overwhelm us, because it is much more difficult to say no to the little things.” (137)

“None of us should feel guilty for engaging in activities that fill up our tanks. If our tanks are empty, we are no use to anyone.” (154)

“Giving time and energy to our relationship with God actually increases free time and energy because it helps us get a better perspective on life and order our priorities better, it reduces the time we spend on image management, and it removes fear and anxiety.” (158)

“The most important words in any marriage are: thank you, I’m sorry, I forgive you, and I love you.” (164)

“He (Aric Sigman, cited in The Power of Rest) quoted from Duke University research from 2005 that found that in the previous twenty years, with the rise of virtual communication, the number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss serious personal matters increased from 7 percent to 25 percent.” (171-172)

“We have experienced God’s resurrection power in our lives, which gives us tremendous confidence to face the future and even face up to old problems and challenges that previously crushed us. We no longer depend on our own limited resources of reason and persuasion, but trust in God’s resurrection power to change people and places.” (190)

Related Posts:
The Best Quotes from Momentum

The Best Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage

When I was younger, if you wanted to know what the latest news was, you read the newspaper in the morning or watched the national news at 5:30 and the local news at 6:00 and 10:00. Then CNN and Headline News showed up and you could get a feel for what was going on every 30 minutes. Even then though, you had to seek the news. You opened the paper or turned the channel to the news.

We live in very different times now. Our phones give us a steady stream of headlines. At every turn, a news headline that scares or angers you begs for your attention.

How do Christians process the constant barrage of news and information at our fingertips?

Read the News Like Your Time is Valuable

We live in an economy where the advertisers fight for your attention. They don’t have to get you in front of a television or sitting down to read the newspaper anymore. A device constantly begging for your attention sits in your pocket and one “quick check” can send you down a rabbit hole of links and discussions.

Steward the time you spend looking at your phone and set specific times during the day when you will get on social media or check news headlines. If you try to constantly “stay informed,” you will end up never accomplishing anything important while you take in a steady stream of relatively unimportant information. You only have one life, don’t spend it staring at your phone.

Read the News Like Your Hope is Real

When we think about the issues taking center stage in our day, many of them concern things that make us anxious– rising healthcare costs, a shrinking economy, the threat of terrorism, and battles over free speech and religious liberty. When we hear about another terrorist attack, a liberal professor stifling free speech, or an increase in our healthcare premiums, our natural tendency is to worry and panic.

In times like these, we need to review what is true for those who trust in Christ. We know that God providentially rules over all of human history and he is working all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28-30) We know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is preparing a place there for those who belong to him. (John 14:1-6) We know that those who are in Christ will share in his inheritance because we are God’s sons and daughters. (Romans 8:16-17)

We could spend all day reviewing the glories that are coming to those who are in Christ and we need to look at the daily news in light of these overwhelming realities. This doesn’t mean that healthcare, abortion, social justice, and civil liberties don’t matter, instead, it reframes how we think about these issues. If we don’t get justice in this world, we know that ultimate justice is coming. If our opportunities for a comfortable retirement are declining, we remember that we look forward to something much better than retirement. Our great future hope changes the way that we look at everything.

Read the News Like You Love Your Neighbor

Most of our news comes to us with a partisan slant. The headlines grab our attention by reinforcing the bad things we believe about our political enemies or show how our heroes are being disrespected. What ends up happening is that we grow in our animosity towards the other side. We start thinking that they don’t just disagree with us on political issues, but are dangerous people who must be stopped.

Someone once asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He answered that the first is to love God and the second is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Then, the questioner asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer this question. He showed a man taking personal responsibility for the suffering of someone who would consider him a social, political, and religious enemy. Love for our neighbors looks like this. It crosses all of the lines that we like to draw.

Christians must not fall into the trap of reading daily news to feed our loathing of other people. Because Jesus loved us when we were hostile to him, we love the people with whom we disagree. We read, not to get angry and lose our cool, but to better understand how to engage those who stand on the other side of important issues. If you find that reading the news causes you to in personal animus towards other people, it’s time to review the message of the Gospel and remember the love and patience God has shown you.

Read the News Like You Have Heard Solomon’s Wisdom

Too often, we react to the news like people who aren’t growing as believers in Christ. Too often, we draw strong conclusions and develop unrelenting opinions based on incomplete information. We read the title of an article or hear an out of context quote and rage inside. Then we start reading the comments and shake with anger at people we have never met. This takes us to a place of anger, anxiety, and unkindness.

The Proverbs speak to us about listening and making sure we have thoroughly heard a matter before we develop a strong opinion and lose our cool. “If one give an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (18:13) “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (19:11) Solomon reminds us in these passages that wisdom calls us away from quick conclusions and hot-headed reactions. Instead, it beckons us to make sure we have heard what is being said and respond with a cool spirit.

Getting angry or anxious because of the news is not a new phenomenon. Things will take place in this world that will tempt us to shake our heads, grit our teeth, or fret over the future until Jesus returns. Until that great day, we walk by faith in the promises of God, remembering to love as we have been loved and live in a manner worthy of the calling we have received.

Related Posts:
7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

The Blessing of Selective Ignorance

For Further Reading:
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke 

 

Parenting certainly has been different than I imagined it would be as we prepared to welcome our first daughter into the world a dozen years ago. For one thing, I grew up with nothing but brothers, so I never imagined having three daughters and one son. I also figured that by the time I was an almost forty-year-old man I would know exactly how to parent my children because I already had so many great parenting theories as a twenty-seven-year-old man with no kids.

In many ways, parenting has been a school of hard knocks for me because I never thought that my children would actually be sinners who ignored or rebelled against what I told them instead of being a mindless automaton who always said, “yes sir Dad. I’ll do that right now.” Through every one of my four children shattering my misconceptions about parenting, dealing with my own sin, learning how to work together with Beth to parent our children well, and seeing what a joy and blessing children can be, I’ve learned a lot on this journey.

What follows is not an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be said about parenting, but these are nine lessons I have learned along the way.

Don’t Put Your Marriage on Hold

If you are married with children, you don’t have the option of hitting the pause button on your marriage until you have raised them. You are part of a one-flesh union that needs to be cultivated for the glory of God and for your joy. Therefore, you should put your kids to bed at a decent hour so that you can spend time with your spouse. While I agree with everyone who stresses the importance of date night, I have found that the day in and day out time together is of greater importance. Make the time each day to laugh together, do something together, and talk with each other about something other than the kids. A healthy marriage often leads to healthy parenting.

The Family Dinner Table is Your Friend

If you were to ask me to name an overwhelming image from my childhood, it would be sitting around the dinner table laughing with my family. Naturally, this was something I wanted for our children as well and the benefits of trying to eat several meals together around the table at night have been legion. At the table we talk, laugh, tell stories, teach our kids, and enjoy our them. Some of the best times of connecting with our kids have come around the table.

Ask for Forgiveness When You are Wrong

We do not enjoy admitting when we are wrong. This can be especially true when it comes to our children. We don’t like to admit when we have wronged them because it possibly gives our children the upper hand against us. As hard as it may be, if you have falsely accused your children of something, made a mistake that negatively affected them, or lost your temper with them; apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t use it as a time to correct their behavior or point out how they contributed to what you did. Just say you were wrong and ask them to forgive you. This models repentance for your children, teaches them to own their own sin when they are wrong, and builds trust between you.

Losing Your Temper is Lose/Lose

Write James’s words, “the anger of man cannot achieve the righteousness of God” over all of your parenting. When you lose your temper with your children, it undermines whatever good you may have been trying to do in disciplining them. They stop listening to what you are saying to them and only think about the fact that you are angry with them. In the strength that God’s Spirit provides, work hard to control your temper, modeling for your children how to love your neighbor and exercise self-control. This way they can focus on what they need to learn instead of thinking about how much your tone scares them.

Discipline for Disobedience, but not Mistakes

Sometimes as parents, we get angry with our children for things they did that were accidents. This teaches our kids that they get in trouble for making mistakes. We have to have the wisdom to know the difference between our children disobeying and making a mistake. For example, if you told your child not to get milk out of the refrigerator and he does it anyway, that’s disobedience. If you tell him he can have milk and he spills it, that’s a mistake. Know the difference and respond accordingly.

Answer Their Hard Questions

My children ask many questions I would prefer not to answer. Either the answer is complicated or uncomfortable to talk about. They are going to get their questions answered somewhere though, and I want them to know they can come to Mom and Dad with their questions. This means we have long repeated talks about spiritual truths, explaining them the best way we know how. The hardest conversations are the ones that bring up the ugly side of life or the pain of this world, but these subjects cannot be avoided. We’ve had many talks about death, divorce, war, poverty, and a host of other issues I didn’t think we would talk about before a tenth birthday. The conversations are not always comfortable, but they build trust and allow us to help shape our children’s view of the world.

Stop Freaking Out About Them

I meet many parents who are afraid they will unalterably damage their children before they are old enough to speak. The truth is that you are not going to “screw up” your child if you love them, teach them, and treat them with respect. These fears come from our desire to control everything and parenting shakes our control issues like few other things in life do. God is in control and you aren’t, so raise your children in the way he has laid out in his word and trust him. He’s good and he does good. (Closely related to this is the ridiculous list of things we believe we must provide for our children so they can have a magical childhood. Release yourself from the pressure of having to provide your child with amazing experiences all the time. It’s nothing but guilt-inducing madness created by burdens that God hasn’t put on you.)

Have Fun with Them

This is closely related to my previous point. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things for our children that we forget to do things with them. Take a walk, go to the park, or play a game. Do fun things with your children. They’re funny, fun to be around, and these years go by faster than I care to admit. Enjoy it with them.

Teach the Gospel in Everyday Life

The temptation when we think about teaching the Gospel to our kids is to only think about family devotions and taking our kids to church each Sunday. Teaching our children the Gospel does take place through family devotions and our local church body, but it takes place in other ways as well. Talk about the Gospel with your children as an everyday part of life. This is what Moses had in mind in Deuteronomy 6 when he tells us to talk about these things when we sit in the house and when we walk by the way. When you want to encourage your child to be kind, remind them of the kindness God has shown to them through Jesus. Use the love of God to teach about loving your neighbor. Talk about your own spiritual life, listen to good Gospel-centered music together, and let the language of the Gospel shape the language of your home.

Related Posts:
The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

For Further Reading:
Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul Tripp

Family Worship by Donald Whitney

At our church right now, we are working through the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve enjoyed preaching through this moving narrative of the life of Jesus the last six months. A few months ago we came to the Beatitudes, which I was glad to do because there is so much good literature out there to survey. While I was looking forward to pulling out some classics like Thomas Watson and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I gained a lot of help, encouragement, and perspective from Collin Smith’s new book Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessing through the Beatitudes. His work digs into what Jesus meant in each statement and provides rich insight into how his words should change and shape our lives.

While I have five pages of quotes copied down from this incredible work, these were my favorite quotes from Momentum.

“According to Jesus, the greatest blessings are not found in the places where we normally look, but rather in places that, at first, we may not be inclined to explore.” (12)

“A Christian is known by the distinguishing marks set out by Jesus. But these marks are the evidence of new life in Christ, not its cause.” (15)

“Whenever you see your own need or feel your own failure, use that moment of insight to cling more tightly, more gratefully, and more joyfully to Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished on the cross for you. And then be thankful that the reason you see your sins and failings so clearly, and even painfully, is that the Holy Spirit lives in you and that He is calling you to step forward in the path of progress.” (19)

“Pride is always self-seeking and it is easily provoked.” (42)

“Christians know their own poverty. They look to Jesus for what they do not have, and find in Him all that they need.” (47)

“If a particular sin has become habitual for you or you would describe yourself as addicted to a certain form of behavior, you need to learn all that you can about spiritual mourning.” (51)

“A form of faith that leaves a person essentially unchanged is not worthy of the name of our Lord.” (52)

“No Christian could bear to know the full extent of his or her sin if all were revealed at the same time.” (55)

“How can you obey the command of God in Ephesians 5:21 if you have not committed yourself clearly and publicly to a gathered community of believers?” (76)

“Seeing your own sins clearly will make you kinder and gentler toward the sins and faults of others. Remembering how often you have been mistaken will keep you from insisting on your own way and lead you to listen to others, giving weight to what they say.” (84)

“You never know the strength of another person’s temptation. If you were able to stand in the shoes of a brother, and feel the strength of a particular temptation as he experiences it in his life, you might come to the conclusion that he is doing better in the battle than you would have done.” (85)

“The purpose of the passion of Jesus is that we should have a passion for the pursuit of righteousness. Christ died to redeem a people who no longer live for themselves but who live with a deep desire to pursue holiness, which is a distinguishing mark of every Christian.” (97)

“Christians are fully righteous and hungry for righteousness–and there is no contradiction between these two realities.” (98)

“Choose the wrong thirsts and you will never be satisfied.” (102)

“If we think more about the heavy burdens others may carry and the strong temptations they may face, we will grow in mercy. Always remember that if you were carrying your brother’s burden or facing your sister’s temptation, you might struggle and fail more than they do.” (119)

“When you are in the presence of Jesus, there won’t be a trace of sin in you, on you, or around you. You will reflect the purity of your Savior, but you will do it as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Holiness is God’s alone, and the purity that you will enjoy forever comes in its entirety from him.” (135)

“Your enemy the devil will always try to remind you of who you were, but Christ tells you who you are.” (152)

“Satan stirs up strife, quarreling, conflict, and division in the hearts of men and once he gets the flames going, he warms himself at the contention that burns in the human heart.” (157)

“Don’t let small resentments take root because, if you do, they will grow.” (165)

“Those who follow Christ will be blessed by God and hated by the world. There don’t seem to be any exceptions.” (177)

Related Posts:
The Best Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

One of the ironies of our present moment is that our lives are filled with time-saving devices, yet we find ourselves with less and less time and energy. The noise starts the second we wake up. Many of us check our phones before we do anything else. Our phones allow work to follow us home and one “quick” check of your email can ruin a whole night. We have more demands on our time, people expect us to respond to requests immediately, and we spend less and less of our leisure time doing the kinds of things that help our bodies recoup and rejuvenate.

The result of this constant connectedness and pressure is that we stay in a state of constant exhaustion and burnout. Our minds either stay consumed with what we have to get done or stay distracted by content we are looking at on our phones. Our energy to devote ourselves to other important tasks is drained and we struggle to connect with God, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our churches.

The lie we tell ourselves is that we are going to “find time” to rest and to give ourselves to the things that really matter, but that rarely happens. Instead, to break out of our cycle of being constantly stressed out, tired, and distracted, we need to make time for some important life rhythms.

Make Time to Disconnect

An increasing number of books and studies are showing that our digital leashes are draining our energy, increasing our anxiety, interfering in our relationships, and interrupting our sleep. (See Deep Work, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Irresistible, The Lonely American, and Reset.) Looking at your email can drop work back on your plate and ruin your evening with family or friends. A “quick” check of social media can lead you down a wormhole of links and comments. In addition, social media often upsets us because we get angry with people for the things they post or we experience a letdown because our lives do not seem as interesting as theirs.

The best way to stop this cycle is to have some time every day when you completely unplug from your devices. Set a time when you are going to have your phone away from your person and not pick it up. In addition, set a time to disconnect at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light from our phones signals to our bodies that it is the morning. This is the last thing we want our body thinking when we should be winding down to sleep for the night.

Make Time for Spiritual Disciplines

Nothing boggles my mind more than how easy it is for me to go through a whole day of pastoral duties and have so much going on that I neglect the devotional reading of Scripture. You would think that it is easy for a pastor to read his Bible every day, but I assure you that it is not. In the same way, those of you who are not pastors face a load of work and family responsibilities. Neglecting the reading of the Scriptures becomes all too easy because your Bible doesn’t have a chime, a buzz, a deadline, or a blinking light.

It is imperative that we make time to spend with the Lord in his word and prayer each day. Look at your daily schedule and figure out the best time for you to carve out for Bible reading. Currently, the best time for me is right after I eat breakfast. The kids usually aren’t up yet and I still have time before I have to get to the office. Your best time may be after lunch or before bed, but whatever you do, drill down when you are going to devote time to Scripture and prayer.

Make Time for Sleep

“There’s plenty of time for sleep when you’re dead.” With these words, a professor told a college freshman that a full night of sleep is not necessary. The man speaking to me may have been one of those rare breeds who doesn’t need much sleep, but most of us do. In fact, as D.A. Carson said, “Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep—not pray all night, but sleep. I’m certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night; I’m merely insisting that in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you get the sleep your body need.” (Joe Carter quotes Carson in this great post on sleep.) (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-to-love-god-by-getting-more-sleep)

Unfortunately, our televisions and phones get in the way of healthy sleep patterns. Look at what time you need to get up in the morning and plan on going to bed so that you can get whatever amount of sleep you need. Also, don’t be afraid to take a nap if it is necessary. We have glorified working past the point of exhaustion and demonized taking a short nap, but this is because we are foolish.  Without proper sleep, we get short with people and lack the energy to give ourselves fully to the things we have to do. A full night’s sleep will help us treat people with kindness and devote ourselves fully to the things we must do each day. Make no apologies for making every effort to get necessary rest.

Make Time for Your Friends

Most of us look back fondly on our college years because connecting with friends happened organically and took very little effort. We lived in close proximity to each other, had few responsibilities outside of school, and saw each other on a regular basis. Making plans came easily and our friendships flourished as a result.

Then life after college hits and connecting with friends becomes more difficult. Whether it is a result of work, family obligations, commutes, or physical location, we see making time for friendships as a lower priority as adulthood comes into full bloom. The truth is that we need healthy friendships so that our walk with Jesus can flourish and so that we can live out the New Testament’s “one another” passages. Adult friendships take more thoughtful in advance, but they are worth every bit of the effort.

Make Time for Your Family

Some of you might quibble with my placing the need to make time for friends before the need to make time for family. I did this purposefully though because those who are married with children instinctively know we need to spend time with our families and neglect our friendships in the process. The problem comes though, in the fact that we often don’t spend meaningful time with our families. We all sit around on our devices and neglect the people in front of us because we are paying attention to the outside world.

Instead of merely sitting in the same room with our families with everyone looking at a different device, make the time to do something together. This may entail getting outside, sharing a meal, reading a book, or playing a game, but make ways to do things together. These times when we pay attention to each other and do things together can be some of the most rewarding and refreshing times we experience each day.

Our lives are busy. In many ways, they feel as if they are busier than they have ever been. This makes it easy to neglect the Lord, ourselves, and the people around us. We stand in great need of turning the tide on this trend and relearning how to give ourselves to our most important priorities.

Related Posts:
The Blessing of Selective Ignorance

Why Silence is Golden

For Further Reading:
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Reset by David Murray

 

I breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight to take us from December 31, 2016, to January 1, 2017. 2016 seemed to be an anomaly, a strange year dominated by a contentious, unconventional, and surprising Presidential election. I thought that turning the calendar to a new year would slow down the number of news stories crossing my news feeds and turn down the volume on the discussions around those stories. I was wrong.

It seems as if there is a new passion-enflaming news story out every day. Whether it is the President’s Twitter feed, a heretical movie, another protest, or a denominational scuffle, our days are consumed with stories that either anger or depress us. They divide us into teams and lead us to fight to prove our guys are right.

Followers of Jesus must get off this train. Somehow, we back away from the current tenor of discussions in our culture without sticking our heads in the sand. Recently, I discussed one option– cultivating the discipline of selective ignorance. (A phrase I borrow from Tim Ferriss.) Today I want to share another– reading history. Here are five reasons this would be a great benefit to us.

To turn off the TV, put down the phone, and cut off talk radio

So much of what we expose ourselves to is just noise. Whether it is opinion-based talk radio or our social media feeds, we have numerous people and companies vying for our attention. What is going to grab your attention the fastest? It will be whatever scares you or makes you angry.

One great way to shut off the noise, which you have the power to do, is to read. (If you are going to read on your iPad or tablet, go in and disable the internet so that you aren’t tempted.) When you sit down to read a book, your attention focuses on one thing. There’s not another link to click and there is no comment section. Instead, you can think about one subject with focused attention.

To remember not to panic over every news cycle

Our 24-hour news cycle forces us to think that every controversy and every government decision is life or death. We lock ourselves into daily struggles and fights over the latest brouhaha. We proclaim that we are headed for utopia when our side is winning or that we are plunging toward the depths of hell when the other side prevails.

Recently, historian Jon Meacham tweeted a link about President Trump being angry that his surrogates did not defend his statements about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower strongly enough. He commented that George H.W. Bush, the subject of his latest biography, could not understand the hand-wringing over what was said on Sunday morning talk shows. “Who the h*** remembers what they said by sundown?”

Our 41st President offers us some important words of wisdom in this case. We get angry about things that we won’t even be thinking about several hours from now. President Bush could say this because he had been observing these events for decades. When we devote ourselves to reading history, we’ll start to notice these things as well. The arc of history is long, therefore we shouldn’t spend much time fretting over day to day news stories.

To learn from past mistakes

Over the past two years, I have been reading biographies of the American Presidents. Often events take place in these biographies that make me cringe. The subject says something that we know to be horrific, wrong, or bigoted or they do something that we now know led to a terrible catastrophe.

We don’t read history just to critique past generations, though. We must actively learn from their mistakes. We should read and ask how we echo their previous folly in our lives today. For example, history is replete with examples of men who neglected their wives and families for the sake of their work. By the end of their biographies, we have the benefit of seeing how their absence at home cost them in the end. We don’t know the end of our stories, but we can see many of the pitfalls that come from ignoring the families God has given us.

To wean ourselves from cultural hubris

In our current culture, we are great at critiquing the mistakes of our ancestors. We can look back with the benefit of time and discern all of their faults. Unfortunately, we don’t possess the same keen insight when we are dealing with our own failures.
When we humble ourselves before the voices of the past, we can learn from many of their convictions and habits. For example, reading the biography of Teddy Roosevelt gives us great insight into the value of physical exercise to give ourselves energy. Abraham Lincoln shows us that we should never blame our circumstances and work hard to improve ourselves. Martin Luther’s devotion to prayer and Jonathan Edwards’ commitment to reading the Scriptures will make us wonder why we can’t squeeze in 20 minutes for devotions.

One area where we benefit from reading history is to see the devotion of early American generations to education and reading. We fancy ourselves to be the most educated generations in American history, and while this may be true from the number of years we spend in school, generations before us possessed a better grasp of the English language, a greater ability to spot flaws in logic, and a superior understanding of the flow of history. Our discussions of political and social issues sound like incoherent babbling compared to the force of reason and eloquence of expression present in the writings and speeches of our forebearers.

To calm down and gain perspective

When we read the Bible, we encounter times infinitely more chaotic than our own. The period of the judges and the Babylonian captivity make a fight over Russian interference look like child’s play. Our own nation has endured through the fires of civil war and two worldwide wars.

God controls human history. He made the world and holds the times and seasons of our lives in his hands. Reading history shows us times of chaos and times of peace, but it mainly testifies to the God who oversees it all. As we reflect on the days gone by and ponder our present and future, one thing always holds true– the sovereign God of the universe never has and never will take one day off. He is working his great plan of redemption at all times and in all places and will one day bring all things to completion with the second advent of his Son. Until that great day, we reflect on the past, live in the present, and look forward to our blessed hope.

Related Posts:
The Blessing of Selective Ignorance

7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

For Further Reading:
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

 

A few weeks ago, my social media feeds blew up with discussions about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Emmys.  Apparently, she used her time to take President Trump to task about his demeanor and policies. Naturally, the people who love President Trump were angry about the speech and those who loathe him thought the speech was heroic. I had no opinion. I had not seen the speech, heard the speech, and chose to ignore the speech. It didn’t affect me in the least, so I benefitted from not having to think about it.

One of the most beneficial practices in my life in recent months has been working on the discipline of selective ignorance. Now, notice this is selective ignorance and not complete ignorance. I keep up with the news through a couple of papers, magazines, and podcasts. Anything that appears to be relevant to my work or interests, I will look into further. I ignore everything else if at all possible.

Two books helped me see how choosing to ignore things everyone was talking about could improve my life, work habits, and sanity. Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week introduced me to this concept. (Ferris’s work obviously made a deep impression on me. I thought I came up with the phrase “selective ignorance” on my own. I just flipped back through The 4-Hour Work Week and turns out that it was the title of a chapter in his book.) He says, “It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.” Before, I thought that I needed to know about as many cultural discussions as possible and have an opinion on them. This usually meant that I had a strong opinion about many issues on which I had incomplete information and which never touched anything that had to do with my normal, everyday life as a follower of Jesus, husband, dad, neighbor, friend, and pastor.

Providentially, I picked up Cal Newport’s book Deep Work the day of President Trump’s inauguration. In it, he extolled the virtues of giving focused concentration to our most important tasks by cutting down on unnecessary distractions. The next day, I read his exhortation to cut down on social media intake, check email less often, and eliminate needless noise and distraction. This happened to be the same day my social media feeds were blowing up with strong opinions about the Women’s March on Washington. Reading this book on that day led me to sit down and do a serious evaluation of the things in my life that were distracting me from the things that matter most.

As I have taken inventory of my life and eliminated or greatly reduced my intake of information that needlessly distracted or frustrated me, I noticed three particular benefits that came from ignoring unimportant things.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anger

Every time you pull up Facebook or Twitter, turn on opinion based news or listen to talk radio, you will find yourself getting angry about things that you didn’t even know about two minutes before. Media companies make loads of money from our attention. Your attention brings in advertising dollars and nothing grabs your attention like events or opinions that make you angry.

Remembering that selective ignorance doesn’t mean ignoring the real news events of the day, but you must remember that there are less real news events going on in the world than you think. An actresses opinion about the President, a Facebook “friend’s” opinion about politics, or a ridiculous Facebook comment on a news story from someone that you don’t know aren’t news, don’t matter to you at all, and will only serve to make you angry. Ignore it. Your life will be better for it.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anxiety

Not only do websites, radio talk shows, and cable news know how to get your attention by making you angry, they also know how to do it by making you anxious. For example, Americans typically overestimate the amount of violent crime that takes place in our nation. Our constant intake of news and the consistent reporting on violence in our cities has to play a role in our perceptions.

Another example comes from an Ipsos poll conducted in December. When asked to guess the number of Muslims in America, respondents guessed that there were almost seventeen times more than there really are. Because we hear day in and day out about terrorism and refugees, we overestimate the number of Muslims in our nation by 1700%. In an odd turn of events, our obsession with news distorts our understanding of reality and makes us less informed. The result is that we get scared and anxious based on an inaccurate perception of what is happening in our culture.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Distraction

As I write this post, I am in the downstairs of my home. My phone is upstairs. The reason for this is simple. When I can’t figure out how to word the next sentence, my instinct is to check my email or look at something on my phone to help ease the frustration of not knowing what to say next. Here’s the problem with that, though, if I “check Twitter real quick,” I may see and interesting link and read it. Then I scroll down and see another interesting link to read. All of a sudden, I have spent ten or fifteen minutes staring at my phone and getting focused on what I am doing again takes time. If the phone is not close by, it can’t distract me.

In the time that it takes to check Facebook, you could read several chapters of the Bible. Think about that for a second. Instead of being sucked into a platform where 95% of what you will see is unimportant, you could spend time in the eternal truth of God’s word. Or, if you are at work, instead of being distracted by things that don’t matter, you can give your full time and attention to doing excellent and creative work. If you are at home with your family, you can spend time with them and do something fun instead of ignoring them while you scroll.

How to Grow in Selective Ignorance

If the discipline of selective ignorance will help you eliminate distractions, get less angry, and experience less anxiety, how do you grow in it? The answer is to put systems in place and restrictions on yourself. While the word “restriction” may not sound fun, remember that you are eliminating things in your life that bring worry, anger, and distraction so that you can experience more of the good things life offers. Here are five quick suggestions for cultivating selective ignorance.

Check Two or Three Trusted News Sources a Couple of Times a Day

Instead of getting a constant barrage of news, check the news a few times a day and only get it from sources you trust. Watch the evening news, listen to the NPR hourly update, read a good newspaper, check your RSS feeds, or scroll through the front page of a news site and read stories that interest you. Then, turn it off and don’t check the news for several hours. If something really important happens, I promise you will find out quickly.

Only Check Social Media Two or Three times a Day

The idea of Facebook and Twitter are great. You get to stay in touch with people you wouldn’t have been able to stay in touch before the advent of these platforms. The reality of these services is different. They serve as a constant barrage of opinions and distractions. Check them a few times throughout the day, but avoid the temptation to check them every time you have a free minute or get bored.

Avoid Talk Radio, Discernment Blogs, TV Debate Shows, etc.

Some forms of media make themselves sound like sources of useful information when they really aren’t. Talk radio rarely informs more than it inflames. TV debate shows do little more than reinforcing the positions of the people who already agree or disagree with the panelists. Sports radio is a pleasant distraction but is best consumed in small doses. Discernment blogs typically disturb us and make us angry about people who aren’t in our sphere of influence. (If you don’t know what a discernment blog is, count yourself blessed and move along.)

Watch Less TV

My greatest concern in writing this post is that people will read it and think I am advocating for actual ignorance. Nothing could be further from the truth. My main point is that by avoiding things that masquerade as important information we have the time to focus on the things that really are important.

By watching less TV, we have time to do more things that matter. We can focus on our work, exercise, do something with our families, or read a good book. Have a couple of good shows that you keep up with or watch your favorite team, then turn it off. Enjoying the outdoors, having fun with the people closest to you, inviting a neighbor over for dinner, serving someone who needs help, or immersing yourself in a good book will be so much more enjoyable.

Focus on What Matters Most

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul encourages us to, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We have limited time here on earth, have limited attention and focus to give, and limited energy to expend. Shouldn’t we give our time, attention, and energy to things that really matter while learning to ignore the rest?

Related Posts:
7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

For Further Reading:
Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

How to Grow in Humilty

February 22, 2017

When we think about what it looks like to live as a Christian, we often forget many of the inner heart virtues that lead to the outward behaviors that would make our list. In the Beatitudes, which describe the character of the person who is a citizen of God’s kingdom, Jesus starts with humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. While we focus on everything a Christian does, Jesus says that our growth as Christians starts with who we are.

Humility, which is the poverty of spirit Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:3, serves as the root of our growth as believers. We cannot make any spiritual progress until we truly understand who we are in light of who God is. Seeing God in his holiness and ourselves as sinners in need of grace is critical for growing in our relationship with the Lord and growing in how we treat other people.

Humility does not come easily. Our flesh yearns for the self-assurance that comes from pride, the world tells us to assert ourselves and put ourselves first, and the enemy of our souls wants nothing more than for us to be mired in pride and arrogance.

If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?

Read the Bible

We have a tendency to give lip service to the Bible while not spending time it. We have unparalleled access to the Scriptures and writings to help us understand them, but we often allow this treasure to lie neglected. Instead of ignoring the Bible, we must give primary attention to it.

Reading the Bible reminds us of two truths that help us grow in humility– God is holy and we are not. This is most evident in Isaiah 6 when the prophet sees the Lord in the temple. He gets a glimpse of God’s holiness and his response is to proclaim his own sinfulness. The Lord responds by touching a coal to Isaiah’s lips and telling him that his sins are forgiven. This shows us that the beginning of humility is seeing the Lord for who he is, seeing ourselves for who we are, and seeking the forgiveness that can only be found in him.

Where do we see the holiness of God? Where can we be reminded that we have sinned against him? And, where do we hear the hope that only the Gospel gives? We encounter these wonderful truths most clearly in the pages of Scripture. Therefore, we would do well to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize the Bible, and meditate on the Bible.

Spend Time in Prayer

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable for those who think they are righteous in ourselves and treat others that they consider to be less righteous with contempt. He tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer is a textbook case of self-righteousness. He prays about his own goodness and places himself in favorable contrast with other people in general and the tax collector in particular.

What is striking about the prayer of the Pharisee is that he does not ask God for anything. He merely prays about his own righteousness. On the other hand, the tax collector makes one simple request, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Notice the difference between the two prayers. The proud Pharisee prays only about himself and asks for nothing from God. The tax collector in his humility makes a simple and powerful request from God.

You may think that the Pharisee asking for nothing seems noble. However, not presenting requests to God is a sure sign of spiritual pride. It means that we do not know that we are dependent people. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Do you notice the connection he makes here? He commands us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We do this while casting our anxieties on him. When we pray, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We ask God for that which we do not have on our own and which only he can give.

Get Involved in a Local Church

Too often, we think about our spiritual lives in purely individualistic terms. We hear about spiritual growth and only picture ourselves in our rooms with our Bibles and then working hard on our own to obey what we read. Instead of continuing to run in this direction, we must learn how integral the local church is to our growth as believers, especially when we consider how many biblical commands we cannot obey unless we are engaged in a local body.

Being an active part of a local church helps us grow in humility because we surround ourselves with people who know us well. When we engage in genuine fellowship and develop friendships where we are being honest about our walk with Jesus, the people around us get to know our weaknesses, frailties, and sins. They love us and care for us, but they also know that we have feet of clay. In honest and genuine community, we cannot pretend to be something we are not. This is a good place to be.

In the local church, we also humble ourselves by serving others. Whether we are working in the nursery, helping to feed the needy, or listening to the difficulties a fellow believer is going through, getting outside of ourselves and serving others helps us grow in humility. We get to remember that we are not the center of the universe and that we were not made to live for ourselves.

Humility is the fertile soil in which our Christian lives grow. Pride chokes away our growth and leads us down paths we don’t want to tread. To grow in the vital gift of humility, we would be wise to immerse ourselves in the biblical text, the school of prayer, and the fellowship of the local church.

Related Posts:
How Can I Know that I am a Christian

How to Read the Bible Every Day

For Further Reading:
Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings through the Beatitudes by Colin Smith

The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges

Why Silence is Golden

February 15, 2017

Two weeks ago, I wrote, “7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media.” It would have been impossible to anticipate the response. More people read it than anything I have ever written and got feedback from more places than I have ever received.

Much of the feedback I received came from people who were thankful for the post and benefited from it as they sorted through how to respond to our unique cultural moment. Some of the responses that came my way were of the not happy variety and warned that following my advice would lead to weak-kneed Christians who said nothing and did nothing. After all, they said, that is how we got to where we are today.

In this post, I don’t necessarily want to respond to any particular piece of negative feedback I received, but I do want to double down on my main point. Christians need to speak less and be more thoughtful when we do speak. This is not the random observation of a timid, peace-keeping pastor in central Alabama, but the witness of Solomon, James, Paul, and Jesus.

There are three reasons we speak less and think more before we speak.

We Often Speak with Incomplete Information

“The fool does not delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Solomon cuts to the heart of our foolish speech when he notes our tendency to speak without having all of the facts on a matter. We equate off the cuff remarks with authenticity and interpret carefully construed words as being fake and deceitful.

The Bible doesn’t offer this interpretation of thinking before you speak. Instead, Scripture prizes speaking the truth. So often, when we speak off the cuff, we do not know if our words are true or not. Because of the ubiquity of social media in our culture, we feel the pressure to state strong opinions with incomplete information. This won’t do for the Christian though because we must know that we are speaking the truth before we open our mouths. To do otherwise is to act with foolishness instead of wisdom, run the risk of bearing false witness against our neighbor, and violate the character of our Lord who is the truth.

We Often Speak without Self-Control

“Whoever restrains his words has wisdom, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In Proverbs 17:24, Solomon connects the words we speak to the disposition of our spirits. A man with a “cool spirit” is contrasted with the person who has a hot temper. The person who keeps a calm spirit thinks through what they are going to say. The person caught in a moment of rage will speak with disastrous results.

We don’t think before we speak when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum. We can only think about how angry we are and lash out without thought to the damage our words may cause. It is imperative that the person who follows Jesus learns to control his temper and to restrain his words when he is angry.

We Often Speak with Poor Intentions

We never speak with perfect intentions, but it does not follow that we should just say whatever we think in the moment. A hospital room will never be completely germ-free, but you wouldn’t want to have surgery in a sewer. In the same way, we cannot let our lack of perfection justify speaking from wrong motives.

If it is true that whatever we do we must do for the glory of God, then we must evaluate our motives before we speak, especially if what we are going to say will provoke people. There’s nothing wrong with provoking people with the truth if we do it for the right reasons, but many times we provoke people for the sake of provoking them or not thinking carefully about the context in which it will be done. Are we speaking out of love or are we speaking out of selfishness? Are we speaking for the good of others or are we speaking only to vent?

When Then, Should We Speak?

I recognize that what I am advocating could be taken as an argument for never saying anything difficult or controversial. After all, how will Christians make a difference in the world if we never speak up?

The problem for Christians in our culture has not been our lack of “speaking out” or “standing up.” In fact, we have done it so much and so harshly that we have cut off the ears of many people who would have listened to us. Also, we have done so in improper contexts. Only under the rarest of circumstances is social media the place to “take a stand.” On social media, we usually end up only reinforcing what people who agree with us already think, anger those who seriously disagree, or drive away those who haven’t made up their minds through our combative tone.

There is a proper time to speak up, though, providing that we meet three criteria.

We Speak When We Know
We only open our mouths to speak about an issue when we know what we are talking about. We speak when we know that we are speaking facts and speaking the truth. We cannot bring glory to God while breaking the ninth commandment.

We Speak When We Think
Since we will give an account for every word we speak, we would do well to think about what we say before it comes out of our mouths. Is it gracious? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it spoken for the glory of God and the good of others? If we think about these things and weigh our words wisely, then we should open our mouths to speak because God does use our words to accomplish his purposes.

We Speak When We Care
The writer of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Since the tongue carries this tremendous power, we consider the people who will hear what we say. In what ways could this cut or hurt them? In what ways could this encourage them or give them grace? If we love people, we must think about these things.

“With the tongue we bless our Lord and father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” We should write this warning from James 3 over everything that we say. Our words can do great damage to the cause of the Christ and to the people who hear us. At the same time, God uses our words to get the Gospel to people, to encourage the broken, and to bring glory to himself. Because our words can bring about two very different results, shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about what we say before we say it? Shouldn’t we give more thought to how it will impact people? Shouldn’t we examine our words to make sure they are true? We should, and in giving greater consideration to our words they will bring about greater good to those who hear them.

Related Posts:
Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine
Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Stay Silent?

For Further Reading:
Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison