Challenge Day 31

Today’s Inspiration. I’m sitting in my car using my personal hotspot to write this post two days early, since once again over the weekend I’ll be out of town, this time without access to wifi or even a cell signal. The simple life. But even in pared-down, simple (technology-light) life, it is important to remember.

Today’s blog—the last day of the Writing Life Challenge posts—will be about remembering. Jesus admonished his own disciples to remember when he said “remember what I told you…” (John 15:20). Paul asked his readers to remember what he had previously told them, too. In fact, if you search for “remember” in a Bible app, you’ll see several verses that instruct us to remember.

Challenge Day 31 remember #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Today’s Challenge. Today, your challenge is to pray, to review your own notes or thoughts from the previous challenge posts—especially those you completed—and to journal for a few minutes about what God has taught you this month. Ask God to help you assess your own heart and ask him what’s next. I’ve included the previous posts to make it easier for you:

Day 1 – Thankfulness & Prayer
Day 2 – Praise & Prayer
Day 3 – Watchfulness & Prayer
Day 4 – Devotion & Prayer
Day 5 – How to Pray
Day 6 – Who to Pray For
Day 7 – What to Pray For
Day 8 – When to Pray
Day 9 – Where to Pray
Day 10 – Why to Pray
Day 11 – Fasting & Prayer
Day 12 – Why Read the Bible?
Day 13 – God-Breathed Scripture
Day 14 – The Bible is Useful
Day 15 – Bible-Trained
Day 16 – Bible-Taught Teaching
Day 17 – Bible-Rebuked
Day 18 – Bible-Corrected
Day 19 – Just Love
Day 20 – Heart Love
Day 21 – Soul Love
Day 22 – Mind Love
Day 23 – Strong Love
Day 24 – The Lord Your God
Day 25 – Self Love
Day 26 – Neighborly Love
Day 27 – Encourage One Another
Day 28 – … Daily
Day 29 – Build Up
Day 30 – Continue

Today’s Participation. For today’s participation, I’d like your feedback whether it’s in the comments or in a private message—what did you think of the challenge? If you did it, was there anything about it that stuck with you (and would you mind sharing that with me)? Would you like to see something about it again in the future?

As this challenge month draws to a close, I want to say Thank You! to all of you who took time to read (and do!) even a few of these challenge posts. It’s been a challenge keeping up with writing them! I won’t be doing a daily devotional challenge again in September—with back-to-school (for me, too, since I teach) it’s a bit too much for me to add to my daily routine. But look for regular weekly blog posts and a special, different type of challenge I’ve been thinking about coming soon.

Challenge Day 14

Today’s Inspiration. For several years in my late twenties and early thirties, I was between churches. This Baptist-raised, Sunday school, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night prayer meeting—and later, youth group and college group—attending girl just stopped going for a while.

The years that I stopped going to church happened to be in my I-don’t-trust-God-with-the-big-decisions-in-my-life phase (described a bit here). That, in all honesty, was the biggest reason I didn’t go. But it also had a lot to do with a) the fact that I was dating a raised-to-go-to-weekly-mass, but didn’t-really-go-anymore-because-he-worked-seven-days-a-week Irish, Roman Catholic man (whom I married after many, many years of waiting for him to finally propose) and b) my own disappointment in the lies, the corruption, and the failure to deal with said corruption in the church I had last regularly attended—which happened to be Pentecostal.

When my boyfriend/fiancé/husband and I did occasionally look for a church, it was hard to find a balance: conservative and calm enough in its worship for him, and grounded in Biblical teaching for me. This last was extremely important to me: I needed meat, not milk (Hebrews 5:11-14), sermons primarily based in and derived from God’s word, verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter, or book-by-book (as opposed to the more topical sermons that use a verse or two here and there). In effect, I wanted the teaching we sat under each week to be useful in both (all, now) of our lives.

The idea of the usefulness of God’s word is today’s inspiration:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (NIV)

Today’s Challenge. Your challenge today is to examine the usefulness of Scripture—of the Bible—to your own life. Do you believe it is useful (this touches on yesterday’s challenge question, too)? Do you really use it? Do you even know enough of the Bible for it to be useful in your own life? How should, or do, you use it? All of these are questions you could consider when contemplating the Bible’s usefulness.

Stacked dishes: Gravy boat, sugar bowl, teacup without a handle, sitting in front of a plate that stands in the background. Photo text: Challenge Day 14, the Bible is useful. #writinglifeaugustchallenge

Pray for understanding and insight, both of God’s word and of your own heart, before you begin. Then, spend some time searching for answers in the Bible and in your own heart, mind, and actions. You may want to journal as you think through these questions.

Today’s Participation. Make it personal! What do you believe—really believe—about the Bible’s usefulness? Or how is it useful to you in your everyday life? Share your thoughts with someone in person, comment below, or create an Instagram post using #writinglifeaugustchallenge.

I know some of you may be wondering: Did we ever find a church? The answer is yes, resoundingly yes. The first year of our marriage, my husband and I lived apart; I was finishing courses for grad school out of state, and he stayed home at the job he had worked at for years. My brother invited us to his non-denominational church for Christmas services and we were hooked. When I moved back home nearly six months later, we started attending regularly and feasted on a regular diet of meat. Fast-forward 11 years to today: We have both grown tremendously in our personal walks with the Lord, and we have grown to love the church—the people we learn, grow, and serve with. Church is no longer merely a place to go to listen and sing and learn; it is family, it is home, it is who we are and how we live in Christ.

I also want to say a word to those who may have been hurt by something you saw or something done to you in a church before, since I mentioned having seen lies and corruption in a previous church: People are fallible. People, being people, will make mistakes and—yes—even sin. Putting our trust and hopes in people, as much as we love them, will ultimately lead to disappointment of some sort. What matters is that when sin is present, it is acknowledged, repented of, and if necessary disciplined in a Biblical manner. The church I attended in the past didn’t do that, at least not while I was there. I had made the mistake of trusting the people more than I was ready to trust God. I had it backwards. But don’t give up on all church bodies—on the church—if you encounter one that tries to hide its wrongs and ignores God’s word. Instead, find one that makes use of the word. And don’t give up trusting in God.

Can I Confess and Tell You Something?

I was in a two-on-one Bible study with my youth pastor’s wife when I was in my late teens. Two-on-one meaning my best friend and I got to meet and study God’s word with her alone, together. It was at that time that she urged us to promise God that we’d spend half an hour each day with him, reading his word and praying. In so many ways, that Bible study was the foundation of this challenge.

In my late teens, I made that promise. I remember one night, a few months (years, perhaps?) later, sitting, crying, and whining in that same friend’s house, confessing to her and one other friend, “I don’t want to read my Bible today!”

Can I confess to you now, two-and-a-half decades later, that I regret ever having made a promise to God? I regret having promised it because shortly after that night (months, maybe years?) I walked away from my promise. I broke it. I rebelled, and what it came down to was I didn’t trust God to take care of the most important parts—to me—of my life.

Thank God for his grace, for going back and calling his lost sheep back to the fold, time and time again (Luke 15:3-6). I am one of those sheep.

Looking back now, I realize what an incredible blessing that time in my life was—the time of pastors’ wives, pastors in training, and youth pastors pouring into me, discipling me. Because it wasn’t just the one pastor’s wife; at one time when I was young, I was so hungry and thirsty (Matthew 5:6) and I was blessed to be surrounded by Godly men and women who took their time out to feed and teach me.

Can I tell you that if you are one of God’s workers pouring into a young life, don’t give up hope? If it looks like your work has been in vain, if you’ve “lost” someone to the world’s temptations, keep hoping. Keep praying. I’m sure someone was hoping and praying for me. And remember that even when we humans are not, God is faithful.

As I was contemplating Day 12’s challenge question—”Why do I read the Bible?” for me—I was reminded, as I often am, of that broken promise, the one I should not have made. The urge to make it was well-intentioned, but in my young heart and ears and mind it was not accompanied by the appropriate warnings (Matthew 5:33-37). I’m not saying my youth pastor’s wife didn’t mention them—I’m saying that if she did, I did not take them to heart. And I didn’t understand that the promise I was making was one that was at the same time impossible to break and impossible to keep.

Journal with a hand-written page listing reasons the writer reads the Bible, and another, closed journal sitting on the opposite page. The closed journal has a floral design and the words “Happy thoughts and beautiful words” on the cover.

What? Both impossible to break and impossible to keep? Yes.

Impossible to break, because if my promise—the intention of my fickle heart—was to spend half an hour each day with God, that was a silly, foolish promise because God is always with me. There is nowhere I can go that he is not (Psalm 139:7-8). But if my promise was to spend half an hour each day acknowledging God’s presence and spending deliberate time with him—the more literal way I interpreted it when I made the vow—then I was promising something that was beyond my control. True, most days I have the freedom to choose to pray, to choose to read my Bible. But God may someday take that choice away from me by rendering me too ill to be able to make that choice, like he chose to do with my mother who was bedridden, on pain relievers, and sometimes incoherent in her five months with terminally ill, stage four cancer. The point is that this was not a promise that was mine to make, simply because making it suggested I had the power, in myself, to keep it.

I did not.

Can I tell you something else? I am back to keeping my promise, have been back, for several years now. And these years that I have spent dedicating the best part of my day to the Lord have been the sweetest, most precious times with him I have ever spent. Because God has spent the time teaching me the answers to the reason I walked away in the first place: for several years now, he has been telling and teaching my soul, my heart, my mind, You can trust me.

You can trust me, because I love you. It struck me just how much God loves me when I read Psalm 139:1-6—the more famous verses of this Psalm are those often used by pro-life groups, verses 13-18—and recognized it for what it was: the description of someone so in love with another that he can’t help but watch her every move, memorize everything about her. Thinking of God being so attentive to me—to me—made me blush, not with embarrassment but with pleasure to think that someone could be so in love with me:

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise,
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all of my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. (NIV)

So yes, I read. I read my Bible not because I made a promise, but because God’s love for me draws me to it, to him. The Bible is God’s written word left for me—and for you—so that we can come to know him. So that we can come to trust him.

As a writer who thinks of writing as art, I want to leave the blog there—to just stop, and let readers be. But as someone who knows she—I—am ultimately responsible for my words, wanting them to shine and be refined in the fire rather than melt away into ash (1 Corinthians 3:11-13), I need to make two things clear:

  1. In no way am I urging you not to commit spending daily time with God. That has been one of the reasons for writing the challenge posts—to encourage people to do so! Spending time with God can change you, if you let him. And
  2. Neither am I saying that it is always wrong to make a vow to God—although some may interpret Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:33-37 that way. Instead, I urge you to study that very question from a Biblical perspective, and look at commentary that interprets it, and determine in your own heart and mind whether it is appropriate or not—and whether the vow you intend to make is appropriate or not—before you do so.

One more thing—I can’t walk away from here without saying a huge, heartfelt Thank You to those who poured into me when I was young, whether they ever read this blog and recognize themselves in it or not. For each of you, I treasure your love for the Lord, your love for me, the time you spent with me, and your obedience to the Lord: Vicki, Kris, Trina, Tom, Micki, and Tony. Thank you.