community bible reading

Allowing Scripture to Drive our Prayer Requests for Growth

By: Brad Rogers

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I have participated and led many Bible study small groups that end with the question, “How can we pray for you tonight?”  When I ask this question, people often mishear my question. They begin to share prayer requests that they have for other people. I think it’s good to pray for those who are not in the room, but I also want to pray for the people in the room.  When people struggle to come up with things to pray for themselves, I gently press on by asking them where they think it will be difficult for them to follow Jesus in the coming week. I usually joke that if they can’t think of any, they may be much closer to Jesus than I am.  Now, to be fair, this is a personal question. Depending on the small group, it may not be appropriate to share certain sin struggles you will face in the coming week. 

However, there is another problem here.  Not only do I not know the future, but it is the very nature of sin to deceive, which means that I don’t always know the sin in my heart.  Scripture reveals God’s heart and God’s will to me in such a way that it exposes sin in my heart that I did not know I had.  I long for the applications discussed when we are studying the Bible in small groups to drive the personal requests people make during prayer time. 

I think this is also a great practice to incorporate into our personal Bible reading time as well. As the Holy Spirit works by and with God’s Word, we see sin in ourselves we may not have realized was there.  We should confess newly revealed sin and ask God to transform us so we might become a person who continues to say “no” to this sin. We may have many other specific things in our lives for which we make requests to God. This is a great thing, and God desires us to do so. However, if we want our time of reading in God’s Word to help us grow to be more like Christ, it only makes sense that we ask God to help us change in such a way so as to live out what the Scriptures say.  

If you have been following along in our series, you will know that I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading and prayer. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  Using a journal as I read a passage of Scripture devotionally, I note attributes of God, sins I need to confess, things I can thank God for, and any prayer requests I want to make to God as a result of this reading. I will then pray these things back to God when I am done reading my passage (or passages) for the day.  I have previously written about adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. This week, I am focusing on supplication - making requests known to God in prayer.

Supplication from the Word helps us apply the Scriptures in our lives

For me, the supplication section of my journal focuses on the applications I think I need to make in my life based on the Bible reading for the day.  Most often, they flow directly from the things I have written down in the confession of sin section of my journal.  Largely because I want the Holy Spirit to help me put the sin I confessed to death.  Here are some questions from Tim Keller, New York City pastor and author, which think through prayer requests based on Scripture reading:

  • What do I need from God to obey what he reveals here?

  • What specific problems result when this quality of God or this teaching is forgotten or denied?

  • Does my life demonstrate that I am practicing this teaching?

  • How will I be different if I begin to do so?

  • Where will I next need this teaching?

  • What kind of love toward God do I most lack and need --love of appreciation (praise and joy), love of complacency (rest and peace), or love of benevolence (zeal and boldness)? What “put on” will I need to practice in order to “put off’ this sin?

It may be that you want to make yourself a little cheat sheet of these questions that you keep with you in your journal.  The more you use these questions, though, the more you can use them instinctively. They are really helpful when you can’t immediately think of any to apply from the day’s reading.

Getting Practical

Here is a small sampling from my journal that could help you get started.  

“Show me where my hypocrisy lies and help me repent.  Help me not presume but rather rely on your grace.  May I not tempt others to sin with the attitude of my heart.  May I love sinners like you do.  Help me recognize that what I most want is found in your Word, may I have Christ-like character.  Help me believe your Word. May I be a person who turns at your rebuke and repents. May I never forget that my sins are forgiven. Help me seek the lost until they are found.  Clean my heart from the inside out.  Help me be gracious with others like you.  Help me serve others like Jesus served me.  Help me not to despise your discipline.  Lord, may I actually heed your warnings and not just merely read them with agreement. Help me walk as one who is wise making the best use of the time.  May I fear you above all others. Help me not grow weary and doing good. Lord, lift the veil from my eyes that I might live as one who is fully yours.” 

As I read Scripture, I see various ways that I fall short of loving God and loving people as God has called me to do; and these are the areas where I ask God to help me grow. May God bless your reading and praying of God’s word so that you grow closer to him and become more like him.   

 

Giving Thanks

By: Brad Rogers 

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The Bible commands us to give thanks throughout its many pages. If you’re like me, you read that command but struggle to want to give thanks which is ultimately a heart problem. When I do give thanks, I find my prayers of thanksgiving in general are boring and redundant. If this latter problem resonates with you, I want to commend a method of Bible reading that can bring needed variety and specificity to your prayers of thanksgiving, keeping them fresh and genuine (I offer thoughts on the former problem below as well). In our last two blog posts, I have been writing about a particular way of meeting with God that seeks to wed Scripture reading (God speaking to us through His Word) and prayer (we speak to God in prayer).  It is certainly by no means the only way to meet with God, but it’s a way that has been very helpful to many. It utilizes what is called the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) not only as a means of prayer but also as a means of reading God’s Word.  In this model, we read God’s Word and take note of how we can adore God, sin we should confess, thanksgiving we can offer, and requests we should make to God. When we finish reading the Scripture, we take our notes on the passage and pray them back to God.  At Redeemer Presbyterian church in Raleigh, we are utilizing the Community Bible Reading (CBR) Journal which uses this method. But you can try this method out and put it into practice whether you are following the CBR reading plan or not.  Two weeks ago, I wrote about praise; last week, I wrote about confessing our sins; so this week, I am writing about thanksgiving.

The Importance of Giving Thanks

Romans 1:21 is a verse that has always fascinated me for the way it describes what happens to people when we do not offer thanks to God. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  A lack of honoring God (praise) and giving God thanks compromises one’s ability to think well about ultimate matters.  The rest of Romans 1 shows a cesspool of “branch” sins whose roots stem from the heart of a person that fails to honor and give thanks to the God who made us all. It could be said that if you really want to get serious about putting sin to death in your life and becoming more like Jesus, you cannot do so without regularly offering prayers of thanksgiving to God.  We struggle to do this because it reveals to us what we don’t naturally want to admit – that we are not spiritually sufficient on our own and are dependent on God for everything.  When we suppress thoughts of our dependence on God, we are delusional about reality which ultimately leads to all kinds of wrong thinking and sin. We must offer thanks to God as Scripture commands, or we risk losing our grasp on reality, living in the darkness of maturing sin, and wandering (or running) away from God.    

Distinguishing between Thanksgiving and Praise

Thanksgiving is really a sub-category of praise.  Distinguishing between the two helps ensure that we follow the many commands in the Bible that ask us to give praise as well as the commands to offer thanksgiving to God.  Often when a people distinguish between praise and thanksgiving, they are distinguishing between praising God for His attributes as we see them in Scripture and thanking God for what He has done for us as His people.  Praise proper is adoring God for who He is in Himself; for His attributes, His nature, and His person, which leads Him to action in and for this world HE has made.  Thanksgiving is giving thanks for all of His loving action towards us and this world. It is good to keep in mind that God is always about redeeming us and this world through Christ, so it’s important to be looking out for how God is working out His plan of redemption in any given passage for which you can offer thanks.    

Getting Practical

Here are a couple of questions to help you as you note things in Scripture in your reading for the day for which you can thank God.  What in this passage leads me to thank God for His goodness to me? What does this passage say about God’s character or work that provides redemption? I like to write down specific things to thank God for as I read a passage of Scripture, but you may want to read the passage as a whole and then write down things for which you can thank God.  Sometimes, when I get to the end, I notice I don’t have much in my thanksgiving section and so I go back and skim the passage. I am almost always able to find more things for which to thank God. Since my journal is not big, but my handwriting is, I try to write something short that I can then expand upon when I actually pray these thanksgivings back to God.  However, it can help write those few words in ways that help you remember where it came from in the passage you read.  Here is a sampling of things I write in the thanksgiving section of my Bible reading journal: “Thank you for saving Abraham in spite of his flaw (so that salvation might ultimately come to me as well). Thank you for preserving Noah; thank you for teaching your disciples about the Kingdom of God. Thank you for choosing and making disciples. Jesus, thank you for taking away my reproach. Thank you for this earth you have made. Thank you for desiring our good when we did not desire yours. Thank you for seeking genuine justice. Thank you for your presence through Jesus. Thank you for defeating Satan. Thank you for providing witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.”  As you can see, these notes are a little unfiltered and unedited for publication, but they are notes that I am using to commune with God in prayer. May your thanksgiving lead you to sweeter fellowship with God and a more realistic view of life in this world. 

 

 

Confession: Responding to the Light Scripture Shines on our Darkness

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By: Brad Rogers

When Christians read the scriptures and pray, we want to grow closer to God in our relationship with Him. A great way to do this is to use the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, & Supplication) as a way to engage with God through the Scriptures.  Last week, I wrote about how we can write down God’s praise worthy attributes as we read Scripture in order to utilize those praises in prayer back to God when we have completed our reading (Adoration).  This week, I want to share some thoughts using Scripture reading to help us identify and confess sins to the Lord.

 

Confessing our Sins to Grow in our Relationship with God

Confessing sin before the Lord is not something that brings most of us great excitement (nor does writing about it) – at least not on the surface.  While we might say confessing our sins to God is not a “fun” part of being a Christian, it is a vital aspect of growing closer to God just as taking responsibility for how we hurt others is critical to the well-being of any relationship in our lives.  When we recognize that following Jesus as our King is relational and that our disregard for his commands is personally offensive to Him, it is not difficult to see the need to confess our sins to Him.  Since it is part of sin’s very nature to deceive, we won’t know so many of the ways that we offend the Lord unless He reveals it to us.  In His grace, God works by His Holy Spirit to bring the light of His word to our darkened hearts that we might see our sins for what they are and turn from them.  God tells us in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Since God promises to forgive, there is no need to fear admitting our wrongs to Him.  Confession of sin allows us to address the relational wedge our sin introduces between us and God so that we can grow in our intimacy with God. 

A Word of Caution

When we confess our sins to God, we need to do so with a heart that forsakes the sin itself.  Mere acknowledgment of sin won’t lead to transformation nor will it lead to greater intimacy with God.  We need to see our sin as God sees it so that we actually hate the sin itself that dishonors God rather than just feeling sorry for ourselves for sinning.  This can lead to confessing our sins simply in the hopes that God will be gracious with any consequences stemming from our sin, which is really a just a form of self-interest rather than seeking to reconcile with the God we have offended. The goal of confessing our sins is ultimately a closer walk with Jesus (growth in our love for God and his honor).  We need to recognize that our sin dishonors God and hinders our fellowship with Him so that when we confess sins to God we actually hate the sin itself. Then we can rightly receive His forgiveness anew in a way that our enhances our intimacy with God and grows our love for Him.  This helps produce the kind of heart change that truly honors God and makes less vulnerable to the sin in the future.    

Confessing Sins from your Scripture Reading in Practice

As I read a Scripture devotionally, I ask myself, “Is there any sin that this scripture reveals in my life?”  You might find certain commands in the text you have read that you don't keep.  You might find that you have the same sinful attitude as someone in a biblical story that you are reading.  You might also find an exemplary attitude of a biblical character that you don’t possess.  You might see that you are lacking some of God’s attributes in His actions towards people that God calls us to imitate.  It might be His love for His enemies or His concern and care for the poor.  As I discover sins in my Scripture reading, I write them down so that when I am finished with my reading, I can take the time to reflect on them before confessing these sins to the Lord in prayer.  Here are some questions that come from pastor and author Tim Keller that help you reflect on the sins you write down:

  • What are the dangers of this sin?

  • What is the specific nature of the guiltiness of this sin (what aspect of God’s character does it offend, ignore, or deny)?

  • What do I learn about God’s grace by the fact that He redeems this sin? (This last question leads us nicely into thanksgiving which we will consider in next week’s blog.)

 You certainly don’t need to use these additional questions; but when I do use them, I have found that I am well prepared to confess my sins to the Lord in prayer.  Regardless, the point of writing down sins to confess while you read Scripture is to actually confess your sins to the Lord that you might know His forgiveness and love afresh, so don’t leave this step out.  May we all honor the Lord by listening to His words to us in Scripture and rooting out the sin which so easily entangles us all through confession so that we might draw closer to Him who has drawn near to us in love. 

Praising the God of the Bible

By: Brad Rogers

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Here at Redeemer Presbyterian in Raleigh, we are using a Community Bible Reading plan complete with a handy journal as an aid to help us personally commune with God, know the Scriptures, and grow in community.  The journal is laid out in such a way as to help us pray the Scriptures back to God.  As such the A.C.T.S. model of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, & Supplication) is utilized as a way to engage with God through the Scriptures.  The idea is that as one reads a particular text; he/she writes in the journal things for which they find God praiseworthy (adoration), sins the text reveals they may need to confess (confession), aspects of God’s saving work the text reveals for which to be thankful (thanksgiving) and any requests that one would like to make to God in response to what they find in God’s word that day. A person can then take what they have written in each of these four sections of the journal and pray them back to God. This model of reading and praying the Scriptures can be a little clunky and awkward at first, but I have found that pushing past that initial uncomfortableness has yielded much fruit in my life personally. In the humble interest of helping those on this plan and anyone else desiring a closer walk with Christ by praying the Scriptures, I am beginning a 4 part series today taking each aspect of the A.C.T.S. model of prayer one at a time.

Adoration: The Importance of Praise

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, the first thing he modeled for them was asking that our heavenly Father’s name might be hallowed. He was showing us that we should pray that God’s name would be revered, or regarded as holy. It is praying that all people everywhere would praise and adore God.  Over and again in the book of Psalms we find God calling His people to praise His name.  We don’t need to get bent out of shape as if this is some other human asking us to give them honor. 

God has revealed who He is to us, and He is a God infinitely beyond us in holiness, power, and glory.  C.S. Lewis has helpfully pointed out that failing to admire that which is truly admirable is a flaw in itself and causes one to miss out on the full experience of something wonderful.  In his Reflections on the Psalms, he writes that if God is the great object of admiration behind all other beauties and magnificence, then to praise and admire him would be “simply to be awake, to have entered the real world … but not to do so would be to be deaf, blind and bedridden with respect to the real world.”   It is important not to merely think God is worthy of praise, but to actually praise him for those attributes for which He is worthy as this honors Him and moves us beyond knowledge of facts about God into a loving relationship with Him that changes our hearts.  James K.A. Smith says that “we are what we adore” (and maybe we can say that we are becoming that which we adore). 

Practicing Adoration through Bible Reading

As you are reading any text of the Bible devotionally, it is good to jot down those attributes of God you see in that Scripture that are worthy of praise as a means of understanding the text itself, but also so that you can take those praises up in prayer once you have completed your Bible reading.  Throughout the Bible, God is redeeming people prone to wander in sin back to himself.  When we are thinking through the category of praise it’s helpful to ask ourselves as we read, “What is it about God’s nature and character that leads Him to the redeeming work that I see in this particular passage?”  In a paper, I was told New York City Pastor Tim Keller wrote that he asks these questions of the Scriptures to help identify particular attributes of God worthy of praise.  What does this (Scripture) teach me: of God’s excellence? Of his majesty/greatness? Of his grace/tenderness? Of his wisdom/symmetry?  In sum, in the adoration section of your journal, you are looking to write down what kind of God the passage in front of you reveals. 

I tend to write out praise worthy attributes down as I read the text.  You might prefer to read through the whole text for the day (or for a section at a time) and then write down praise worthy attributes you notice about God.  It could be one word, or it could be several words. I tend to write down something short that I can expand on when I begin to actually praise God in my prayers. Looking through recent entries into the adoration section of my journal I find words and phrases like: healer, the holy one, Lord over the fish in the seas, searcher of hearts, Authoritative One, Creator, Mighty One, supplier of food, revealer of truth and one for whom nothing is impossible.  Even if you don’t journal or don’t have a journal with you, it’s still possible to make mental notes of things regarding God’s character that you can then reflect back to Him in prayer.  In these times, I find myself praying such things back to God as I read rather than waiting until I finish.  The journal is aimed at helping you engage with God and commune with Him as He speaks to you in the Scriptures.  The Community Bible Reading Journal is just a tool and a means towards this end, so I wouldn’t get overly concerned with the particulars.  The ultimate goal is to become more comfortable with the method so that you better understand, appreciate, and adore God as He reveals himself to us in the Bible so that we become more like the God we praise.