The Pressure’s off!

Ever been to a Bible study where you watch a video or listen to a speaker talk and then break into small groups and your facilitator presents a second message?  It can be a heady thing to speak and have a group listening to what you share.  But is that really what’s needed for life change to occur?

We live in a society that is information rich.  At any moment of the day you can pull up a sermon online or read a book or listen to a radio broadcast.  We’ve never had more access to the Word being taught – and struggled as much to live it out.

Consider what the Scriptures say:

“But you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher and you are all brothers.”  Matthew 23:8

“Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor – the Christ.” Matthew 23:10

“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in Him.”              1 John 2:27

Once someone is a believer their greatest need usually isn’t for advice, but for someone to come along and help them learn how to listen to what the Lord is teaching them and help them process what they are hearing so they know how to respond and to encourage them to respond by living out what He is laying on their hearts. There are three key ways you can do this:

1.  Modeling

Until the day we die we are all very much in process, in need of growing and becoming more like Jesus.  As you share your weaknesses, where you struggle, and what helps you, there is a tremendous opportunity for people to learn how to process and apply as they see you doing this.  The quote, “More is caught than taught” is so true!  Whenever I’m asked to speak at a women’s retreat or to a group I find it so helpful to keep this in mind.  My goal isn’t to teach but to share my journey, yes, even the ugly parts when it will be of help for them to hear, and what’s been helping me.

2.  Listening & Asking Questions, Then Listening More

In James 1:19 we are instructed, “Everyone should be quick to listen…”  Is this ever vitally important to remember when you are facilitating a group discussion.  There is nothing like listening to someone share their heart or their thoughts to make them feel loved and cared for.  This creates a wonderful environment where growth can happen.

And is the second part of that verse, “slow to speak…” ever key for facilitators to remember.  When I’m speaking I’m in control.  So if I’m scared it’s so easy for that to be my default.  Even if someone in the group asks a question, well, the natural response is to answer right away.  But what a difference it can make if you first ask if anyone else in the group would like to respond.  Creating a learning community, where you are all sharing your journeys together is so much more powerful and life changing than a quick correct answer being given.  You want to be able to engage with each other as well as the material.  Can that ever do wonders to help people grow as this takes place.

Now it can really help to identify whether the women in your group are internal or external processors.  Those who process externally will usually be the first to share and sometimes the internal processors can get left out, so it takes extra intention to listen to them.  I’ve found it can be so helpful to provide an opportunity for them to first process on their own and then listen and ask questions.

For example, when I’m facilitating a group discussion after a speaker has shared, I will often start our time encouraging them to first write down on a notecard what stood out to them in the message or draw a quick picture representing this.  Even extroverts benefit from this opportunity to collect their thoughts (because writing is also a form of external processing) so when they share it tends to be more focused. But this is so key to being able to “listen” to internal processors.  I can’t tell you how many times this makes it possible to listen to what’s going on inside them.  Women who ordinarily would never share in a group will often open up when the group is conducted this way.

And it really is amazing how much more people are helped when we listen and ask questions, than when we just give answers!

3.  Introducing different ways to process


As mentioned above, this can be as simple as having your group draw a picture or write a word or short paragraph that summarizes the key thing that stood out to them either from the message they just heard or from their Bible study that week.  Or if you’re reading the scriptures together and then discussing, it can be giving colored pencils and having them underline what stands out to them or circle key words.  Or it can be as involved as having the group art journal a page reflecting what they learned and then sharing it afterwards with the group (more information on this and examples are available at

All of these means help people focus in on the key thing that stood out to them, narrowing down what they heard so they can more easily come up with an application.  That really is where the rubber meets the road.  It can be so powerful when people have time to process together for helping them come up with an application and then for the group to provide an opportunity for accountability – it doesn’t even have to be like drill sergeants checking up on you ~ just knowing someone is going to ask “how did it go this week?”  or “What did you experience as you sought to live out what you learned last week?” can be a powerful motivator for actually doing what’s on your heart to do.

Remember the difference between the wise and foolish builder isn’t a matter of hearing the Word!  The difference is what they do in response to it.  And it wasn’t that the wise builder got more gold stars – no!  By responding to what he heard, by actively seeking to do it, to live it out, he was laying a solid foundation for when the storms of life came.  And note it’s not “If” they come but “when!”

Yes, there can be times when it is appropriate to give advice, but I like to filter that through Ephesians 4:29 speaking “only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Be sure to ask yourself – is this really helping them become wise?  Helping them process what they’ve already heard and move towards application?  Or am I just providing opportunity for them to “hear” more?

Whether you’re meeting one on one with someone or facilitating a group it can be so wise to keep asking yourself how much time am I talking?  And what is happening as a result?

Best part of this?  Does it ever take the pressure off you as a facilitator, discipler or mentor!  You don’t have to have all the answers!  And since no one does (according to I Corinthians 13:12 in this life we only know in part) what a relief!  All you have to do is join in with what Jesus is doing, helping them learn to listen to him – not just hear him, but respond to him and yield to him as He guides them.  And in the process, instead of remaining babes dependent on you they are learning how to walk with him and abide with him for life!

“I don’t like Jesus!”

I’d only planned to read through the Bible in a year once.  But after hearing me share highlights from doing this over and over, friends begged me to do it again and host a discussion group so they could do it too.  When we were in the middle of Leviticus two sisters started coming who didn’t know Jesus.  I thought, “Oh no!  What a place to start!”  But they kept coming and it wasn’t long until one of them entered into a relationship with the Lord!  Her sister, a legal secretary, stated, “I’m going to wait until I finish reading the whole thing!”  And sure enough, soon as we finished, she surrendered her life to the Lord!  Their lives, and all of our lives, were radically changed as a result.  Truly it was an amazing year experiencing the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable…!”

But I’ll never forget, after we finally started reading the New Testament, one friend showed up exclaiming, “I don’t like Jesus!”  She’d never read much of the Bible and was appalled by some of the things Jesus said.  As we continued reading we discovered she wasn’t the first to feel this way!  In John 6:60 even Jesus’ disciples said, “This is a hard teaching!” and at that point many of them turned away and stopped following Him.

But note when Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.”

You get a whole different perspective when hard things are taken in the context of relationship and knowing who God is!

Jesus came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  If you separate one from the other, especially focusing on truth without the context of grace, can truth ever seem harsh, cold, unappealing!

In my quiet time this past week I was reading in 1 Kings 20 where a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the LORD, “Strike me please.”  And we aren’t just talking about getting hit.  This strike left this guy noticeably wounded and what wounds come without pain?  And I realized as I read this “sometimes to do God’s work we need to be willing to be wounded.”


Can that ever sound harsh!   Especially if you aren’t remembering the context – and I don’t just mean the rest of 1 Kings 20!  But the entire Bible and what it reveals about who the Lord is!


A murderer and a surgeon may both stab you.  But one does it for life!  Context makes all the difference!

Now I’ll be honest.  There are times when the Lord allows hard things in my life I’m not happy about.  In a broken and fallen world, this happens far more than I’d like!  And yes, it often happens in the context of ministry.  Some of my deepest wounds have been inflicted by other believers I’ve been co-laboring with (sadly that’s not just true for me – the responses to my post on “friendly fire” attest to this).  It is so vital we help those we are discipling learn to run to the Lord and seek His perspective whenever they are wounded, taking time to process (for me, art journaling really helps, though I’m obviously not an artist!), letting Him provide a greater context for considering what they are going through.

However you best process, it’s so key to consider, “what has the Lord revealed in His Word that applies to what I’m going through?”

The enemy is only too happy to provide you with a context that puts the Lord in a bad light!  He desires to get us to go from “I don’t like what’s happening in my life” to “I don’t like the One who is allowing these things to happen in my life!” so we’ll avoid running to the Lord  using such reasoning as, “God can do anything and yet He’s letting you go through this?!  Obviously He doesn’t care about you!”  But that is such a lie!  Yet it’s amazing how that lie can fester and impact us and our relationship with the Lord if we don’t take the time to confront it head on and process in the presence of the Lord.

But when we do, not only do we gain a true perspective that can help us weather the worst storm but our relationship with the Lord is strengthened and we grow!!!  This really is where the rubber meets the road!

No Pain, No Gain

I wish the way to godliness was through Bible study!

This can help lay an important foundation, but the primary way we become more like Jesus is through adversity.  That’s when those biblical truths have the opportunity to work their way into the depths of our soul and transform us.

We see the heart of a disciple so beautifully displayed in Mary’s response when the angel approaches her about giving birth to Jesus, “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  Talk about a willingness to follow God regardless of cost!

And did this ever prove costly!

If you take time to read the nativity story slowly and really consider what’s happening, you realize it wasn’t a very silent night!  Imagine giving birth far away from home, and if you’ve ever given birth, you know this was no cake-walk!  She had no access to any epidural or even demerol to take the edge off the pain!!!  And can you see her learning in the midst of contractions, there’s no room in the inn?!  Forget about sterile environments, your newborn gets placed in a manger, and then a bunch of scruffy shepherds crowd in?!  And that’s not even taking into account all the attempts of the enemy to destroy her – surely he wasn’t at all thrilled that she was carrying the son of God – or the hurtful things said to her due to being pregnant before the wedding!

It’s so easy to read these verses quickly, whitewashing over them, but in the middle of the story there is pain and intense emotion!

I bet Mary never dreamed how great this cost would be.  And isn’t that true for us too?  We say “yes” to following the Lord, yet are surprised when things don’t go smoothly.

When we came on staff with the Navigators, we gave up a secure income, career, being with family and friends to head in our late-thirties to a college campus to spend most of our time with people half our age.  You think in view of all the sacrifice the Lord would roll out the red carpet!

But instead we ended up homeless for a month, living like vagabonds going from house to house, then lived in a tiny, temporary home for the next few months where our dining room table was in the center of the kitchen so I had to squeeze around it to cook.

Prior to this the Lord laid it on my heart to start memorizing Psalm 119.  I was like, “Lord, that’s the longest chapter in the Bible!”  And He was like, “I know!”  When I agreed to do it, I asked, “Would you please give me music to set each of the 8 verse sections too?  That would really help!”  And he did.

During the time of our homeless adventure, I was memorizing Psalm 119: 81-88 and verse 83 jumped off the page at me, “Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.”  And I wondered – what’s that about?

When I looked it up, I discovered wineskins are put in smoke to mature them faster!!!

Can’t you just hear the wineskin…  “Lord, I said I’d hold whatever wine you want to put in – but what are you doing leading me to that fire and wait…!!!”  Cough, cough, cough…  “This smoke is burning my eyes! It’s hot here!  And those flames keep getting closer!!!  Are you trying to destroy me?!”

You see, the Lord knew we needed to grow, we needed an intense faith and character stretching experience to be ready for the work He had for us, more than we needed a comfy, easy transition!

Truly what He gave grew us a ton!  And afterwards, looking back, we can clearly see it was so worth it!  But at the time…

This is why it’s so helpful to have someone walking with you through the journey!  Someone who’s been in the fire, felt the pain, experienced the intense emotions and can help prepare you for the hard times sure to come and assure you it will be worth it!

This is why cake mix discipleship is so deadly!  That’s where people are led to believe if you just do x, y, or z,  if you just follow the recipe your life is going to go great!  Beware of communicating this!  It’s so easy inadvertently to do!

There is no formula!  Unless you consider, “No pain, no gain!” Because being a disciple and becoming more like Jesus isn’t about following a formula, but following a person who is committed to transforming you as He writes a unique masterpiece in your life!




Here is a link to one of my favorite songs related to this entitled, “Every Day”