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

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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 http://www.restfulheart.wordpress.com)

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!

Fighting Dependence!

Ever have something that started out great go sour on you?

My read through the Bible discussion group was a classic example of this.  From the start it was obvious the Lord was at work.  When two sisters joined while we were in Leviticus and then ended up not only hanging in there but becoming Christians I was blown away!  Even as we dove into the minor prophets the discussions were incredible and life change was occurring all over the place.  I thought, “If God is doing this much in the Old Testament, I can’t wait to see what He’ll do as we discuss the New!”

But as we dove into the gospels everything changed.  “I don’t get it!”  I shared with a friend, “We aren’t having the great discussions we use to have.  People seem to have stopped making application to their lives.  I don’t even know if doing this is benefitting anyone anymore!”

After inquiring further about what we did when we got together, my friend stated, “You need to stop answering questions.”

I was shocked!  But you know he was right!  When I followed his advice, great discussions resumed, people started making life applications again, and I learned soon as an answer is given discussion is killed.  What’s worse, it shifts the focus of the group from going to the Scriptures seeking to hear what the Lord wants to say to them, to reading with a questioning mindset.

You see, at that time I didn’t know as much about the Old Testament so as we read through that we were all on fairly equal footing – we just accepted there were some things we weren’t going to get this go round, so we read for what we could understand, listening to hear whatever the Lord wanted to tell us.

But when we came to the New Testament, I’d done a bunch more study on this and often knew the answers to their questions.  And the more I answered, the more they started focusing on what they didn’t understand when they read, rather than on what they did understand and what God wanted to say to them through it!

So when they showed up for our “discussion group” – well at that point it became more of a “let’s go hear how Debbie will answer this” group.  Without me intending, the focus shifted from God to me.

You see, the Bible is the Living Word.  It’s the only book you ever read with the author right there with you any place, any time you sit down to read it!  And I don’t care if you study it full time every single day of your life, there is always more to learn!  Questions can be good if they get you to slow down and spend more time observing the passage, especially if they get you interacting with the author!  But if all you do when you read is come up with a bunch of questions which you ask another person to answer you miss out on the best part – relating with the author and having your life change as a result.

Whether we are leading a Bible study or meeting one on one with someone there is a vital need to fight dependence – I don’t want those I’m meeting with to become dependent on me.  Instead my job is to help them grow in depending on God!

To do this I have to remember I am a facilitator, not their savior.  I know that may sound like a no brainer, but I’m sad to say it can be so easy to slip into seeking to be the latter.

Trust me, it’s a huge ego boost when people are hanging on your every word, as well as seeing lives change as a result of doing what you suggest.  And it sure can be fun to show off what you know – especially when it impresses people!

But imagine if you were in Kindergarten and the teacher answered every question?!  You could ace every test … and never learn a thing!

Now the purpose here isn’t to encourage you to never answer a question!  But it certainly can be wise when investing in others, to ask, “Is our time together spurring them to depend more on the Lord or on me?”  Being aware of the danger is half the battle!  The rest is dying to ego!  This is a battle and often one that rages subconsciously.

But love seeks what’s best for the other person!  Is it ever worth it when we fight against people depending on us, and fight instead for them to depend on the Lord!  Even if it requires sometimes leaving questions unanswered…

 

 

 

Why I am Not a Fan of Using Devotionals for Quiet Times

I love books! As a voracious reader, I learn so much from the things people have written.  Just this past week I discovered a new Christian used book store here in town on my date with Jesus and I was like a kid in a candy shop!  I bought three books after putting four back (had to limit myself because I was on my bike with only a small backpack!) and devoured the first one that night!

So please understand… I do believe there is much value in reading the thoughts of others – but not during a quiet time!  With all my heart I believe this should be a sacred time, enjoyed daily, directly with the lover of your soul.

Yes, the Lord can and does speak to us in a number of ways.  He is an incredible communicator!  But I have found keeping my quiet time limited to the Lord, His Word and me during that special time makes such a difference in my life!

Why?

a.  Enjoying a quiet time this way is relational!

Now I’m well aware there are many who will disagree with me regarding the use of devotionals for Quiet Times.  And that’s totally fine! (I am not at all saying I think it’s wrong to do this, just not generally wise if its taking the place of you going directly to God’s Word – though if Jesus leads you to do this, by all means follow Him!!!)  But I know my dates with my husband wouldn’t be the same if someone else came along and I just listened to this person, no matter how wise or eloquent he was, tell me what he thought about what my husband said.  For a counseling appointment or at a dinner party that’s fine, but on a date I want to hear and experience Jim directly! :0)  And it’s the same in my times with the Lord.

b.   Enjoying a quiet time this way promotes growing in dependence on the Lord… not other people

I believe this is especially important when following up a new or young believer. Remember how 1 Peter 2:2 talks about how key “pure spiritual milk”  (or as the KJV says “the sincere milk of the Word”) is for growing?  A daily quiet time is a prime time for taking this in.

It’s so easy for young believers to develop a dependence on other people, to let others do their thinking for them, and then to be intimidated by how well written or how brilliant the thoughts in the devotional are and think, “I could never come up with anything like that.” So instead of directly learning to listen to the Holy Spirit teach them from His Word, they become dependent on people.

c.  Enjoying a quiet time this way helps people grow in valuing God’s Word

The Bible is not another book among books.

2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

And we’re told in Hebrews 4:12 “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword.  It penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

And in 2 Peter 1:20 we’re told, “But know this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

And in Isaiah 55 the Lord himself pleads, “Listen, listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” and then He compares His Word to the rain watering the earth and promises, “So is my Word that goes out of my mouth it will not return to me void, but will accomplish the purpose I have for it.”

What other book is like this?!!!

As I often say, my words are like .5 cents compared to God’s Word being a million dollars.  So let’s say the words of the most eloquent, mature Christian writer are worth $20.  What’s that compared to God’s Word?!  If I really care about someone don’t I long for them to maximally be enriched?!!!

d.  Enjoying a quiet time this way can help us learn in small bites to meditate on God’s Word and apply it

It’s work learning to meditate on God’s Word and diligently apply it.  This is why a daily quiet time is a discipline and as Hebrews 12:11 tells us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who’ve been trained by it.”  Did you catch that?  No discipline! Not one!  So this is not an easy thing to integrate into your life.

Reading a book can be a whole lot easier!  For me, reading is like a sweet reward.  It’s what I do to relax, refresh, recharge.  It’s all too easy to take the easy route – and really miss out!

Remember for growth you can’t “just read.” There also needs to be meditating on what you’re reading and then application.  Otherwise you end up like the foolish builder in Matthew 7 whose house came crashing down because it was built on sand.  This foolish man heard the Word, he just didn’t do anything in response to it!

It’s so easy to just read books and not do anything with what you’re reading.  (Granted, it’s easy to do this with God’s Word, too.  I can’t stress enough how vital practical application of God’s Word is!  So I will concur someone who takes whatever morsel of God’s Word they find in a devotional and meditates on it and actively applies it in a life changing way is better off than someone who reads multiple chapters from their Bible each day and does nothing with it!  But why settle for this when you can go directly to God’s word and reap maximum benefit?!)

e. Enjoying a quiet time this way becomes a time of experiencing the Lord!

Just as when I meet with someone, it’s so much more valuable if they discover something rather than me telling them – so I want them to experience the joy of God opening their eyes so they can see wonderful things in His Word!  This is a powerful way of experiencing the presence and wisdom of the Lord.  He really is an amazing communicator.  What a difference it can make in our relationship as well as our lives when we experience this first hand!

f.  Enjoying a quiet time this way is transformational not simply informational!

In America, we are so caught up with knowing information.  And sadly it’s so easy to mistake knowing something in our heads with truly being transformed by it!  God’s Word has such power to transform our lives as we live it out.  Far better to have a simple thought from God’s Word that you live out and changes you, rather than the most brilliant thought that simply fills your brain.

Yes, there are many devotionals that contain incredible thoughts.  I have benefitted greatly from the writings of Oswald Chambers, especially.  But please note he didn’t deliver these as quiet time material.  His wife faithfully wrote down what he shared in messages!

It’s fine to read writings like these and you may benefit greatly from them – but I highly recommend reading them as you would any other book and saving your quiet time for special time enjoying and interacting directly with Jesus through His Word!

(NOTE:  for more information on a simple but highly transformational way of structuring quiet times with an emphasis on meditation and application, check out the article “The Treasure of Shared Quiet Times” found in the “Helps!” section)

The Right Stuff!

The right tools sure can make a job easier!  Imagine trying to cut your grass with scissors?!  Or your hair with a chain saw?!  Without the right tools – at best you can end up frustrated, at worse, a bloody mess!

It’s the same way when discipling.  Proverbs 25:11 states, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” ~  is that ever true for a tool aptly given!

One friend was struggling in her prayer life – when I shared how I use index cards on a ring to record prayer requests and then take them with me when I’m walking and praying, she got so excited!!!  You wouldn’t believe the life this simple idea has breathed into her praying!

Another tool that’s really been enhancing my prayer life is the ACTS acronym.  Each night before bed I pull out a composition notebook and spend time in Adoration writing down what comes to mind as I remember who the Lord is and praise Him for this!  Then I spend time Confessing my sins.  It’s amazing how much better I sleep when I’ve taken time to agree with God about the ways I’ve blown it and how much more I appreciate Him after coming face to face with how much He’s forgiven me.  Does that ever flow naturally into Thanksgiving, which really helps fight against focusing on what I don’t have.   And then I share what’s on my heart with the Lord through Supplication.  Over and over I’m amazed at how He answers these requests.  Having a written record where I see Him in action doing this certainly does add to my joy!  Now I could pray before nodding off without this, but I find this tool really stretches me and helps me pray in ways I might not naturally.

One big difference between someone who has been discipling women for thirty years versus someone who has just started is the size of her toolbox!  In Matthew 13:52 we’re told  “And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Can those treasures ever be of great value!  There is so much we can learn from others!  In fact, that’s one of the things I love about summer training programs – or any place where people who love to disciple gather together – it’s such a great opportunity to swap tools and discover new treasures the Lord has given to someone else!  Can this ever save you time and keep you from having to re-invent the wheel!

But tools can be dangerous too.

Just as you can’t do everything with a hammer – there is not one tool that is good for everything or everybody!

Sometimes we can get so excited when we see the difference a tool is making in someone’s life we think everyone should be using this.  But note that word “aptly” in Proverbs 25:11.  “Apt” means “suitable or appropriate for the circumstances.”

Don’t become tool dependent, thinking “this worked in the past, of course it’s the best for now!”  Instead, make certain you are always depending on the Lord!  Only He truly knows what is suitable or appropriate for any given circumstance or person – and remember His ways aren’t our ways!

And don’t let the enemy deceive you into thinking you don’t have what it takes if there’s barely anything in your toolbox!

A discipler following Jesus with a tiny toolbox, is infinitely better off than someone with a loaded toolbox who depends solely on her tools!

You see, there really is just one tool that’s vital – the Word of God!  From this one treasure the Lord can give you any number of ideas for ways of creatively applying it!

When one of my friends went to Africa, he found the tools that worked in America weren’t as effective over there ~ and He had a HUGE tool box!  So what did He do?  He went to the Lord and using His Word discovered new ways of ministering to those the Lord brought into His life!

Even seasoned disciplers sometimes need to start from scratch!

So what does it look like to have the right stuff?  If you have Jesus and His Word you’re good to go!

But don’t dis the tools – seek to keep adding to your toolbox all you can – for when you use them as Jesus directs they can be an amazing help!  Just never rely on them instead of Him!