4 Not-So Secret Questions for Helping Us Understand the Bible Better

Believers all around the globe love spending time reading the Bible. Interpreting and understanding the Bible isn’t always easy. Sure, parts of it are pure and straightforward, and easily grasped. Other parts require more careful reading and deeper study. Because the words of the Bible were written to a different culture with far different customs and traditions than our own, speaking in forgotten and faded languages, facing daunting situations over a vast period. We know that there are lessons contained within its chapters and principles underpinning its passages that apply to us 21st century Christians today.  How do we cross the divide between then and now?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Frequently, fellow believers ask me, “How can I understand God’s Word better?”

For me, what works are answering the following four questions whenever I approach a text.

  1. What did the text mean to the original biblical audience for whom it was intended?
    1. Observe everything you can about the text.
      1. What are the significant words in the passage?
      2. How does the passage relate to the one immediately before it?
      3. How does the passage relate to the one immediately following it?
      4. What is the historical and literary context of the passage?
      5. Based on your observations, in 2-3 sentences, summarize what the passage meant to original audience.
  1. What differences are there between the original hearers and us?
    1. How wide is the divide between them and us?
      1. How does their culture, language, situation, place in time differ from us today?
      2. What covenant reigns over the passage? Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic? Old or New?
  2. What is the theological principle contained in the text?
    1. The theological principle is part of the meaning of the passage.
    2. As readers, our job is to discover not create the meaning.
    3. While in Scripture, God speaks to a particular group, teaching them specific things, Scripture contains universal theological teachings for all believers throughout time.
  3. As a Christian living in today’s world, how do I apply the theological principle in my life?
    1. How does the 21s Century Christian implement God’s Word given then, to the real-life situations they are facing today?

As you study God’s Word, know I’m praying for you.

Bibles

Next time, we’ll look at some things to look for as we chew on pieces of God’s Word.

Prayer Is Action

Genesis 4:26
And then Seth had a son whom he named Enosh.
That’s when men and women began praying and worshiping in the name of GOD.
Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ge 4:26). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Recently, in the light of events happening in our city and throughout the world, I’ve had several people ask “Aside from praying, what can we do?” In various social media platforms and on different media channels, I’ve heard people clamoring that “praying is not enough” and that we need to “take action” or “do something” instead of just praying about it.

For centuries, people have prayed. There is something instinctive about prayer. We know that we need to do it and that we can do it. We may not know how. Like Jesus’ disciples, we need the Lord to teach us to pray.

Prayer is action.

When we pray, we are doing something. And not just something simple, but something significant. Prayer has power. Throughout centuries, men and women have been praying to God and witnessing the results of those prayers. But we don’t pray just to get results. We pray to communicate and build relationship with God. God rewards faithfulness. The more faithful we are in our prayer life, the more readily God responds when we call on His name. Are you not more likely to heed the call of a friend than a stranger?

God is faithful even when we are not. Even though we may not practice prayer regularly like we should or constantly like Scripture instructs we should, God hears our calls and cries in our moments of desperation and frustration. Why? Because God is good and God wants to help us. God is for us, not against us.

Morning

Prayer works.

Scripture demonstrates often how people cry out to God and He responds. When we pray, we are doing something. We are reaching out to the all-powerful, all-mighty Creator of Everything, who is able to do all things, and for whom nothing is impossible. If God can’t solve it, it can’t be solved. And we know there is no mountain too high for God to climb, no problem to great for Him to resolve.

Prayer flourishes through commitment.

But prayer isn’t just something we should reserve for times of trouble, but rather a way of life we must strive to grow in daily. If want to see powerful results from our prayers, than we must be willing to put in the time to become powerful prayer warriors. Warriors aren’t formed after a few sit-ups or a couple of push-ups. Great weapons aren’t forged by a few bangs on a piece of metal or by a few moments in the fire. Rarely do we know how to fully use a tool properly without practice.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

No matter how long we have exercised prayer,  we continue to grow in it daily. It takes practice. Like the disciples, who had grown up living in a culture that prayed, God can teach us more about prayer. As we communicate and fellowship with Him–something we do through prayer–the Lord instructs us in His ways and teaches us how to do things.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray like they heard him pray, he gave them this model found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 11, verses 2-4:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 11:2–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Yes, there are other physical things we must do to right the wrongs we see and ease the suffering we witness. Prayer is a launching point and the sustaining bread that fuels us as we seek to impact the world for God’s glory. Prayer is action.

Yes, Act. But, Pray Also.

The world watched again with horror and trepidation as homicidal killers attacked Brussels detonating bombs, killing many and injuring even more. No matter how often these things happen, we do not get used to them. We do not grow numb to the tragedy of lives lost.

If your beliefs or your cause lead you to take the lives of others to prove how faithful or devout you are, you should probably reconsider your beliefs and who you claim to be following because it certainly isn’t God.

There has been a lot of noise about how we are to respond both as a nation and as individuals. As a nation, we should stand with our neighbors, particularly our allies. As individuals, we can respond in two ways.

One, take action. Donate to those organizations helping those that found themselves unexpectedly in harm’s way.We know that faith without works is dead.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:14-17 (ESV)

Second, and not least, pray. Yes, pray.

Prayer warriors around the globe know that prayer works. They have witnessed it. They have seen their prayers have an impact. They can testify to changed lives and altered courses.

Science supports what many of us know. Prayer has benefits. Prayer doesn’t just make you feel good. Prayer is not an empty, meaningless action. To the contrary, the Bible proclaims that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16, ESV)

Jesus, himself, taught that prayer can do great things.

So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

I am aware that there are some, like lawyer Andrew L. Seidel, who would have you believe that your prayers are a waste and that religion is the problem, not the solution. And he is certainly free to think that way and express his opinion.

On Tuesday, Mr. Seidel wrote:

To everyone who suggests that we pray for ‪#‎Brussels‬, more religion is not the answer to this problem. And while those prayers might make you feel good, that’s all they are doing. Instead, try donating to a charity, like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), that actually gets on the ground and helps people. Or donate to an anti-extremist charity the Maajid Nawaz‘s QuilliamFoundation and help fight what is likely the cause of these attacks. Pray if you must, but in addition to action, not as a substitute, and don’t expect much from your prayers. Religion is not the solution, it’s the problem.

‪#‎PrayForBrussels‬? Not so much.

However, faith is not the problem. Religion is not the cause of the suffering we see on the streets of Brussels and that we have seen numerous times in other places, like Paris and New York City. Misguided beliefs and fanatically following false dogma are the problem. Those blowing themselves up and murdering, crippling and harming others in the process are the problem. Faith does not require them to do this. God does not call them to do this. No, this is man-made, a man-generated fallacy.

Yes, act. But pray also.

Contrary to Mr. Seidel’s views, prayer does work. Millions of people throughout history have experienced this and know that prayer is powerful. I’ve seen the effects and results of prayer in my life personally. I’m thankful for the many prayers God has answered and even more grateful for the many prayers He did not answer—at least not in a way I would have liked at the time or in a manner that I recognized. Sometimes God answers silently, working in ways we do not see. Other times God responds loudly, like when He heals wounds, cures people from disease, sustains life and extends it beyond what medical doctors and modern science thought was possible.

So by all means, pray.

Yes, take action. Donate to organizations like the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, and Doctors Without Borders. After you give, pray. Pray that your donations to boots-on-the-ground organizations meet the needs of those reeling from the Brussels attacks. Pray for the people of Belgium especially those fighting for life and those mourning the loss of loved ones. It will not only make you feel good, but it will give them comfort as well. It will remind them that in spite of what one man does to another man, God is still in control and whatever suffering we endure here and now is temporary. Homicidal fanatics can take our lives physically, but they cannot have our souls.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

People are free to believe however they choose. If someone wants nothing to do with the Divine, that’s their deal. Please, don’t let their voices silence you. Do not let the clamor of fools paralyze you.

Pray Without Ceasing

 Yes, act. But pray, also.

While you’re praying, pray for Andrew Seidel. It sounds like he could use our prayers.