Practical Tools for Studying and Teaching the Word

Sept. 26, 2015 Jen Wilkin

Session Transcript

Jen Wilkin: All right, so this is my third time to get to be with you and my hope in this session is that I will be able to put into your hands tools to help you be the unashamed worker as you handle the Word of truth. And so we’re going to get very specific in this session.

And you probably noticed that when Pastor Mason was teaching he had three points every time. Do you know why he did that? Because that’s what an excellent public speaker does. And so I just thought I’d like to tell you up front, I have nine. [laughter] And you’re in excellent hands. You can trust me. There will be nine.

My hope is that we can learn how to better utilize our time interacting with the Scriptures to affect transformation in ourselves and in those we teach. And so how do we do that?

I don’t intend to tell you that there is only one way that this happens. But I will say that I believe there are foundational ways that this happens and then there are sort of additional ways that this happens. So my hope is always that we will be able to distinguish between that which is foundational and then that which is not so that we can make sure that we are approaching our time in the Word in a way that makes sense.

Many of us have thought for years that because we’ve honored the practice of sitting down to have a quiet time or a time with the Lord that we are growing in literacy. But if my inbox is any indication, if the article that I read you earlier is carrying any truth, and if the stories that I hear from women repeatedly are accurate, it could very well be that you could have spent the last thirty years in church and still find yourself carrying around almost a dirty little secret of where you always feel like, “I should know it better.”

Now I’m going to tell you, I’m going to feel until the day I die that I should know it better. But it is true that over the course of our lifetime we should be growing in our ability to handle this. And women come up to me so apologetically all the time and say, “I’ve been in a church my whole life. No one has told me how to do this.”

I don’t ever want to assume that people have a foundational understanding of the Scripture or of how to get a foundational understanding of the Scripture. And if you intend to teach women, I don’t want you to assume that, either. We cannot afford to assume that. We need to assume to start at the lowest point and work up from there.

What I’m going to describe for you is a way to get a foundational understanding of Scripture. I think that sometimes when I talk about this people can get the idea that I think that a topical study is something written by the devil. I am in the process of publishing a book on a topic, okay. So just know I do not think that topical studies or a topical approach to looking at the Scripture is not a valuable thing or is bad at all. I think it’s fantastic. I think they help us to integrate broad concepts from Scripture. They are a form of teaching, and they often incorporate study elements. But what they do is they attach Scripture to a topic. And what I would like to show you today is how to let Scripture introduce a topic as you’re going through a passage. They are two different things. And again, both are beneficial. One is foundational.

I think what has often happened with women in the church today is we have assumed that the foundational piece is in place when it’s not, and we continue to hand them only a diet of topical things. And there must be some balance there.

The first point that of my nine points (which are probably going to go fine) is that you would ask yourself and your students to distinguish between devotional reading and studying. Or just between topical studies and line-by-line study of the Bible. So make a distinction between these things.

You know what devotional reading is, right? It’s like you might read a psalm and meditate on it. It’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a wonderful thing. But the problem is that left to our own devices and because we are so in touch with our emotions, a lot of times women will tend to gravitate toward only devotional reading or toward only topical study. And so, again, I’m going to push you on what’s hard for you. I’m going to say, “Let’s make sure that we’re doing the foundational piece.”

Identify how much time are you spending on each kind of activity. And then ask yourself, Have I allocated enough of my time? and ask your students, “Have I allocated enough of my time to building a foundational understanding of the Scripture?” So the first is to distinguish between the different types of reading.

And here’s another distinction you might want to make. There’s a difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible. Reading is so you that can get breadth. Studying is so that you can get depth. Both are beneficial.

I’m never going to tell you don’t do a Bible reading plan where you go through the Bible in a whole year. I am going to tell you you’re going to get something different from that than you will if you are going at a slower pace through a book. So distinguish between different types of reading and studying. Identify those that are foundational. Give them enough time.

Second, remember who the Bible is about. Remember who the Bible is about. Nancy spent some time on this yesterday. But just in case we were a little foggy on that with the after lunchtime crowd. Who is the Bible a book about? God. The Bible is a book about God. And so it’s not that I think that you don’t know that or that the women you will be teaching don’t know that. The problem is that we often say that the Bible is a book about God and then read it as though it is a book about us. That’s right.

And so one of your primary challenges as a teacher will be to keep reframing the discussion so that they are looking in the text not first for what is true about who they are but first for what is true about who He is. This is a book about who God is before it is a book about who we are. It is definitely a book about who we are. But the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand-in-hand. In fact, there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.

When I read in Scripture a story that proclaims God as being merciful and then I see myself in relation to the infinite mercy of God, what do I learn about my own mercifulness? It’s not good, right? Like I see my own ability to show mercy in a different light. And as long as I’m measuring myself against the person sitting next to me, I can probably feel pretty decent about how merciful I am. But the moment that I see a vision of God high and lifted up with infinite mercy, I understand my deficit. And my heart breaks because the Holy Spirit intends for it to. I cry out to the Lord, “Change my desires.”

The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand-in-hand. The Bible is a book about God. So we must repeatedly remind our women to read it as such.

The first question I tell my women to ask when they read is, “What are you seeing about God in the text?” Now, the more time they spend in the text that may alter, it may grow, but that’s a starting point for them.

So distinguish between different types of reading, remember who the Bible is about. The Bible is a book about God.

Third, take a long-term view. Encourage your women to take a long-term view. I mentioned earlier how it’s no secret that we are in an instant gratification culture. And so often that filters into our time interacting with the Scriptures. I want to give ten minutes of my focus to this, and I want to immediately have a reward.

We have a debit card mentality when it comes to Bible study, so often. We are just wanting to get through the day, right? So I want to put in my ten minutes, stick my card in the machine, withdraw what I need to get me to 5:00 or to 9:00 or whatever it is. And then just get my tank filled for the day.

I need your help getting women to reframe their understanding of Bible study not as a debit account but as a savings account. It is a savings account into which we faithfully place deposits day after day, week after week, year after year. Even if in the ten minutes that I have to give to it that day there is no emotional reward that is yielded to me at that time. That I put those deposits in, I get to the end of reading the genealogies in Genesis, and I go, “What just happened?” But I’m out of time. “Father, I trust You. I’m putting it in the account.”

And so you may not be able to garner perfect understanding of the passage in that moment when you’re in it, but you can trust that the Lord will yield a return on your investment. And who knows? What if twenty years from now when you are in the dark night of the soul that is when a passage finally becomes clear to you? Would that be enough for you? It would be more than enough.

One of my first Bible teachers was a woman named Joy Gilmore. And Joy taught us faithfully through the book of Romans over a period of two years. And I lost contact with her for a while. And after the book came out, she found me again on Facebook. There’s been this real weird thing like, “Are you that same girl who was a total underachiever in my Bible study class?” Like I think that’s kind of what they’re all thinking in their heads, right? “Is that you? You wrote a book? Really? Huh.”

No. Her attitude was actually not like that at all. She was fantastic. She was like, “It’s so great to see you. What’s going on?” And I said, “Well, tell me what’s going on with you.” And she said, “I was recently diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer and the God who I have devoted my life to studying in His Word is showing Himself to be every bit as faithful as He has said.”

She’s had a savings account. And she’s put deposits in it year after year after year. And she’s in a dark night of the soul, and He’s absolutely who He said He would be. Do you think she regrets one minute of the time she has put into that faithful study? Not one. Take a long-term view.

What this will require if you have a savings account mentality and you devote that to your teaching and to what you’re giving to women, it will mean that we have to honor the learning process in a different way than we have.

The learning process will not be rushed. No one gets to be a concert violinist overnight. Like I said, the first time they sat down to play the violin it was difficult. And you know what they did? They came back, and they did it again. And then they came back, and they did it again. And they came back, and they did it again and so on and so on and so on.

Years ago, the world’s foremost cellist was interviewed in Reader’s Digest magazine and he was asked, “Why do you continue at age eighty-three to practice five hours a day?” And his response was, “Because I think I’m making progress.” [laughter]

Lord, let that be me! Let that be me, right? Studying my way out the door. I think I’m making progress. We have to honor the learning process. We have to understand that it is a long-term perspective.

Number four: Teach your students to stay put. Teach them to stay put. This is such a difficult thing. I was talking to some girls during the break who are helping with middle school. They’re teaching middle school girls. And they are in a particularly difficult situation because I don’t know if you’ve been around middle schoolers lately. They don’t stay put like on any level. And then they’ve got the phone, and you can get anywhere on it. Because I’m certainly not like that. It’s just their problem. It’s not mine at all, right? [laughter]

We are increasingly inhabiting environments where nobody stays put anywhere much less with Bible study. We need to train our people to pick a book or a passage and stay there. I love cross references. We’re going to talk about them in just a minute. But I’m telling you, don’t go to the cross reference until you have sat in the passage. Teach your women to pick a book and stay there.

We want our women to have not a spot knowledge of the Scripture but a cohesive understanding. And women who have existed on a steady diet of topical studies can’t hope for much more than a spot knowledge of Scripture because it’s been pulled from here and here and here and here, and they get to the end of a topical study and even if it’s good and is beneficial, many women walk away with a sensation of, “Wow! How did she pull that off? How did that woman put that study together?”

But I know how that woman put that study together. She knows how to stay put in her own personal study time. So, I’m here to tell you if you decide that topical study is your m.o., like that’s how you’re going to teach, I’m for it. But I’m telling you, in your personal time, you need to know how to pick a book and stay there. Stay put. Because if you don’t have comprehensive knowledge of the passage, you run a high risk of not being able to pass it on to someone else in its proper context with a proper understanding. So it’s a safeguard, but it’s also a beautiful practice.

Here’s the thing. Anytime you teach, remember that the text is too beautiful to mention only in passing or to use only as a springboard. Sit there. Let them soak in it. Don’t rush to the next thing.

Number five: Study all of it. What does the Bible say about itself? How much of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable? All. And if that is true, then how much of it ought we to study? All of it. That is right. Now, not today. Not by the end of the day. But how about when you’re eighty-three. You still think you’re making progress, right? How great would that be?

This means that we push our women to spend time in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. We give them an understanding that the Bible does not have pink parts and blue parts. Like Ruth and Esther, I know you love them. Maybe put them down for a while and go somewhere else. Yes, there is infinite gain to be had from studying them.

Maybe get out of the Psalms. Okay? Psalms are fantastic. I think it’s fair to say that there are portions of Scripture that feel more readily accessible to us than others. But be very cautious that you are not leading your women only into the places that they will go on their own. All right?

I taught through Judges—a women’s Bible study. Do you know how women are treated in Judges? And you can’t end on a high note. There is no high note. And then they chopped up a concubine and they raped a bunch of women and everybody went home. Okay. Have a good summer. We’ll see you in the fall. [laughter]

You know why I taught Judges? Because I didn’t want to study Judges. Oh, and by the way, it was a fantastic study. It was fantastic. There were so many important woman figures in that study. Like I didn’t have to turn it into a study that was suitable for women; it already was because it’s telling a compelling story about women throughout the book.

And I didn’t even know that when I started out. Do you know why? Because I’m still learning. But so often when we choose what we want to teach to other women, we choose that with which we feel a high comfort level. How much better if we took them to the place that even we are scared to go?

I was terrified. They came back. And we found the message in there of redemption that we all needed to hear because it was waiting there for us. In one of the darkest stories in the Bible there is hope and beauty. But it wasn’t easy.

So we study all of it. Old Testament and New Testament, genealogies, Levitical laws. We make it our hope that we will get to all of it and in an order that makes us uncomfortable. So be sure that you are working in such a way that your women are getting full coverage of the Scriptures.

Number six: Honor the context. Honor the context. Now, there are several levels of context that we need to make sure we honor any time we are in a particular passage. One of them is just this base level of what I call the archeological questions. So anytime you sit down to study a book of the Bible, before you sit down to read, you need to orient yourself to where that book lives or lived. Because before any book of the Bible is written to you and me, it was written to someone else. And so we need to try and get inside of the skin a little bit of its original hearers because there are going to be some important things for us to take from that.

If you have just a basic study Bible, right? Or the people that you are teaching have a basic study Bible they can turn to the front of it, and before they start into a book they can read. Who wrote the book? To whom was it written? When was it written? What are the major themes? What kind of book is it? What is its genre, as we’ll get into in just a minute?

And so you’re going to ask them to take an ancient mind-set—to put their eyes on an ancient context and then read the book or passage in light of that. Again, is this something that you necessarily have to do for them? This is the perfect example of something that you could say, “Hey, we’re going to get together next week, and we’re going to start the book of James. And before we do, I want you to answer these five questions about the book: Who wrote it? To whom was it written? When was it written? What is the style of the book? What are the major themes?”

That’s it. And then they get together, and you can talk about it. You can then build in a little bit more cultural perspective for them as you go. What we cannot do is commit cultural imperialism when we read a text. We cannot impose our modern mind-set on an ancient text any way that we want.

One of the important aspects of biblical interpretation that we have to keep in view is that a text cannot mean something to me that it never could have meant to its original hearers. Now, based from what I see on Instagram this might be falling by the way just a little bit.

We play such a premium on this personal message that is coming to me. And can you hear the individualism ring in there? And how many of those personal revelations that people have . . . I’m not saying that none of them are valid. But how many of them would hold up in a decent small group discussion where people are being honest?

“Hey, I get that you like this idea but it’s not there, my friend.” Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to talk about what the text means. There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author. Now, we know the author is God but it also has a human author as well. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader. Not assigned by the reader, it is discovered by the reader.

Your job is not to read something and then place whatever lens you feel belongs on it. Your job is to ask, “What did the author want me to know from what he has written here?” Those are two totally different things, and we need to help our women get into that mind-set. Meaning is determined by the author and discovered by the reader. We are digging for buried treasure.

The other kind of context that we need is textual context. So if you pull a particular passage out to teach to your women, be sure that you have built around it all the context that it needs for them to know what they need to when you read that text.

Try to avoid just reading a verse and then going on to whatever your point is because you were just using the verse to prop up a point. This is so, so important because it helps militate against that spot knowledge thing that we run up against. And it really, really makes a difference.

So my kids go to public school. It’s probably going to be fine. [laughter] They’re at a huge high school. It looks like an airport more than a high school. And we’re in a fairly affluent area. There’s a lot of drugs and stuff like that. And so you’re always trying to be ready when the kids are home like, “Is there going to be a conversation today? Will I have the right words?” You know, you just never know. And like with teenagers if you have them, you don’t know. It could be 12:00 at night, and all of a sudden they’re ready to talk and you’re like, “Oh my gosh! I’m so tired.”

One particular day recently, my son comes in from high school and he’s in the kitchen and he’s doing that making the afterschool sandwich you know, because they’re like newborns. They never sleep. They eat constantly. And they make a ton of laundry. [laughter]

So he’s in the kitchen. He’s making his sandwich. He’s got his head down. He’s kind of thoughtful. And he says, “Mom.” “What?” “Today Stephen got stoned.” And I’m like, I think this is it. I think it’s go time. So I’m like, Get the right expression on your face. Look calm. Think of calming words.

“Baby, I haven’t heard you talk about Stephen. Is he a close friend of yours? Is he in choir with you? How do you know him? Are his parents aware of what’s going on in Stephen’s life?”

And he stopped spreading the peanut butter, and he looked at me and he goes, “What are you talking about?” [laughter] And I said, “What are you talking about?” [laughter] And he said, “Mom, in my quiet time this morning I’m reading Acts. And Stephen got stoned.” [laughter]

That’s better. That’s better than what I was thinking. Context matters. [laughter] Context matters. Be responsible to teach a text within its context. Think of the trouble you could cause. Think of the great good you could do if you will take the extra time to build the context around it.

Number seven: Understand genres. I like to think that right now wherever Carol Wagner, my high school English teacher, is, she is smiling quietly to herself and thinking, I got one. Because this is important for any book that you read and it is equally important for the Bible, which is many things but at its most basic level is certainly a book. It is not magical. It is not mystical. The Holy Spirit does speak to us through it, but it is a book and we should treat it with at least the respect that we would give to a common textbook.

You would not walk into algebra and flip to the middle of your algebra text and sit down and read a paragraph and sit and meditate on it and say, “How does that change my life today?” You would not do that. And you would not come back the next day and do it again. And you would not do it for a whole semester and then expect to what? Pass algebra, right? Why would we treat this book in the same way?

We need to give this the same respect that we would give to any book. And so we need to ask when we’re reading, there are many different genres within the Bible. And each has its own set of rules for interpretation. Am I reading historical narrative? I need to read that a certain way. Am I reading poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature? What am I looking at and what are the rules? And this is not hard to do. You can go out to the Googles, and they will tell you the rules for the different genres. You might want to look at something that is specific for Bible genres because there are some specific elements to this that you will want to look into. But we cannot do justice to a text.

You know a lot of times, probably one of the most common ways that this plays out is that we tend to read a principle as a promise. Right? So we read the Proverbs, which are principles—generally true if adhered to. And we’re like, “I’m claiming that.” But you can’t claim a principle. Now there are promises that are great for us to cling to, but you got to know am I looking at a promise or am I looking at a principle? Because you can really throw people into some serious disillusionment when they’re like, “Well, I claimed that if I trained up this child then he would come back to the Lord. And I did my part. So why is the Lord letting me down?”

I don’t want to put women in that. Do you want to put women in that situation? No. I want them to understand the difference between a principle and a promise. I want to carefully guide them so that they can see this is dependable. This is reliable. It does have hope for you. Take it on its terms, though, not on your terms. So we have to understand genres.

Number eight: Use proven tools. Use proven tools. Now, I like to divide these into three different categories. You want in the learning process to move through three different stages. You want to start with comprehension. Now I know that a lot of authors refer to this as observation. If you’re familiar with observation, interpretation, application.

I like the term “comprehension.” I’m just a little bit ticky about it just because to me when I hear “observation” it sounds a little subjective. I don’t want to know what you think you see. I want to know what you think the author has placed in the text. So it’s a ticky thing with me. I like to say “comprehension.” Plus then it’s “C-I-A,” and that’s easy to remember and teachers love that kind of stuff. So comprehension, interpretation, application.

For comprehension, the tools that you want to give to your women first is repetitive reading. We’ve already touched on that. Repetitive reading. We’ve talked about the power that Scripture has when it’s just read aloud.

I think about how in Nehemiah how they rediscover the Book of the Law and it’s read from the morning all the way through the day. How do the people respond? They’re weeping. I mean it’s not even being preached to them. It’s just being read over them. So when you are giving out your homework to your group, because I know you’re all going to do that now. You’re saying, “Hey, just try it. Just read it. Just see what happens.” And you’re like, “Good luck.” Because when you read it, it does. It starts to work on you just through the reading.

You can encourage them to repetitive reading. I call this the “lazy girl’s Scripture memory method.” The more I hear it over and over again, the more it gets inside of me.  And now we have things like YouVersion where you can have it read to you while you’re exercising or while you’re driving in your car. Someone can read Scripture to you. That’s fantastic. So think creatively about ways to help them read repetitively.

Another comprehension tool that is very useful is to look at multiple translations. So you read through it; you’re confused. What do I do? And you go and you look at a different translation to see how another translator looked at the original language and then brought it into the English language.

Be aware of the difference between a translation and a paraphrase. A paraphrase is someone putting the passage into terms that are easy for us hear. It’s usually responsible to the original language but it is not a translation. It is better regarded as commentary. Okay? Think of it as commentary. We’re going to talk about commentary more in just a second. So I think it’s useful. But I think this is not the stage in the learning process where you want to start using a paraphrase.

So repetitive reading, checking multiple translations, looking up words in the English dictionary. I did not say Hebrew/Greek lexicon. Do you know why? Because I could get into a whole lot of trouble in the Hebrew/Greek lexicon as someone who doesn’t know Hebrew and Greek. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t learn to go there. I think there are great tools. I think Logos can help you with that a whole lot.

You can do that. But with your students who are just starting out, just encourage them, “Hey, when you hit a word and you’re like ‘I know what that means like “trespasses,” but maybe I can look it up and just see if the definition gets me thinking a little bit more.’”

And then annotating. And so what I do is I ask my women, or we provide in the Bible study a double-spaced copy of the text for them. And we do entire books of the Bible from start to finish. So they get this double-spaced copy of the text. Now, I don’t tell them to get all crazy with it. But I do say, “Hey, look for some things. Look for repeated words and phrases. Write your attributes that you see of God out in the margin to the side.”

And I give them some tools to build around. And summarize things. Another fantastic thing is to paraphrase. Write things in your own words because it’s forcing you to get closer and closer to the text and to build firsthand knowledge.

Why not write it in your Bible? Why not just put it in here? Then I’ll have it all in one place. Because if you’re doing justice to this process, you don’t have enough room in here. You really don’t. And we’re scared to write in here, right? Like, “I don’t want to scribble it out.” Get yourself a nice, nasty white piece of paper that you can do whatever you need to do to it. And if you don’t like the way it turned out, print it out again and start over. Give yourself some freedom in that to get close to the text.

Comprehension and then interpretation. So when we start to move from asking, “What does it say?” to answering the question, “What does it mean?” we reflect back on our archaeological questions that we’ve answered. The ones that helped us put it back in to an ancient perspective and we read in light of that. So we draw our meaning based on that reference point.

And then we begin to look at cross references. We begin to see other places in Scripture that are talking about the same things. And those can help us build our understanding. And as our understanding builds, we keep on with that paraphrasing activity.

Now, the first time that we start paraphrasing and encouraging our women to, they are going to be like, “That’s hard. I didn’t like it. I’m bad at it. Let’s not do that again.” And you’re going to say, “Give yourself permission to get better at it. It’s okay to write a bad paraphrase. You can always go back and clean it up later if you want to. But start somewhere.”

And then after you’ve done comprehension and interpretation, you move on to application. Application. And so, I have a handout for you. Application is where they begin to ask the question of, “How should it change me?” And the way that I frame up application, even if you don’t have, I’m going to give you some pointers in this handout that are not unique to me. They’re things that just kind of live in these conversations, and so it will give you an example of how you can think through application questions to pull from a text.

But the place that I start with application is to go back to that question of “What did I see about God? Now, how do I see myself in relation to that?” And then, “How should it change me?” That’s my easiest starting point if I don’t have a list to spur my memory along to anything else.

One last thing before we turn to the handout because I want to give you a chance to do this yourself. Afternoon! Sleepy girls. Doing a handout. This last thing is really important. It’s actually number eight. And there will be a ninth point in a minute.

Dwell in the “I don’t know.” Dwell in the “I don’t know.” This is everyone’s favorite thing. I ask my women and I’m asking you to ask your women to avoid consulting commentaries until they have attempted comprehension, interpretation, and application on their own. So that means that if you have a study Bible and you hit the difficult passage, what do you want to do? “I do not understand this. I feel dumb. I feel the dissonance of what I don’t know. I want that to go away immediately.” So I pop my head down there. “Well, now I understand it.” Great. Thunk. Flip the page. Keep going.

When we don’t fight for understanding on our own, when we don’t feel the dissonance of what we don’t know, the learning process gets short-circuited. And you know what you have just done? You have short-circuited your ability to retain what you are learning.

Have you ever gotten lost somewhere? Nobody gets lost anymore because we all have smart phones, right? So just think back. Think back to the sheer adrenaline panic of being lost somewhere that’s probably from your childhood at this point.

Now, if you’ve ever been lost getting from location A to location B, it’s a terrible, terrible feeling. But eventually you find your way to location B. And do you ever forget how to get there again? No. Why? Because the learning process has been honored. You have felt the extent of what you do not know. And now the path is etched on your brain forever. We need to do that with the Scriptures.

A study Bible is a fantastic tool, but it has its place in the learning process. And so I tell my women to get a copy of the Bible that doesn’t have any study notes that you can use as you’re going through this initial process yourself. And then at the right time after you have done your work, then you can go and consult commentaries.

What are commentaries? They’re podcasts; they’re sermons; they’re any form of teaching; they’re anything about the Bible. And you know why this is so important? You remember that I said we have to have firsthand knowledge of the text in order to guard against false teaching? Well, it’s more than that. It’s just to get to the closest interpretation that we are going to own as we love God with all our minds.

Because when you lay out three commentaries in front of you, what do you find over the same passage? Very often they say three different things. So how can we know which of these interpretations fits best with the text? Well, hopefully we’ve spent a lot of time in the text.

So dwell in the “I don’t know.” Avoid commentaries and study Bibles until you have attempted comprehension, interpretation, and application on your own.

In your booklet that you have, if you would turn to page eighteen, I have chosen for you a passage. And I am telling you, I agonized this week over which passage to give you. I was like, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to give them an exercise over this. I mean, I’ve got the whole Bible. What’s going to be the right one? What’s going to be the best fit?”

And I ended up going with this for a particular reason. It’s on page eighteen, and you’ll see it is Matthew 6:5–15. So what you don’t have time for as you start looking at this and working through some of these particular tools, you’re only going to have a few minutes to do this. You’re not going to have time to do repetitive reading. And so, I thought to myself, I will give them a passage that everybody knows. You probably have memorized at least half of it, which is pretty great. So I went to the Lord’s Prayer.

Now, that’s going to present a unique challenge as I’m asking you to work through this. That is because I know . . . who in here has not ever heard anything taught over the Lord’s Prayer? It’s embarrassing because you’re probably not going to raise your hand, right? Because everybody has been around long enough to know, “Oh, I’m supposed to know that one for sure!”

You have in your head commentary living in there. I know this already. You think you know what the Lord’s Prayer means. Because someone has told you stuff about it. And that’s fine. But the reason I chose this passage is because it will be a good chance for you to shut down that voice and try to look at a familiar passage with fresh eyes. All right?

I don’t want you, as you’re marking up your text to write, “I remember when Pastor Jim taught this. It meant blah, blah, blah.” That’s not what we’re looking for. I bet Pastor Jim is lights-out great. But I want you to think about what you are seeing in the text. Read it as though you have never read it before. And read it as though your English teacher has just handed it to you, and she is a Christian.

If you look back a couple of pages in your handout, you will see I’ve given just some of these general guidelines. And again, you are not going to have time. Obviously you’re not going to sit there and look up multiple translations in the few minutes that we have. But I want to give you five minutes to work through the passage.

And you just mark it. Mark it in ways that you think are helping you organize your thinking with regard to what the text says. Make notes about what you think a particular thing means. But I want you to think about this as someone who is going to teach the text to someone else. So go through it as a teacher.

What does a teacher do? Does she only ask the questions that she wants to hear the answers to? No, she has to anticipate the questions of her student, right? So as you’re working through this passage, and you can work with a buddy if you have a buddy here, you can start asking these questions of the text: What ought I to be pulling from this if I were going to teach it? What would I want someone else to see in this passage? Setting aside anything that’s rolling through your head that you’ve heard about it before.

I’m going to give you about five minutes to look through this passage and mark it, and then I’m going to come back up and then we’re going to work through. I’m going to show you what I did. And you and I are not going to have the same thing, but you can compare what you came up with and what I did and hopefully it will help you to start thinking along new lines.

And the clock starts now.

Okay, are you ready to see where we got? I know you may not have had the time to get through all of it—especially some of you who are a little more type A than others. I commend you. Let’s work through this. And again, what I am going to tell you is not what I would necessarily expect you to have come up with, but it will be a good place for us to have a little thinking back and forth on this.

This was within the Sermon on the Mount. Obviously if you were going to teach this, you would want to place it within its greater context within the Sermon on the Mount and within the book of Matthew. You can give them background on that. And Jesus is talking here addressing people who want their acts of righteousness to be seen before men.

This is part of a three-part section where He addresses the way that we give and the way that we pray and the way that we fast. And when He hits prayer, He actually spends more time on prayer than He does on those other two things. And so that’s always worth perking up our ears for.

What I noted first is that there is the repetition of this phrase “and when you pray.” You see it in verse five and you see it in verse 7. So He’s saying two different things that He wants us to pick out in these opening paragraphs.

First He says when you pray, does He say, “Do not be like the hypocrites?” What does He say? “You must not be like the hypocrites.” And He’s going to take that “you,” and if you had marked it all the way through, you would notice how pointed His instructions are: “Truly I say to you.” “You pray.” “You go into your room.” “Your Father.” There’s this whole “you, you, your” all the way through until we get to the Lord’s Prayer.

He first says, “When you pray don’t be like” who? The hypocrites. And we’re like, “Great! I know what that is.” But you could ask your students to look that up in the dictionary and just write out a definition that they think best fits the context here—someone who says one thing and does another because they love to stand and pray in the synagogue and at the street corners.

Someone who is not familiar with the book of Matthew or with the Sermon on the Mount might take from this that it is never okay to what? Pray in public. But how do we know that’s not true? We have cross-references, right? We can point them to many other examples in Scripture where people have prayed in public in a way that was God honoring. So this is saying something else. That’s the question you can anticipate.

Then He moves on and He says, “Truly I say to you [which is a formula that Jesus uses often] they have received their reward.” And then He moves on. But you and I probably need to slow down and ask our students to say, “And what is the reward that these people receive?” It’s the approval of man. It’s clear to you, but it might not be to the people that you’re teaching. Make sure that they understand that because He’s going to contrast it.

Verse 6: “But when you pray, go into your room . . .” And you notice He said “when” not “if.” That’s an important thing that you would pick out. “ . . . and shut the door and pray to . . .” Whose Father? Your Father. You hear how it keeps repeating. And that “your Father” is going to get picked up a couple of times. “ . . . your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

I actually drew a little eyeball above the “to be seen by others” up in verse 5, and then I drew an eyeball above “your Father who sees in secret,” because there’s a contrast between the “seeing” there. Who do we care about who is watching us?

And then you move down to the next section. Again, I know I’m moving pretty quickly. There’s that “and when you pray” again. “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.” So He’s talked about the hypocrites and those are the people who are within the religious community, and now He’s going to say “as the Gentiles do.” And you’re like, “Wait. Now, who’s He talking about?”

You might consult another translation that says “the pagans.” Oh, He’s talking about unbelievers now. How do the unbelievers pray? They heap up empty phrases. They think that their many words will be heard. Oh, do we do that today? There’s an easy application point there. In what way do we heap up empty phrases? In what way do we use many words?

And then He says in verse 8: “Do not be like them, for [who?] your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” And then He says, “Pray then like this.” And what’s the first thing in the verse? “Our Father.” Did you see the switch there? He’s moving them towards a sense of shared confession. “Our Father in heaven.”

And what I notice in this first line . . . you know we tend to not weigh these words because they are so familiar. But what does He say? He says, “Our Father [a close and near image] in heaven [transcendent].” God is both of those things, and He combines them in that opening phrase.

“Hallowed be your name.” It’s so familiar to your women, that you would want to say, “Look up ‘hallowed.’ Write a definition of what it means.” You’re holy, You’re set apart, Your name is. And you might talk about that name thing. Women tend to think that means His name is like an incantation. “If I say it, whatever I put it next to will be blessed.” But His name represents the sum total of His attributes.

And then you would say, “Your kingdom come.” God is a King. “Your will be done.” God is what? Sovereign, right? “On earth as it is in heaven.” Sovereign over all things. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God is provider. God is generous. “Forgive us our debts.” God is merciful. God is gracious.

But again, so many things you could pull out for them. Do they understand what it means that He forgives our debts? What is a debt? Why is it significant that He would forgive us ours? What debt has been forgiven? “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” And so they could look both of those up. They could write that in their own words to get closer to the meaning.

“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Okay. A big question, right? When you’re just looking at this particular text, what are people thinking? God leads me into temptation? But I’m hoping you know this cross-reference. James 1:13: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” They are going to need that at that point, right? So that you can say, “No, no, no. He’s not saying this. He’s saying something different.” He is saying, “Don’t let us fall into temptation but deliver us from evil.” He is our deliverer. So you’ve got attributes, you’ve got application points.

But then look at this at the very end. Verse 14 and 15 reiterate an earlier idea, which is always significant. You always have to pay attention to a repetition. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father . . .” Did you notice that? He switched back to He’s your heavenly Father. He makes Him personal. He makes Him corporate. He makes Him personal.  

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Another giant question. “Wait a minute. So God’s forgiveness of me is contingent on my forgiveness of others?” Okay, we’re going to need some more cross references. Because it’s not that our forgiveness from God is earned by forgiving others, it’s that it is proven genuine. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is teaching in general. That your faith is proven genuine when you live in a particular way. And so that’s why again, the context matters so much.

That’s just a very quick way that I would have gone through this passage having very little time and trying to see it without someone else’s thoughts running through my head on what it means—just trying to take it at its own face value. And in fact, when I do teach it, I ask the women to paraphrase the whole thing in their own words after spending a lot of time with it because it just really helps them to take something that familiar and then turn it into a personal expression that’s based on study.

I told you that I had nine points. We’ve covered eight of them. Let’s hammer out that last one because it’s really, really important. The ninth thing that you must help your women to know is their best tool when it comes to studying the Bible is to pray. It is to pray.

James says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.” Why do we come here? We come here for wisdom, and we come here in our lack. We need to cry out to the Lord and ask Him to do what only He can do.

Any study of God’s Word that does not involve prayer both before and during and after is going to be an empty pursuit. It is prayer that brings life to our study because it becomes a conversation instead of a mere mental exercise. Ask the Father to show you truth. Ask Him to bring you to repentance. Confess when you don’t want to study. Praise Him when you do. When You see His attributes in the Scripture, pause and take time to praise Him that that’s who it says that He is. Teach your women and you, yourself, practice praying before, during, and after your study, and I think you will see it come alive.

Here’s the thing. Here’s what I want to leave you with because I’m out of time with you. I don’t get you anymore. Awwwww! I feel that way, too.

We become what we behold. Do you believe that? We become what we behold, and we spend so much of our time beholding so many things but in our heart of hearts we know even with the limited wisdom that we have that we do not want to become. But we become what we behold.

You know, one of the first commands that I had to teach my children when they were little, for their safety and my sanity, was, “Look at me.” One of the first things I had to teach them. The first one was “stop.” “Stop! Look at Mommy. Stop! Look at Mommy.” If I had a nickel for every time I had said that to them. Why? Do you know why? Because those little stinkers when they’re bent on doing their own thing, what are they going to do at all costs? They are going to avoid making eye contact with you. Because when you finally get them to look at you, they know, “She sees into my soul, and she is breaking my will.” [laughter]

And this is what I tell young moms all of the time when they say, “He’s not obeying me.” I say, “Are you getting eye contact before you tell him what you want him to do?” Because that’s the first thing that we have to be trained in. “Stop! Look at me.” And I’ve said it a thousand times to young moms. And it was only a few weeks ago that I began to reflect on how it was the most foundational thing for you and I to learn as the children of God. “Stop. Look. At. Me.”

We become what we behold. “And we all with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” It is not a magic trick. It is a simple formula. “Stop. Look. At. Me.”

May each of you be women who carries this message to the women the Lord has placed in your circle. And may it be said of each of you, “She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Let me pray for you.

Father, I thank You for each of these eager women, and I pray that You would equip each one well with good tools to be a worker who is unashamed. Father, what a rare privilege to open up Your Words alone, in community, and before a group. We confess to You Lord that we are unable, but we trust that You are able. Lord, give us this day our daily bread. May we find it in Your Word. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.