How & Why to Build Good Study Habits

(The following article was first published on July 8th, 2018, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 12)

I’ve recently returned from summer camp where we learned lessons from Solomon and some of the kings of Judah.  Most believe that Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon later in his life after earthly pleasures had failed to bring him true happiness.  Toward the end of the book, he urges the young to remember their Creator now, before life’s challenges come and they no longer have their priorities or foundation in place.  So, young people, the article to follow is (mostly) for you.  If you’re not familiar with the lessons to be learned throughout Ecclesiastes, perhaps that should be your starting point for study?

Christians should have Bible study as part of their daily life. It is a necessary part of the Christian walk to grow in knowledge and wisdom (1 Timothy 3:16-17), so that you can use it to help others grow in knowledge and wisdom (2 Timothy 4:2), bring others to Christ (Matthew 28:19), and defend your reasons for belief (1 Peter 3:15-16). However, as I understand and often experience, it can be hard to incorporate Bible study into busy routines. Even so, we must “remember our Creator before the difficult days come” (Ecclesiastes 12:1), therefore it is important to study to gain knowledge. But how do we build good study habits?

Our first goal should be to make it a priority. If it is not a priority, study is not nearly as effective or consistent. We should always be aware of the Bible’s importance as a guide (Psalm 119:105), its value to make us aware of evil (Psalm 119:104), its value to keep us safe from evil (Psalm 119:101), and its value in showing God’s righteousness (Psalm 119:142). Truly, this shows that God’s word should be loved, cherished, and sought more than gold (Psalm 119:127)!

After we prioritize study because of the Bible’s value to our lives, we should begin including study in our daily routine. One way to include it is to study with our families as God instructed Israel to do (Deuteronomy 6:7-9). Studying with your family has many advantages. One of them is that you can set a specific time and be more likely to study every day at that time. Another advantage is that you have multiple people helping the rest learn instead of just one person studying alone. Studying in this way also helps families grow closer together and closer to God.  It helps families grow in knowledge together so that each family member can teach others.  It also helps encourage each other to remain strong, because everyone goes through times of weakness.

Another way to build good habits is to plan for what to study. It is not very effective to just flip around and read something at random, and although men have said a lot of great things in books, the Bible should still be at the core of our study. It helps to have a solid reading plan so that you know what to study from day to day. The Daily Bible Reading assignments from the ABC curriculum classes is an example of this. There is an assignment of daily reading so that you can read most of the Bible every three years. Other plans would be similar to that.  You can find daily Bible reading schedules in the back of your Bible or online.  There are many types to choose from.

If your goal is simply to read so that you can learn in a broader sense, perhaps you could read the same passage from several different translations, or you could read the same passage every day for a week so that it becomes more-or-less memorized.  That way, when you need to know something for a class or individual study with someone, you will have a pretty good idea what the Bible says on the topic and where to find it quickly to reference.  My goal this month is to read through the book of Mark 10 times over 20 days. (Ask me about Mark … I should be finished by the time you read this article!)

One way to have a very in-depth study of a passage is to study it as if you were preparing to teach a class or another individual. Read every detail, read reputable commentaries or topical books on the subject, and write down several points on your homework questions. Prepare as if you will be called on to teach, because we must be ready “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2), and you will get much more out of a class or one-on-one study that way.

Finally, remember the importance of prayer. The value of Bible study is immeasurable, and a deep knowledge of it can save your soul and the souls of others. If you do not have time for studying the Bible, you need to look at your life and choose something to drop out of it.  Anything that you put ahead of God is idolatry, even your time. (John 6:66-69) Pray for wisdom (James 1:5-8), and then seek it diligently (2 Timothy 2:15).

How to Be a Living Sacrifice

(The following article was published at the Cedar Park Church of Christ on April 1st, 2018. RTS, age 12)

As Christians, we must be a living sacrifice, as commanded in Romans 12:1-2 (ESV), where it says,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

But what is a sacrifice, and how do we become one?

Vine’s Dictionary describes sacrifice as the act of offering something, which is usually a life.  There are many examples of sacrifice throughout the Bible, some of which were pleasing to God and others that were not.  Pleasing examples include: Abel’s animal offering (Gen 4), Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen 22), and when Jesus offered Himself (all four gospels).  Bad examples include: Cain’s offering from the ground (Gen 4), Saul’s unlawful sacrifice (1 Sam 13), and the offerings of the people in the book of Malachi (vs. 6-14).

What do the pleasing examples of sacrifice all have in common? They were all offered in faith, in the correct way, and they were the best that was available.  Look at the bad examples, though.  Cain’s offering wasn’t done in faith, Saul’s offering was done incorrectly, and the people in the book of Malachi were going through the motions with a lazy and cast-off attitude.

Each of these sacrifices involved a death, so what is a living sacrifice? Going back to the text in Romans 12:1, we are told to present our bodies.  Verse 2 describes how to do that by telling us to transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds. I can think of three easy ways to start the transformation process – study our Bibles (2 Tim. 2:15), pray about it (Js 1:5), and surround ourselves with other Christians (1 Cor. 15:33).

Romans 12:2 also says that we are not to be conformed to this world.  That means we cannot desire to be like the world.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Each day, I must compare what I want to do with what God wants me to do. Selfishness cannot win if I am denying myself of worldly temptations.

The only way to truly be a living sacrifice is to do it continuously.  If you’re continuously living in a sacrificial way, you will be rewarded.  This can be seen clearly throughout the Old and New Testaments (Is 40:30-31 and 2 Tim. 4:7-8), but especially in 1 Cor 15:57-58, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

In short, put God first, and keeping on putting God first.

Wisdom from Unlikely Sources

(The following article was first published in The Exhorter at the Cedar Park Church of Christ in Cedar Park, TX, on January 21st, 2018, and at the Tanner Street Church of Christ in Malvern, AR, in February 2018. RTS, age 12)

Wisdom is very important in the Christian’s walk, but where does wisdom come from?  James 1:5 tells us where to find the answer:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Does this mean all we have to do is ask?  Of course not!  Throughout the New Testament, there are examples of people studying to find wisdom, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and Timothy, as he was directed by Paul in II Tim 2:15.  However, God has made ways for us to get wisdom through His creation also.  An example of this is found in Proverbs 30:24-28 (ESV).

Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.

Ants are one of the smallest creatures on earth, but they are also one of the hardest working creatures on earth.  This isn’t the first time Solomon mentions ants in Proverbs.  In 6:6-8 we’re told not to be lazy, but to be more like the ants who keep working until the job is finished.  In both passages, ants are described as creatures to look ahead and prepare for days to come.  As Christians, we are to do the same.  We don’t know how long it will be until our eternal winter begins, so it’s important that we’re prepared today and every day.

Rock badgers (also called conies) are medium-sized rodents that take refuge in rocky terrain.  When clans are feeding, a small group of guards keep watch over them.  If danger appears, the guards will squeak to alert the clan to take shelter in the rocks.   From this, we know that we are also weak, and we need to take shelter in our Rock, who is Jesus.  He has provided guards for us through the appointment of elders.  They alert us to dangers and keep watch over our souls.

Unlike other insects that follow the leadership of a queen, locusts have no ruler.  Locusts are very organized and methodical, though.  Solomon says that they “all march in rank.”  As Christians, we must work together to fight the armies of Satan and feed on fields of spiritual food.  We also must watch each other each step of the way and help each other grow.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  How do Christians fight the armies of Satan?  Each of us works together to do a part.

Lizards are small creatures that are easy to catch.  You would think that they would be extinct because they’re easy prey, however you can find them all over the world from the smallest shack to the largest castle.  Christians are like this as well.  Christians have been persecuted throughout history, yet you can still find them all over the world.  Don’t worry about being caught in Satan’s trap.  Boldly go into the world and spread the good news of the Gospel of Christ.

These four creatures seem insignificant, but we can learn important lessons from them and from all of God’s creation.  Ask for wisdom like Solomon did, and always be on the lookout for wisdom from unlikely sources.