Sometimes the texts we read are loaded with words and phrases that mean deep things to us, whether we are aware of it or not. These meanings can pair well with a text and its message, or they can be a distraction, causing us to misinterpret or misunderstand what is happening. Other times, we just don’t get what a word means, and are taken by surprise when we realize we’ve been in the dark for a long time!
1. The Word Association strategy starts by asking you to choose a text, read it, and identify 2-3 words that stick out to you. They can catch your attention for neutral, positive, or negative reasons – they just need to stand out to you personally. They may be words you already know, or words you’ve never heard of.
For my text, I chose Matt. 24:45-51, which was yesterday’s reading. Here is the text, with my chosen words in bold:
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
2. Once you have your words, list them on a sheet of paper, with about a paragraph worth of space between them, and write whatever comes to mind.
When I hear the word wicked I always think “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked – who can know it?” And of course, this translates to considering myself. Sometimes I think I see myself as wicked – desperately wicked – and forget that that was my state BEFORE Christ intervened. Today, I am redeemed. But the lingering taste of wicked, and all its connotations, remains.
Hypocrites: This word makes me think of two faced people, those who say one thing but do another. I strongly connect the word hypocrite with the church and with other Christians, which makes me sad.
3. Now that you’ve established your initial thoughts on the words, pull them up in the dictionary and check what they really mean. Add that definition below what you wrote, and note any surprises. (Googling the Hebrew or Greek meanings can be really interesting too!)
Wicked: intended to or capable of harming someone or something (Dictionary.com)
“The two uses for the word wickedness in both the Old and the New Testament are very similar and they both have the same effects: the person committing the wickedness stands guilty as a convicted criminal of harming others and themselves because it is done intentionally (with malice) and indicates the depravity of the individual. As far as humanity is concerned, we know that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands” and “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12).”Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-does-the-bible-define-wickedness/#ixzz4frt9zmpS
Surprises: Well, I loved that wickedness is always linked to someone who has been convicted of wrongdoing. As a sinner, I know I have been found guilty of wrongdoing – that is why I need Christ! Wickedness is the conviction – Christ is the redemption. I can live in the truth that I am redeemed.
Hypocrites: This word makes me think of two faced people, those who say one thing but do another. I strongly connect the word hypocrite with the church and with other Christians, which makes me sad. Biblically, hypocrite is such a negative thing – and its always applied to people I don’t immediately identify with, like the religious elite, the wealthy, or rulers. I’m less likely to assume this word is talking about “me” personally, even though I know that I do things that aren’t always consistent with what I say I believe.
Hypocrites: people who claim to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense
Surprises: About what I thought! A Google search of “hypocrisy and the Bible” brought up a ton of references about how God hates hypocrisy, which were interesting, since that word so strongly connects to the church in my mind.
4. Using the two words you chose, incorporate them into a prayer to God. Maybe they are things you want to pray over and for yourself, maybe they are things you need to repent from, maybe they are things you would like to have more of the Father’s heart on. Let him direct your words.
Thank-you for speaking to us through your Word. As I ponder wickedness, and what that means, I confess to you that my heart has been justly convicted of sin and wrongdoing – on my own I am nothing but wicked. In that same breath, I praise your mighty and redeeming power that has saved me from myself. Thank you for rejoicing over me and saving me – your precious child.
I pray also against hypocrisy in my own life. I place the hurt and blame and anger that hypocrisy of others has caused me at your feet, and I find peace in the fact that your word states you do not accept hypocrisy either. I also pray that you would help me seek out dark areas of my own heart that may cause me to stumble into hypocrisy myself, and shed your light on them. I long to be more like you Lord!
5. Reread your original text, and contemplate the usage of the words you’ve just studied. Jot down any notes that occur to you as you read with fresh eyes.
Feel free to give this strategy a try with some of this week’s Proverbs and Parables.
Many of you might remember this set of strategies from your days in English. It's based on the idea that readers should be actively seeking to connect the text they are reading with themselves, with other texts, and with their worlds. This is a pretty standard reading practice; here is what www.facinghistory.org has to say about it:
“Reading comes alive when we recognize how the ideas in the text connect to our experiences and beliefs, events happening in the larger world, our understanding of history, and our knowledge of other texts. “Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, Text-to-World” is a strategy that helps students develop the habit of making these connections. By giving a purpose to students’ reading (i.e. focusing students on paying close attention to text to find connections), this strategy helps students comprehend and make meaning of the ideas in the text. This strategy can be used when reading any text – historical or literary – and it can also be used with other media as well, including films. It can be used at the beginning, middle or end of the reading process – to get students engaged with a text, to help students understand the text more deeply or to evaluate students’ understanding of the text.”
A. Before Reading:
Select a text. Go ahead and read it through once to get the general idea.
*For my sample, I’ll be reading Luke 14:15-23, The Parable of the Great Banquet*
This is a parable I’ve already read / heard dozens of times. When I read it today, however, I knew I would be attempting to create three types of connections, so I tuned in in a different way. I was alert for ways I could relate it to other texts, to myself, and my world – I have a purpose for reading, and as a result I’m more engaged than I normally would be when reading a parable I feel I already "know".
B. While Reading: We’re going to use the Facing History framework of questions here. There is a simple set for each connection type. I’ll list them, then provide my sample thinking in italics. Notice you’re asked to complete ONE sentence stem for each type. It’s not meant to be overwhelming – just to give a few options as you think about the text!
Consider, then complete, one of the following statements:
1. What I just read reminds me of ___________________ (story/book/movie/song) because...
2. The ideas in this text are similar to the ideas in ___________________ because….
3. The ideas in this text are different than the ideas in ___________________ because….
What I just read reminds me of the story about Mary and Martha, because Jesus is in their home to speak with them and minister to them, but Martha cannot be fully present because she is so BUSY – busy preparing the meal and being a hostess. Mary, however, realizes that the presence of Christ is of paramount importance, and must be treasured above other earthly things. As I read verses 15-20, I read about people doing good, or at least reasonable, things. No one refused to follow because they wanted to run off and commit evil sins! But Jesus’ response to Martha is telling – “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) In our parable, verse 24 reflects the other side of the coin – those who turn down the invitation of Christ to do other things are left behind, and “shall not taste my banquet”.
*I happened to make a text –to-text connection between scriptures. This may happen, or it may not. Your connection may be to a book, story, song, or movie – any other created work, really.
1.What I just read reminds me of the time when I….
2. I agree with/understand what I just read because in my own life...
3. I don't agree with what I just read because in my own life...
I understand what I just read because in my own life I tend to come up with excuses to avoid invitations. I appreciate being asked to your party/get together/social event, but I just get overwhelmed, and I find a reason it won’t work for me. I know that I do that to real people in my actual life – the heart check is to ask myself if I do that to Christ as well. Have I become so accustomed to excusing myself from uncomfortable situations that I’m not stepping out in faith and responding the call of Christ?
*I didn't use it here, but I love number 3. Sometimes my most powerful conversations with Christ, and indeed my biggest heart revelations, come from a place of “I don’t agree because in my own life…”. Use this response as a jumping off point and see where Christ leads you!
1. What I just read makes me think about _________________________ (event from the past) because……
2. What I just read makes me think about _________________________ (event from today related to my own community, nation or world) because….
3. What I just read makes me wonder about the future because….
What I just read makes me wonder about the future, because I wonder if it is a statement about the end times, in a way. As time continues, God is inviting us into his banquet, and asking us to join him. Ultimately, his servant goes to the highways and hedges and invites everyone – there is no one who is not welcome! And ultimately, those who rejected that call are no longer welcome to even taste a morsel of the banquet. On Judgement Day, I imagine that those who refused the invitation in lieu of “other things” will remember that decision and wish they could somehow go back in time and accept the calling of Christ.
C. After Reading: Take a few minutes to read back over your responses, digesting what you wrote, then read back over the text you chose.
Has your understanding of the text changed? Deepened? Adjusted?
Is there anything you want to study further, now that you’ve had a chance to ruminate on your reflections?
*I would spend some time in prayer and journaling about anything that struck me from my responses. Personally, I might go back to the text-to-self connection answer I created, and seriously question how and where this occurs in my walk with Christ. I also want to look at my text-to-world response, because I think there is a connection between the parable and Christ's first invitation to the Jews, then later the Gentiles, but I can't quite remember the details of that.
Each person’s ultimate response will be different, just as each person’s connections will necessarily be different as well.
Thank you for trying out Strategy One – Making Connections!
This strategy can be used with any text, and is a great way to push yourself into thinking a little more deeply. It also adds perspective and depth, particularly to those passages we feel like we already “know” or have read many times.
In the upcoming months, my goal is to provide some strategies and techniques for getting deeper into the meaning and message of God’s Word. This idea came about as a result of teaching reading to middle school students. I often notice they end up missing important meaning in the texts we read when they do one or more of the following things:
Many of our class strategies focus on breaking these bad habits. As we do that, we find (or remember) that the meaning and value in a text is inherently tied to what we bring to the process of reading it. Consequently, it is quite possible to read thousands of words and walk away with nothing of value, or to read five words and be moved to your very core.
I find that this truth – that our attitudes and processes while reading impact our understanding of the meaning of the text – holds true when reading scripture as well. When I find myself alternating between skimming and speed reading my devotional passages, reading to say I “finished” a chapter or book, or reading with the expectation I will understand without needing to wrestle with the text, verses like Mark 8:18 sit in the back of my mind, and cause me to question: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Am I reading with an expectation that God will reveal His message to my heart as I seek him? Or am I racing to finish the words that comprise chapters and books in order to check another thing off my list?
Does it make a difference? In my opinion, it absolutely does.
I believe the Bible is God’s inherent word – nothing can be added or taken away. I also believe that He works in the hearts of those who read scripture – we do not need to have a "mountain-top" experience every day to know that the seeds of God’s word are being planted in our hearts, and that they will one day bear fruit.
However, I also believe that we are called to be active seekers, and that our faith journey is stronger if we come in fully engaged and tuned into the message God has for us. This means that we should read the Bible with expectation, expecting to learn and experience new and relevant things as we read for meaning.
As various strategies are posted in the upcoming months, I hope you try them out with the scriptures you’re reading and see if they help you reach a new level of depth.
Keep me posted on your journey!
Tonight I attended an awards ceremony honoring author Michelle Stimpson for her literary work and involvement in the community. During her presentation, she joked about being a former educator, and the need instilled in her to have a "Show and Tell" moment when she had a captive audience.
She proceeded to explain that the finished product, seen by so many as the only product, is such a small part of the process of writing. She held up a copy of her novel, Boaz Brown, which had been a National Bestseller. That was the copy her readers were well acquainted with.
She put that to the side, and brought out a huge binder labeled "Draft #1". As she flipped through the book, she noted there was not a single page that was not covered in red marks, filled with things to add, things to change, things to revise.
Next was an even larger binder, this one labeled "Draft #4". Although there were fewer red marks here, it was still difficult to find a page without some need for change and revision. She explained that at this point she was working with an editor, and was receiving continual feedback about things to improve and change; feedback that guided her throughout the process of turning her idea into a real book. Ultimately, there were six binders labeled as her drafts. Six sets of working through the details, the minutia, the big picture and small details alike.
Finally, she held up a slim binder labeled “Revisions”. She explained this particular compilation was completely comprised of issues the editor wanted looked in to. Back story, plot development, missing information – things that required going back and digging into the how and why of the story and its characters.
I couldn’t help but think of how similar writing is to life. We all want to present ourselves as finished products, books ready to be sent out into the world, perhaps even National Bestsellers. There seems to be no honor in being labeled “Draft #2”, or in sorting through the revision folder. God, however, desires to work us through the process of becoming, and that involves many binders full of things to change, to work through, to dig into.
The process is where the power is – no one simply “is” without a great deal of background work and unseen effort – the revisions of life. Unlike a book, however, humans don’t really have a publication date. As long as we live here on earth, there is an expectation that we are in the process of revision. And then one glorious day, we will be finished, completed works, hand crafted by Christ himself. As 1 Corinthians 13:12 states, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Contributing Editor: Hannah Hassler
As a pastor's daughter, and now as a youth pastor's wife, I see again and again the never ending flow of needs that those working in Christian churches and organizations face. As much as it can be life giving, God glorifying, and exhilarating to work in ministry, I also know it can seem fruitless, draining, and sometimes even pointless.The goal of this outreach page is to celebrate the triumphs of ministries that are pleasing to God, and to uplift and encourage the hearts of those that may be feeling tired and unseen. Take heart, my friend. God is pleased with your diligence in the small matters, and He hears your hearts cry to bring glory to his name; your work is not in vain.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 15:58
My husband and I are new transplants to Dallas, TX and are loving an escape from the frosty midwest winters! We live in a small house with a big yard, along with our two dogs. I love walking in nature, finding new biographies and histories to read, and trying out new recipes my husband cooks up.
*The Outreach Page will be updated monthly with a newly highlighted ministry, although frequency may change with demand. If you know of a ministry or an individual involved in ministry that you would like to see highlighted, let us know (see contact)! We deeply desire to connect with those who don't have a lot of exposure, and the best way to do that is to hear from individuals.
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