When difficult times come along, is your first instinct to remember the goodness of God and rest in him, or to allow panic mode to set in? If we’re all honest, our first instinct is not to stop, think, and reflect on great and glorious truths when times are hard. All too often, it takes time before we turn to the wonderful truths that sustain our souls when we walk through trials.

The last month has thrown several difficult trials my way and I have noticed that I allow myself to get in the habit of thinking more about the difficulty of my trials than of the overwhelming grace of my God. I listen to my fears, my anxiety, and my frustrations before I listen to the good news of the Gospel.

In falling into these patterns, I have had to revisit some of the most important advice I have ever heard. In his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us of the importance of reminding ourselves of important truths instead of listening to our fears and anxieties

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.”

Lloyd-Jones offers sound wisdom here. We listen to ourselves as our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us. A genuine change in perspective begins to happen though when we begin to talk to ourselves and remind ourselves of great Gospel truths. Our circumstances may be difficult, even insurmountable, but we have good news to preach to ourselves that will change the way we respond to difficult circumstances.

The passage I most often go to in tough times is Romans 8:28-39. Paul shares four truths in this passage that serve as an encouragement to me when times are tough.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In these verses, Paul reminds us of four glorious truths we should remind ourselves of when times get hard.

God Works All Things for My Good

This passage begins with the declaration that God works all things together for the good of His people. Paul reminds us that nothing enters into our lives to bring us ultimate harm. While God may bring difficult things into our lives, He is at work through them for our ultimate good. We do well to remember this passage does not teach that everything will always be good, but that God is working for good. Too often we hear this and think it means God is preparing us to receive “bigger and better” things, but that is not Paul’s point. Our view of “bigger and better” is too shallow and too centered on receiving great material blessings and success. God may actually strip these things from us, but it will be for a far greater purpose.

God Wants Me to be More Like Jesus

Verses 29-30 contain what many have called the “Golden Chain of Salvation,” showing that God planned our salvation before we were born and will be faithful to bring us to the end.  In the second link of the chain, Paul says those whom God “foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” While our ultimate transformation into the image of Christ does not happen until His return, God transforms us into the image of Christ in our character each day. The person who trusts in Jesus will become more like Jesus and this process is difficult and necessary. The tough times we go through are meant to make us more like Him. They drive us away from our worldliness, help us to put our sin to death, and grow us in Christlike character.

God Sent His Son to Die for Me

If you are a Christian who needs to hear words of hope in the midst of trial, you should tattoo the great declaration of verse 32 across your forehead. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” When we are tempted to doubt God will provide for us and care for us, we should remember to look at the cross where Jesus died for us. At the cross, God provided for us at our greatest point of need. We needed redemption, and God provided it in the death of his Son. Since he has met us at this deepest point of need, then shouldn’t we trust him to meet us at every point of need?

God Promises to be with Me

When you read these verses out loud, you cannot help but pick up the pace and excitement when you arrive at the last few verses. The declaration that nothing will separate the Christian from the love of Christ is a shout of victory! Has God abandoned us when we experience difficult times? No! He is there and He is with us. By the provision of His Son for our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God pledges that He will never leave us and will always be with us. We just have to remind ourselves of these truths in the face of difficulty. Instead of listening to ourselves, we need to hear His word and preach it to ourselves.

Related Posts:
What if 2017 is Your Worst Year Ever?

Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

For Further Reading:
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper

Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zach Eswine

The other day I was on a drive through a part of my city that I have not been to in a while and saw a billboard for a church. In bright letters, their sign said something like “Where you are always loved and never judged.”

This sounds good to us initially because we have been trained to think that being judged by another person is the worst thing that can happen to us. I remember in 1997 hearing a pastor say that Matthew 7:1 had passed John 3:16 as the most popular verse in American culture. That statement would not even cause one second of debate now because that is the only Bible verse that many people can quote.

“Where you are always loved and never judged” sounds good to us because we think that the people who love us would never judge us. Judging is something only hypocritical people do and we don’t like being friends with hypocrites. After all, people who judge others are the ones that Jesus had the harshest words for.

After walking with Jesus, planting my life in the local church, and reading the Bible seriously for two decades of my life, something about the sentiment that the best way to love me is to never judge me doesn’t sit right with me. If the people around me never judge me and never call my actions to account, do they really love me? The New Testament paints a picture of the church as a place where people love each other enough to judge each other rightly, hold each other accountable, and call each other to repentance when needed. Done correctly, this is not harsh or unloving, but the most loving thing another person can do.

Our Misunderstanding of Matthew 7:1

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

One of the fundamental rules of biblical interpretation we often violate is the need to pay attention to context. When we try to understand what the biblical writers meant, context is king. This means we pay attention to what came before the statement we are quoting and what comes after it.

The typical evangelical reading of Matthew 7:1 goes like this, “never question another person’s behavior, unless they are judging someone. Then call them a Pharisee and tell them they are the reason more people aren’t Christians.” Yet, when we simply read the verses in the rest of this paragraph, we see that the “never call another person’s behavior into question” reading of Matthew 7:1 holds no water.

Notice what Jesus says in verses 3-5. He says that a person cannot take the speck out of their brother’s eye when they have a log sticking out of their own eye. What Jesus refers to here is a hypocritical and censorious spirit. It’s a person who calls out the behavior of others while ignoring the glaring deficiencies in their own righteousness.

He doesn’t stop with this though, does he? Jesus moves on and says to remove the plank from your own eye and then you can see clearly to help your brother take the speck out of his eye. Notice that Jesus does not say, “well, you have a plank, so ignore his speck.” Instead, Jesus says to get the log out of our eye and then we can see clearly to help our brother with the speck in his eye. In other words, when you see moral fault in your brother, repent of your own sin, and then help him with his.

I Need Someone to Help Me Get the Speck Out

When I was a kid, we were leaving children’s church one afternoon and an older kid had made a paper airplane. There were these little chips that looked like sawdust in the shrubs around the church building and he picked up a handful to put in the fold of his paper airplane. When he threw it, I looked up because I wanted to see what happened with it. When I looked up, one of the chips got in my eye. It’s over 30 years later and I still remember how painful and annoying it was to have that thing in my eye and how thankful eye was when we were able to get it out.

I am a sinner. I’m a redeemed sinner with a new heart, but I’m still a sinner. This sin is not my friend; it’s my greatest enemy. What’s so insidious about my sin is that so much of it is obvious to the people around me, but I’m completely oblivious to it. When I become aware of my sin and am able to repent of it, my joy increases and my walk with the Lord grows. The most unloving thing my friends could do would be to leave the speck in my eye so that I continue to deal with the grief and misery that it causes.

In the first two verses of Galatians 6, Paul says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Notice how similar this is to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7. Here, Paul says that a Christian who is living in transgression and sin should be restored by other brothers in Christ. Paul says they do this in a spirit of gentleness so that they don’t fall into temptation themselves. They don’t Lord their superior righteousness over their wounded brother because they know they are susceptible to the very same things.

Then Paul says that we should bear one another’s burdens, and in doing so we fulfill the law of Christ. When you read this in context, the burdens he speaks of here most immediately refer to our own sins. This means that we are called, not to ignore the sin in the lives of our fellow believers, but to walk alongside them helping them bear the load of their Christian growth. In doing this, we show ourselves to be the people who belong to and follow Jesus.

The last thing Christians need is to be left alone in their sins. We are not doing other brothers and sisters a favor when we ignore their obvious sins and call it “love.” If sin is my worst enemy and you leave me to be oblivious to it or to battle it alone, you don’t love me. It would be better for you to risk offending me and get involved than to stand on the sidelines based on a poor reading of Matthew 7:1. Instead, read the whole passage, repent of your own sin, know your own weaknesses, and then jump in and help.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Wage War Against Your Sin

You Need to Fire Life Coach Jesus

For Further Reading:
The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop

Everyday Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

 

The discipline of memorizing Bible verses pays great dividends in the life of a Christian. Having Scripture stored up in our hearts helps us to remember God’s promises in tough times, flee from sin in moments of temptation, possess greater confidence in sharing the Gospel, and give fresh words of encouragement to struggling Christians.

The problem for us is that while memorizing a verse presents a challenge, remembering it in three months is a great difficulty. We often find ourselves wanting to quote something that we spent two days memorizing but cannot remember the exact wording of the verse or the precise reference to save our lives.

How can we remember the Bible verses that we memorized a week, a month, or a year ago?

Memorize Bible Verses for the Long Haul

We often fail to learn Bible verses well the first time we memorize them. We can’t remember them a month later because we never really got them into our minds and hearts the first time.

When you memorize a Bible verse, make sure that you are learning the precise wording of the verse and the exact reference. Do not be content with forgetting whether the verse says “so that” or “in order to.” The scholars who worked on the translation that you use made the choices they did for good reasons, so learn it as it is printed on the page.

In addition, think of memorizing Bible verses as a multi-day task. Too often, when we memorize a Bible verse, we work on it for one day, say it somewhat correctly, and then move on to the next verse. If you struggle to remember a verse a month after you memorized it, work on memorizing it for three days instead of just one day. The first day, read it repeatedly until you have the flow of the verse. On the second day, read the verse out loud several times again, then cover up the verse and say it at least five times, only looking at it to make sure that you said it correctly. Use the last day to read the verse out loud again. Then say the verse multiple times without looking at it. If you memorized it correctly, move on to the next verse you want to learn. If not, work on it one more day to make sure that you have it down.

Memorize Bible Verses in Their Context

Often our Scripture memory consists of individual verses we learned from many different books of the Bible. We struggle to remember what they say because we plucked them out of their context and we have no frame of reference for remembering what the verse said.

One tactic that will help you down the road is memorizing the entire paragraph where the verse you want to memorize is found. For example, let’s say you want to memorize Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That seems easy enough to remember, but our minds are clouded with lots of information. So, in order to better recall the verse in the future, memorize Romans 3:21-26 instead of just Romans 3:23.

This approach has practical and theological advantages. Practically, you get into the flow of how Paul wrote the letter and this always helps recall move more smoothly. You start with the first few words of a paragraph and the rest has a way of coming back to you as you pick up momentum. Theologically, this method helps you to keep Bible verses in their proper theological context. You won’t quote Philippians 4:13 to get your team psyched up for the baseball game when you remember that Paul was initially speaking of his learning to be content in whatever position he found himself.

Review Bible Verses on a Schedule

In order to remember the Bible verses that you memorize, you must get on a review schedule. Ideally, you would spend a few days memorizing a verse and then the next couple of days reviewing it. Then, let it sit for a couple of days and review it again. After that, review it next week, the in two weeks, and then in a month. Determine the maximum amount of time that you can allow between reviews to keep the verse fresh in your mind. (For me, it’s three months. And honestly, this may be too long. I worked back through some verses I had not reviewed in three months and struggled with them mightily.)

Here is one area where our smartphones can be an aid to our devotional lives, as there are several helpful Scripture memory apps on the market. Both Fighter Verses and Verses have great interfaces and use multiple types of interactive quizzes to memorize Scripture. (Fighter Verses also has music and other resources to aid in memory.) My personal favorite, though, is ScriptureTyper. For me, ScritptureTyper allows me to keep verses in collections the way I prefer to have them and puts verses on a review schedule. You can manually set the maximum time allowed between reviews.

Put Bible Verses You Have Forgotten in a “Microwave”

Using a review schedule to keep our Scripture memory fresh will reveal verses that have slipped from your grasp. You may stumble through portions of the verse or have forgotten it completely. When this happens, you need to pull this verse out and treat it like you are memorizing it for the first time. Think of it as sticking leftovers in the microwave. (I borrowed this terminology from my father-in-law, Mark McCullough, who is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Frisco City, Alabama.)

The first day you put the verse in the microwave, read it out loud multiple times and then cover it up to try to say it from memory. On the second day, read it out loud a few times and say it from memory again. The final day should consist of ensuring you have it fully memorized. After you have done this, review it once a week for the next month to ensure you have it down before putting it on a less consistent review schedule.

I know this sounds like a lot of effort. It is, and it is worth every second to have God’s word stored up in our hearts.

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

The First 15 Bible Verses a Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

His Word in My Heart by Janet Pope