Not All Women’s Bible Studies Are Created Equal

Linda and Connie didn’t come to church but were regular attenders at women’s Bible study. They did their workbook homework, never missed a week, and were big fans of our video teacher. When we switched to a more intensive, inductive study one fall, they weren’t happy, though they continued to attend.

But then something happened. Linda and Connie started delighting in God’s Word. As they studied the passage for the week, they began to spend hours each day looking up every cross-reference in their study Bibles.

Their new love for God’s Word then ignited a new love for God’s people. They began attending church and became hospitable, servant-oriented members. These women traded their obsession with a video teacher for an obsession with Scripture, and it resulted in their spiritual growth—which ultimately encouraged the whole congregation.

When women truly study the Bible for themselves, they change. God uses his Word to ignite robust spiritual growth that spurs women on and unifies the church. I’ve participated in women’s Bible study in three different churches over the past 20 years. In each case, the whole congregation profited because women were growing in their knowledge of the truth.

Not all women’s Bible studies are created equal. So what made these studies so profitable? Here are three ways we strengthened our studies—and you can strengthen yours:

1. Be Church-Based

When women worship together in church, sitting regularly under expositional preaching of God’s Word, it feeds their souls. They become united in their theology, engage in covenant relationships where they spur each other on, and benefit from the same elder oversight.

A church-based Bible study furthers the work of the main gathering and helps to build up not only the women but also the whole congregation, as fellowship becomes more intimate and women connect their families and friends. There’s a synergy that takes place when we root women’s Bible study in the local church.

At my current church, we encourage women who attend Bible study to also attend our church. We invite them to become committed members of the congregation—to sit under biblical preaching, affirm our statement of faith, reach out with hospitality, and serve and be served. We encourage these things in large-group talks, smaller discussion groups, and one-on-one conversations. Women and families now regularly join the church and become involved through the vehicle of our Bible studies.

Outreach-oriented Bible studies in the community, workplace, or school can be fantastic ministries where people hear the gospel and meet Christ. There’s a place for parachurch Bible studies, but to maximize spiritual growth in Christian women, keep your Bible study under the authority of your local church. It’s good for women, and it’s good for the church.

2. Turn Off the Video

Women need confidence in their ability to understand the Bible. Some video studies are theologically solid and helpful, but many focus more on eliciting emotional responses than leading women to understand the Scriptures. Polished teachers can make us laugh and cry, but if we remember illustrative stories more than the text we’re studying, we miss the point and can become dedicated to the teacher rather than God’s Word. Video teaching can also intimidate women into thinking they can’t handle the Bible themselves.

At the United Christian Church of Dubai, we stopped the videos. We introduced a regular diet of inductive studies through books of the Bible with straightforward questions that lead women to understand and apply the text. We devoured Kathleen Nielson’s Living Word Bible Studies, and since it was so hard to find pure inductive studies for women that were theologically grounded, I began writing my own (most recently two volumes on the Gospel of Mark). These got women’s noses in the Bible.

It’s important to make sure any materials we use are closely tied to the Bible. Look for studies that accurately focus on the meaning of the text and apply that meaning to women’s lives. Wean yourselves off videos and study the meat of the Bible for yourselves.

3. Find Qualified Leaders

In the past, our Bible studies had leadership problems. Anyone could volunteer to lead, using any study she chose. Some leaders weren’t members of the church. Others weren’t even Protestant, so they had no teaching or oversight from our elders and weren’t united by any particular theology.

As we started getting to know the leaders, we realized that one didn’t believe that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. She had 40 women in the group she was leading—some Hindu and Muslim—and she had never considered that some of these women didn’t know the one true God. It was the Wild West of women’s ministry!

Changing leadership took time, effort, and patience. Our elders taught a systematic theology class for women leaders, encouraging them to think deeply about what they were teaching. They asked past leaders to become members of the church. The church also cultivated new leadership among women who were delighting in the Scriptures and committed to the church. We patiently waited, worked, and prayed for the culture of leadership to change, along with the culture of the entire church.

Fast-forward 10 years and now our leaders are excited about their Bibles, have sound theological instincts, and are committed to the larger congregation. They are women intent on understanding the meaning of the text and serious about applying it to their lives. Our leaders are from Egypt, Ghana, Australia, India, Kenya, Burundi, Ireland, Zambia, Kazakhstan, and America. We may not have much in common, but we all love the Word of God.

Worth the Work

By God’s grace, our women’s Bible study has been reformed along with the whole congregation. We now use God-centered biblical studies, our women love the church, and our leaders are all on the same theological page. We’ve seen women come to know the Lord. We’ve seen women get excited about studying his Word. And we’ve seen women get plugged into the church and start discipling others.

Strengthening a women’s Bible study won’t be easy. It will take wisdom, gentleness, and patience. You may even face opposition. But whether you’re leading a group of three women or 300, it’s worth your time, energy, and even delight.

** This post first appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/womens-bible-studies/.

The True Story

There’s controversy swirling over Disney stories again. After reading Snow White, actress Kristen Bell asks her daughters, “Don’t you think that it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you cannot kiss someone if they’re sleeping!”

Consent is a hot topic these days. Freshmen on college campuses attend classes and discussions where counselors stress the necessity of consent but then have to define what it means. A “yes” is not a “yes” if the woman is too drunk to make rational decisions. (Of course, there’s very little discussion on the danger of getting drunk in the first place. And there’s no warning that if your decision-making capability is severely impaired by alcohol, it’s likely to be the same for the man you’re with.)

Ms. Bell obviously wants to begin this conversation with her daughters while they’re young. She should be commended for reading with her daughters and discussing hard topics. But this is a good example of misinterpretation of a text. Fairy tales are fiction, and they are often full of symbolic acts with deep meaning. The kiss in Snow White isn’t about sex. It’s about love. It’s about the kind of love that rescues the beloved.

When my daughter was three years old, I walked into a scary scene. My little Ruthie was on the lap of my grandmother, and I heard ominous words coming from the T.V. It was Maleficent declaring, “I summon all the powers of hell!” I exclaimed, “Grandma! What are you watching with my daughter?” It was Sleeping Beauty, and my grandmother’s response was instructive: “She needs to know that Satan is real and there is evil in the world.”

Fairy tales teach us about good and evil with good ultimately winning out. They teach us about love and hate and self-centeredness and sacrifice. It’s been a long time since I watched Sleeping Beauty. (My baby girls are grown.) But I know that it’s about jealousy and pride and evil that curses all that is good. It’s about a kingdom that has fallen asleep. And it’s about a prince who enters into the kingdom, conquers evil, wakes everyone up and marries his bride to live with her happily ever after.

Like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty is fiction and should be read as fiction. But both of these fairy tales point to The True Story: the story about evil that has marred a perfect world and left its inhabitants blind and asleep; the story about the prince who entered into this world and conquered evil by his own death; the story about this prince being raised from the dead and coming to marry his bride to live with her happily ever after.

Now, that’s a story worth talking to our children about!

Six Ways to Increase Your Delight

Love… joy… delight: do these come to mind when you picture the Bible? I love my husband. I delight in my children. I often rejoice in my relationships with others. But do I feel passionately about God’s word?

Psalm 119 overflows with words of passion. The psalmist’s love and joy jump off the page to inspire our hearts. “I find my delight in your commandments which I love, ” (vs. 47) says the psalmist to his God. He goes on to declare, “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (vs. 111). What treasure causes such expressions of pleasure?

The psalmist delights in the Scriptures because he delights in God, who personally communicates with us through his word. As J.I. Packer has said, “The written word of the Lord brings us to the living Lord of the word.”

But what if I’m not “feelin’ it”? Exhaustion, sickness, discouragement and just plain busyness can wreak havoc on all our relationships. Likewise, these things can shrivel our hearts and turn our Bible reading into teeth-gritting duty instead of relational delight. So how can we be like the Psalmist and increase our joy in the Bible? Let me give you seven practical ways:

First, come to know the God of the Bible. (Nothing will give true joy without this.) The psalmist asks God to “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (v. 37). The Bible is an interesting book for anyone, but it is electrifying when you have a relationship with its Author.

God created us for relationship. But even those of us who grew up in Christian homes, go to church and read our Bibles have sinned. We have rebelled against God’s steadfast love and lived for ourselves. We deserve death, not life. But God sent his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, taking the punishment for anyone who would repent and believe. After Jesus died, God raised him from the dead, and he makes us alive in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, who awakens our hearts to delight in God’s word. To enjoy the Bible, God must turn our eyes from worthless things and give us life.

Second, pray. The psalmist not only declared his delight in God’s word, he prayed to delight in God’s word. Verse 18 says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law”!

I used to find the Bible boring. My times of reading and prayer were duty not delight. So I prayed and asked others to pray for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but my time in the Bible grew to be my favorite time of day. Unless God gives spiritual sight, we will remain deaf to his word. (We hear God speak with our eyes.) So pray for the Lord to show you wondrous things in the Scriptures. Can you imagine a prayer he would find more joy in answering?

Third, have a regular time, place and plan for Bible reading. We don’t expect to have energy for our day without eating breakfast. We don’t get into the car and drive to work on an empty tank of gas. We fuel our bodies and our cars. How much more eternally important is it to fuel our souls? The psalmist knew of this need: “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (v. 148).

George Mueller was a nineteenth century Englishman who was famous for his reliance upon God in establishing multiple orphanages in England. He was a busy man. When he was 76 years old, he wrote what he had learned over the past 50 years:

I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord…. I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it…. What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and… not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.

If we want to be happy, we need the routine of spiritual meals every day.

A regular place to read your Bible will help you get into a routine. I have a favorite rocking chair next to a bookcase with pencils and a notepad. I don’t have to get myself organized. Everything I need is right there.

And have a Bible reading plan. Whether you’re digging deeply into a particular book or reading through the Bible in a year, know what you’re going to read before you sit down. Don’t allow indecision to stop you before you get started.

A time, a place and a plan will help you stay consistently in God’s word. Soon you will find these are habits you refuse to give up because the Bible is bringing you such joy.

Fourth, meditate on what you read. The psalmist sings in verse 97, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” He “stores up” (v. 11), “fixes his eyes on” (v. 15), “understands” (v. 99) and “unfolds” (v. 130) God’s word. He enjoys thinking deeply about the Scriptures and this brings understanding that spurs on his delight.

Meditating on the Scriptures simply means to think about them—think them through—ask questions of the text, look at every word, figure out the meaning. Then ponder its implications for your heart, your family, your church and the world.

You know, the world ignores God. Television, radio, and social media: these all work together to invade our minds and tempt us to treasure things that bring only fleeting pleasure. We need to purify ourselves from the toxicity of the world by washing in the water of the word. We need to soak in it. As we immerse ourselves, we’ll see the superior pleasures of Christ and his ways. The Puritan Thomas Watson explained, “The reason we come away so cold from reading the word of God is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” Meditate on the Scriptures to increase your joy.

Fifth, be involved in a Bible-centered church. The Psalms were not written primarily for individual consumption but for community. Psalm 119 was written for the people of God to sing together. You will delight in your Bible even more if you enjoy it with others. Being involved in a word-centered church where others are enthusiastic—not about entertainment, programs or stories—but about the word of God being sung, read, prayed, and preached, will stoke your passion for the Scriptures.

Sixth, speak the word to outsiders. The psalmist declared, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (vv. 46-47). Sharing the good news of Jesus, dying for sinners, can spur us on in the faith as we contemplate God’s grace to us. It can also challenge us to grow in our knowledge of God through the Scriptures so we are ready to give answers and defend the faith. Our delight in God’s word causes us to share it with others, and sharing it with others causes us to delight in it more. Try it and see!

Treasure… Joy… Delight

The Bible is a treasure more precious than any earthly prize: “I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold” (v. 127). In it is found great joy: “I rejoice at your word, like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162). There is no sweeter delight: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103). What will be your most precious treasure this year? Your greatest joy? Will your heart go after the world, or is the Bible your sweetest delight?

Women and the Local Church

At the TGC Women’s Conference, 9Marks hosted a panel on Women and the Local Church. The panel sought to biblically define church and describe what a healthy church looks like. Then they answered questions from the audience about how women who are faithful members in their local church can work to build up the body of Christ.

Listen here and rejoice in the church, God’s gift to us:

Women and the Local Church

God Is Good

Excerpt from the recently released The Good Portion-God: The Doctrine of God for Every Woman by Rebecca Stark:

One of my favorite autumn activities is picking the wild cranberries that grow on the mossy forest floor surrounding my home. Last fall they were so plentiful that I didn’t need to harvest beyond the small strip of woods right across the street from my house. When the snow finally came, I had three large mixing bowls full of cranberries waiting to be turned into jam or juice, or frozen whole to use in muffins throughout the winter. Even so, I left plenty of berries on the bushes for the birds and bears.

Where I live in northern Canada, the wild bounty God provides includes cranberries (or lingonberries), caribou, moose, bison and more. In Minnesota where I grew up, He gives wild blueberries, chokecherries, juneberries, wild rice, and venison. From His goodness, God provides all of these native foods for His creatures to eat.

Even if you live where there isn’t much wild food to hunt or gather, God provides the food you eat. Do you grow some of your own food? The vegetables and fruits you grow are His good gifts to you. If you buy your food in a local market or supermarket, God is using farmers, truckers, grocers, and others to supply food for you to eat.

No matter where we live, or how we gather it, we all receive our food from God’s goodness. From God’s goodness, He gives us wonderful gifts—food, homes, families, and more. But even greater than these is His gift of His Son. From His goodness, God gave His own Son for our salvation.

God Gives

The Lord is good to all … (Ps. 145:9)

The Father, Son, and Spirit exist in an eternal relationship of sharing and love,[1] and from the overflow of this eternal goodness, God gives good gifts to His creatures. The psalmist David described the goodness of God in Psalm 145:

The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Ps. 145:9, 15–16)

Our good God generously provides everything His creatures need.

The eighteenth-century English Baptist pastor John Gill described God’s goodness as ‘an inexhaustible fountain’: overflowing forever even though He is continually sharing His goodness with the living things He has made.[2] In John Gill’s time, city fountains didn’t recirculate their water like the fountains we have now. Instead, they drew water from a reservoir or natural springs, and provided this clean water for all the people who lived around them. God’s inexhaustible fountain of goodness is this kind of fountain—one that constantly provides us with fresh goodness. But with His fountain, there is no danger the reservoir will run dry or the springs will dry up. He has an eternal unlimited supply of fresh goodness. His goodness flows from Him forever in a never-ending stream.

From the abundance of His generosity, God grows mushrooms to feed squirrels and saplings to feed deer. He provides earthworms for robins and mice for foxes. The greens I grow in my garden come from His goodness, too. He could have created only one kind of salad green, or none at all, but instead, He created crispy romaine, buttery spinach, chewy kale, spicy arugula, and red leaf lettuce for extra visual punch, each variety increasing my pleasure as I eat my summer salads. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, both wild and cultivated—every different kind is a good gift from our good God.

God directs everything in the universe, so every benefit we receive—every ‘good gift’—comes from Him (James 1:17). Beyond our food, homes, and families, He gives us jobs, friends, vacations, sunshine, music, colors, and even the air we breathe. Everything that sustains us and everything that gives us joy— all are God’s gifts to us. Even when people give gifts to us, underneath their gifts is the goodness of God. He gave them enough to share (1 Cor. 4:7) and the desire to share with us.

God is generous to everyone, even those who don’t acknowledge Him or His gifts. ‘[H]e is kind to the ungrateful and evil,’ Jesus said (Luke 6:35). ‘[H]e makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matt. 5:44–45). Even God’s enemies receive good gifts from Him.

This doesn’t mean, however, that He distributes His gifts equally to everyone. As long as He gives no one less than they deserve, God can give more to some than others and still be perfectly just and good. He can do what He chooses with all that belongs to Him, and we have no right to complain or be envious of the gifts He gives to others (Matt. 20:13–15).

But we aren’t always satisfied with what we receive from Him, are we? I sometimes envy retired couples who drive their motor homes through my town each summer. I was in my forties when my husband passed away, so I will never be able to take retirement road trips with him. Given the opportunity, we probably wouldn’t have traveled much during our retirement years anyway, but knowing this doesn’t keep me from coveting this gift God has given to others but not me. What gifts do you long for? A bigger and better house? A more challenging job? A more attentive husband? Whatever they are, when we envy the gifts God has given to others, we’re rejecting His goodness, first, by begrudging His generosity to others, and second, by undervaluing the gifts He has generously given to us.

The first step to being satisfied with the gifts God has given us is to acknowledge them. We tend to take His generosity for granted because He is constantly providing for us from His abundance. We may commute to work, for instance, without considering that it is only because our good God is protecting us that we arrive safely. Or we may take a daily shower without acknowledging that God is the one who keeps the water pipes and the water heater working. But neither safe travels nor warm showers are automatic. They are both good gifts from God, gifts that some women won’t receive today. When we remember His kindnesses to us—His big gifts and His small ones—and receive them with thanksgiving, we will be more content with what we have and less envious of His gifts to others.

From His goodness, God provides for the earthly needs of all His creatures, but for those who belong to Him, His generosity continues throughout eternity. Even in this life, every single circumstance is a good gift working an eternal purpose. All things, including life’s trials, are part of God’s benevolent plan to make every believer more like Christ (Rom. 8:28–29). Can you see why the apostle Paul reminds his readers to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)? Our generous God uses everything, even the hard things, to remake His people in His image.

And as those who are being remade in His image, God’s people should reflect His goodness. Since He is good even to His enemies, we are called to be good to our enemies, too. And who are our enemies? When Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies, He included a wide range of people in this category. According to Jesus, anyone who didn’t love them, anyone who wasn’t a brother to them, along with anyone who Was actively persecuting them (Matt. 5:43–48), was an enemy. Every one of us has plenty of enemies to be generous to! The grumpy neighbor who doesn’t like your family because she prefers silence to the sound of children playing in your backyard is, according to Jesus, your enemy. As His disciple, you are called to not retaliate, but to do good instead. If you take her a few fresh muffins, you are fulfilling His command to love your enemies. You are providing for someone who doesn’t love you or your children, just as God provides for those who don’t love Him or His children. Likewise, when you treat kindly the co- worker who purposefully undermined you, you are imitating God’s kindness to both the just and the unjust. And if you pray for someone who is hostile to you because of your Christian faith, you are also reflecting God’s generosity to His enemies. You are following Jesus’ command to be like ‘your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:45).

But just as God is especially generous to those who belong to Him, His people should be especially ‘good to … those who are of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6:10). Yes, we should give to people in our neighborhoods and people across the world, but the priority for our generosity should be our fellow-believers. Even as we donate to needy children world-wide, our first duty is to make sure the needs of the children in our own churches are met.

And whenever we give to others—to our fellow believers, to the community around us, or to people far away—we are simply giving from what we have already received from God. Any praise we receive for our generosity should be redirected to Him, who gives to us so we can give to others. All the glory for both the gifts we receive and the gifts we give is rightfully His.

[1] Reeves, Michael, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic 2012), 47.

[2] Gill, John, ‘A Body of Doctrinal Divinity’ Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gill/doctrinal.ii.xvi.html

 

A Queen, a Bride and a Cook

The priest pleaded with the young woman to renounce her faith and embrace the Roman Catholic Church. Only sixteen years of age, Lady Jane Grey had been the Protestant Queen of England for nine short days. Her cousin, the staunch Catholic Queen Mary, would pardon her life if only she would recant. Instead, Jane resolutely walked to the scaffold and publicly declared:

“I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman. I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ.” (Faith Cook, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England, Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2004 p. 198.)

Jane Grey’s confidence lay in the sure hope of the resurrection for those who trust in Christ alone.

Ann Hasseltine struggled to make her decision. She loved Adoniram and was even drawn by the excitement of exploring foreign lands. But was she willing to give up all the comforts of home for the dangers of the unknown? Could she endure leaving loved ones never to meet them again in this life? Adoniram Judson was headed to India in 1811 and had asked Ann to join him as his wife. Never before had any woman left America to become a missionary to unreached people. Ann’s contemplation of Jesus made the decision for her. In her diary she wrote:

“When I get near to God, and discern the excellence of the character of the Lord Jesus, and especially his power and willingness to save, I feel desirous, that the whole world should become acquainted with this Saviour. I am not only willing to spend my days among the heathen, in attempting to enlighten and save them, but I find much pleasure in the prospect. Yes, I am quite willing to give up temporal comforts, and live a life of hardship and trial, if it be the will of God.” (Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands, Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1998 p. 38.)

Ann went with Adoniram. They did live a life of hardship, but together they saw “heathen” saved.

Mary King stirred her pot as she contemplated Sunday’s sermon. “Cook” was a faithful, godly woman who not only prepared hearty meals for the boys at Newmarket School, but also served up “good strong Calvinistic doctrine” to fifteen year-old Charles Spurgeon, who credited her with teaching him his theology:

“Many a time we have gone over the covenant of grace together, and talked of the personal election of the saints, their union to Christ, their final perseverance, and what vital godliness meant; and I do believe that I learnt more from her than I should have learned from any six doctors of divinity of the sort we have nowadays.” (C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: Volume 1 The Early Years, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1962 p. 39.)

Cook dished out spiritual food as well as meat and potatoes, and Charles Spurgeon never forgot what she taught him.

A queen, a bride and a cook: they were all steeped in Christian doctrine —biblical teaching about God. These women didn’t just endure theology. They relished the truths of the Christian faith. Doctrine affected their lives and overflowed to impact others.

As women in the modern world we lead busy lives. We may juggle the responsibilities of work and school and home. We wake up in the morning to dirty laundry and an inbox full of email. We go to bed at night after washing dishes, chasing deadlines and rocking babies to sleep. Sometimes life is overwhelming and sometimes it is just mundane. The God who sent His Son into the world to rescue sinners gives meaning to both the overwhelming and the mundane. He created us to enjoy knowing Him, and it is in knowing Him that we find both meaning and joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is why Jesus commended Mary “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). In the midst of a busy household, Mary was enjoying doctrine — Jesus’ teaching about Himself and His Father. She chose the “the good portion” and couldn’t tear herself away.

How do you feel about doctrine? Do you dwell on the gospel, meditate on the excellencies of Christ and discuss the doctrines of grace? Do you relish the truths of the Christian faith? The Good Portion Series of books on doctrine, written by and for women, will fuel your enjoyment of God by encouraging a greater knowledge of Him. It is our hope that biblical doctrine will not only increase your head-knowledge but will be driven down into your heart, bearing fruit in your life and overflowing into the lives of others.

Adapted from The Good Portion Series Preface