Spiritual Exercises | Lesson #3
These lesson notes were prepared and presented to our church’s Sunday School class, so they may contain references that are personal or specific to our group – but I pray and hope they are general enough to prove helpful and beneficial to others also … maybe even you!
I’m going to read these familiar words from James 1.22-25 in order to introduce and set up this lesson:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
I guess I could give this lesson at least these four titles and themes:
- QUESTIONS TO ASK THE TEXT – which I will explain as we go along
- WHAT TO “LOOK” FOR IN WHAT YOU ARE READING TODAY – because James keep repeating and emphasizing at least three times that when we read the Bible we are “looking” into it
- HOW TO “DO” THE WORDS YOU READ IN THE BIBLE – because that is the most primary point that James is making here: that we must be “doers” of the words we are reading … and not just read it, hear it, or know it
- SIX TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD – I’m going to go with this one because we are all familiar with what a “takeaway” is from something you have heard or read … you don’t just hear a message or a lesson, and you don’t just read the Word of God, and then get up and walk away and leave it all behind. James warns us we can do that – and we often do, to our shame and harm. But a ‘takeaway’ is a lasting impression that you ‘take away’ from what you have heard or read. You don’t forget it. You can’t shake it, and you oughtn’t to. You ‘take it away’ and you act on it. It changes the way you live the rest of your day and your life.
So, I want this lesson to be SIX TAKEAWAYS FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD.
It isn’t my purpose here to even attempt to do an exposition of these words. All I want to do at this time is to emphasize the main point that James is making: and that is, it isn’t enough just to read the Word of God, or ‘hear’ the Word of God [as in learning it], but we must ‘do’ the Word of God! “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” By that, James means that you are deceiving yourself if you think it is enough just to know what the words in the Bible say – if you are not doing them. If you are not putting them into practice.
So, I hope and pray that you have committed yourself to reading the Bible regularly, systematically, and thoroughly. But you must also focus on “doing” what you are reading. You must be sure you are acting on the responsibilities the words of the Scripture are requiring from you, and that you are responding with obedience.
- WHAT TO ‘LOOK FOR’ IN WHAT YOU ARE READING TODAY
James uses here the illustration of a man [or a woman] looking into a mirror. He uses the word “look” three times in this brief illustration:
- …he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror [verse 23]
- For he looks at himself and goes away… [verse 24]
- But the one who looks into the perfect law… [verse 25]
Exactly what are you looking for? What are you supposed to be looking for?
Well, why do you look into a mirror? You look into a mirror so you can see and learn from what you look like – the way you are right now. Why do you need to know what you look like? So you can know if you look OK, if you are presentable … or if something is out of order and needs to be changed and fixed.
But, James says that all your looking into the mirror and seeing your reflection will do you no good if you put the mirror down and walk away with that gravy drip still all down the front of your shirt … or with your lipstick smeared up one corner of your mouth. James says, “For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like…” [verse 24]. You walk away from your reading with no ‘takeaway’!
You looked into the mirror to see what you look like – so now go and fix what needs to be fixed so your looking into the mirror will be worth the time you took to do it. That is your ‘takeaway’ – go and change it!
It does you no good at all to know everything there is to know in the Bible merely in a factual way if you do not act on it! On the other hand, if you are NOT a forgetful hearer of what you have learned – but if you are a diligent DOER of the word you have read – “…he will be blessed in his doing.”
OK – so you are reading, you are learning, you are adding to your store of knowledge about the Bible and what the Bible says – now, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to respond with your actions? How are you going to put it into practice? How are going to change the ways you live throughout your days because you just read what you read?
- QUESTIONS TO ASK THE TEXT YOU ARE READING TODAY
That’s what this lesson is going to be about. I’m going to give you a set of questions to be asking the Word of God as you read it. Better yet: I’m going to give you a set of questions to be asking God as you read His Word. God is the One who “breathed out” or inspired the Bible. God is the One who is speaking with His own Voice in all the words of the Word of God.
So we’re going to be asking Him to show us wondrous things out of His Law. And then, when He shows us what He intends for us to learn from His Word, then we’ll commit ourselves and set out to do it. We’re going to take our “takeaways” and make the changes that we have read about.
Psalm 119.105 ~ “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Psalm 119.59 ~ “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to Your testimonies.”
So, we’re going to read His Word, and think on our ways, and respond accordingly to what God says in those words.
- HOW TO ‘DO’ THE WORDS YOU ARE READING IN THE BIBLE TODAY
- SIX ‘TAKEAWAYS’ FROM YOUR DAILY TIME WITH GOD
So, I’m going to give you a Bible-reading “To Do” list – here are six “takeaways” – that we need to be asking for and looking for so we can go and do them:
- The GOD I must know … and delight in
- An EXAMPLE I must follow … or not follow
- An ERROR that I must avoid
- A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake
- A COMMAND that I must obey
- A PROMISE that I must claim or keep
Now, if you want to – you can turn these into questions: “What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?” And so on, ask the same question about the other five: “What does this Scripture say about…?” I’ll give you some questions you can ask the Scripture you are reading to help you find your takeaways.
So, these will be prompters for meditation, for prayer, for self-examination, and especially for application to your life.
And, these six that I will highlight are certainly not the only takeaways and lessons we can and must learn from reading the Bible. If you can think of others – and I’m sure you can – then go for it! But these six are the most prominent six lessons that I have developed to read the Bible for and learn from.
What I want to do with each one of these prompters is just to show us how each one can be used in any and every Scripture where you reading. All of these life-lessons are universal in all the Scripture, and they are woven into the warp and woof of the fabric of the whole Bible. So, they will be anywhere and everywhere you are reading. Just think about them, and look for them … with the intention of doing them!
Takeaway #1: What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?
Just remember this: the God who inspired the Bible did so for the primary purpose to reveal Himself to us through His words so that we may know Him! Every page, every narrative, every event, every lesson, every story, every instruction is God telling us something about Himself.
I have described in another article how I began years ago to read the Bible with this first and primary quest in my soul – to seek to discover and know this God who inspired and gave us this book, the Bible, so we may know Him and enjoy a personal, spiritual relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. You can read that article here: https://daveparksblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/i-am-just-a-plain-man-seeking-god/
Everything that is written in the Bible is God’s personal way of declaring “I AM THE LORD … THIS IS WHO I AM!” God reveals His character, attributes, and nature in every interaction He has with His creation and with us, His creatures … and in His every response to those interactions.
Of course, since everything in the Bible is God’s revealing Himself, if we wanted to be thorough and complete illustrating how to read to know God and delight in Him, we would have to reference everything that is in the Bible. Obviously, we can’t do that. So, what I want to do is show you how this works where we all are reading together right now – in the Book of Genesis.
As you open chapter 1 of Genesis, you discover and delight in God’s creative power. You discover and delight in God as a God of order and beauty. You discover and delight in God being a Person Himself, and how He created us to be in a personal, loving relationship with Him.
As you continue reading through the account of Adam and Eve disobeying God and falling into sin, you discover and delight in God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy in providing a sin sacrifice and covering for their sin – and you begin to discover and delight in how God will send His own Lamb of God in some distant future time to perfectly save us from our sins.
As you continue reading into the account of God’s judgment against the rampant sin of humankind in the Flood, you discover that God is a God of Holiness and wrath against sin – and He cannot and will not permit sin to go unchecked and unpunished.
As you continue reading on into the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you discover and delight in God as a God who makes covenants with Himself on our behalf – and then shares those covenants and the blessings of those covenants with us, His people, whom He is choosing and adopting to Himself to belong to Him and be with Him forever!
And, on and on … you get the idea. This is the first and foremost, and most important truth and lesson you are reading for: to discover who God is, what kind of God He is – and then to know Him and delight in Him!
Everything God does, He does it consistently with who He is. So, study His words, His attitudes, His evaluations, His judgments, His responses to everything we humans do, His actions and works – all with the end in view of discovering and learning more about Him – and delight in everything you discover about Him!
Psalm 1.2 says, “…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.” Why do we delight in the law of the LORD? Because – we delight in the LORD whose law it is. God’s law [or instruction] is the written expression of who God Himself is. It is the written record of His will, His desires, what pleases Him, what He wants from us.
And so, when we delight in Him, we delight is what He says – and we delight in what He says because we delight in Him. So, ask the Scripture you are reading, “What does this Scripture say about THE GOD that I must know … and delight in?”
Takeaway #2: What does this Scripture say about AN EXAMPLE that I must follow … or not follow?
With every historical account, story, and narrative, you need to be asking yourself:
- What kind of example is being set and presented here?
- What kind of example is being acted out here?
- Is this a good example – or a bad one?
- Is God drawing out this story for me to emulate and follow – or to avoid at all costs?
Let’s fast forward to the New Testament as the writers of the New Testament refer back to these examples and exhort us to pay close attention – make note of the examples we are reading about – and respond according to the character of that example.
I can’t give you the background and context of these New Testament quotations, but I will give you the references, and encourage you to look them up and see what kinds of examples each of them is referring to:
- Romans 15.4 – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
- 1 Corinthians 10.11- Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
- And, then, especially lest we forget also the examples of Sodom and Gomorrah … 2 Peter 2.6 – …if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes He condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…
Of course, there are good, godly, noble examples also – also too numerous to mention them all or describe their examples in detail:
So, as you read all their stories, ask yourself: “What does this Scripture say about an example that I must follow … or not follow?” And then, write it down – make a note of it … and do it!
Takeaway #3: What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR that I must avoid?
This kind of goes back to the last question about examples we must avoid. Except that when I ask “What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR that I must avoid?”, I’m emphasizing here some kind of practice or lifestyle that we can fall into – or slide into more gradually. An error to avoid is a mindset or belief system … a way of thinking and acting.
For example, when Eve was deceived by the serpent [who was, in turn, taken over to serve as the mouthpiece for the fallen Satan], the error that Eve was committing was that she had become distrusting of God’s absolute truthfulness. Satan deceived her into doubting God. That had become, at least for that occasion, an error, a way of thinking and believing that she had fallen into. So that Paul writes to the Corinthian church and warns them against falling into this error of not being fully, whole-heartedly, passionately in love with Jesus Christ and committed to Him.
Listen to his warning in 2 Corinthians 11.2-4:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Or, how about the error that Cain fell into, and even embraced and cultivated. His error was not loving his brother as we have always been commanded to do from the beginning. His error was allowing bitterness and hatred against his brother to grow and thrive in his heart – until he acted on it and murdered his brother.
Which prompted the apostle John to pull us up short and stand face-to-face with us and call us away from falling or sliding into this error.
1 John 3.11-15 ~ For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Jude follows up by warning us about those who practice this sinful error and lifestyle: “For they walked in the way of Cain” [Jude, verse 11].
How about the error of those who disregarded the ways of God in their lives and rejected Noah’s warnings to repent from their sins and seek their refuge in God and the ark He was providing? But, they just continued eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage until the floodwaters of God’s judgment was poured out on them and destroyed them. Jesus warned against those errors: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man” [Luke 17.26].
Just one more: how about the error of Lot’s wife? She was so in love with what God had abominated and marked for destruction, and she was so loathe to leave it behind, she disobeyed the instruction of the angels not to look back – and instead did look back with a lingering longing to have it, and God turned her into a pillar of salt. “Remember Lot’s wife!” [Luke 17.32] … which is another way of saying “What does this Scripture say about AN ERROR I must avoid?”
So, as you are reading, pay attention to the text and study your own heart. Read, and look, and pray over what you are reading and ask God to keep you from the errors that have ruined so many others and destroyed their lives and happiness.
Takeaway #4: What does this Scripture say about A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake?
Well, again, we have pretty much already plowed this furrow, but here’s the focal point of this question: we can become so used to our own personal history and experience of walking with the Lord, our traditions we have practiced for decades, the service we have been engaged in for years, and especially our long-time familiarity with the Scriptures – that we, especially, run the risk of becoming blind, jaded, and numb to our own sins.
Keep this question before you, and ask this question of the text and passage you are reading: “What does this Scripture say about A SIN that I must confess, repent from, and forsake?”
That is a very grave error we want to avoid – going back to the previous question #3. We can become so practiced in knowing what the Scripture says that we fail to really read what the very Scriptures we are reading are saying to us – and saying about us. We can so easily read about the sins of others that we fail to see those same sins in ourselves.
I read a statement by Pastor Burk Parsons the other day: “I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do.”
We are so often like David was when he was visited by the prophet Nathan. Nathan began to tell David the story about the man in his kingdom who stole his neighbor’s one pet lamb to slaughter and serve to some friends of his when he had plenty of other lambs that already belonged to him. David became so enraged at the sin of this fictitious character that he was ready to haul him in and have him executed – until Nathan confronted him and said, “You are that man!” To which David responded with conviction and grief, “I have sinned against the LORD” [2 Samuel 12.1-14].
So, here’s what I’m challenging us all to do: as you read the Word of God, pray to God to keep your own heart open to the conviction of your own sins. Pray to the Holy Spirit to keep your conscience sensitive to your sins – to remove the blinders that prevent us from seeing our own blind-spots about our own sins.
Read the Bible – not just with your eyes or even just with your mind – but read the Bible with your conscience. And, when God reveals your sins to you, then let’s do what we’re supposed to do: not just feel bad about it, or try to make atonement by wallowing in your guilt and self-loathing – but confess it immediately, honestly, and sincerely, and then repent from it. Not just repent for having done it, but repent from it. And forsake it.
Either the Bible will keep you from sin; or sin will keep you from the Bible.
Psalm 119.11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Takeaway #5: What does this Scripture say about A COMMAND that I must obey?
Well – there are a LOT of commands in the Bible, wouldn’t you agree? And, God means for us to know them … and know them all … and do them all. I know that’s a tall order, but God has made it clear from the very beginning that it is our responsibility to obey Him in every respect, to obey His every command.
If only Adam and Eve had done that in the beginning! But, of course, they didn’t. And that’s why we’re in the sin-mess we’re in. I made the point earlier that one of the errors we must avoid is the error Eve was deceived into believing: that she could pick and choose which of God’s commands she had to obey, or the error of believing she could second-guess God’s authority or the seriousness of God’s commands, or even adjust God’s commands to her own preferences or liking.
Genesis 2.16 ~ And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
But, no! Eve chose to believe the serpent’s lie about God’s truthfulness and the consequences God had promised – because it better suited what she wanted to believe and what she wanted to do:
Genesis 3.1-7 ~ Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘Youshall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Just remember: all the grief, suffering, and death we are suffering from now came from that one act of disobedience. So, keep asking the text: “What does this Scripture say about A COMMAND I must obey?”
Takeaway #6: What does this Scripture say about A PROMISE that I must claim or keep?
God has been giving us promises from the very beginning of the Bible. In fact, Paul told Titus that God has been giving us promises even “before the ages began” [Titus 1.2], and He has recorded those promises in His Word.
Immediately after Adam and Eve fell into their sin, God began promising that He would send the offspring of the woman [meaning, He would send His own Son, Jesus Christ], and that He would destroy the cursed effects that sin had brought into our world and upon us through the work of the serpent. We even call this promise the “protoevangelium,” or “the first good news,” the first promise of Christ and His Gospel.
When God destroyed the world with the Flood, He gave us the sign of the rainbow, and He promised that He would never again destroy the earth with water [Genesis 9.8-17].
That same promise is linked up with Jesus’ promise to come again at the end of this age. “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” [2 Peter 3.13].
When God gives us promises, He will keep them. We can believe that and count on Him to do as He has promised. God wants us to believe His promises and trust Him to be good on His Word. In the Bible, that assurance and confidence that God will keep every one of His promises is called ‘hope.’
And so, as you read everything you read in God’s Word, just remember that Jesus Christ is God’s Promise. The Gospel is God’s promise. Grace is God’s promise. His covenant is His promise. Heaven is His promise.
2 Corinthians 1.20 ~ “For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes!’ in Him [Christ]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our ‘Amen’ to God for His glory.”
Anything and everything you will ever need to live in the grace relationship God has promised us in Jesus Christ – whatever you will ever need, and more than you can ever desire that is good, God has promised it to us and given it to us in Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1.3-4 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us toHis own glory and excellence, 4 by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Every one of these “His precious and very great promises” is contained in His Word. And, He means for you to have and enjoy every single one of them according to your every need.
So, as you read the Word, ask the text … ask the passage … ask God who is speaking His own Word, “What does this Scripture say about A PROMISE that I must claim or keep?”
And then, when He shows it to you, make a note of it.
Write it down.
Claim it and keep it.
He will be good for it.
Here are a couple worksheets I have developed to help you look for and take notes on these Six Takeaways from Your Daily Time With God…
This one is a slightly re-formatted version of the first one:
If you are interested in viewing the YouTube presentations of this lesson, here are the links … I divided it into two video lessons: parts 1 & 2
Episode 4 – Spiritual Exercises.Lesson 3.James 1.22-25.Six Takeaways From Your Daily Time With God, part 1
https://youtu.be/1VYZ1G2wb6s / Length 27:20
Episode 5 – Spiritual Exercises.Lesson 3.James 1.22-25.Six Takeaways From Your Daily Time With God, part 2
https://youtu.be/DdkgceMc1do / Length 32:30