What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word?

There are times when I read God’s Word and the words seem to fall flat. I’m hungry to hear from God, eager to meet him in my Bible, yet nothing jumps off the page or particularly moves my heart.

This can feel like looking at a delicious meal, and wanting to enjoy it, but having no appetite for it.

Identify Your Motives

Such hunger and disappointment reveal two attitudes about the human heart, one we should pursue and be thankful for, and one we should confess and flee from:

First, our hunger and disappointment mean we desire God. This is good! We want to hear from him, because we love him and want to obey him. We desire to know the God who speaks and walk closely with him by opening the Scriptures.

But our hunger and disappointment can equally say we expect God to reveal himself on our terms and timing, according to our needs and feelings. If we’re not careful, our time in God’s Word can become less about knowing him and more about checking off a list of spiritual duties to make ourselves feel good.

Usually, our hunger and disappointment are some combination of both. So what can we do? Where do we turn?

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First Look: An Interview with Abigail Dodds, Author of (A)Typical Woman

I’m excited to roll out this blog series entitled First Look, where I’ll be interviewing authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Abigail Dodds is a wife, mother of five, and grad student at Bethlehem College & Seminary. I’ve long admired her writing abilities, but mostly her desire to exalt Jesus in everything she writes. She is author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ (Crossway, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

(A)Typical Woman answers the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian and a woman?” It isn’t looking at all the verses in the Bible about women or addressed to women and then trying to assemble a composite of the ideal woman for us to try and imitate so we can be real women. The book is simpler than that. It isn’t throwing out the necessity of paying close attention to what God has to say to us in particular passages as women, but it isn’t trying to achieve womanhood. Instead, we want Christ to be our beginning and end. So we must examine two parallel and conjoined realities: the gift and reality of being born––made through Christ––as a woman, and the gift and reality of being re-born––made through Christ––as his daughter.

The book has three sections:

  • “Women Through and Through” is the foundation of the book. It examines our new birth, our womanhood, how we read the Bible, the meaning behind our bodies, holiness, etc.
  • “Women in All We Do” looks at some of the particular callings women have.
  • “Fearless and Free Women” is more personal, looking at how Christ matures us as Christian women.

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Pastor, Involve Your Wife in Your Job Search

Are you a pastor? Or are you married to one? Then you’ll benefit from a book I had the privilege of contributing to, Benjamin Vrbicek’s Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church.

When my husband and I got married, he was pastoring middle- and high-school students at our church. He loved his job and was excellent at it––but we knew the end was near. He had agreed to work in this role for five years, at which point he wanted to become a preaching pastor.

We hoped and prayed this would happen at the same local church, but only God knew.

Through many unknowns, we started discussing the possibilities. Would God direct us to stay somehow? Would he have us elsewhere near our home? Or would he call us to pick up everything and move across state lines?

After about a year of waiting, we got the call: We were staying at the same church, in a different role. Hallelujah! But the waiting was intense, and it stretched and grew our marriage in a unique way.

Pastor, as you begin (or continue) your job search, know that your wife desires to be involved. She knows you better than anyone, will speak truthfully, and wants what’s best for you. The following are five ways my husband involved me during our season of searching and waiting––and I hope they’ll be helpful to you.

Through Commitment

As husbands and wives are joined in the covenant of marriage and united in Christ, one spouse’s calling means both spouses must be called. In other words, your wife should have peace and clarity about the jobs you’re looking at and pursuing, especially when it comes to decision time.

My husband always reminds me that “we’re in this together.” No, I may not be preaching on Sundays or pastoring the flock, but I’m one with him, so any job search needs to be a united effort and decision. Your devotion to your wife extends even to this.

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What’s Motivating Our Online Authenticity?

What’s motivating our online authenticity?

What’s the heart behind our sharing an embarrassing or ungodly or messy or raw moment on social media? Is it truly to offer, in a spirit of humility, an example of what it looks like to walk humbly before the eyes of God?

Or is it to garner likes and attention—to gain the eyeballs of man?

Probably both. Our motives will always be mixed in this life, until our hearts are rid of sin forever before the presence of Christ. But it’s struck me lately how disingenuous our messiness is if we’re using it for the wrong reasons, and often the wrong reasons can feel like gray areas, difficult to identify in human hearts that often desire both the glory of God and man.

Jesus warned his disciples of practicing their righteousness before people, to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1). He gives a few examples: giving, praying, and fasting. The same principle applies to our online sharing: Are we practicing our “righteousness” in the form of rawness and authenticity before others to be seen and praised by them? Is our authenticity an end in itself, or a means to a greater end?

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Moms, It Is Our Privilege

On hard days of mothering, it’s easy to see it purely as a type of suffering, rather than a blessed privilege. And it is a type of suffering. Motherhood is tough. It requires us to give up our plans in favor of what our kids need most. It demands our preferences for theirs. It’s strenuous on our bodies as we carry babies and hoist toddlers, and it tests our hearts as we soak up tears, discipline in love, and spend ourselves for little immediate return.

Yes, motherhood is a form of suffering. But in the middle of its trials, when we’re exhausted and weary, we can quickly forget what a privilege it is––often at the same time as when it’s hardest.

Pictures of Jesus

As I rocked our infant daughter in the quiet of her room, the day’s trials melted in light of the moment. Wise words from a mentor came to mind: “Remember what a privilege it is to be the picture of Christ to her.”

What a privilege indeed.

Don’t we need to know this truth, mommas, when it seems we can’t catch a break? When our kids are demanding so much from us, and we aren’t sure we can give any more? When our patience runs low because our little one has pushed our buttons and tested our love?

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When a Christian Leader Fails You

Leaders in the church aren’t exempt from sin. No one is. We don’t expect perfect people to lead our congregations, create our resources, and speak into our culture. But we do expect them to uphold the Bible’s authority and walk in holiness. We do want them to remain faithful to Christ.

So what are we to do when a respected Christian leader fails the church, in any context? How are we to respond?

Rejoice in God’s Unchanging Nature   

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

God is immutable. He never changes his mind. He makes good on what he says he’ll do, and he upholds every word he has spoken. Think about all the plans God has made and communicated to us, plans he had formed before eternity past, and consider how he’s been faithful to fulfill them. Think about his goodness to keep his promise of salvation to unworthy sinners. Think about the unbreakable new covenant of Jesus’ blood, poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.

As we consider the leader who has changed, we can rejoice in our unchanging, trustworthy, and true God. He will never leave us, fail us, betray us, or change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).     

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Why I Publish on Ministry Blogs

I’ve appreciated the recent online conversation, started by Tim Challies, about the benefits of keeping a blog-blog versus writing primarily for group blogs or ministry blogs. I actually agree with much of what Tim writes about the importance of maintaining personal blogs, especially the freedom they allow for cultural commentary and responding to current events (a freedom that many ministry blogs don’t allow), along with the benefits of faithful “plodding.”

I keep a blog-blog, and I served almost five years as an editor to a ministry blog (shameless plug: Unlocking the Bible), so I feel I can comment from a unique, dual perspective. When it comes to publishing online, I try to abide by the “one home, one away” guideline (the keyword being try). Here are four brief thoughts on why it’s important to keep publishing “away” on ministry blogs:

More eyeballs

If our objective is to exalt Jesus Christ and share the good news about him with others and help them see how this good news applies to every corner of their lives, don’t we want as many eyeballs as possible to see what we’re writing?

Numbers aren’t an evil motivator. Sure, my heart’s not perfectly pure and won’t be until I’m with Jesus, but I genuinely want to point as many people as I can to him. Many writers don’t have a global blog-blog following, but many ministry blogs do, so I think it’s making the best use of the time (and using common sense) to seek out the biggest and widest platform for the soul-transforming message we proclaim.

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When a Good God Encounters a Gay Girl

I saw them as I drove up our street. Both girls had beautiful, long hair and were about 16 years old. Then I noticed they were holding hands and sharing intimate embraces. Just friends? Maybe. But probably not.

This scene is common nowadays. Christians can’t ignore the subject of homosexuality, as it’s so interwoven with our culture. We need to know how to engage with it, following the example of our Lord Jesus who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And this requires us to pull up a chair and listen well to those who’ve walked its road.

Full of Worship

Jackie Hill Perry is one such woman. Growing up in a broken home, she had an absent father and suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a friend’s older brother. Her first book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been, recounts these circumstances that shaped her gay identity, but in Perry’s words, “Sexual abuse is not what made me gay. Nor did fatherlessness. They only exaggerated and helped direct the path for what was already there––which is sin” (37).

818h+uu5khlHaving struggled with same-sex attraction (SSA) for as long as she can remember, Perry recounts her story with humility, pointing us ultimately to her good God. From the beginning, she tells us that’s her agenda:

Leaving this word-filled place with a developed understanding of me and a shallow revelation of God would make all of my efforts worthless. . . . This work is my worship unto God that, with prayer, I hope will leave you saying, “God is so good!” (3–4)

And it does that. I know Perry better, and have a better understanding of SSA, because of this book; but more importantly, I know our good God better. It caused me to revel in the miraculous––that God awakens the dead and opens blind eyes to the truth that’s in Jesus, that he’s gracious to relentlessly pursue those who’ve rejected him, and that he does the impossible in saving rebels.

I’m worshiping, and for that reason I’d say Perry did what she set out to do.

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A Journaling Template for Your New Year’s Resolutions

How will you be intentional about the next 365 days?

As we’ve closed another year and started a fresh one, there’s much to thank God for, to process, and also to pray over and anticipate. Over the past few years, I’ve found a concise and clear way to journal these thoughts and prayers. And I hope it might be useful to you!

So grab your Bible, along with a pen and notebook, and find some time to be alone with the Lord, seeking his will and wisdom for the coming year.

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2018 Reading Favorites

Friends, behold, my favorite books from 2018! The art of reading felt different this year––slower––as we welcomed our daughter and enjoyed our first year with her (a blessing!). But I preferred the slowness, I think, as it helped me appreciate the quiet moments more and process what I was reading with greater clarity.

The titles I’m sharing with you below follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:

If one of the main purposes of books is to make the reader think, then these are the ones I’d say made me think most deeply, curiously, and enthusiastically this year. (I’ve chosen a first prize and a runner-up for each genre.) I hope these thoughts might sway you to read a few of these titles, yourself!

Theology

First Prize: The Cross of Christ (John Stott)

I’m only halfway through Stott’s excellent book, but can already give it my highest commendation. He’s a master of accessible theology, drawing out the atonement with confident clarity, biblical richness, and a humble sensitivity to its mysteries. Many people put this book on their must-read-in-this-lifetime list, and I fully agree. Read it as soon as you can!

Runner-Up: The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Sinclair B. Ferguson)

Ferguson, in his wonderful treatment on the law and the gospel, helped me see that legalism goes beyond our common definition: It’s not simply trying to work our way to God, it’s divorcing God’s good character from his law, and viewing it apart from his heart to save sinners. Ferguson exhorted me to hold fast to “the marrow” of the gospel, the cure for both legalism and antinomianism, in writing and teaching in any context. If you’ve ever been confused about the place of the law in the gospel, read this book.

Biography, Memoir, & Historical Fiction

First Prize: The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

The storyline of Whitehead’s novel depressed me, making me wonder if I could genuinely call the book a favorite––but I think that’s his point. He brings to light the horrors of slavery in America, and how quickly hoped-for dreams of freedom could be dashed for those who took the risk and ran. Read this for the rawness of his writing and for perspective.

Runner-Up: Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been (Jackie Hill Perry)

I had the honor of reviewing Perry’s memoir for The Gospel Coalition, so I’ll point you to it here!

Christian Living

First Prize: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family (Paul David Tripp)

If I had to choose one book that stood out among the rest, a favorite of favorites, Parenting is it. No other book caused me to think as much as this one (probably because we’re new parents). Tripp builds a theological foundation for why we parent; the most striking part for me was the truth that God is parenting me as I parent my daughter. Many other moms have told me this is their favorite parenting book, and for good reasons!

Runner-Up: The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (Jared C. Wilson)

Wilson is a skilled (and prolific) writer of many practical theology books, and this one is no exception. As a perfectionist who struggles with sin and failure, I was helped to read Wilson’s words: “Jesus is for losers.” I always appreciate his push-back on false gospels; in this book, he confronts the church’s typical definition of discipleship (doing good things) with what it really is (coming to Jesus over and over and over again). I often recommend this one to people who find grace hard to believe.

Vocation & Learning

First Prize: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Tony Reinke)

Confession: I listened to Reinke’s book on audio while sleep-deprived and in the fog of early motherhood. But that season was actually the perfect time to listen: I knew I didn’t want to waste away my nursing sessions on my phone. Reinke’s hard work and research is astounding and has clearly blessed many readers, based upon the feedback I’ve read and heard in the last year. Our phones are incredible tools, but they often rule over us; Reinke helped me think about my motives and habits, and especially what these communicate to the people in the room with me.

Runner-Up: Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word (Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach)

I’m not finished with this yet, but it’s wonderful! Short chapters teach the reader how to study their Bible using memorable tools like structure, context, and linking words. If you want an accessible book on Bible study, this is it.

Fiction

First Prize: Home (Marilynne Robinson)

After Gilead was recommended to me by everyone and their brother, I finally picked it up. I didn’t enjoy Gilead as much as I did Robinson’s second novel, Home, a harrowing tale of family dynamics, personal sin, and hope deferred. Robinson is a gifted writer, one whose novels I hope to read to completion.

Runner-Up: Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry)

The story of small-town barber, Jayber Crow showcases the beauty of the ordinary. Berry writes like a song, so while the novel’s plot line feels slow, it’s a welcome slowness full of enjoyable rhythms, eclectic personalities, and depth. Like Robinson’s three Gilead books, Berry’s other books stand alone but are based in the same place. Read them if you want to slow down.

I hope these suggestions prompt you to read great books in 2019. Any suggestions for the books you enjoyed this year? Leave titles in the comments––I’m always looking for great ones.