Prayer Helps Video Series – #2 God-Focused Prayers

2-god-focused-prayer

There is something wrong with the way many of us approach prayer.

Click here to see the second video in this series called “God-Focused Prayer”.

Video Notes:

In my opinion, two reasons for our poor praying are:

  1. Ignorance – Most of us were never taught how to pray.
  2. Arrogance – We assume too often that we know the best answer for our need without having to consult God.

Behind this poor praying is the wrong focus – need-based prayer rather than God-focused prayer.

(Fresh Encounters by Daniel Henderson)

picture-of-book-fresh-encountersActs 4 is a good example of God-focused prayer:

  • -vv.1-22 – the problem
  • -vv.23-30 – the response
  • -v.31 – the result

Take Action:

When you pray this week, bring your needs to God and before telling Him how to answer your prayer, pause. Wait for God to show you how you should pray and then offer your request.

Next Video – Worship-Based Prayer

 

“Prayer Helps” Video Series – #1 Intimacy With God

video-series-logo-for-l3dI’m trying something new – a video series on prayer with ideas on how to improve your prayer life. One of the “Ds” in Living in 3D is “Desiring God”. An effective and meaningful prayer life is key to enjoying and pursuing God.

Each video will be no longer than 10 minutes and will be posted on YouTube.

Click here to see the first video called “Intimacy With God”.

Video Notes:

The Hour That Changes the World” by Dick Eastman

Take Action:

Add a new element to your prayer life such as:

  • beginning and/or ending your prayer time with praise or
  • adding a time for silence in your time of prayer

Be sure to journal your experience so you can see if making a change makes your prayer life more meaningful and let me know how it goes!

I would appreciate your feedback on this video and content. It is an experiment so let me know if you think videos are a helpful way for me to communicate with you.

Next video: The importance of the right focus in prayer

 

A Victory in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

Backpage.com CEO arrested on pimping charges

telephone box in the night

I have encouraging news to share about the fight against human trafficking.

Some of you have heard me speak on human trafficking and have joined me in praying for an end to this evil criminal activity this is destroying the lives of children and adults, both male and female, here in Canada, in the US and around the world. Nothing inspires me to pray more fervently than seeing answers to prayer so I hope this news will cause you to renew your commitment to pray about this national and global issue.

Backpage.com is one website that has been used not only to promote sex trafficking but has also profited by it. On Oct 6, 2016, Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested in Texas on a California warrant and charged with pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. Authorities claim the site is “a hub for the illegal sex trade” and officials in both states allege the site has been used to facilitate the exploitation of adult and child sex-trafficking victims who were all forced into prostitution through escort ads posted to the site. Arrest warrants were also issued for two of Backpage’s controlling shareholders.

According to The Toronto Sun, more than 90 percent of Backpage.com’s revenue came from adult escort ads. In California, that amounted to about $50 million between January 2013 and May 2015, or between $1.5 million and $2.5 million a month.

This arrest was possible because of the cooperation and collaboration of law enforcement and other authorities working together to protect the lives of the vulnerable. Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton stated,

Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas. I intend to use every resource my office has to make sure those who profit from the exploitation and trafficking of persons are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

There are also many community and faith organizations taking a stand against sex trafficking. One organization that is working tirelessly to prevent sex trafficking and bringing justice to women and children victimized by this crime is Shared Hope International located in Vancouver, Washington. Just the month before this arrest, Shared Hope filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of child victims suing Backpage.com for allowing their exploitation on its website.” The cries of these victims have not fallen on deaf ears!

YOUR RESPONSE

I would like to invite you to respond to this good news. We are so inundated with bad news that we often fail to stop and celebrate the good news. Would you take a moment to bow your head to thank God for those who are working to bring justice to lives that are harmed by sex trafficking and to pray that justice will be served in this particular situation?

Better yet, why not make a commitment to pray regularly about human trafficking? You may wish to use A Prayer for the End of Human Trafficking as shared by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J. It reminds us to pray not just for the victims but also for the offenders. I particularly like the line, “Fill us with your holy anger and your sacred passion…” 

Let us pray…

Time for Thanksgiving

3 tech tools to help you find time for what's important

People eating a pie and drinking cranberry compote

With Thanksgiving weekend upon us most of us will spend time with family and friends. Our time is one of the most precious gifts we can give but most of us struggle to find the time we want to spend with loved ones and friends.

Although many people complain about how modern technology robs us of valuable time and has replaced face-to-face interaction, it can also do the opposite. I would like to share with you three tech tools that are helping me find more time for the most important tasks and the most important people in my life.

  1. RescueTime (www.rescuetime.com) – Do you know how much time you waste online checking email, Facebook and surfing the net? Do you know where you are spending most of your time when you are on the computer? RescueTime, the best time management app according to PCMag.com, will analyze how and where you spend your time when online. You can choose what it monitors and also what activities and websites you consider to be good use of your time. A report of your time will be emailed to you daily, weekly or monthly. I prefer the weekly report and find that it is frequent enough to help me adjust my use of time.

Here is what I learned last week about my time spent online over the previous seven days. I spent 17 hours and 22 minutes online which was 5 fewer hours than the week before. My productivity score was 82% which is about 5% lower than the previous week. I spent on average 7 minutes a day on tasks considered to be “distracting time”. The largest chunks of my time were spent on Gmail and Word documents. With this information, I can adjust my priorities and use my time even more intentionally.

Most of us don’t need more time. We just need to use our time more effectively. I’ve heard that what isn’t measured won’t be changed so this is a great tool to give you the facts about your use of time online so that you can make changes to help you use your time more wisely.

RescueTime has a premium version but the free version is excellent and will meet the needs of most people.

  1. OneTab (www.one-tab.com) – This free Chrome and Firefox extension is easy to install and is useful for anyone who does research online. Instead of having many tabs open at the same time, just click on OneTab and it will convert all your tabs into one list. Having fewer tabs is less distracting and will save up to 95% of  your computer’s memory. Your tabs are safe using OneTab. Even if you accidently close OneTab all your tabs will be there when you open it again. There are many different functions available including putting your tabs in categories and prioritizing them. This tool will speed up the time you spend searching online by keeping your tabs organized.
  2. Scripture Typer (https://scripturetyper.com) – This is a skill builder app rather than a productivity tool but it will save you time in memorizing scripture. For decades I have been memorizing scripture and have tried many techniques. I have bought Scripture memory systems and have set up my own system with verses handwritten on recipe cards. I have taped them on my bathroom mirror for easy review and carried them in my purse or pocket where they got dirty, torn and often lost. I even organized them in a recipe box according to date in order to review them regularly and I still don’t remember a lot of the verses I worked on. This app makes learning scripture more interesting and more engaging than any method I have used.

Adding a verse is easy. You have a choice of ten Bible translations that will automatically import your text once you type in the reference, or you can type in the complete text if your favorite Bible version is not listed.

To learn a verse, practice typing it by typing just the first letter of every word, then the first letter of every other word and finally typing it on a blank screen. Once you have reached at least 90% accuracy the verse will be scheduled for review.

The built-in review is one of the best features of this app. The frequency can be tweaked to suit your schedule and needs. You can choose to receive an email regularly with the verses to be reviewed for that day or week. (I choose just to check the app each day instead of adding more emails to my inbox.)

This app is easy to use and comes with several lists of verses if you are unsure what verses you want to memorize. I enjoy using the record option where you can record yourself reading the verse you want to memorize. Using as many senses as possible will speed up the time required to commit these words to memory.

This is a mobile and web app that works on many devices. It costs $9.99 which is more than what I usually pay for apps. However, this is a skill I have been trying to develop for decades and so for me, it is worth the money. I also wanted to support the creator of this app after reading about him and the app in the July 2016 issue of MinistryTech Magazine, formerly Christian Computing Magazine.

These apps are helping me spend time on what is important this holiday weekend.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

 

Deep Reading – how to get started

Concept of open mind as a a deep mountain cliff shaped as a human head with a ladder leading to the outside towards a glowing sun as a psychology and mental health metaphor for spiritual discovery.

If you Google how to do deep reading you likely will get instructions aimed at students who need to acquire this skill for academic purposes. My purpose though in learning to read more deeply is to increase my enjoyment of reading and for personal growth.

If you want to explore deep reading there are three questions you need to consider.

1. What should I read?

  • Fiction as well as nonfiction

I was very surprised to discover in my research that fiction is just as beneficial, if not more beneficial, than reading nonfiction. I personally prefer nonfiction so I may need to give more consideration in the future to the many benefits of reading fiction.

Annie Murphy in her New York Times article “Your Brain on Fiction” cites evidence from studies in neuroscience that supports the unique value of reading fiction. She writes,

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life… novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings…there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters…

She quotes Dr. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto who states that,

Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”1

  •  New books

It is easy to find out from your local library or from the Internet what the latest and most popular books are. You can also go to various websites to find the most highly recommended books for those who want to read more widely.

One digital resource I have recently discovered and enjoy is Blinkist. It is based in Berlin and was launched about three years ago. It has a website (Blinkist.com) and an iPhone app. It provides fifteen-minute summaries of nonfiction books. It is a great way to keep informed without having to purchase every book that grabs your attention. This is a subscription service which you can try for free for thirty days.

  • Books you’ve read before

 It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.
C.S. Lewis

Rereading a book that was meaningful to you as a child, teen or young adult can have a deeper meaning to you at this stage of life. When you already know the characters and the story it is easier to focus on how the message of the book is communicated rather than on the story itself.

 2. How should I read?

  • Time – You must set aside time. Most of us will do little reading unless we intentionally make it a part of our daily or weekly schedule. In my daily schedule, there is time for reading in the morning before breakfast and also before I go to bed. Throughout the day I look for other times to read. These times I consider a bonus because they were not planned.
  •  Approach – As you read, don’t take everything at face value. Consider it from an intellectual point of view. Think about not just what is being said but how it is being said. What assumptions are being made? What arguments or metaphors are being used? Are they effective? Do you agree with what the author is saying explicitly and implicitly?

Consider the literature from an emotional point of view. What words, images or ideas did you respond to emotionally? Why?

Consider what you have read from the point of view of your own values and morals. Is there any conflict between yours and those of the author or of the characters? How do these values and standards line up with scripture?

Consider what you’ve read from a practical point of view. Is there anything here that is related to a relationship, problem or situation in your life right now? Is there insight from this reading that you can apply?

  • Tools – It is difficult to do deep reading without a highlighter, pen or pencil in your hand to capture words and thought-provoking ideas. Marking up books will make it easier for you to find the material in the future. You may prefer instead of, or in addition to marking up the text, keeping a paper or electronic journal of your discoveries. If your smart phone has a memo or voice app you could also use that to read aloud material that has caught your attention or record your thoughts about it for future consideration.

3. How to integrate new insights into your life

Many opportunities for deep learning and personal growth are missed because we fail in this final step. If our reading is going to impact our thinking and our lives we need to be exposed to it more than once.  Here are two ways to increase the impact of your reading on your life:

  • Review – Mark a date on your calendar to review things you have highlighted in your reading or for time to reread your journal entries. Do you still think and feel the same way about what you read?
  • Share – The best way to remember what you have read is to share it with others. Communicating what I have read and learned helps me to understand new ideas. Also, by sharing with others I can ask for accountability if there is a change in my life that I want to make or I can inspire others with new insights that may be applicable to their lives. I find personal conversations are enriched when people share what they are reading, learning and how they are growing. For many people, the most effective means of communicating is by writing books, blogs or even letters.

I hope some of these ideas will encourage you to read with more focus and attention for your own enjoyment and benefit but it won’t happen unless you are intentional about it.

…we need to think of reading with more care, treat it as more precious. It feeds our brains, and so deserves arguably even more attention than what feeds our bodies. It changes us, so we need to realise that we are taking that risk whenever we open the cover (or click on the link). Let’s take risks that are worth it.2

Which book will you pick up next?

 


1 Annie Murphy Paul, Your Brain on Fiction, SundayReview,  March 17, 2012) (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html)

2. Greg Clarke, Deep Reading in a Time of Tweeting, EternityNews, July 20, 2016 (https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/deep-reading-in-a-time-of-tweeting/)

 

 

 

Deep Reading – Deep Thinking

The need for deep reading in our lives

If you understand everything, you must be misinformed. Japanese proverb on a slate blackboard with chalk and cup of tea

I hope you have had a great summer and that you found some time to read. Did you read any books that changed your life or at least changed the way you think?

With the delightful distractions of beach weather and vacations, many of us were able to enjoy only light reading. Such reading entertained us and helped us relax but now that September is here perhaps it is time to plan “deep reading”.

LIGHT READING

Light reading or surface reading that we engage in on a regular basis is reading where we tacitly accept the information we are reading without reflecting upon it. This contributes to little learning and short-term retention. Most of us who have crammed for exams know this experience well!

DEEP READING

In contrast, reading that is more impactful is known as “slow”, “close” or “deep reading” which involves complicated mental processes such as analyzing, synthesizing, inferential and deductive reasoning. and more.

The deep reader focuses on the author’s message, on the ideas she is trying to convey, the line of argument, and the structure of the argument. The reader makes connections to already known concepts and principles and uses this understanding for problem solving in new contexts.”1

FOR MATURE MINDS

This description reminds me of some of my Grade 12 English classes where we were forced to look deeper into the assigned literature. It was good training. The mental processes required for deep reading take years to develop. This is great news for many of us! Not only do we have the mental skills required for deep reading, we also have many life experiences that help us make meaningful associations and connections with what we are reading.

WHY DEEP READING IS SO DIFFICULT

Even though we have the mental skills required to learn and enjoy deep reading, these skills need to be practiced.  Unfortunately, many adults do little deep reading after crossing the stage at graduation. We also struggle with finding time to read anything, let alone something that requires reading and thinking time. If deep reading “captures our full attention and is invested with emotional intensity”2, it is not something you are likely to experience while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for your name to be called!

The greatest challenge though to deep reading is our digital culture. Children do not experience many opportunities to develop reading and cognitive skills required for deep reading later on in life. As adults, we are easily distracted and entertained by sound-bytes rather than depth; visual images rather than written text; and immediacy rather than thoughtfully written works. Also, the very format of digital reading hinders deep reading.

It is easier to fall into a state of deep reading when holding a real book, magazine, or printout in your hands. Apparently, the brain recognizes the difference between what is real and what is virtual, so texts or images gleaned from a screen evoke a weaker emotional reaction (this is why you cannot proofread from the screen). Computers and gadgets also offer more distractions, and deep reading is incompatible with multi-tasking.3

WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT DEEP READING?

In the article, The Power of Deep Reading, several benefits of deep reading are highlighted. Three of them are summarized here:

  1. It is good for the brain.

Deep reading provides the brain with a unique neural workout. The very act of reading requires the simultaneous recruitment and synchronization of multiple brain areas. 4

2. It helps develop empathy and problem solving.

Years of deep reading can thus facilitate the development and integration of brain areas involved in abstract thinking or conceptualization, the fusion of logical reasoning and emotion, long-term planning, empathy (or social intelligence), moral intuition (since moral judgments seem to depend on “gut feelings”), etc.5

3. It increases enjoyment of reading when readers learn new concepts, gain new information and experience emotional associations and connections made with words and ideas.

This advice written by Dorothy Sayers in 1942 is still good advice.

[I]f the author’s style appeals to you, do make a point of enjoying it. Get the feel of balance in a beautiful sentence, rejoice in the lovely appropriateness of the exact right word and thank your gods that the author had the wit and industry to choose that word, out of a whole dictionaryful of less adequate words, for the express purpose of pleasing you. Entertain yourself by finding other words yourself and discovering why they sound so feeble by comparison.6

DEEP READING AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Deep reading should be a concern for anyone who wants to grow emotionally, socially, and intellectually, but it should be of particular concern for Christians. The Bible frequently commands us to “think”, “remember”, “consider” and to seek wisdom, all of which require deep thinking. The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 explains that the secret to knowing and doing the will of God is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I would suggest that the lack of deep reading and thinking is a leading cause of the lack of spiritual growth many Christians confess.

Greg Clarke, CEO of Bible Society Australia, wrote in Deep reading in a time of tweeting,

Our unique, God-given capacity for inward meditation is like a muscle that needs exercising, lest it becomes flabby and useless. Like all exercise, deep reading is a mixture of pleasure and strenuous effort, but without it we are poor versions of ourselves, earthbound blobs when we should be soaring spiritual specimens.”7

DEEP READING AND CHRISTIAN WITNESS

Constantly growing in our faith through the deep reading of scripture and good literature will contribute to having a positive impact on those around us. But we need to do more than just read deeply for our own personal benefit. Our world needs Christians who are able to engage in thoughtful, informed, meaningful dialogue with people of differing views. Much debate on important cultural and moral issues of our day is missing the contribution of a biblical perspective. People are tired of Christians who quote scripture at them, who judge them and do not seek to understand them or the complex choices people often face. I agree with Clarke –

We need deep reading more than ever. It gives us the opportunity to understand the increasingly diverse people we now call neighbours. It stops us from coming to rash judgments on the basis of a Facebook post or YouTube video. And it provides the all-important sense that there is something more to life than what we see.8

Clearly, deep reading has many benefits for ourselves and for those with whom we communicate. But where do we begin?

Watch for the next post. I’ll share suggestions on how you can incorporate deep reading into your life. It may be easier than you think.

__________________________________________________

  1. http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=928
  2. Ivelin Sardamov, The Power of Deep Reading
    © 2012 (http://home.aubg.edu/faculty/isardamov/DeepReading.htm)
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. Dorothy L. Sayers, Begin Here: A Statement Of Faith. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1942 quoted by Richard Nordquist in How to Become a Creative Reader, February 24, 2016 (http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/How-To-Become-A-Creative-Reader.htm)
  7. Greg Clarke, Deep reading in a time of tweeting, Eternity, July 20th, 2016 (https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/deep-reading-in-a-time-of-tweeting)
  8. Ibid

Paper Versus Screen

Why print books have an advantage over digital books

Woman reading a few books on the floor

Readers love books – real books, the ones you can hold in your hand. In spite of the popularity of ebooks, most readers still prefer to read print books. Is this just resistance to change or is there something deeper behind this? Are the benefits of reading (see previous post) the same for both?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself in order to understand why I waffle back and forth on the issue of print vs digital books.

I have overstuffed wooden bookcases as well as a disorganized library of ebooks. (I read most of my ebooks on my iPad using the Kindle app. I also read a few using Vyrso.) I enjoy both print and digital but which is better?

TWO REASONS I PREFER EBOOKS TO PRINT BOOKS

  • COST – Not only are ebooks cheaper, you can easily find discounted and even free books through sites such as bookbub.com and gospelebooks.net.
  • CONVENIENCE – I like the convenience of a portable library when I travel. It provides instant access to a variety of books without taking up space in my suitcase. Also, I find it easier to read newspapers on-line. There is no cumbersome paper to hold, fold or pile up.

THREE REASONS I PREFER PRINT BOOKS TO DIGITAL

  • COMFORT – Curling up in a comfortable chair with my iPad just is not the same as doing so with a book. Also, reading from tablets, smart phones and computer screens can cause eye strain and headaches, symptoms of computer vision syndrome. (One benefit that devices do have over print books is the flexibility to change font, page size and format.)
  • PLEASURE – What is pleasure reading for you? Sunning yourself on a beautiful beach with book in hand? Soaking in the tub with a good novel? Reading in bed on a lazy Saturday morning?

Reading for pleasure for me engages as many senses as possible. I like the feel of a book in my hands – its texture, weight and the thickness of the pages; the sound of flipping the pages; the smell; and the sensation of cracking open a brand new book. There are attempts to create some of these sensations with ebooks. (Check out the iPad book page flip/turn).

I do enjoy reading magazines on my iPad. Being able to zoom in on images to examine the finer details or to access additional content through videos and other media are a treat to the senses.

  • SHARING – My greatest frustration with ebooks is not being able to pass them on to friends. I was surprised to discover recently that it is actually possible to share Kindle books but the sharing is limited to a one-time fourteen-day loan per book.

Prayers for Boys and Girls

It’s also hard to share a book that has significant or sentimental value to you if it is not in print form. To the left is one of my most valued books given to me by one of my first Sunday School teachers. It is worn on the edges and inside the front cover, my name is awkwardly printed in pencil. The copyright year of the book is 1957 (before I was born, in case you are wondering!) I can’t imagine an ebook ever evoking such strong sentiment as a book such as this.

THE GREATEST ADVANTAGE PRINT HAS OVER DIGITAL

COMPREHENSION & RETENTION – Generally, I prefer nonfiction over fiction. Learning, studying, remembering and integrating new information into my life and writing is very important to me. There are studies that show that readers using print books understand and remember more of what they read than those who read books on screens. (The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens)

There are several reasons for this:

  • Limitations of a screen – The visual limitation of what a reader sees on a screen interferes with comprehending what is being read. A reader cannot flip back or ahead or skim easily through a digital book. According to a 2013 article in Scientific American, the ability to touch and turn a physical page contributes to understanding and remembering what is being read.

Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text…  (The Reading Brain in the Digital Age).”

  • More Physically & Mentally Taxing – The stress on the eyes, the limitations of working with a screen and the movement required to turn the pages on a device require more of the reader than when reading a print book. By limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension”(The Reading Brain in the Digital Age).

I find this to be particularly true when reading deeply (more on that later) and reading to proofread or edit.

  • More Distractions – One of the reasons I enjoy reading online and on my iPad is that it is quick and easy to look up definitions, place names and to follow links related to the content.  However, I often find myself following interesting links that lead me far from the content I started with.

In Teaching With Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K–6, when researchers compared children reading conventional books with children using interactive electronic picture books, they found that the former group learned more than the latter group.  The conclusion was not that ebooks were bad for children but that “the act of reading on tablets is something different from reading traditional books, not better or worse”.

THEY ARE DIFFERENT

The quote above is probably the most helpful comment I came across in my research. Understanding that reading books on a screen is different than reading print books explains why many people enjoy both, but for different reasons.

We are not likely to see any significant changes in print books but I am excited about the possibilities with ebooks. Peter Meyers, author of Breaking the Page, believes that as long as ebooks are produced as replicas of print books, they will never reach their full potential. He shares fascinating ideas to improve ebooks so that readers will enjoy them more and retain more of what they read.

I look forward to those improvements so that I can enjoy deep reading regardless of whether the book is in print form or read on a screen.

In my next post, I will explain what deep reading is, how to do it and why it is important for those who want to grow deeper in their faith.

An Inexpensive Summer Binge That May Even Improve Your Health

The benefits of reading

culture

Now that July is here it seems that summer is finally in full swing! With summer comes many delights – locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of ice cream and sunshine, beaches and vacation. To make the best of our short summer, especially in Atlantic Canada, I encourage you to binge – not on strawberry shortcake, lobster or other summer treats, but on reading. It won’t increase your sugar or your cholesterol and its impact will last longer than that tan you will work on all summer!

Summer is a great time to read. Most of us find more leisure time during the summer months and a book is a good excuse for sitting outside. Don’t forget to pack a book or two with your beachwear. It is easy to take for granted a skill as powerful as reading when we have so many options for spending our time.

Mark Twain once wrote,

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

There are many advantages for the person who reads. Here are three that immediately came to mind as I thought about how reading impacts my life.

1. Reading makes me a better conversationalist.

I often find it difficult to start conversations with total strangers. However, if someone has a book in their hand whether sitting on an airplane or standing in a bookstore, it is easy to strike up a conversation. Books also give me ideas and facts to share in my conversations and help increase my vocabulary. Sometimes people think I’m a really interesting person. The truth is I read many interesting books!

2. Reading makes it possible for me to know people I will never meet and to explore places I will never visit.

3. Reading forces me to slow down.

Current research debunks the myth that anyone can multi-task effectively. Reading makes it almost impossible to even try to do anything else at the same time. Like a speed bump, reading forces me to slow down and shift gears.

There are benefits to reading that should come as no surprise like contributing to cognitive development and impacting income levels. However, I was surprised at how reading impacts other areas of life. Here are several that are listed in Reading Facts found on Canada’s National Reading Campaign website.

4. Reading is good for your health.

A. It is one of the best ways to reduces stress.                                     “Reading was proved:                                                                                        68% better at reducing stress levels than listening to music;                100% more effective than drinking a cup of tea;
300% better than going for a walk and
700% more than playing video games.
Reading for as little as 6 minutes is sufficient to reduce stress levels by 60%, slowing heart beat, easing muscle tension and altering the state of mind.”
Dr. David Lewis, ‘Galaxy Stress Research,’ Mindlab International, Sussex University (2009)

B. It contributes to overall good physical and mental health. 
“Compared with those who did not read a book in 2010,book readers:
-are more likely to report that they have very good or excellent health (54% vs. 44%).
-are more likely to report that they have very good or excellent mental health (63% vs. 56%).”
-Hill Strategies “The Arts & Well-Being in Canada”

C. It lowers the incidence of dementia.
“Our study showed that being engaged in more reading and hobby activities and spending more time each week reading is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incident dementia.”
Tiffany Hughes, Chung-Chou H. Chang, Joni Vander Bilt & Mary Ganguli, from “Engagement in reading and hobbies and risk of incident dementia”

5. Reading impacts relationships.

A. As citizens
“The percentage of book readers volunteering for a non-profit organization (42%) is much higher than the percentage of non-readers (25%).
The percentage of book readers donating money or goods to a non-profit organization (82%) is much higher than the percentage of non-readers (66%).
71% of book readers (compared with 65% of non-readers) indicated that they had done a favour for a neighbour in the past month.
49% of book readers have a very strong sense of belonging to Canada, compared with 42% of non-readers.”
Hill Strategies, “Social Effects of Culture: Exploratory Statistical Evidence and Detailed Statistical Models”

B. In interpersonal relationships                                                                  Reading fiction has been proven to increase empathy and better understanding of people different from ourselves.
Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley and Jordan B. Peterson, from “Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy”;                       

C. In intimate relationships
This study showed that people with a high literacy rate were less likely to experience divorce. http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0000/0402/Literacy_Changes_  Lives_Executive_summary.pdf

D. In raising self-awareness
“In their pleasure reading, teens gain significant insights into mature relationships, personal values, cultural identity, physical safety and security, aesthetic preferences, and understanding of the physical world.”
Vivian Howard, University of Dalhousie, from “The Importance of Pleasure Reading: Self-identification, self-construction and self-awareness.”

John Green summarizes the influence of reading on our relationships and how we see ourselves in this way:

Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.

If these benefits don’t inspire you to read more, perhaps this final one will.

6. Reading can transform lives.

I have found few stories testify to the transforming power of reading more than that of Dr. Benjamin Carson, retired neurosurgeon who ran as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency earlier this year.

Carson, a committed Christian, became famous for his delicate surgeries separating conjoined twins. He contributes his success to his mother, a single parent who insisted that Carson read two books a week and write reports on them. She would “read” them and mark them up. What he didn’t know at the time was that his mother was illiterate but her scheme worked! His grades improved. He discovered he loved to learn. His confidence increased. He found a career he loved in which he was able to save many lives.

You might enjoy watching the 2009 movie based on his life from 1961 to 1987 called Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.

You can also listen to him tell his story in a 2015 live interview with Michael Hyatt.

Several times during the preparation of this post I have just stopped writing and researching and picked up a book just to indulge! I hope this post will encourage you to do the same many times over the next few weeks.

Reading clearly benefits us personally – physically, mentally, and socially and impacts our choices and our future opportunities. If reading even for six minutes can make a noticeable difference in us physically (see #4 above), imagine what good could be accomplished over a summer of reading!

Perhaps you are wondering, as I have, if the impact of reading differs according to what you are reading or how you are reading it. Is fiction just as beneficial as nonfiction? Is a magazine just as good as a book? Are there more benefits to reading print as compared to digital? I’ll be answering these questions in next week’s post.

 

Myth #4 – A Full Life is Incompatible With a Life of Suffering

The 4th and final myth about suffering exposed in the book of Job

Job with his Friends Sharing his troubles

I’m so glad to finally reach Job 42, the final chapter of this book. It is not that I haven’t enjoyed this study. I have. I have gleaned wonderful insights about suffering and how to support those who are experiencing suffering, but I long for justice. Finally, there is justice for Job and he is restored. I like happy endings!

FULL OF YEARS

I’ve been intrigued by the last sentence of this book which says of Job that “he died, old and full of years” (42:17). This phrase “full of years”, describes “a life that was long, successful, satisfying, and rich in God’s blessings.” (Out of the Storm and Into God’s Arms, Jill Briscoe, p.363)

This doesn’t sound like Job’s life, does it? Can a full life also be a life that has experienced great suffering?

Three other men in the Old Testament are described as old and “full of years” – Abraham (Genesis 25:8), Isaac (Genesis 35:29) and David (1 Chronicles 23:1). None of them had easy lives. Obeying God was costly for them. They also had dysfunctional families where favoritism, conflict, lying and deception caused great personal suffering.

After thinking about the lives of these men and Job, I don’t believe it is possible to have a full life without suffering.

JOB IS RESTORED

Chapter 42 records four ways Job’s life was restored:

  1. His relationships were restored.

All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. (42:11)

How delightful this must have been for Job! This is quite the contrast to the isolation and loneliness he experienced in the midst of his suffering which he described in 19:13-19:

  • My relatives have gone away.
  • My closest friends have forgotten me.
  • I summon my servant, but he does not answer.
  • My breath is offensive to my wife.
  • I am loathsome to my own family.
  • All my intimate friends detest me.
  • Those I love have turned against me.

      2. His wealth was restored.

In verse 12, Job’s wealth is described as “fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.”

Compare this with the number of animals he owned in 1:3 and you will see that the number has exactly doubled in chapter 42.

3. His family was restored.

Job had buried ten children. He was able to raise a second family of seven sons and three daughters, the same number of sons and daughters as he had before tragedy struck (1:2).

 4. His health was restored.

Remember how Job’s health had failed? His friends who came to see him hardly recognized him (2:12). Not only did Job recover, he lived to be a 140 years old. Many scholars believe that Job was 70 when his troubles began, partly because 140 is double that and fits in with the double blessings Job experienced. Also, in Psalm 90:10, seventy years was viewed as a full life. Job’s long life was evidence of God’s blessings upon him.

It would be easy to conclude from this story that if we just persevere through our suffering that we, like Job, will experience great blessings in the end. This is not the complete equation. There is one missing factor that is found in Job 42:1-6. This is not just the bridge between Job’s life of suffering and his life of blessing. It is the turning point in Job’s life.

JOB’S TURNING POINT

Job 42:1-6 reveals that Job’s suffering has changed him, not because of what he has lost but because of what he has gained (this is before the years of blessing). He is a changed man because of his personal and profound encounter with the living God. I believe that without this inward change, there would have been no epilogue filled with blessing.

In this deeply spiritual experience,

  • Job recognized God’s sovereignty:

I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (42:2)

He now submitted to God’s sovereign will even if he didn’t understand it.

  • Job realized that he had been wrong.

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (42:.3)

He has been humbled by this encounter with God.

  • Job’s relationship with God had deepened.

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (42:5)

Job had known about God through worship and conversations but he had just experienced God, personally and profoundly.  Not only was he humbled by this experience but he also repented of his attitude (42:6). Job had accused God of being unfair and uncaring and he had been wrong.

Once Job humbled himself and recognized that God knew what he was doing even if Job did not, God restored him as His servant. Twice in chapter one and two of this book, God referred to Job as “my servant Job” (1:8;2:3). In 42:7-9, God refers to Job as His servant four times.

His suffering and new insight increased his capacity to serve God and minister to others. Whereas in chapter 1:5, Job ministered to his family by offering  sacrifices on behalf of his children, he now was called upon to receive the sacrifices of his repentant friends and intercede for them.

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what theLord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. (42:7-9)

This was when Job’s future changed.

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (42:10)

Both Job and his friends were guilty of saying wrong things about God. They accused God of doing wrong. They put God in a box and could not understand when He did not behave as they had expected Him to. I find it intriguing that even though all four were guilty, it was only upon Job that God poured out His blessings. That was because it had cost Job so much more.

God does not promise to repay us in kind for all that we lose in our suffering, as He did with Job. However, He does promise to bless abundantly those who experience losses as they serve Him. These blessings may be experienced in this life or in the life to come (Mark 10:29-30).

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE

Perhaps you are not seeing blessings coming from your pain and suffering. Remember that for Job it was not instant restoration. It took years. Job saw it in his lifetime but not everyone does. Robert Jermain Thomas didn’t.

Thomas, a Welsh man who loved the Lord, offered himself for missionary service in 1861. When he heard that Bibles were needed in Korea he decided to take Chinese Bibles to the Koreans. (The Bible was translated into Chinese in 1819. There was no Korean translation at the time.). In 1866 Thomas boarded the American trade/warship the SS General Sherman and reached Pyongyang which today is in North Korea. The Koreans attacked the foreign warship. Thomas, fearing losing all the Bibles scooped up as many as he could, climbed into a boat and reached the shore. Shortly after landing he was killed.  He was 27 years old.

If you take this as a snapshot of the life of Thomas you would conclude that his efforts and his life were wasted, but the story does not end there. One of the Bibles Thomas brought to shore ended up in the hands of one of the governing officials, Pak Yong-Sik. He did not know what the book was but put it to practical use by using its pages to wallpaper his home.

Another Bible was taken by Choe Chi Rang, an 11-year-old boy who had come with his uncle to see the ship and the foreigners. Years later, Choe bought the home of the official. When the first American Presbyterian missionary arrived in Korea in 1891, he was surprised to find the Bible literally on the walls of this home. He was able to explain the gospel using these very words and  a church was formed. Today, the largest Christian churches in the world are found in South Korea.

God’s ways indeed are mysterious and marvelous, beyond our understanding. If we in the midst of suffering can remember that we are part of God’s bigger plan and trust Him with our lives, then we will be able to say that both these statements are true – “The Lord took away. My life became full.”

 

Myth #3 – If I Ask/Beg/Pray Enough God Will Answer My “Why?”

The 3rd of 4 common misbeliefs about suffering exposed in the book of Job

Job with his Friends Sharing his troubles

In this series on Job, we have considered two myths so far. The first was concerned with how we can avoid suffering (We can’t!). The second post was focused on how we can support those who are experiencing suffering (We can!). This third post focuses on praying for God to answer our questions about why we are suffering.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), an American pastor and writer, once said, “What you believe about God is the most important thing about you.”

Think about that for a moment. What do you think is most important about a person? If you grew up in a rural community as I did, you might say it is who your parents are or where you were born. Others believe the most important thing about you is what you do for a living, how much you earn or  your contribution to society. Still others insist that the most important thing about any individual is whether or not they lived up to their full potential. With all these possibilities why would Tozer say that everything else pales in comparison to the significance of what a person believes about God?

Perhaps it is because our understanding of God – His character, His will, His purpose and His ways, determines how we think, how we treat others and how we understand the world around us. I believe that nothing reveals more clearly what we believe about God than the furnace of suffering. I also believe that it is in the fire of suffering that our faith and understanding of God have the greatest opportunity to deepen.

This was true for Job. Consider these four lessons Job learned about God and prayer because of his suffering.

1. God hears and answers prayer.

Nothing will teach us to pray like suffering, if we choose to pray. Job was relentless in his seeking God for comfort and for answers. We find one of his prayers in Job 13:20-22 –

Only grant me these two things, God…,
Withdraw your hand far from me,
and stop frightening me with your terrors.
 Then summon me and I will answer,
or let me speak, and you reply to me.

I wonder how Job spoke these words. Did he utter them humbly and weakly, exhausted physically and mentally from his ordeal, or did he stand defiantly before God, shouting out his demands and shaking his fist? We really don’t know but we do know that God heard and responded. God responded when He was ready – twenty-five chapters after Job uttered this prayer.

What do you notice about God’s response to Job in 38:2,3?

Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

Did you notice it? I’m sure Job did. God said the very same thing to Job that Job had said to Him – “I will ask the questions and you will answer me.” Job now was certain that God had heard his prayer.

2. God may answer our prayers differently than we had expected.

Job wanted to know why he was suffering but he got so much more! In God’s response in chapters 38:1-41:34, (with a brief interruption by Job) God reveals Himself as creator and sustainer of all creation, a creator who pays attention to the smallest of details. After Job’s interruption, God reveals His commitment to justice and continues the theme of creation.

While God’s response is very effective in putting Job in his place, there is something noticeably absent in his response to Job’s prayers. GOD DOES NOT ANSWER JOB’S QUESTION!

God does not speak to Job’s personal situation. Instead, He reveals to Job traits about Himself, such as, He is eternal, powerful, caring and just.

Why didn’t God just answer Job’s question? I can’t speak for God but I have a theory. I wonder if God’s point was that knowing “who” was more important than knowing “why”. If we know God more fully then we are likely to trust Him more. An answer that only satisfies our intellect doesn’t necessarily build trust. Also, an answer to “why” may be sufficient for one particular circumstance but will not necessarily help when faced with suffering in the future under different circumstances.

When we understand who God really is, the “why” is not so important. Ruth Bell Graham communicates this truth very well in the following poem:

I lay my “whys”
before Your Cross
In worship kneeling,
My mind too numb
For thought,
My heart beyond
All feeling.
And worshipping,
Realize that I
In knowing you
Don’t need a “why.”

(Out of the Storm and Into God’s Arms, Jill Briscoe, p.150)

3) Our response to God’s answers may be different than what we had expected.

Job listened and then responded to God.

I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more. (Job 40:4-5)

Job was looking for satisfaction and affirmation that he was right before God. Instead, he was humbled and he stopped talking. I can relate. The most profound prayer experiences I have had have been when I stopped talking!

When Job decided to be silent, God continued to speak.

Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:9-14)

Job’s response is recorded a couple of chapters later.

 I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:1)

Job is humbled before God and willing to submit to God’s will even if he does not understand it. This encounter with God has been life changing.

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”                 (Job 40:5).

His experience was personal and profound, but he still did not know why he had to go through such horrendous loss and suffering.

Like Job, we need to pray our way through suffering but there is nothing we can do to make God give us an answer. He hears our prayers and will answer in His time and His answer to your prayers might surprise you. If your desire to know God is greater than your demand to know why you are suffering, you will experience peace even in the midst of your turmoil. The experience can become a deeply personal and spiritual one even though your circumstances have not changed.

If you are experiencing a storm in your life right now, take some encouragement from Job. He was able to worship and trust God even if his questions remained unanswered.

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

(refrain of the song “Praise You in This Storm”)