Pause. Ponder. Praise.

Pause. Ponder. Praise.

Treasuring Jesus Through His Word

by Guest Writers, NR Johnson | December 10, 2018

The path was well worn. And while not an intense hike, I did have to watch my step. As the back of my neck felt red with the beginning of a sunburn, I paused to grab a sip of water. That’s when I gasped.

The view was incredible. How had I missed it?

A friend and I had climbed a popular mountain but being slightly out of shape, my focus was on footfalls and not dying from a lack of oxygen. My eyes were either glued to the trail or glazed over noticing how much further away the top was.

As I sipped the water, I was captivated with the vista before me. In my “survival mode,” my focus and purpose had become distracted. The reason I had climbed this mountain was to spend time with my friend and to enjoy God’s creation – but that quickly faded as I tried to reach the top of the ridge. Rather than enjoying the journey, I got swept away in the hustle and bustle of the moment – and missed the whole point of it all.

Isn’t it interesting how quickly that can happen in life? We plan to enjoy every moment of the day, delighting ourselves in Christ, but then find ourselves rushing around wondering where the time went. And that is most apparent in this unique season of the year.

From Thanksgiving to New Years, I look around and find nearly everyone distracted with something. Perhaps it’s meal preparations, gift-giving, family visits, or a myriad of other activities, but we appear to live in a whirlwind of busyness. And it’s only compounded when you add in the cultural mindset of filling every moment with technology and media.

I’ll be the first to admit I love technology and what it affords us to do, but culturally we are addicted and in a technological stupor. For example: 

  • It has been reported that the average teenager exchanges 4000 text messages each month (averaging one text every six minutes they are awake)
  • 53% of people report checking email while driving
  • Office workers check email up to 40 times per hour
  • One study found that Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation, with some checking their screen more than 300 times each day
  • 67% of people check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating
  • Awkwardly, 75% of Americans admit to using their phone in the bathroom (30% of which say they never go to the bathroom without their phone)
  • And 35% of Americans check their phone before getting out of bed in the morning

Next time you are in public and see a group of people together, notice how often you don’t see a phone. Most are staring at their screens or at least have it nearby “just in case.” In other words, we live in a culture that worships the beep and buzz, and as Christians, we can be easily swept along with it.

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Pushing Pause

When was the last time you paused, sat still, with nothing playing in the background, and had time to just think … for more than a few minutes?

Psalm 46:10 reminds us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

Is it possible to know God without being still? In the passage, there seems to be an important connection between pausing to be still and being able to know God. 

This should make sense as we can see its evidence in other relationships. If you have a best friend but never talk or spend time together, the relationship will fade. If a husband and wife don’t spend time together and rather busy themselves through life and marriage, they grow apart. The solution is the same for both – spend time together, have conversations, and continually get to know one another.

If we want any relationship or friendship to progress, especially with God, counter-intuitively we must pause the hustle and bustle, be still, and intentionally invest in the relationship. 

Pause to Ponder

In our spiritual lives, stillness is important – especially in light of all the beeps and buzzes. Because we too often traverse life in a rush, it takes slowing down for a few minutes before our minds clear enough to think and reflect well.

It’s not that you need total silence, though that can help, but you do need to remove distractions. Sometimes when I take time to ponder, I will put on quiet instrumental music, turn off my phone, shut down my computer, and intentionally spend a block of time thinking and reflecting. And it’s hard. My mind races with things left undone. I crave distraction. But pausing to ponder is worth it.

I need time to push pause on life in order to be still and reflect on the day, God’s Word, and all Jesus is doing in and through my life. And through such times, I usually feel refreshed and I find I often have greater clarity and vision for the future. As I ponder Scripture, I discover insights I previously rushed over. And pausing to ponder causes my delight and love for Jesus to increase.

If we want to know God, we must take time to get to know Him. So slow down and be still. 

Ponder to Praise

There is an interesting correlation between what we focus upon and worship. Whatever we tend to dwell upon, we inevitably will worship. Which is why it is critical we slow down and be still before the Lord so that we may “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

Just as food was not meant to be quickly swallowed but to be tasted, savored, and enjoyed, so too we must pause to taste, enjoy, and savor our Savior. And it is in this “pausing to ponder” where you find greater praise and worship for God coming from your life.

Ironically, this is a time of the year when many people desire to celebrate the birth and life of our King. We sing songs of praise about the wonder of the incarnation. But in the rush, we forget to actually spend time with the King Himself. We rarely reflect, we silence the invitation of stillness, and we hurriedly go about our business to do things for God – or presume our activity is at least about Him – failing to pause and realize the most incredible opportunity in the universe: having relationship and intimacy with Him.

. . .

We live in a busy, whirlwind culture that celebrates distraction and noise – especially this time of the year. We have been racing to the top of a mountain ridge, forgetting about the journey itself. Our eyes may be glazed over or our focus may be on the next step to get us through New Years, and in so doing, we’ve missed the view and point of it all.

While you may not get a sunburn this time of year, it is still important to pause, take a long sip from the stream of Living Water, and delight in the One whom this season is supposed to be about – Jesus.

After pausing on the mountain hike to get a drink and admire the view, my focused changed. I no longer worried about where my feet fell, but rather enjoyed God’s creation and the time with my friend. Slowing down to pause, be still, and reflect changed everything – and I soon found myself at the top of a mountain with an even more breathtaking view.

What would happen if this season wasn’t defined by busyness or distraction? What would change if the “reason for the season” (i.e. Jesus) truly became the reason? What if we didn’t get lost in commercialism, consumerism, or constant comparison with others? What if we allowed God to turn our heart, focus, and affection outward toward Him and others? And what if it wasn’t just for this season, but all year long?

I encourage you to slow down and pause. Take time to ponder. And allow that reflection upon Christ to turn into praise. Trust me, the view (and the journey) will be worth it.

Put it Into Practice

In this eight-week Bible study guide, I invite you to join me on this exciting journey of saturating in God’s Word to know Him more. Remember, the point isn’t merely to grasp new information, but to pause, ponder, grow in greater intimacy with Jesus, and in turn, let your life declare forth His praise. Though this guide may appear simple, it has the potential to radically change your life as you seek to grow in intimacy with Christ through His Word. Know I am praying for you and cheering you on into the endless depths of Jesus and His Word.

Week One: Be Still

Read Psalm 46 several times this week (daily or multiple times a day is best). Focus specifically on Psalm 46:10.

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • There are two main verbs in verse ten: “be still” and “know” – both are imperatives (commands). In Hebrew, “be still” gives the sense of putting an end to a state or activity (i.e. being unoccupied) and “know” conveys a state of being or knowing something through participation, experience, or relationship (not merely knowing information).
  • How is being still different than being slothful or lazy? (See Proverbs 12:27; 13:4; 19:15, etc.)
  • Read John 15. How does the concept of “abiding” apply to “being still”?
  • Do a simple study and search for other passages in Scripture that help you understand the concept of being still.
  • A.W. Tozer once said, “There has hardly been another time in the history of the world when stillness was needed more than it is today, and there has surely not been another time when there was so little of it or when it was so hard to find.”
  • How can you practically apply the concept of “being still” in your life (not just once but as an ongoing reality of your life)? Do so, starting this week!

Week Two: Know God

Read Psalm 46 several times this week (daily or multiple times a day is best). Focus specifically on Psalm 46:10.

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • What does it mean to know God? How can you know God? Is knowing God an intellectual feat or a continuous journey?
  • How are “being still” and “knowing God” related and interdependent?
  • The Greek translation of the word “know” in Psalm 46:10 is the word “ginosko” (my favorite Greek word!). There are other Greek words that suggest knowing something factually, academically, or intellectually – but the word in our passage (ginosko) conveys knowing something through experience or relationship. How does that affect and deepen your understanding of the passage?
  • Read John 8:32; 10:14-15; 13:35; 17:3; and Ephesians 3:19. How do these New Testament passages (with the word ginosko) give insight into Psalm 46:10?
  • Do a simple study and search for other passages in Scripture that help you understand the concept of knowing God.
  • How can you practically apply the concept of “knowing God” in your life starting today?

Week Three: The Birth of Christ – Part One

Read John 1:1-18 and Matthew 1:18-2:23 (daily or multiple times a day is best).

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • The Book of John was the last Gospel to be written and doesn’t contain a typical birth narrative (and Mark’s Gospel doesn’t have one at all). John starts before time and introduces Jesus as God Himself. Being the last Gospel written, why do you think John purposefully left out the birth story and included this section? How is John’s account important for our understanding of not just the birth but also the life of Jesus Christ? What insights do these verses give about the birth, life, character, nature, attitude, and purpose of Jesus?
  • The Gospel of Matthew was written specifically to Jews to declare that Jesus was and is the Kingly Messiah (which is why Matthew quotes the Old Testament frequently). What insight do you gain about the birth of Jesus from Matthew’s account? For further study read: Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7; and Micah 5:2-5.
  • Though it may be easy to read Matthew’s account as a whirlwind of happenstance activity, the emphasis is that God is in control. Read Matthew 1-2 afresh, notice how the genealogy in 1:1-16 sets the stage for the birth of Jesus. You are very likely familiar with a few of the stories from the genealogy (see verses 2, 3, 5, 6) – revealing that God has a purpose and plan, even in extreme or sinful circumstances. As you continue reading through Matthew 1-2, notice how often God intervenes throughout the birth of Christ. What insight does this give you?
  • What fresh insights on the birth of Jesus do you see in the passages? What does this mean specifically for you and what does it change in your life?

Week Four: The Birth of Christ – Part Two

Read Luke 1:26-56 and 2:1-52 (daily or multiple times a day is best).

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • Luke gives the most detailed account of the birth and childhood of Jesus. What parallels and new insights do you discover between Luke and the other Gospels?
  • Read Luke 2:8-20. Many scholars suggest that the shepherds were actually priestly shepherds – those who would care for the sacrificial sheep for the temple. Interestingly, when a lamb was ready to be sacrificed, they would place it in a manger and wrap its limbs with cloth so that it couldn’t move (to protect it from hurting itself on the five-mile journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem). If so, what significance is this “sign” for the shepherds (2:12) in relation to the life and death of Jesus as the Passover Lamb? (See John 1:29; Hebrews 9:11-14; and Revelation 5:6.)
  • Read/study Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7; Micah 5:2-5; John 7:40-44; Romans 8:1-11; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:14-16; and Revelation 12:1-6. What insights do these verses give about the birth, life, character, nature, attitude, and purpose of Jesus?
  • Examine the lives of Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:21-38). If they had such expectancy and desire for the coming Messiah, how much more should we have a similar desire for Him now that He has come? What insight from the passage do you gain about waiting, desiring, knowing, and trusting God, and how their lives can be an example for your life?
  • What fresh insights on the birth and childhood of Jesus do you see in Luke’s account? What does this mean specifically for you and what does it change in your life?

Week Five: Seek First

Read Matthew 6:19-34 several times this week (daily or multiple times a day is best). Focus specifically on Matthew 6:33.

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • The context of Matthew 6:33 is important for understanding the passage. Consider the entire section (6:19-34). How does this context influence and give understanding to “seek first …”? This passage is in the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). How does this larger section give insight and clarity as to what it means to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”?
  • The word “seek” in Greek is zēteō – which means to desire, seek, look for, attempt to obtain, examine, consider, or deliberately strive for. It is a verb (an action) and in the passage, it is an imperative (a command). You are not merely to esteem or desire seeking, you are to actually seek. You are commanded to have an aggressive pursuit, a deliberate striving after, a passion to obtain, a desire to look for, examine, and consider. An intentional seeking after one thing.
  • You are called to first and foremost seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. What is the Kingdom of God? What is the righteousness of God? And how can we diligently seek both? 
  • One Bible scholar wrote, “This is one of only five places where Matthew uses ‘Kingdom of God’ rather than ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ In each case it seems likely that he departs from his normal usage because the context requires a more ‘personal’ reference to God himself rather than the more oblique language of his heavenly authority.”3 How does this statement help your understanding of what Matthew 6:33 is saying?
  • How does seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness affect your trust in God’s faithfulness? How does it affect fear or worry? What does it say about priorities and focus for your life?
  • This is the beginning of a new year – how does Matthew 6:33 and your study of it affect your focus, priorities, and practical living as you enter into this new year?

Week Six: Loving God

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Matthew 22:34-40; and Mark 12:28-34 several times this week (daily or multiple times a day is best).

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is often called the “Shema” (coming from the first word in 6:4 meaning “to hear” or “listen”). The Shema was quoted daily in the home as the cornerstone of the morning and evening prayers, every Sabbath in the Synagogue, and is still quoted by Jews today. If you’ve ever seen a Jewish home with a small mezuzah (a scroll or decorative case on the side of the door), a parchment is contained inside with Deuteronomy 6:4-9 written upon it.
  • Interestingly, in the Gospels, when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted the Shema – the very passage they would quote daily as a reminder of what’s most important.
  • Do you actually “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”? How can you practically grow and increase in your love for Him with all that you are?
  • Read the following passages. What insights do they give you on the greatest commandment – to love God? Deuteronomy 4:29; 5:1-22; 11:13-21; 2 Kings 23:24-25; Joel 2:12; John 13:35; 14:21; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Ephesians 3:14-21; 5:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:11-12; 1 John 2:3-11; 2:15-17; 3:16-18; 4:7-21; 5:1-5; and Jude 1:20-21.
  • This is the beginning of a New Year – how does this week’s study affect your focus, priorities, and practical living as you enter into this new year?

Week Seven: Loving Others

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Matthew 22:34-40; and Mark 12:28-34 several times this week (daily or multiple times a day is best).

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • Jesus said the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself. Several scholars have pointed out that “second” does not mean second in importance but merely in a list. In other words, both commandments are of equal importance but you can’t say both at the same time so you must put them into a list. If so, is it possible to do one without the other? 
  • How do we love ourselves? How can we practically love our neighbors on that level?
  • Read the following passages. What insights do they give you on the greatest commandment – to love God and others? Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 5:1-22; 11:13-21; John 13:35; 14:21; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Timothy 6:11-12; 1 John 2:3-11; 3:16-18; 4:7-21; 5:1-5; and Jude 1:20-21.
  • This is the beginning of a new year – how does this week’s study affect your focus, priorities, and practical living as you enter into this new year?

Week Eight: God Loves You

Do a study on the love of God. The past two weeks we’ve looked at loving God and loving others, but what does the Bible say about God’s love for us?

Before and after you read or study, be still and spend time with the Author. This is about spending time with Him, getting to know Him, and being transformed by Him.

Questions to ask and thoughts for study:

  • Examine what Scripture says about God’s love. For example see Romans 5:8; Ephesians 3:14-21; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; and 1 John 3:1-3.
  • Biblically ponder the following questions: How do we receive and/or experience His love? Is it a one time experience or an ongoing reality? Is His love for personal gain or are we to be flow-through channels of His love to the world? Do we love God first and He reciprocates, or does He love us first? How does God love us (or how does He reveal His love to us)?
  • Take a step back and examine these last three weeks of study. What additional insights on God’s love and our love for Him and others do you see from a global perspective?
  • Spend time thanking God for His incredible and overwhelming love for you. What is holding you back from experiencing more of His love in your life? Do you love Him with all that you are (heart, soul, mind, and strength)? Has that love turned outward toward others? What does He need to do or change in your life so that you can practically apply these concepts to your life?
  • This is the beginning of a new year – how does this week’s study affect your focus, priorities, and practical living as you enter into this new year?