A season of rebellion

The law of the rebellious son: Deuteronomy 21:18-21

The elders of the city have been called and the makeshift court is in session. A young man is dragged in. His language is foul. His eyes flash with anger as they fix on an old couple. His father and mother are watching their son as the charges are read and witnesses are called. The testimony of the witnesses is unambiguous.

Finally, the father is called. He stands facing his son, with anguish etched into his face. The silence of the court is broken only by the mother’s quiet sobbing. When the father speaks, his voice cuts the air.

“I can’t understand it. When he was a child we loved him so much. He never wanted for anything. I can remember taking him in my arms, teaching him to walk, watching the first faltering steps he took towards me. Oh, the pride I felt when we walked down the street with his tiny hand in mine. I was always there for him, always ready to catch him if he fell. You all know the love we gave him. We couldn’t have loved him more than we did.

“But it hasn’t been any good. It seemed that the more we loved him, the more he abused us. He has always been stubborn, always rebellious. He has never done what we wanted and he won’t obey us even now. It’s not as though we haven’t disciplined him—you all know that we have. God knows that we have done everything we could, but now he’s a drunkard and his life is out of control. He has made life hell for you and for us and we just can’t take it anymore. It can’t go on. We don’t want it to end this way, but it must.”

As the father faces his son, eyes full of love are met by hatred and scorn. The old man choked on his last few words. “I love you but it has to be this way.”

Judgement is passed and all that remains is to carry out the sentence. The men of the city drag the condemned son to the city wall. Each of them bends down, picks up a rock and hurls it at the young man. He is pelted until his body lies hidden and broken beneath the stones—a sign for all rebellious sons.

The son rebels: Hosea 11

Many years later another court is in session, judging another young man. His name is Israel and he represents the chosen people of God. As he stands before the court, charges are read, witnesses are called and finally the father stands facing his son.

This is no ordinary father. He is God—the father of Israel. He is no ordinary god either. He is the God who gave to his people the law of the rebellious son and demanded that they live by it. He is the God who is the creator and lord of the world. He is the one who created people to live in relationship with him and the one who demands that they recognize who he is and live in obedience to him.

He is a holy God, intolerant of the claims of false gods. He sets himself against all who fail to acknowledge his uniqueness. He wages war against all who will not recognize, bow down, and worship him.

This God is serious about himself, caring whether or not people recognize him, caring whether or not people obey him, caring whether truth or falsehood prevails. He is holy, jealous and intolerant of falsehood—a God who will not be mocked. This is the father who stands facing his rebellious son in Hosea 11.

The whole courtroom waits, asking themselves, “What will happen here? How will a holy God treat his rebellious, idolatrous son?” Into the silence resounds the voice of the father.

“When Israel was young I loved him. I called my son out of Egypt. Yet the more I called him, the more he strayed from me. He went off and sacrificed to other gods—to the god Baal and to other images. He did this even though he was my son, even though it was me who had taught him to walk and taken him in my arms.

“He can’t seem to understand my care for him. I led him by cords of human kindness, with ties of love. I lifted my child to my cheek, I bent down to feed him. Yet, he continued to rebel. Even now, as the surrounding nations tear him to pieces, even while he is suffering the consequences of having left me, he still stubbornly turns from me. He is determined to cling to a god who cannot save.”

The rebellion is clear and the judgement obvious. No further witnesses are needed. The law of the rebellious son must be applied. All that remains is an inevitable punishment.

But the father dramatically halts the proceedings. The holy God silences the court and speaks again, not to the court this time, but to his son. He is overcome with emotion; his anguish is evident.

“How can I surrender you to judgement? How can I give you up? How can I annihilate you? How can I treat you like Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities when I obliterated them from the face of the earth?

“My heart burns within me. I cannot let it happen. You deserve it, but I will not permit it. I will not satisfy my anger!”

Then he turns to the court.

“Though my son deserves it I cannot permit it. This is my son! I love him! I will not become enraged, for I am God, the Holy One, the Lord of heaven and earth. I am not a mere man. I will not exercise the fierceness of my anger. I will not destroy Israel.”

This is Hosea’s message—God has loved his son as no other and, although he has been disappointed time after time, he will continue to love him. He is rightly angered, for his son has done far worse things than the rebellious son in Deuteronomy. But then Hosea records something great. As this holy God and father faces a son who deserves punishment he does what no human being can do—he decides to take all the suffering and hurt upon himself. In a struggle that takes place at the very depths of his being, God turns his anger into a new expression of love. The punishment of Israel takes place in himself as he contains his smouldering anger. Love triumphs over judgement.

Looking at me: Matthew 27:45-54

A third courtroom is in session. There is no rebellious son this time and no rebellious Israel. There is only me. I stand before God the judge. Again, this is not just any god. This is the God who created me, the holy, just, jealous and intolerant God who opposes all who do not recognize that he alone has the right to be God. This is the God who demands my total dependence upon him.

I am exposed. The blazing heat and light of his holiness renders me naked before him. My sin is plain to see. My life has not been lived in the realization that he is God. I have been my own god. I have done things my own way, without his help or advice. In my words, actions and lifestyle I have considered him irrelevant.

Before this holy God, the truth must out. He is justly angry and I deserve the heat of his holy wrath. I deserve the terror of the situation which I have wasted my life trying to attain—the escape from his presence into the ravages of hell. All that remains is punishment.

Then the judgement comes. As he had through Hosea, now God speaks to me. Just as he loved Israel, now he will not vent his anger upon me. Just as he promised in Hosea, he takes in his own being the suffering and hurt that I deserve. He is truly God.

As I look around the courtroom, the scene becomes clearer. There in the darkness, almost outside of my perception, I see what should be a most unusual sight. A man hangs on a cross—God in the flesh, nailed to wood. And as all the heat of divine anger is burned on him, this holy incarnation cries out in what ought to be my voice—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The core of God’s being is split. An eternal relationship is severed for the first time. The father turns away while his son, who has never known separation, dies the worst of deaths. A son hangs in the darkness without his father, alone, while life ebbs from his body.

In this single act, my sinfulness is both proclaimed and forgiven. On the one hand, my sin is declared to be totally unacceptable, so heinous that it could only be dealt with by God becoming a man in Jesus and by his suffering my punishment. I am in a situation so dreadful that it was only resolved by Jesus’ separation from God.

On the other hand, forgiveness is made possible. Here is the meaning of the temple curtain being ripped open. This curtain stood in front of the part of the temple where God’s presence resided, a constant sign that access to God was impossible and that forgiveness was not available. However, in the moment of the divine agony, at the very point when the core of God is being ripped open, that curtain is ripped open. There can be no mistaking the symbol: forgiveness is made possible, access to God is now available.

In Jesus, I see what Israel had been promised—God loving me in a way that no human could. God loving me so much that he lowers himself to become a human being, turning the reality and fierceness of his own anger upon himself. In the cross, God in the flesh dies in my place and endures abandonment by God instead of me. Only God could be holy like this and only God could love like this.

The end of rebellion

My judgement, in one sense, has already taken place. When I face God, as we all must, he will take me back to the courtroom set up on a Friday afternoon so long ago. There will be no hiding. As I face the cross it will clearly expose me, proclaiming the sinfulness of my sin and the inevitability of judgement. But it does greater than this—it proclaims the possibility of forgiveness.

What God will want to know from me and all human beings is this:

How then have you lived? What did you do with this judgement already proclaimed?

Did you live life determined to face the holy God on your own, determined to face the consequences of your actions on your own? Did you say in thought, word or action that you were willing to bear the punishment on your own?

Did you accept God’s gift? Did you accept that in the flesh Jesus faced the consequences of your sin on your behalf? Did you, in word and action, demonstrate that you wanted Jesus to face God for you and bear the punishment for you?

Will you deal with the case on your own or will Jesus deal with it for you?

I know my answers. I want to know the real God.

By Andrew Reid

Time Machine – Back to God

When I was a young boy, I used to love sci-fi movies. Especially the ones that had a lot to do with time travel.  The idea of building a time machine and going into the future or back in time really intrigued me.  I was fascinated about what the future would look like – flying cars, high rise buildings, fashion – all exciting.  But what caught my eye the most was the ability to go back in time and fix stuff.  I remember one such movie, Back to the Future.  In one of the (many) sequels, they had to go back to the past to rectify something that had gone wrong.  Biff, one of the bad characters in the movie, had found a book of all the horse races and sports game results in the past.  He then went (stole) on the time machine, went back in time, to give his younger self the book and get rich.  Marty and Dr Emmet had to go back into past to stop old Biff (from the future) – giving young Biff (from the past) the book – confused?  Yeah,   I know.

Can you imagine the chance to go back in time and change something?  A decision?  A word? An event?  So that you can fix the future. It is rather interesting isn’t it? Being able to go back and wipe your mistakes, so that you don’t get to live with the guilt or consequences of those mistakes. And sometimes it’s not really that far in the past – it could be last week, or last month or even this morning.

In Luke chapter 15, we are introduced to the story of the prodigal son.  The son who told his father he wanted his inheritance today, so that he could go and squander it in wild living. What a bad, terrible mistake. This decision he took, to turn away from his father and his blessing, did not result in much, but dire consequences for him.  He was stranded, alone and sought company from pigs (Luke 15:15-16). At the time of making the decisions, I’m sure it look like it was a good decision. Truth be told, we would also have the same temptation, given the chance.  But reading the words he says in verse 17 of Luke 15, it looks like he could have done with a time machine, to transport him back in time and not make the same mistake he did.  So that he could avoid the anguish, embarrassment and pain  of what he was experiencing.

How many of us have gone through the same process?  Where we make bad decisions, where we turn away from God and do our thing because it “looked and felt” like a good decisions at the time.  The time where we are led by our sinful desires and they manifest into actions, words that hurt or destroy relationships, including ourselves.  A time machine would be needed.  I am sure King David would have thought the same, after he coveted Bathsheba, slept with her, killed her husband and lied about the whole thing (2 Samuel 11).  What he would have done to go back in time and fix things – or at least warn his younger self not to walk around the palace on that day.

But we don’t have a time machine.  The great ideas of the movies, unfortunately do not exist in reality and we have to face the challenges and consequences of the rebellion against God.

But the story does not end there….

Looking back at the prodigal son, when he came to his senses, he left the place of desolation that he was in sought after his father.  He went back to his father to seek forgiveness and acceptance, even after all he had done (Luke 15: 18-25). To his surprise, the father welcomed him, embraced and treated him as if he never left.  His father never stopped thinking about him, even after all this time. The son had rebelled, but the father forgave, accepted and loved him, despite what he had done.

And so with us, when we turn away from God.  When we come back to him and seek him, he will forgive us, restore us and love us beyond our comprehension.  And this love is not because we have dome some great deed, it is because of what Christ has done for us on the cross.

No matter how much you think you have sinned, how much you have rebelled against your father in heaven – taken his blessings and squandered them – he has the unending capacity and capability to forgive you. It matters not the sin you’ve committed, what matters is the greatness of God’s willingness and ability to forgive you every single time you turn to him. God is able to forgive, even our deepest darkest sin.  So, if you are hiding, worried and embarrassed about what you’ve done to turn away from him,    don’t hide, come to him, come back to God.  Much like the prodigal son, when he sees you, he will lift his robes and run towards you, hug and kiss you and he will clothe you (Luke 15:20).

When I look at my past and the many times I have turn away from God and done my own thing, it’s hard to think of and live with the consequences, but what brings greater joy is that God was able to forgive me and restore me.  That has far much more comfort and assurance than a time machine.

Pruning our thorns

When studying the parable of the sower, we Christians understandably want to identify ourselves as the good soil. After all, so far as we can tell, we’re bearing fruit, we’re being as faithful to God as we know how to be, and we aren’t pursuing happiness the way the world tells us to. Doesn’t this make us the good soil?

Not necessarily.

My own experience leads me to suspect we all have at least a little thorny soil somewhere in our lives. Though we may not be chasing what the world urges us to, we’re still very wealthy compared to people in developing countries. To us, being rich may mean having multiple homes, fancy cars, private jets, yachts, and the ability to take great vacations ‘whenever’. Yet most of the world would consider themselves wealthy if they had what we have: homes with electricity, indoor plumbing, clean running water, and basic luxuries like TV and books.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that having any wealth automatically means we have thorny soil. I am, however, willing to say it can distract us from living as Jesus did—thereby allowing thorns to grow in our lives. To prevent this, we need a concrete picture of how Jesus would have lived, and the two passages that have been most helpful in giving me this picture are Ephesians 5:15-16 and 2 Peter 1:3-11. The first tells us we need to recognize time isn’t on our side when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission, and we therefore need to be careful about how we live to ensure we make the best possible use of the time we have. The second, meanwhile, shows us what this looks like: continually adding to our faith increasing amounts of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, with the promise that possessing these qualities in increasing measure will enable us to be productive and effective in our kingdom work.

That the Bible urges us to make the best use of our time is why I believe we need to constantly evaluate how we’re spending whatever time and money we have. Can we honestly say we’re “making every effort” to continually add the qualities from 2 Peter 1 to our lives… or are we more prone to spend our time on our own entertainment? We need to be honest with ourselves about this; the Bible warns that the last days will be filled with people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” as they love pleasure more than God (2 Tim 3:1-5). But what does this look like?

I think it looks like the life I once lived, in which I tithed, attended church, Sunday School, and midweek Bible study—and then counted the rest of my time and money as my own to do with as I pleased. Once I realized this could be the very lifestyle Paul had in mind when he penned his warning to Timothy, I got serious about finding and pruning the thorns out of my life. Not only did I drastically reduce the amount of time and money I spent on entertainment, but I sought to avoid anything glorifying sin. I then sought to grow in godliness by improving my prayer life and spending more time watching, reading, and listening to things that would help me become a more mature Christian. Though I’m sure I still have thorns in my life, I know from the way in which my life has changed that I’m making progress—thus, I believe, helping to confirm my calling and election.

Being in the world isn’t easy. We’re continually exposed to its lies about what will bring us happiness, and sometimes we listen. Fortunately, however, if we’re willing to constantly evaluate our lives, with God’s assistance, we’ll be able to keep uprooting the thorns and replace them with the only thing that can truly bring us joy and happiness: more of God himself. Then, when we meet Jesus face to face, we’ll be able to truly rejoice as he reveals how he used our lives to bear 60 or even 100 times what was originally sown.

By Nathan Dempsey

Why did God answer my half-hearted prayer?

Have you ever uttered a half-hearted prayer? I know I have. Many times. And isn’t it all the more shocking when it’s these prayers that I see God answer? It takes me by surprise, as if God only listened to my prayers periodically, or only when I was 100% earnest and focused in what I was saying—as if I didn’t appeal to him on the basis of his Son and not my own performance, even my performance in prayer.

My most recent half-hearted prayer was to grow in thankfulness. A thoughtful Bible study leader encouraged me to choose one of the ‘put on’ qualities in Colossians 3:12-17 and make it the focus of my prayers that week. I complied and asked God to give me a thankful heart. But it was a bit of a token effort. I felt like I was going through the motions more than anything else, without really expecting anything to come of it. And to be honest, by this point I would have forgotten that I had ever even prayed those prayers had I not noticed a curious change in attitude that prompted me to reflect on the cause.

For one thing, I noticed myself being grateful for the past actions of others. They’d served me in far more costly ways than I realized at the time. It was only now that I was being called upon in turn to serve others in the same kind of ways that I realized the cost.

Who knew that it was actually pretty exhausting to have guests stay with you for days on end? 19-year-old me certainly never considered that when I went to stay with my best friend’s family for two weeks in America. Lucky them, I thought, to have me visit all the way from Scotland! It’s taken the experience of living abroad myself to see that however lovely and considerate the guest, it still takes a real shift in the pace of life to have people stay in your home: cooking more (and nicer) meals… doing more laundry… giving up time to take visitors out and about… remembering to shut the bathroom door… Yet my friend’s family had welcomed me so warmly and never once let me feel like I was an inconvenience. I can only hope to be such a gracious host myself.

For another thing, it occurred to me that I had never properly thanked my husband and family for paying for our wedding. As a naïve graduate, yet to enter full-time work, I hadn’t yet grasped how much that the money they’d given reflected their hard work, effort and conscientious saving. Now, I’m not yet being called upon to fund my child’s wedding (I don’t even have any children) but for the first time the cost of their generosity dawned on me—the things they’d given up or gone without for my benefit.

So here I was, being thankful for the loving actions of others, the weight of which I’d never felt before. Yes, it had taken some age and experience to have this perspective of thankfulness. At 25, it was the first time I’ve tangibly felt the promised blessings of age and the arrogance of youth starting to flee! But actually, age and experience are no guarantee of a thankful heart. The years can embitter souls as much as grow them in thankfulness. Really, I had to credit this change to the work of God’s Spirit on my heart, overriding my apathy.

I don’t know why I was surprised that God answered a prayer for my sanctification. After all, that is God’s will for all his people (1 Thess 4:3). A prayer for my sanctification is exactly the kind of prayer he would delight to answer, even if it meant walking me through seasons of life that I didn’t particularly enjoy.

God is far more committed to my sanctification than I am. And I’m so glad that he is, or else I would surely stagnate in spiritual sluggishness, with no hope of holiness.

So watch what you pray for. In spite of our shortcomings, weaknesses and half-heartedness, our gracious God is in the business of answering prayer and shaping us into the image of his Son.

Kirsten McKinlay

How To Stop Flirting With Sin

Sometimes we get confused about the way salvation works.

Almost by accident, we can fall into a gospel that’s heavy on encouraging one another in God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy, but woefully light on warning one another of the dangers of diving headlong into sin. This kind of gospel has no word for the brother or sister who gives in to temptation over and over again — who “makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3:8).

Over time, we avoid the Old Testament with all of its narratives of God’s judgment, cherry-pick through the sermons of Jesus and the letters of Paul, then skip passed the harsh warnings of Hebrews and James. We select only the passages that tell us of God’s love and forgiveness and joy. But are these warnings in Scripture not a part of God’s plan to save, too?

Let’s admit the hard truth: Many of us are failing in the fight against daily temptation.

Could it be that the warnings in Scripture are actually necessary for victory against sin? Is there real danger in avoiding all the warning signs? How many of us are flying down the highway ignoring the flashing red lights and traffic signs that read: This way to eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13)? Let’s turn for a moment to one of those passages and see exactly how temptation works.

The Anatomy of Temptation

In Judges 16, the familiar story of Samson and Delilah shows us that temptation thrives among men and women who refuse to heed the warnings:

After this Samson loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” (Judges 16:4–5)

From the start, the narrator reveals the end of this path. Delilah the temptress has been hired by the enemies of God to lead Samson to the slaughter. Sin is hell-bent on premeditated murder. It will kill you. When we ignore God’s warnings in his word, we blind our eyes to the imminent danger.

Flirting with Death

Delilah reels Samson in like a prized bass. What’s more, Samson seems to enjoy the fight. He nibbles the lure that should set off alarms in his head, never feeling the sharp hook as it takes hold:

So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (16:6–7)

Samson is in bed with temptation. He’s flirting with her. Delighting in the fleeting pleasure, he toys with danger:

Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known. (Judges 16:9)

It’s easy to marvel at Samson’s stupidity, but how often do we act in the very same way? We tell ourselves we can dabble in sin and emerge unscathed: I am strong enough. I know my limits. At this point, Samson doesn’t give his whole heart to temptation — just enough to have fun. Temptation has a way of lowering our guard through false sense of security. He makes it out alive this time.

The next time, Delilah wants more: Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound” (Judges 16:10). Two more times, Samson flirts with temptation, allowing himself to be bound in various ways, and bursts the bonds. See, I’m strong enough. This sin isn’t that dangerous. I’ll be just fine. I can stop whenever I want to. I’m in total control.

Meanwhile, the alarm bells are blaring! It’s obvious to everyone involved that Delilah is leading Samson by the hand toward death. However, every time she becomes more brazen in her attempts on his life, Samson cups his ears a little tighter against the sirens. Each time, he gives in more, inching closer to destruction.

Sin Goes for the Heart

In her final appeal, Delilah goes for the deathblow. She goes for his heart:

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.” And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart. . . (Judges 16:15–17, emphasize added)

Did Samson ever imagine that a path that began with fun and exhilaration would end in trading his vow to the Lord for a Philistine mistress? He who was so mighty gives his heart to a woman bent on his destruction. Temptation wore him down little by little. Each time he was bound, he had an opportunity to turn back, to renounce Delilah, to repent of his sin and return to the Lord. But he ignored the warnings. All of them.

Samson told Delilah about his Nazarite vow and his uncut hair. Samson laid down to sleep in the lap of sin, totally oblivious to the danger as his locks were shorn. Here is what happened:

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. (Judges 16:20)

This is one of the saddest sentences in the whole Bible: But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Samson so took the Spirit for granted, he so seared his conscience, he was so blinded by his sin that he could not see that the Lord was nowhere to be found.

He assumed all the way down the path of wickedness that the Lord was by his side. But his heart was calloused and hardened against the warning of the Lord; he felt no difference when the Lord quietly departed.

The Consequences of Sin Are a Means of God’s Grace

The Philistines ended up seizing Samson and gouged out his eyes, and making him their prisoner in Gaza (Judges 16:22). Do you remember the warning in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). The story of Samson teaches us this: If you will not gouge out your own eye, God will do it for you — for the sake of your soul.

You may lose your marriage if you continue in that porn habit. You may lose your job if you continue to defraud your company. You may end up losing everything if you plunge headlong into drunkenness. Sin has consequences. Always.

Eyes will be gouged out, one way or another. If the children of God ignore the warning signs, God’s warnings will have to get louder and clearer. In Judges, Samson’s eyes lead him into temptation over and over again. It’s no accident that God’s discipline cuts to the source of his sin.

Why God Warns Us

But here is the good news: God’s discipline is meant to save us from eternal destruction. God took Samson’s eyes so that he would not lose his soul. The episode ends with hope: “But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved” (Judges 16:22).

When Samson was blinded, he saw most clearly. No longer led astray by temptation, Samson was able to follow the Lord. God’s discipline is not pleasant, especially when you intentionally ignore the warnings — warnings that are meant to keep you from destruction and death. Do not think you will continue to walk in temptation without consequences. The eye will be gouged out one way or another. Either you can do it, God can do it for you in his grace, or you can fall into eternal destruction.

Brothers and sisters, “As long as it is called ‘today,’ [be sure] that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin!” (Hebrews 3:13)

By Chad Ashby 

Bible Study for mums with young kids

Picture this: you’re at Bible Study. You’re tired, but you’re not just feeling a bit fatigued, you’re exhausted—more exhausted than you’ve ever been in your life. It’s because of things like countless nights of interrupted sleep, breastfeeding around the clock, lack of down time and constantly tending to the needs of a little person who is completely and utterly dependent on you. Furthermore, even though it’s been a couple of months since the birth, your body is still recovering and you’re sore all over—even in places where you didn’t think it was possible to be this sore. Your fatigue makes concentrating on anything (let alone Bible reading and prayer) quite difficult. Sometimes you start reading a verse only to forget how it started when you reach the end of it. Occasionally you nod off—only to be jolted awake by the CRASH! of LEGO Duplo bricks being dumped into plastic tubs by little people blithely oblivious to the fact that you’re doing Bible Study.

Your eldest rugrat seem to positively delight in coming up to you, tugging your arm and saying, “Mummy! Mummy! MUMMY!!!” repeatedly until you give her your undivided attention. You may have been in the middle of making a profound theological point arising from the passage (well, you think it was profound), but then you have to break off and referee the bickering and wailing two-year-olds who haven’t yet learned how to share and take turns. Or you need to change a stinky nappy, or take the toddler-in-toilet-training to the bathroom, or feed your famished screaming baby. When you return, the group has already moved on to the next question or a different topic of discussion, and you’re completely lost. Or you’ve missed an important prayer point that a group member has raised and it seems impolite to ask her to repeat it—especially as there’s only five minutes left and you still need to pray together.

This is what I call Extreme Bible Study—trying to engage in the normal activities of Growth Group (i.e. studying the Bible together, praying together and encouraging one another in Christ) in the face of perpetual disruption and distraction. I’m not sure if dads groups are like this (or even if kids are a regular part of dads Bible study), but pretty much every mums Bible study group I’ve been a part of has been like this.

Chaotic as they are, these sorts of groups perform a very important function for mothers with young children. At this stage of life (and I would argue that it’s at this stage more than at any other stage), the Christian walk can feel too hard. If you’ve been up half the night with a baby who won’t settle, if leaving the house is a struggle and you just can’t face the day, or if you’re so worn down by the task of kid-wrangling under-5s that the last thing you want to do is read the Bible, it can be easy to think things like “What’s the point of going to Bible study if I’m not getting much out of it?”, “What’s the point of going to Bible study if I don’t have the capacity to look after others, let alone myself?” and “What’s the point of going to Bible Study if I can’t concentrate and just don’t have the brain space for theology?

Yet often this is the most important time for mothers of young children to be attending Bible study, because it’s when they most need to be encouraged to persevere with the Christian life—to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”, to “stir up one another to love and good works” and to “not [neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”, as it says in Hebrews 10:23-25. Everything becomes so much harder once babies come along, and that often includes living as a Christian. So it’s right and even imperative that mums continue to gather together and spur each other on in their walk with Christ.

It also has the added benefit of modelling to your children from a very young age that you think that the Bible and your church are important—important enough to spend regular time studying God’s word and gathering with other Christians. Mums Bible study gives your kids the opportunity to get to know their peers in the church over many weeks. Obviously this doesn’t really benefit babies, but it helps toddlers and preschoolers to start to form some sort of relationship with the kids that they will (hopefully) grow up with.

That said, mums Bible study groups can be challenging. If you’re a mum with young kids, here are a few tips to help you to get the most out of each study:

Accept that your fatigue is here to stay and is going to make things difficult. Of course you’re going to be tired. Of course that’s going to affect your concentration, memory skills and attention span. Of course that’s going to affect your Bible reading and praying.1 That’s okay. Everyone here understands and no-one is judging you for it. In fact, they’re all just glad to see you and spend time with you today. Don’t be discouraged, don’t beat yourself up and don’t think that you’re a bad Christian. Do your best with what you have and be kind to yourself. It won’t be like this forever.

Expect to be interrupted—whether by your kids or by other mums dipping in and out of the study, needing to do stuff for their kids. This is the new normal: the days of continuous and unbroken intense Bible study are over. (For now, anyway; you’ll probably have that again later when the kids are older).

If you end up not being able to make the study because everything is going wrong or you just can’t face leaving the house, don’t feel bad. Your salvation is not dependent on your attendance at Bible study. Message the leader to let her know and even take the opportunity to ask the group to pray for you. Try again next week.

Remember the essential things of the faith and grab onto them: God loves you, Jesus died for your sins, Christ has conquered death once and for all, so put off your old sinful self and live for him. Even if you only get one thing out of the study that encourages you in your walk with Christ, that’s a big win.

Thankfully, for most mums, the season of life that gives rise to Extreme Bible Study is only short, compared to the span of our lives. As you weather the grind of the day-to-day and the ups and downs of parenting during these years, try not to give up meeting around God’s word with other Christians and keep on raising your weary eyes to look to Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). You and your family will be glad you did.

By Karen Beilharz

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