How to Test Your Decisions

How to Test Your Decisions

How to Test Your Decisions

Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Facing Hard Choices

By Bethany Lockett — Editorial Assistant

Dan Lister faced an impossible situation. His decision might even cost him his job.    

Because of a mistake made by the global business unit he worked for, Dan had to choose between pleasing his superiors and protecting his employees. No matter what he did, he would face opposition. In the end, he felt that his employees were depending on him and chose to stand alone as a dissenting voice to leadership. After prayer and discernment, he felt it was what God had called him to do.

A short time later the company restructured and Dan was not retained.

Despite the personal risk, Dan remains confident in his decision. Drawing from his years in BSF, he anchors his work in Proverbs 29:25: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”   

But how could Dan discern God’s voice? Where did he find his confidence?

Many of us struggle to make choices that honor God amid the expectations of work, family, or culture. We want to put God first, but we fear losing our jobs. We want to act with integrity, but we fear disappointing our boss. We want to speak boldly, but we desire approval from our co-workers.   

For Dan, the confidence to stand for God under pressure is built on years of intentional Bible study and faithful Christian community.  

When faced with a challenge, Dan asks a few simple questions.  

Where do I look for security?

Early in his career, Dan read an article that said men in the workplace believe they are only three mistakes away from getting fired. He could relate. He constantly worried, “if I mess up, I’m gone.”  

“I got stressed out pretty early in my career because I had two children and a wife to support,” he shared.  

He was trying to do everything — from his job to his marriage and parenting — in his own strength. Then Dan’s wife, Samantha, convinced him to try BSF. Studying Romans, Dan discovered a life-changing truth.  

“It’s not Christ plus anything. It’s just Christ”  

Later, when Dan lost his job as the leader of that global business unit, he found confidence in the truths God had revealed years earlier.    

“It’s not Christ plus anything.

It’s just Christ.”

“God impressed upon me, ‘I’ve put you here for a time. I’ve got you. You’re not in control of this, I am.’”  

Dan’s security did not come from his own strength, but from God’s sovereignty. During a time of complete dependance on the Lord when he was without a job, Dan’s family of six watched God provide in unexpected ways. Ultimately, God opened a job opportunity in Dan’s home state of Texas.

Today, when he reflects on that time of transition, He knows God used that season to strengthen his faith. When he asks, “where do I find security?” the answer is rooted in God’s promises.  

Where do I turn for guidance?

In the business world, Dan grew comfortable making tough decisions. As a husband and a father, he felt confident in his role. But when the two worlds collided, Dan struggled for wisdom.   

When his three daughters were young, Dan’s employer asked him to move to San Paulo, Brazil. When he toured the city, the culture felt foreign, and his first impression was marked by concrete walls and barbed-wire fences. “I thought, no, I’m not bringing my wife and little girls down here.”  

Ignoring God’s guidance and godly counsel, Dan instead moved his family to Cleveland, Ohio. Though they settled into a comfortable life, Dan felt unsettled as he continued to pray for God’s will in his life. He lacked a sense of peace.  

After several months, Dan finally surrendered to God’s will and admitted to Samantha that he thought they should move to Brazil. He was shocked when she simply replied, “I know.” God impressed on Dan that he was not any safer in Cleveland than he would be in Sao Paulo if he was not in the will of God. 

Together, Dan and Samantha discovered that seeking God’s guidance may feel risky, but the reward outweighed their fear. During their time in Brazil, God graciously allowed them to teach the evening men and women’s classes which provided a special time in their marriage and drew their family together. And the Lord prepared them for difficult seasons to come. 

“God impressed upon me:

I’ve put you here for a time.

I’ve got you.

You’re not in control of this.” 

Later, when Dan considered moving the family to Texas, he “tested” whether his decision was from God or himself by asking, “Am I making this decision because I want more money? Am I making this decision because I want a job title? Am I making this decision because I want to move back to Texas? Or am I following God’s direction?”

Dan knew that using Christian language can justify almost any decision.  

“We can take almost any decision and make it look right. We know the language and we know what to say, ‘I prayed about it and God’s going to use me here.’ You can convince almost anyone around you that what you’re doing is God’s will. Who’s going to argue with that?”   

Truly seeking God’s guidance requires faith, and honesty, and sacrifice. The risk is worth the reward.  

What am I holding back from God?

Finding the courage to make godly decisions in a world that rejects absolute truth is challenging. Throughout his career, Dan has discovered that he cannot serve God and the world. He says, “Don’t be two people. There’s not ‘Work Dan’ and ‘Church Dan,’ there’s Dan.”    

Through our study of People of Promise: Kingdom Divided, we read about generations of leaders. Along the way, God provided prophets to offer wise counsel and deliver His Word. Those who listened to God experienced the blessing of His wisdom. Those who ignored His Word are remembered as weak and selfish rulers. We may not live in the time of kings and prophets, but we also have a choice. Where will we find our security? Will we test our decisions? Will we surrender every area of our lives to God?

Truly seeking God’s guidance requires faith and sacrifice.

When we seemingly stand alone in our faith, God is right beside us. Like Dan, we can seek God in prayer, echoing the words of King Jehoshaphat:  

“… We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)  

Bethany Lockett

Editorial Assistant

Bethany Lockett is an editorial assistant at Bible Study Fellowship Headquarters. She is a third generation BSF-er and native Texan. She joined BSF after graduating from Wheaton College where she studied spiritual discipleship in a digital world.

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A Story of Faith in Action

A Story of Faith in Action

A Story of Faith in Action

As prison guards searched her belongings, fear and doubt threatened Ana Machado’s resolve. God had called her to share His Word. He had opened too many doors at the Miami, Fla. correctional facility for her to turn back. What would she find inside? How would the women respond?  

“That first day, God provided the strength. He opened so many doors to get to those beautiful souls,” she shared.   

When the guards finally allowed Ana and her two friends to enter, they saw hundreds of women standing in line for their evening meal. With nothing to offer but God’s Word, Ana asked each woman if she might be interested in joining a Bible study. Most declined, but one woman in her 20’s hesitated.  

Looking over her shoulder, the young woman said, “I’ll come.”

As Ana and her friend Martha talked about Jesus and His love for sinners, the woman sat in tense silence. Encouraged by the group to share, Martha remembers her saying:

“My grandmother was a Christian woman. I just came out of being in solitary confinement for 30 days. I’m one of the most hardened ones in here. In that solitary confinement, I was given a little pamphlet about Matthew, and I was reading the gospel. And when you said you were beginning in Matthew, something pushed me that I needed to go with you ladies. I just need you to explain to me more about Jesus.”

Captivated by the woman’s story, Ana’s fears and doubts dissolved. The “hardened criminal” before her was simply a lost and lonely young woman. Ana, herself, had been lost once, longing for something to give her peace. She knew how it felt to hunger for Saving Grace. With a compassion born of the Holy Spirit, Ana and Martha shared the gospel.

“Will God really forgive me?” the woman asked. “Will He really forgive me for everything I’ve done, for all my crimes?” 

Speaking from experience, Ana said “Yes.” In tears, the woman fell to her knees and accepted Jesus as her Savior.

At the end of the study, the woman shared:

“My life has been transformed because of this Bible study and because I have come to know Christ. That first night I was so fearful, now I talk to the others in here, the other inmates, about Jesus. And because I was who I was, I have learned that it’s given me a platform. And they listen.”

Today, Ana continues to share God’s Word with the women in the Homestead Correctional Facility. She is no longer afraid because they have become like family. 

“God has showed me through the prison ministry that although they are incarcerated, although they are behind bars, with God they can all find true freedom. They are leading a free life in Christ, even behind bars. This fact alone is so humbling. We became their advocates. When you hear their stories, God softens your heart. You truly learn to listen,” Ana shared.

Through a simple act of obedience, Ana stepped through prison doors. From there, God opened hearts. Each of us has a BSF story to share, and each of us has one that God is writing. How will God use you to impact others for Christ? Where is He calling you to share?  

Share Your BSF Story

How has God used BSF to change your life? How are you sharing BSF with others? We want to celebrate God’s work in your life! Share your BSF story below.

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Why Does God Judge?

Why Does God Judge?

Why Does God Judge the People He Loves?

By Dr. David Talley, Guest Contributor

As a professor of the Old Testament, I begin my classes by asking for students’ views of God. Without fail, the intensity of God’s judgment surfaces. Someone always asks, “If He is loving, why does God judge His people so harshly?”  

And it’s true. God’s judgment can be shocking. From Scripture, we know such events as the destruction of the Canaanites, a global flood, and the exile of Israel were all ordained by God Himself. In Amos, God told the nation of Israel, “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps …” (Amos 4:10).  

When we read those words, we struggle to reconcile a loving God with one who judges His own people. We are tempted to cast our own judgment by crying out, “How dare He do that? That is so wrong!”  

But God’s actions are undeniable, printed in the pages of the Bible. So how should we process these events?  

Before we cast God in the role of “angry punisher,” we should ask ourselves some questions. 

Who is the Judge behind the judgment?

When you hear the word ‘judgment,’ what comes to mind? Maybe you picture a high-profile court case weighed by a jury. Or even a disapproving family member with impossibly high standards. In today’s environment, the word “judgment” carries some extremely negative connotations. We typically go out of our way to avoid being labeled as “judgmental.”  

But the Bible does not cast us in the role of the “ultimate judge.” That position is reserved exclusively for God. So before we ask the question, “why would God …”, we have to begin by asking “Who is God?” 

God is not a human jury, weighed down by preconceived notions or flexible standards. He is not the disapproving family member who judges others to elevate Himself. He is divinely perfect, free from the hindrances of our human failures.  

Our understanding of God’s judgment must be grounded in the very attributes of who He is. An attribute is simply something that is true about God. From His Word, we know God is three-in-one, self-existent, immutable, infinite, eternal, self-sufficient, omniscient, wise, omnipresent, transcendent, faithful, good, just, merciful, gracious, loving, holy, and sovereign.   

God is all of these and more, simultaneously, all the time. If we are truly seeking to understand God’s judgment, we have to unpack the character of the judge Himself. When we do, we can acknowledge that God’s judgment is God’s, not ours.  

Is judgment really part of God’s character?

In exploring God’s character, we must separate God’s actions from His attributes. “Judgment” or “wrath” are not listed as attributes of God. They are not fundamental elements of God’s character. Instead they are necessary responses born of His character. In the face of injustice, a just God casts judgment. Confronted by unholiness, a holy God responds.  

God’s responses are never random. In His judgment, God remains fully faithful, merciful, gracious, and loving. He is fully God in every moment.  

In Amos 4:10, God’s judgment may feel extreme. The language is strikingly vivid.  

But God’s extreme measures in verse 10 are in response to the people’s extreme sin. Through Amos, we know that the people worshiped false gods; rejected God’s law; and exploited, even “crushed,” the poor and needy. Faced with the wreckage of human sin, God responded. 

True to His character, God delivered justice for the poor and needy. He remained consistent, doing what He said He would do. And through it all, He extended mercy to the guilty. Throughout Amos 4, God repeated the refrain, “… yet you have not returned to me.” In His grace and compassion, God called the people back to Himself again and again. God’s purpose in judgment was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice merely as punishment, but as invitation.  

In every ounce of rendering judgment, God calls to his people, “Come back to me.” His perfect character never wavers.  

Does God take His judgment too far?

We may accept that God’s character is perfect but still struggle when His judgment feels extreme. Why does God judge the people He claims to love? On the surface, we may believe that a God without judgment is a God of love. But when we really consider the evils of this world, no one wants a God who simply looks the other way.  

Just ask the parent of a child who has been abused or the spouse who has been widowed through an act of violence. No one wants a God who casts the victim aside and looks at a perpetrator saying, “We need to be a little nicer.” That is not loving.  

When we see the evils of this world, we want justice. We want a God who is both gracious and just – a God who judges evil even while He offers grace to the perpetrator. We want loving justice and love that is just.   

As humans we are simply too flawed to offer this perfect blend of love and justice. It is impossible. Only God can accomplish that work. And in His mercy, He did so through Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s ultimate judgment for humanity’s evil rained down, not on us, but on Himself in the person of Jesus. In that moment, He was condemned so that we might live. God’s perfect love and perfect justice collided, resulting in eternal grace for those who believe.  

So perhaps God is challenging us to ask a new question. Instead of “Why does God judge the people He loves?” maybe we should ask, “Can I trust the One who judges?” When we reflect on His full character and honestly seek to know Him, we discover that He alone can deliver true justice. And He does so in perfect love. 

More in this series: 

Did God Choose Israel and Not the Other Nations?

New vs. Old Testament: Is God the Same?

Coming Soon

Dr. David Talley

Professor of Old Testament, BSF Theologian

Dr. David Talley has served at Talbot School of Theology since 1998, teaching Old Testament and occupying various administrative roles. He has also served at Cornerstone Church Long Beach since 2020 as Pastor of Teaching and Theology. David is passionate about teaching God’s Word, discipleship, and “passing on the faith” to the next generation. He has authored or co-authored several books, including The Study of the Old Testament and Maturing the Flock of God. David has a heart for the international church and has taken over 50 international mission trips to train pastors in some of the most difficult parts of the world. David has been married to his wife, Joni, for 35 years, and they have two children, Amanda (1989) and Andrew (1995).

 

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How God Brings Unity Through Prayer

How God Brings Unity Through Prayer

How God Brings Unity Through Prayer

The Power of Prayer

By Karen McNary – BSF Director of Global Cultural Engagement and Community

Political unrest. COVID. Natural disasters. Economic uncertainty. Church splits. Divisive issues are limitless. While the specifics may differ in each culture, none of this is new to God. We discover this truth while reading Israel’s history. In BSF’s study, People of the Promise: Kingdom Divided, God’s people failed to follow His commands individually and collectively. Rather than be a blessing to the nations, they found themselves in a chaotic, divided kingdom. 

The reason for our turmoil today is the same — sin. So is the solution — prayer. God states this clearly in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  

God knew His people would fail, sin, and disobey Him. And in His goodness, He offers us the way back.  Despite present circumstances, God can and will unite His people when we humble ourselves and pray. 

How should we pray? 

Early in my Christian life I found prayer challenging. In my experience, it was done by a gifted church member who prayed extemporaneously and sounded like a beautifully written psalm. Then there was prayer before meals and before bed. For me, this was a perfunctory monologue rather than a heartfelt dialogue.   

But I’ve come to realize that prayer is talking with God about any and everything, both personally and corporately. When God’s people speak to Him in prayer, He responds. God still speaks primarily through the Bible, though sometimes He also may also use circumstances or people.  

Prayer is as unique as the individuals who are praying. Prayer takes on many forms, from liturgical to extemporaneous, and we will not always be uniform in how we pray. Why we pray differs as well. Throughout Scripture we see prayers for guidance, lament, wisdom, praise, and many others. Each prayer has its own unique posture. In 2 Chronicles 14:11, Asa prayed in desperation, in 1 Kings 18:37, Elijah prayed in expectation, and in Lamentations, the author composed prayers through poetry. Though their method of prayer was diverse, God’s people were, and are, united in their need to pray to the one true God of heaven and earth. 

What happens when we don’t pray? 

A verse from the hymn What A Friend We Have in Jesus sums it up nicely:  

“What peace we often forfeit, what needless pains we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”  

In 1 Kings 12, we read about the painful consequences of neglecting to seek God in prayer. King Solomon’s son Rehoboam ascended to the throne. Faced with potential rebellion, Rehoboam consulted the elders and then his peers, but he neglected to pray. Following the advice he wanted to hear, Rehoboam pushed the nation of Israel into rebellion. The people rebelled and claimed Jeroboam as their king, dividing Israel into two kingdoms; the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Tragically, Jeroboam also neglected to pray. This led both nations down a dark path for generations.  

Two kings. Two nations. No prayer. No peace. Could this pattern be said of Christians today? Lack of prayer has personal and corporate implications.   

Corporate prayer unites God’s people

Years later, King Jehoshaphat of Judah faced a national crisis. After years of peace, several neighboring countries prepared to attack. 2 Chronicles 20:3-4 records, Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.” 

Jehoshaphat’s first response was prayer, and together, the people united before the Lord. While I am sure they were divided in how to respond to the national crisis, prayer united hearts to God and to each other. He sought the Lord first, the nation prayed, and God won the battle. I wonder how many outcomes would differ, and how many hearts would unite if this was the normal response of Christians to crises? God blesses unity. 

Individual prayer promotes unity 

As both faithful and rebellious kings reigned in Israel and Judah, God sent prophets to speak on His behalf. These prophets were faithful men who continued to share God’s truth. They preached salvation and unity for those who would repent and turn to God. Despite their message of hope, they were despised and hunted. How did they persevere? These men prayed. Through prayer, their hearts remained tender toward God’s people.

When division threatens God’s people today, we can pray for one another. Through individual prayer for others, even those we disagree with, God softens our hearts and gives us renewed patience.  

Prayer matters because we live in a fallen world where sin affects every aspect of life. But Christians have a powerful weapon which is often underutilized. Each of us has a choice. We can continue trying to repair our divided “kingdoms” today on our own or humble ourselves and pray. May we be a people that come together to seek the Lord united through prayer. 

Karen McNary

Director of Global Cultural Engagement and Community 

Karen served as a Children’s Leader, Substitute Teaching Leader, Teaching Leader, Area Personnel and most recently as a Skills Coach for BSF prior to joining the staff in April 2021. She is originally from Louisville, Ky. and for the past 20 years has called Charlotte, N.C. home. She has been married to her husband, Keith, for 27 years. They have three sons who attended the BSF Student Program. 

 

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“Thy Will” vs. “My Will” – Praying Like Jesus

“Thy Will” vs. “My Will” – Praying Like Jesus

“Thy Will” vs. “My Will”

Praying Like Jesus

By Sherry Thomas and Bethany Lockett

In the early years of my marriage, conflict was frequent. Something as inconsequential as which direction the forks were placed in the dishwasher would result in a serious argument.

I would pray over our disagreements, often asking God to help my husband see that I was right. “Lord, please change my husband.” My heart attitude toward prayer was about controlling my circumstances and proving that I really had my family’s best interest at heart.

As time went on, I just felt more overwhelmed. This finally forced me to see past the immediate circumstances and change the way I prayed. In desperation, I began to pray, “Lord, please change me.”

In Matthew, we get a peek into Jesus’ understanding and practice of prayer. 

Jesus’ prayer life is shockingly different from that of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. Although they were commended by others for their beautiful, passionate, and public prayers, Jesus denounced them for praying only to receive the admiration of others in Matthew 6.  

His rebukes came to fulfillment in Matthew 23, known as the passage of the “Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.” Jesus did not hold back on His opinion of their practices, saying “You snakes! You brood of vipers.” He condemned them for being like a cup which is cleaned only on the outside and a tomb, which looks beautiful and white but is full of death on the inside.  

Jesus was less concerned with the method of their prayer (both private and public prayers are appropriate) and more concerned with their motivation. He criticized their self-focused approach, believing “righteous” actions could control their own hearts and circumstances. 

In contrast, Scripture tells us Jesus routinely woke up early in the morning to pray. He also prayed after full days of serving and teaching, during times of severe trial, and throughout the day to give thanks. His prayers expressed and empowered His desire to submit to the Father completely.    

Jesus introduced the true motivation for prayer in the first section of “The Lord’s Prayer” and modeled its impact throughout His life and ministry.  

A model of motivation

Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name – Matthew 6:9

There should always be a direct correlation between the One receiving our prayers and what we say. While my name does not actually hint at my character or attributes, every single one of God’s names declares who He is.

So, how does the name you use for God affect your prayers?   

In this prayer, Jesus taught the people to acknowledge: 

  1. God is Father (the Good Father loves you)  
  2. He is in Heaven (He has unlimited resources)  
  3. His name is Holy (He is the only One worthy of worship)  

Acknowledging different attributes or qualities of God tends to change the tone of our prayers, rearrange priorities, and sometimes change requests altogether. At times it can prevent us from asking God for something that is contrary to His nature. 

There are many names for God throughout the Bible. Jesus frequently used the name “Father” (Greek: Patḗr or Aramaic: Abba). Similarly in the Old Testament, there are many names for God that reveal His character. In the Psalms He is called El Shaddai (meaning Lord God Almighty) or Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide).  

One of my favorite names for God is “El Roi” (The God who sees me). He is the God who clearly sees me and chose to love me anyway. With my focus on El Roi, I confidently approach Him for daily guidance and in times of struggle.  

These contemplations in prayer release me from the fear of failure and feelings of insecurity. They remind me to submit my desires and my life to Him because He is good, and His ways are perfect. 

When we remember God’s attributes and His names, we adopt an attitude of worship within our prayers. By remembering His character, God ultimately works to re-shape our own. 

Positioning our hearts

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

While it’s tempting to assume Jesus lived a perfect life solely because He is fully God, we must remember He became man and was tempted and struggled just like we do. His temptations, pains, and trials were no less severe than ours – the difference was He was determined and intentional in accomplishing God’s will. He always sought unity with the Father, and He accomplished this through prayer. 

We have to ask ourselves, are we praying to prove we are right or to manipulate God into seeing our way? Or are we ready to be changed by God and submit to His will over our own?  

In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus sought His Father in severe distress, Jesus asked for an alternative solution to the cross. Three times He asked to avoid the wrath of God; however, each time He asked, He also reaffirmed His commitment to do the will of His Father. With those prayers, Jesus walked confidently to the cross, and three days later walked victoriously away from the grave. Jesus illustrated that submission to the Father’s will is rewarded with peace that far outweighs our pain. The same is true for us. While circumstances don’t always change, anxiety can be replaced with peace. 

In our vulnerable moments, God welcomes our cries and tears. And when we offer those requests with a heart of submission, God gives us the peace and strength to endure our circumstances. Surrounded by betrayal and insults, Christ walked to the cross with peace and resolution. Through His sacrifice, we too can face the trials of this world with courage when we submit to the will of our Heavenly Father in prayer.   

As I reflect on our marriage, I see the ways the Lord has drawn me closer to Him. He used Bible Study Fellowship to help me understand that His Word was a far better guide than my feelings, experience, or worldly wisdom. I realized that I had to let go of my need to control every situation and submit to God’s will for our lives. Today, our marriage is stronger, and we continue to see the deep impact of diligent prayer in every area of our lives. 

Sherry Thomas

Guest Contributor

Sherry Thomas was a child when she believed in the salvation offered by Jesus Christ, but it was as an adult that she understood the importance of growing in her relationship with Him through Bible study and prayer. She joined Bible Study Fellowship more than 10 years ago after the Lord called her out of a corporate job to become a stay-at-home mom. Sherry is happily married to her husband Jacob, who was an International Controller for Bible Study Fellowship. Today, Sherry homeschools their five children and the whole family participates in BSF classes in Lubbock, TX. She also enjoys serving in women’s and young adult ministries in their community.

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