“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
My bones are dry and brittle in a place where I guess I should be thriving. I sit in the muscle-bound restraints of anxiety. It is an anxiety strapped and tangled in an intimate fight for faith behind closed doors, compounded by the mental struggle of finding myself in a faction of Christianity that demands right theology and a striving for perfection from an imperfect, stumbling follower of Christ seeking to honor her devotion to her Savior at the altar of redemption.
It is a strange thing to be raised in the enlightenment of the charismatic embrace of the Holy Spirit, navigating the rising tides of great spiritual awakening, incredible openness and forgiveness and faith—followed by occasional low plummets to depths of spiritual abuses—to then find freedom and joy in the solid ground of tradition and in the submission to and the feast of the knowledge and right understanding of God’s Word, only to long—to thirst and hunger and pine for—the healing and refreshing waves of the charismatic expression once again.
The Word and His Spirit are one.
My mind—now drenched in His Word and more deeply rooted in the confidence that we can know a right truth found in a perfect scripture—calls down to my heart and across the stretched and exhausted tendons in my body and cries out for childlike expressive worship and to make room in my rationalizing mind for the Spirit to move as He pleases in my humble life.
Oh, Holy Spirit, I invite your active presence. I’ve seen it. I know it. Lord, come.
I feel the tension of being a limited human being and living in the divergence of the worldwide faith in Christ—each faction seeking to follow a Savior as best they know how and as best they can interpret, with the help of a Holy Helper.
Oh, how He loves the church—His bride.
But if the movement of the Lord depends on the rightness of my own humble theology, then I don’t stand a chance. So I stand before my God without a denomination on my name tag, just the name of a flawed human longing to know and follow and be led by the Shepherd in Word and Spirit and a great passion for the Church, His beloved bride.
Jesus, draw near.
I am too small and insignificant to eat up too much time gazing at others with eyes of curiosity, evaluation and measurement in the name of ‘discernment.’ My place is on my knees with eyes fixed upon the crook of the Shepherd who is leading us all in His narrow path. And there, I ask the Holy Spirit to train my eyes to stay.
And now I open my heart with an invitation to the Father to lead me in tradition and prayer, in study of the Word, in depths of creativity and the glory of His Spirit, in healing power and His joy to produce the miraculous. I will trust Him. He is a God that longs to be known— discovered both through experience and through study. Both in word and in action. And I will rest in the loving guidance of a Shepherd who leads His sheep to the springs of the water of life.
I will still my quiet self-righteous wrestling, that I may experience the righteous saving power of our great Lord and Savior for all who call on His name.
Over the past month almost every major sphere of my life has shifted. I’ve transitioned from being a corporate wageworker to a stay-at-home homeschooling mom.
My husband and I moved our family and all our things into an older, repair-needy home.
And my social circle has shifted. I no longer have regular adult conversations sprinkled throughout my day between meetings or over slow cups of coffee. I now converse mostly with my five- and two-year old boys over juice boxes and legos, and on occasion I manage to speak to the weary retail worker at Target.
And I am so impressionable. My conversations have morphed so that I now sometimes sound like I, myself, am five years old… or maybe even two.
My husband has been rock solid in the change. He speaks calmly, makes thoughtful decisions, and doesn’t panic in the new sole-breadwinner responsibility thrust upon his shoulders. In fact, from my vantage point, he is thriving.
I have not been so heroic in the wake of all the transitions. I find myself hunkered down in awe, arms stretched protectively over my soul… asking the Lord to mercifully put His hand over my eyes as He orchestrates the crashing waves of change. I can hardly handle the weight of His sovereignty in all of it. In every breakfast prepared… in every counting exercise completed or storybook read… in every dinner plate washed and stacked by my exhausted hands after bedtime…
I feel seasick and exhausted as I watch the plans He has detailed for my life unfurl in the fresh winds of each new day.
I had always assumed that my calling and my legacy was something to be discovered beyond the walls of home base… that the adventure was out there somewhere. The Lord has opened my eyes to see that the greatest adventure of my life is happening right here… in this place where I scrub toilets and fold laundry and hold children as they cry over scrapes and bruises.
My heart is full. My soul is feasting. And I am being refined in the fire of the obvious and humbling fact that I can not do this without Him. I am nothing without His grace.
My job as a follower of Christ is to obey my Lord. My role as His daughter is to do His will. In this I will fail completely on my own. Jesus is the only one who can truly accomplish the will of the Lord… and here in my home, in the rare quiet of a forced afternoon nap time, He is pouring out His mercy and showing me the way. One beautiful anonymous day at a time.
The year 2020 was a chaotic year for the world, but was an incredibly peaceful year for our family—and it was this for a lot of reasons, but probably the most impactful reason was that we were not on social media.
Really, I was not on social media (I mean, my husband wasn’t either but he never really had a habitual problem with social).
We agreed to get off of social media to help support our year-long Contentment Challenge during which we did not participate in any extra spending for the year 2020 (it was an incredible challenge… and really helped us sort out our needs vs. our wants! You can listen to my interview with Nancy Ray, the founder of the Contentment Challengehere.)
It was probably the most focused… the most rewarding… the most productive… and the most restful year of my adult life.
And, again, this for many reasons… but a big reason was the absence of social media in my life.
The benefits of being off of social media were astounding for me. They included, but were not limited to, the following:
More focused time with my family.
A clear mind and ability to be all-in where I was at in the moment.
More time reading scripture.
More time resting when I was tired (rather than scrolling).
Less impetuous spending (for instance, we successfully completed one year of the Contentment Challenge, paid off an enormous amount of credit card debt, and built a solid foundation for our savings goal).
The ability to walk into church (mask or no mask) and love others well without the distraction of their political views flying in front of our faces.
The deeper conviction to take control of what comes into our minds and intentionally focus and filter out the light from the darkness (Jesus has a lot to say about how we should be doing this…).
I read so many books despite having been a full-time working mama of two during a stay-at-home pandemic.
Emotional stability and growing contentment with my self and my home.
The ability to hear from live people sitting at our dinner table, passing by on the sidewalk, or greeting in the grocery aisle and having them tell us about their recent life updates (pregnancies, marriages, divorces, sickness, etc..) and us having the authentic real reaction that comes with having heard the news for the first time.
Having the energy and emotional ability to share the gospel with our neighbors.
Picking up the phone to have real live phone conversations with those I thought of throughout the day.
Redefining my view of success being found in the shadows rather than on a public platform.
NOT having my brain subconsciously asking for the next “line” for my “public stage presence” on social media.
Discovering and investing in deep friendships without the distraction of surface-level noise from random crowds of others on my feed.
More time in prayer with a truly quiet mind and open heart to God’s opinion and direction.
(To hear more about how being off of social media completely changed my view of success as a woman and a mom, check out my interview on the Miss Teacher-Mom podcast on Christ-Centered Success.)
Then 2020 ended and the Lord began to nudge me towards writing… which I am doing and loving. Over the course of a few hard conversations, my writing coaches convinced me of the many benefits of joining social media to help build a bridge to my ideal reader, so I (prayerfully, hesitantly, and never completely peacefully…) agreed to do so.
Since rejoining social media here are some changes in myself that I have noticed over the past few months:
Cloudiness in my mind.
Distractions that cause me to be less present with my family.
Less rested than before.
The feeling of an invisible pressure to produce and perform.
Emotional ties to likes and follows that I know in my logical mind are of no value, but my illogical and emotional mind have fallen prey to…
More holding of my phone throughout the day and in front of others.
Less time spent on writing and more time spent on trying to figure out how to market on and simply use social media.
Anxiety in my heart and mind.
Inability to slow down.
A visibly disgruntled (although patient and supportive) family hungry for more of my attention.
People no longer asking me for life updates as readily in person… me no longer asking for life updates as readily in person.
A continued disenchantment with social media, realizing authenticity is hard to find there.
A busier mind and heart. It’s harder to quiet my spirit before the Lord.
More impulsive spending.
A temptation to covet.
A deep desire to leave social media and pursue writing in a completely different way.
For me, the benefits of not being on social media simply outweigh the benefits of being on social media.
When I was off social media, I told many people that I could not imagine coming back to the platforms. Having been back on the platforms over the past few months, I must agree with my 2020 self… for meand my heart, it’s better to be off the platforms—writing goals or not—so, I’m saying “sayonara” once again.
What does this mean for my writing and my projects forthcoming?
Well, I will continue to write… and I imagine the quality of my writing will greatly benefit from my break with the myriad of distractions on social media.
If you are one of my precious (and few) readers… I so value your time spent on my works. Here is how you can keep up with me…
I will be posting articles full of testimony, lessons learned, interviews and sisterly advice on my website at www.reagan-reynolds.com and you can always visit me there at your leisure. Each article will continue to include an audio recording for those of you who prefer to listen in.
Or, if you prefer, you can let me come to you…
I will be sending a quarterly newsletter that will include the following:
A brief personal update on my experiences pursuing the writerly life.
A curated list of my recently published articles.
Announcements to new original Bible reading resources (I will soon be providing a reading guide for Genesis Chapters 1-11 created for new readers or returning readers of the Bible) – these resources will always be free.
Links to new Parent/Child Reading Guides for Young Adult classic fiction (These resources will assist parents in leveraging fiction to jumpstart deep discussions about our complicated world with their children.)
Announcements for original short Christian fiction audiobooks for kids, published to Audible.
If any of those forthcoming assets would be of interest to you, please sign up for email list below. I really look forward to a clearer mind and deeper in-person interactions to help inform what I bring to my readers in the future.
I can not say enough how much I appreciate you and how I would truly love to hear from you. If you feel so inclined, please drop me a note on the Contact page.
With joy (& a social sayonara),
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At this point in time, I have facilitated eleven Bible studies in the span of three years––ten for women and one that was co-ed and co-led with my husband and another couple. I don’t know if that sounds impressive to you or not. But, just in case it does, let me add a little bit of color for you on what these Bible studies actually look like in real life so you don’t make the mistake of thinking too highly of me.
Typically, I am washing the dishes or changing a diaper and the idea pops into my head that I would like to read some random book in the Bible (likely one I have not read before, because reading the Bible consistently is still pretty fresh to me). I quickly deploy a text out to some intelligent and passionate women in a few of my circles and ask if they might be interested in reading this book of the Bible as well. I generally toss the idea out to about fifteen people and maybe seven of them say they are in.
So, then—during nap time or perhaps during one of those moments when I am holed up in my closet seeking some much needed space (introvert here)—I work out some sort of reading schedule, which generally means I scribble random chunks of verses into the tiny boxes in a calendar of some sort.
In the weeks to come, I build up the hype and confirm that these women are indeed going to show up to my house if I pour the coffee. Then I plan for my kids to have early bedtime. I light candles. I make decaf. I set out all the mugs and arrange all the chairs. I might apply some makeup. And then I sit.
I sit in a circle of empty chairs and watch the minutes tick by and––like a middle school girl at her first big birthday bash––I chew my fingernails and hum until someone finally shows up.
Once they do and everyone gets settled (sometimes awkwardly––me, awkwardly excited), we pray and then we dive in. And, mostly, it’s me getting my mind blown by things I’ve never read in scripture… and sometimes someone else also gets their mind blown… but, mostly, it’s me learning a million things I never knew and asking a million questions and puzzling over interpretation and reveling in the poetry of it all, until finally ending in some sort of mouth-open, starry-eyed dopy gaze––stunned that I am living wide awake in love with a God that loves me too. Eventually, the weeks go by and the study comes to a close and I end up more convinced than I was at the beginning that the Bible is the most miraculous work of literature ever created.
I am currently wrapping up a Bible study in the book of Psalms. The other day I asked the women in my study if they felt like scripture has authority in their lives. They kind of looked at each other and said, “Yeah… I mean, we’re Baptists.” And, there, I recognized the great terrain between how I was raised and how they were raised and why it is so incredibly mind-blowing for us to simply read the Bible in context.
I grew up in a whirlpool of innuendos that suggested that I had authority over scripture. I was taught to use scripture to mystically force my teenage desires upon the world… demanding healing and prosperity and secret spiritual knowledge some called prophecy.
The Baptists I know grew up (some of them) under the weight of the law without grace. They grew up hoisting the Bible on their shoulders and trying to carry it from one wasteland of works-based salvation to another. They walked around knowing scripture, but not really knowing God.
Until one day they did.
And now their mind is blown by the fact that the God of the Bible is real and my mind is blown by the fact that the Bible is a real book about my real God, and all of us are waking up to the freedom available in a Bible that both leads us to conviction and repentance and dowses us in reminders of a loving, merciful, and near-to-us Savior prophesied since the beginning of time.
Much of what we get out of the scriptures has to do with how we start out. Most of us in the south have thick, leather-bound study Bibles with tiny little reference notes and scholarly introductions we never read or—if we do—it’s because we are distracted during a sermon that lost us at “hello.”
Being an avid reader and a literary scholar, there is one thing I have learned about myself that is true for not all—but most. We don’t really retain what we read until we have to regurgitate it, and because most of us are not Bible teachers or scholars, this rarely applies to the content in those tiny print introductions inserted into our study Bibles (I feel like I just heard a hundred Bible scholars gasp… sorry guys).
I live in a seminary town. Like, there is literally a seminary in walking distance from my house where young Baptist scholars go to learn how to be older Baptist scholars, and so when I confess to the average Joe on the street that I do not know who wrote the book of Phillipians, for example, I am often headed with a quizzical look followed by a quick answer and a smirk of satisfaction… one Bible illiterate taught.
But despite the fact that the most famous disciple of all time—Paul—wrote Phillipians while he was in prison for sharing the gospel of Christ, I will likely not bring this to recollection if I am randomly directed to Phillipians 3:14 in a cheeky Hallmark card that tells me to keep at it and finish the race for [insert whatever activity I am being encouraged to complete here].
The Bible is an incredible, often intimidating literary work displaying the historical memoir of the greatest character of all time—our God. It is worth taking a few minutes to ensure that we are reading the passages in the Bible in the intended context of the work.
Although those few minutes of gathering context can feel like a timewarp to your fifth grade English class, it is worth it and it doesn’t take too much time to complete. Luckily for us, there are in fact many Bible scholars who have done the work for us… we just have to engage with it and I would argue that we must do so before we attempt to extract the applicable meaning of the scriptures to our lives (and, especially, to the lives of others).
Now, you might be thinking that the Bible is the living Word of God and there are times when we can open it to a passage and it speaks directly into our circumstances. So, you ask, are you saying that’s not true? No. I am not—I’ve experienced it. The Bible is the living Word of God and God can use it however He deems best, but here in America where we have access to multiple translations of scripture with built in scholarly context and Google resources galore, why would we choose to be lazy about the most impactful work to ever stand on our bookshelves?
So, yes, I sometimes flip open my Bible and read without looking up context. But I have reaped the deep-rooted benefits of examining the books of the Bible before I dig in, and the benefits are countless for my ability to extract deep truths regarding the character of God and His desires for my life—and it will be for you as well.
Here’s what I’m proposing:
I’ve created this simple little worksheet to help you establish a new type of behavior as you approach your Bible to feast on the Bread of Life. This worksheet is not revolutionary. There are many, many Bible study approaches that guide readers through the contextual questions I have provided. However, I never experienced one of those Bible studies before I was thirty years old and I grew up down the street from a seminary… so, I’m guessing there is a high probability that this might be new to you as well.
Give this a try. Pick a book of the Bible that’s not too intimidating or one you don’t really know much about (say, the book of Job or the letter of Jude) and using the Bible Reading Guide to Establish a Contextual Framework (provided below), take 15 minutes to learn the basic context of that book… and then read the first chapter. What about the context changes or informs your perspective?
Next week I will dive a little bit more into building basic Bible comprehension when reading the scriptures. If you get into the scriptures and you need a little guidance, give me a ping or reach out to your church leaders for assistance. Apart from prayer, I’m not sure there is a better use of our time… so, let’s get started.
Side-note: A lovely person (not from the bible belt) who read the first draft of this article asked how I reconcile the fact that I can meet an average Joe on the street who is a Bible scholar with my claim that the average person (and my reader) is more like me, a little more Bible illiterate. I think that it is one of the many oddities of living right next to a seminary campus. It seems that many people within a certain radius of the campus know a lot about the Bible, but most people a few blocks out know very little… and I will just leave that observation here for you to ponder.
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.”
I may be wrong, but I have a nagging suspicion that most Christian individuals living in the bible belt are passive readers of their Bibles. They may read a portion of scripture every day, but––likely––they are under some sort of compulsion to do so (whether real or imagined), and that compulsion starts them off in the direction of passive readership of God’s holy word.
A passive reader is someone who reads quickly or nonchalantly, and rarely remembers what they are reading. They are typically selfish readers––whether they are aware of it or not.
Some passive readers focus on speed––their goal is productivity in their reading. I call these “checkbox readers” because their primary goal for reading is to accomplish some sense of pride at having finished the reading, whether or not they retained anything from it. I have found that I am tempted towards this type of readership when I participate in the traditional group bible study method of reading scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I love group bible study––but one of my sin patterns is to submit to productivity rather than laying down my list of hopeful accomplishments in submission to the Lordship of Christ. The temptation to read scripture this way is heavy in our American culture––a culture which values what you do over who you are.
Some passive readers focus solely on affirmation and application of the reading to their personal lives. They often read when they feel they need something from the text. I call these “consumer readers.” You may be thinking, well––is that not active readership? This person wants to engage the scriptures for their personal well-being, don’t they?
Seemingly, but no.
This type of passive reader forfeits correct context for what they hope to hear from the scriptures. Often, this type of approach leads to false beliefs about the character of God and our relationship to Him. Imagine that you receive a letter from the White House. Having recently felt unappreciated for any of your contributions to our country’s needs, you open it and quickly skim to the bottom where you read “Thank you for your commitment and loyalty to our country. We would not be the nation we are today without you.” You close the letter happily, encouraged that the President thought to write to you to thank you for being such a special citizen. What you missed entirely was that the letter was a notice of draft into the armed forces requiring your attendance at check-in in two weeks time. You’ve read the letter out of context, and the resulting implications for your citizenship and your daily life are impending.
It is not so much different to approach the holy scriptures seeking personal affirmation and application before considering the context of the text you are reading.
And then some passive readers approach the text only when led by a guide, typically a pastor on a Sunday morning and a guided Bible study. Often, not always, these readers approach the scriptures with unsure trepidation, similar to a foreigner approaching a native to ask where the bathroom might be located or if there is one at all. I call these readers “visitor readers” because they have formed an approach to the biblical text that assumes the text was not written for them, it was written for those who are teaching it to them––they are just visiting during the span of the sermon.
My goal is to inspire you to awaken from passive readership so that you may become an active reader of the one text that I believe is the most important work you will ever engage with in your lifetime.
What is an active reader?
An active reader takes the time necessary to dig into the context of the text they are approaching—considering audience, authorship, time period, cultural happenings, and textual themes. They often read the scripture with pen in hand, making notes on the things they do not understand or those things that engage their thinking on a deeper level. They read the same passage multiple times, and—not always, but often—they read slowly. An active reader reads to understand the text, not simply to benefit from it.
Good active readership requires approaching a text knowing that you stand to be corrected by what you may read. Your assumptions give way to the content in the scriptures, and—although you may wrestle with what you find there—you actually wrestle.
My question to you is:
How are you approaching your Bible today? (If you approach it at all?)
Do you desire to walk away from your reading of scripture––even a small portion of scripture––with a deeper understanding of this God who saves?
In my last article, I encouraged you to begin to pray that God would give you a hunger for His holy word. Today, I encourage you to reflect on how you are currently approaching scripture. Are you a passive reader of God’s holy word—unsure how to extract more meaningful meaty content from these sometimes confusing and foreign passages? Or are you an active reader of scripture, allowing the living word of God to seep into the crevices of your born again existence?
Over the next few weeks, I will provide some suggestions on how to approach scripture in a way that will allow you to walk away with deep truths about God resonating in your soul, supplying you with His bread of life and leaving you longing for the next moment you can crack open your Bible.
If this sounds intimidating to you, rest assured the suggestions I will provide are elementary and all levels of literacy can apply these methods to their reading.
There are a lot of reasons to remain a passive reader––none of them good, in my opinion. But there is one good reason to become active in your reading of the gospel—active readership will fuel a life burning with passion for walking the narrow path with Jesus. What could be more exciting than that?
I highly recommend Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word for more on how to be an active and informed reader of the Bible. I will be including some of her suggestions that have impacted my relationship with scripture in articles to come.