Back to the Present

In my post Do You Use SOAP? I wrote that I usually write the Observation part of my journal entry “in past tense and in the third person.” That probably conjures up some bad memories of high school English, right? Here’s the point: During this part of a journal entry on a passage of Scripture, we need to understand what the original audience was reading/hearing. It was written to them (third person) addressing their time and situation (past tense).

However, on further reflection I realize that when I journal I often write this in present tense. I do this because it make the scene come alive to me, as if I am there with them in the past.  So instead of writing, “The Lord told (past tense) Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice,” I might write, “The Lord tells (present tense) Abraham… .” This make the scene come alive to me and begins to help me think about how to bridge the historical gap from what happened (Observation) to how it applies to me (Application).

I was teaching SOAP to a class at my church once and one of the members of the class decided to write their Observations in present tense/second person.  We were working through 1 Thessalonians. So she would write something like this: “Paul, you (second person) are telling (present tense) us that you are always thanking God for us in your prayers.”  Do you see how this really makes the passage come alive?  It is as if we are one of the Thessalonian believers hearing the letter read to us for the first time.  This approach doesn’t work for all passages, but it certainly does for the New Testament letters.

What do you do to help you put yourself into the shoes of the original audience when you read the Bible?

Because He Said So

Scripture

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)

Observation

One day when the crowds got large, Jesus needed some space in order to speak to them in a way they could all hear.  So he climbed into Simon Peter’s boat and asked him to push away from the shore a bit. After teaching the people, Jesus told Peter to go out to deep water and let down his fishing nets. Peter was the expert in fishing. He knew that since he hadn’t caught any fish during the night, it would be virtually impossible to catch any in the heat of the day. Yet he acted on what Jesus told him based on his respect for Jesus’ authority. Respecting and obeying Jesus was much more important to Peter than arguing about fishing. Peter’s faith was on display, not because he had some mystical feeling that a miracle was about to occur, but because Jesus said so. Peter was merely responding in obedience to Jesus’ words.

Application

John White in his classic book The Fight says that faith is not some sort of inner mystical state.  On the contrary he writes, “Faith then is your decision to respond to God’s Word.”  When Jesus asks me to do something, I must obey – not because it seems wise or right, but because he said so. Jesus deserves my respect and obedience more than I need to understand his reasons for asking. I must respond when Jesus asks me to do something and I must ask him every day for what he would have me do that day. I should not argue about the merits of his request. My concern is his ask and my response to it. The outcome is his concern.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, my heart’s desire is to respond in obedience to anything you ask of me. Yet, you know I fall short and many times argue and debate the merits of what you want me to do. Forgive me of that. Teach me to obey and trust you, just because you say so.

Discipleship through Prayer

Here is an example of SOAP journal entry I made on 1 Thessalonians 1:2.

Scripture

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. (1 Thessalonians 1:2)

Observation

Paul wrote that he and those with him were always praying for the believers at Thessalonica. He was thankful to God for them: thankful that they had given their lives to Jesus. Paul knew his labor for them was not in vain and for that he said he thanked God. It is interesting that he said he mentioned them in his prayers. I wonder if he named as many as he could by name or was it a general mention of the church as a whole? Nevertheless, he prayed for them. With all the other churches and people Paul had influenced, he took the time to pray for them specifically.

Application

I rarely pray for specific people by name, yet I have so much fewer that I have influenced. I need to pray for people who are trying to grow in the Lord. They need my prayers. I will start a list of names of people I hope to influence for Christ, both believers and those yet to believe.

Prayer

Lord, help me to identify those for whom I should be praying. Teach me to keep a list so that I can pray for them by name.

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