Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

Blog

These are just a few of my musings about faith, formation, culture, and life.

 

An Advent Reading Experience

Jen Michel

My first published writing was devotional writing for Today in the Word,a donor publication of the Moody Bible Institute (also available online). After I had quit my high-school teaching job to stay home with Audrey, my friend, an editor at Today in the Word,asked me to do some very occasional editing for them. Eventually, the team asked me to submit a writing sample. After my first submission, I was very courteously rejected ; a year later, the team asked me to resubmit, and in 2005, my very first devotional was published with Today in the Word—a 31-day walk through the book of Esther. (If you’re interested in reading that month’s study, you can begin here.) Since then, I’ve written one or two issues each year for Today in the Word, sometimes on books of the Bible (Judges, Ruth, the Minor Prophets, Luke) and sometimes on various topics (Fear, Home, Desire). Every assignment has been the best kind of excuse to study Scripture and find succinct ways of relaying its truths. 

More recently, Moody Bible Institute has decided to have Moody professors write their devotional. This ends my devotional writing responsibilities for them, but it opens up some new invitations elsewhere.

Tell me a story..jpg


With some of this restless energy in me, I’ve written an Advent devotional for my regular content subscribers, taking them through the month of December (through the 25th) and through the story of Jesus’s first coming. It’s my gift to you and one way I hope to help you spend intentional time throughout December reflecting on the story of Christ’s coming to earth.

 The days’ readings will be short (400-500 words), and I hope they’ll focus us on God in a distracted season. I’ll also offer a short prayer as well as a portion of Scripture to read. It’s not meant to be an onerous assignment but rather a quiet way to keep time with the time-keeping God who, “when the fullness of time had come, sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4).


You can subscribe to receive these daily Advent emails here.You’ll also be subscribed to my monthly-ish newsletter, which is the most regular content I’m providing for my readers these days. 

 

 

 

On Reading the Bible

Jen Michel

I didn't know the habit would become a lifetime's work. But I'm grateful..jpg

I was sixteen when I started to read the Bible daily. I can remember visiting the Christian bookstore after summer camp and choosing The Quiet Time Companion from the shelves, a systematic reading guide with interpretive helps, questions, and applications. I was a new Christian and had been encouraged to read the Bible every day for the next six months in hopes that the habit would stick. And though I was committed to the task, I also felt as every new reader of the Bible feels: daunted by the immensity of this ancient book.

I’ve been reading the Bible regularly now for more than twenty years. This isn’t to say that I haven’t missed days and weeks, sometimes even months, but it is to say that this book, more than any other, is responsible for forming me. In fact, it keeps delighting and surprising me—even confounding me (as I talk about it my next book, Surprised by Paradox). The Bible has become, as Jesus said it would, food on which I have come to daily depend. Which is why, as often as I have opportunity to say it, I try saying this: reading the Bible regularly is my most important spiritual habit. I don’t believe that we can know God, ourselves, or the nature of the kingdom coming without regular intake of this book. 

But what does the regular habit of intake look like?

I’ve thought to share with you what it looks like for me to read the Bible and actually take it in. I don’t believe that my way is the best way or the only way, but it is way. And sometimes you just need a way to get started, just as I did at 16 when I picked up The Quiet Time Companion at my local Christian bookstore. In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard wrote that “it is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every verse of the Bible pass before our eyes.” And that’s really the point of this post, to ask you about your habits, not just of reading the Bible, but allowing the words of God to be transferred into the substance of your life. Because Bible reading isn’t about accumulating arcane facts that will help you win at Bible trivia (although I do know the name of Moses’ mother). Rather, it’s a habit that forms us into the desires of God: we begin to love as he loves, even hate as he hates. 

In these final days of October, I am coming to the final pages of my Bible reading journal, which I started April 9, 2017. Tucked into the middle of my Bible (I read the NLT translation of the One Year Bible) is a small post-it note where I’ve scribbled down some reminders of how Martin Luther read the Bible. First, he looked to the Bible for instruction.Then, he looked to the Bible for thanksgiving.Third, he looked to the Bible for confession.And finally, he looked to the Bible for prayer. In other words, he saw the Bible as:

-      “a school text”

-      “a song book”

-      “a penitential book”

-      “a prayer book”

Although I discovered Luther’s ideas long after I had been a regular reader of the Bible (I found this is Tim Keller’s excellent book, Prayer), I realized that I, too, tended to write down similar observations from my Bible reading: what I’m learning about the nature of God, what I’m discovering about my own sin, what I’m learning about the redemptive work of God through history, what I’m learning about my own calling.

A quick glance through the pages of my journal reminds me of all the life we’ve lived in the last year and a half: I released a book, help coordinate major church initiatives, bought a house, started a house renovation, wrote a third book, continued raising five children.

  • Reading my reflections remind me of the angst I’ve had these many years of impermanence in Toronto—and how I found consolation in the fact that the Levites, too, had no permanent land holdings. (Numbers 18:10: “In their land you shall have no estate, and no portion shall you have in their midst.”)

  • As I turned pages, I read prayers for suffering friends—and the promises of God that I’ve claimed on their behalf. (Ps. 56:8: “You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”)

  • As I’ve faced difficult career decisions, I’ve been reminded, again and again, that the true vocation of the Christian is praise. (Ps. 33:1, “Praise befits the upright.”)

  • There have been anxious, worrisome times where I’ve asked to stand guard. (In Robert Alter’s translation of the Psalms, “guard” occurs six times in Ps. 121: “Your guard does not slumber,” v.3; “He does not slumber or sleep, Israel’s guard,” v. 4; “The Lord is your guard,” v. 5; “The Lord guards you from all harm,” v. 7; “He guards your life,” v. 7; “The Lord guards your coming and your going, now and forevermore,” v.8.)

  • Halfway through the journal I switched to writing with the lovely fountain pen, given to me by a friend, the ink itself serving as reminder of God’s goodness.

  • I even occasionally read prayers of resolution—like this one, after we’d purchased our house in Toronto. “This is a gift: this house, these answered prayers, this permanence; this lukewarm shower, this hard-to-regular thermostat, this smaller space, these close quarters, this detached garage.”

The journal is a written record of conversation: God talking to me, me talking back. It’s nothing extraordinarily deep because that’s not the point.

The point is keeping company with God.

Maybe that’s a longing you have, but you’re not sure where to begin. Here are a couple of thoughts for getting started regularly reading the Bible:

1.    Find a plan. There are any numbers of ways of systematically reading the Bible. (You can find some here.) Get yourself a plan, and stick to it. It takes the thinking out of “What should I read?” And trust me, it’s the thinking that’s harder than the actual reading.

 2.   Find a partner. Tell someone that you’re starting a goal of regular Bible reading. The best thing is to enlist them to do it with you! The next best thing is to ask them to check in with you, to see how you’re doing. Accountability is key to meeting goals.

 3.   Find a purpose. Go to Scripture and expect God to speak. Then write down what you discover!

a.    What does he say about himself?

b.    What does he say about humanity?

c.    How does the passage illuminate the gospel?

Jen Wilkin offers a number of excellent questions in her book, Women of the Word.

4.    Find a prayer. Remember that God speaks to us, and faith is the act of response. Talk back to him!

a.    If God shows you his generosity, ask him to provide.

b.    If God shows you his faithfulness, ask him to help you trust.

c.    If God shows you his holiness, ask him to forgive.

d.    If God shows you his mission, ask him to commission and send!

I was sixteen when a pastor at summer camp told those of us who had committed our lives to Christ to commit to some new spiritual habits, including reading the Bible 10 minutes every day. I didn’t know the habit would become a lifetime’s work—but I’m grateful. 

I wonder what God might have for you: if you started giving him 10 minutes of your day’s attention.

Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.


If you’re interested in receiving regular content from me (a monthly blog post like this one and my monthly-ish newsletter), you can sign up here.

 

 

An Interview with Liz Ditty, Author of God's Many Voices

Jen Michel

God's Many Voices.jpg

It was a real privilege to read Liz Ditty's new book, God's Many Voices. I enjoyed it so much that I suggested to my oldest daughter that we read it together as she enters her last year of high school and the college decision-making process. I wanted to talk to Liz a little bit more about her book, which I hope you'll get a copy of at Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Liz, the title of your book is God’s Many Voices. Can you talk a little about what that means?

In my work as a Spiritual Director and jail chaplain, I had many conversations with people who wanted God’s voice to be a part of their lives but didn’t think He spoke to them. They said things like “God is so silent” or “God doesn’t speak to me like He speaks to…”. 

When I asked them what God’s voice sounded like, some said they didn’t know. Others talked about hearing God speak clearly in an audible voice, or getting goosebumps, or knowing a clear answer to something. Sure, God can speak in sudden clarity- but that isn’t the only voice He has. 

When we have learned to listen for God’s voice and expect Him to speak in many different ways we won’t miss all of the important things He has to say to us. If the Holy Spirit is in us as believers, then God is with us and He is not silent. The Bible, Prayer, Community, Beauty, Coincidences, Desire, even Silence can be ways that His Spirit draws us closer to Him- if we are paying attention. God uses many voices, and if we know what to expect we can hear Him as much in His speaking as in His silence.

As you know, many people struggle to hear God’s voice in their daily lives. What would you most like to tell people about learning to hear God’s voice, especially in times of hardship or frustration?

One of the most famous stories of hearing God’s verse is the story of Elijah in a cave, when God’s voice came to him as a whisper. There are a couple important things we often rush past in this interaction.

First, Elijah was frustrated. Even though he had heard God’s voice clearly, the events in his life were not lining up with what he expected the plan of God to look like. By the time he wakes up in this cave, he is utterly confused and a little disappointed and feeling very alone and abandoned (1 Kings 19:10). If that is where you are, God’s invitation to Elijah is for you too.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (I Kings 19:11)

No matter how we are feeling, we live our lives in the presence of the Lord- in a world that is saturated with spiritual realities and the fingerprints of God. Our lowest moments can be the best times to stand in the presence of God and pay attention to see if we can watch Him pass by.

See what happens next. There are flashes of wind and fire and earthquake- all the ways God has spoken in the past and the ways Elijah would expect Him to speak. But those aren’t the voices God is using with him now, instead God speaks in an unexpected whisper.

There are times I have been utterly heartbroken and turned to places I expected to hear God’s voice but came up empty. Not because He never speaks in those ways, but because He had something different to say. 

For example, the Bible is the starting point for God’s voice- like the fire of the Old Testament. But there have been times I tried to read my way out of fear or hopelessness and came up dry. That didn’t mean that God wasn’t speaking to me. Just because God wasn’t in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake that night doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking. We might have to wait for the whisper- or the unexpected call from a friend, the unbothered sunrise, or other reminders that God is still near. We can trust that one of His unexpected voices will find us when we are standing in His presence waiting for His words.

A point you make in your book is that people may not recognize God’s voice, even if He is speaking to them. What’s your advice on learning to recognize what we may already be hearing?

Our minds are cluttered with voices! Learning God’s voice and becoming familiar with who He is and the kinds of things He says is important in discerning His words. The Bible is an anchor of truth for us, especially the stories and words of Jesus in the Gospels. John 1 says that Jesus Himself is the Word of God that will point us to who God truly is, He teaches us to recognize the wild and gentle voice of God. We also get better at listening the more we listen, and our communities become an important aspect of our discernment.

With that foundation we can begin to recognize the three markers Dallas Willard attributes to God’s voice: “What we discern when we learn to recognize God’s voice in our heart is a certain weight or force, a certain spirit, and a certain content in the thoughts that come in God’s communications to us.” 

In your book, you talk about the everyday distractions that make it difficult to hear God speaking to us. What is your advice on how we can better develop our discernment in a world that values a loud, busy, stressful life?

When I feel like God isn’t speaking to me, if I’m honest, I’m not spending a whole lot of time listening. Maybe a quick little 15 minutes of reading and prayer? It’s not always awe inspiring if I’m honest, but then I realize that intimacy and connection is never built by us showing up for each other in short periods of time with unrealistic expectations. 

That’s not how human relationships work, and it’s not how we can expect our relationship with God to work either.

I hope as we journey together through God’s Many Voices that we aren’t just moving towards God’s voice, we are moving towards God Himself. The real invitation of listening is relationship, and slowly with many mistakes we can all learn together how to live life with God- the abundant, beautiful life of freedom and ongoing conversation that we are all invited to.