Every year, a few days before January 1st, I pray for a Bible verse to claim over my life for the upcoming year. Without fail, the Lord always leads me to a verse and, throughout the year, He uses it to encourage me, teach me, and fulfill promises in ways I never could have foreseen. This year, I was led to a verse in Mark. A few days later, I spent a long morning at LifeWay strolling the aisles, trying to decide on a new, personal Bible study. I was drawn to a little book on the Gospel of Mark, which was not on my radar as I had just finished Luke and had no intention of reading through another gospel right away. But since my verse for the year was also in Mark, I figured the Lord was sending me a signal to study this book.
My verse for 2016 is Mark 4:24 from the Amplified Bible, which says: “Then He said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear. By your own standard of measurement [that is, to the extent that you study spiritual truth and apply godly wisdom] it will be measured to you [and you will be given even greater ability to respond] – and more will be given to you besides.’” At first, I didn’t really understand why I was led to this verse. It seemed a bit random and obscure, but I also knew I had a fresh desire to learn as much as I could about the Bible. So I prayed that the Lord would help me “increase my standard of measurement.” Then I went back to my studying.
Once I finished working my way through Mark, I moved on to other things but noticed that Mark kept resurfacing in unexpected places. I had been praying for several months for teaching opportunities and my husband Kevin had even expressed an interest in starting our own LIFE group. That sounded intimidating to me, so when I got the chance to teach an existing group, I jumped on it. And wouldn’t you know, they were in the book of Mark! Around the same time, I was able to join a yearlong Wednesday night group for church leadership. As I read about all the group involved, I knew it was exactly what I needed to increase my knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Not surprisingly, the first book listed in the syllabus was – you guessed it – Mark! Yet another reminder of God’s promise to me from Mark 4:24.
Kevin and I continued to feel burdened to start our own group but knew very little about the process and were hesitant. Eventually, the time came to step out in faith, although we had no idea what would happen. Only one thing was clear – I needed to teach the Gospel of Mark (for reasons I’m still not sure I fully understand). The question was, who would I teach? Jay Fennell met with us and assured us that if we were called to start a group, the Lord would bring the people. So, we jumped in with both feet and prayed for God to build a group.
I was nervous and doubtful leading up to Group Connect Sunday where we would introduce our new group. I felt under qualified and overwhelmed, and the spiritual warfare was palpable, but the Lord brought me back to the promise He had given me in January. “By your own standard of measurement…it will be measured to you – and more will be given to you besides.” And more. I love those words! God wants to give us more! He desires for us to know Him more every day, but we must be willing to make time with Him a priority. He doesn’t force His standard of measurement on us, but when our standard is low, we miss out on the “more” – knowing Him and all the blessing that contains.
One of my favorite things about the Gospel of Mark is his unique perspective on the power of faith. Mark places a special emphasis on the miracles of Jesus, all of which required faith (which Jesus often supplied in the absence of human belief). He also uses the word “immediately” more than 40 times and I love the picture it paints – that faith in Jesus gets results! One of my favorite stories is in chapter nine, where a man brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus and asks for His help “if he can do anything” (Mark 9:17-22) and Jesus answers, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Kevin and I can testify that nothing is impossible with God, and He has indeed given us more than we could have asked for or imagined (Ephesians 3:20). He has given us a unique group consisting of a core group of members who have already blessed and encouraged us in so many ways, and it has been so humbling to watch God’s plan unfold. When our heart’s desire is do His will, we can trust Him to make a way (Psalm 37:4-5).
We named our group Established, because that is our goal and constant prayer – that we would be established in our faith, in our knowledge and understanding of the Word, in our prayer life, and in our daily walk with Jesus. I know I am more established in my faith now than at the beginning of this year. I often think about that day at LifeWay when I noticed the little book about the Gospel of Mark.
I didn’t know then where God was leading. I only knew I wanted to follow.
Faith honors God. God honors faith. (Mark 9:23)
Kevin and Julie Gilbreath lead Established LIFE Group at the Brentwood Campus. Established is a coed group of different ages and life stages. Originally from Texas, they now live in Franklin where Kevin is a CPA and Julie is an opera singer. Their daughter, Melanie, is four.