CLICK TO LISTENSpiritual Disciplines
Heb 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
Bible Intake - Part One
In his very helpful book "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" Don Whitney wrote the following statement:
"No spiritual discipline is more important or more transforming than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it."
And most of you would probably agree with such a sentiment.
Yes, we know that a person may be Christian without regularly feeding on the truths contained in the Bible but we also know that they will not enjoy a healthy Christian life that way. We know too that they will not be a growing Christian if they starve themselves of this essential spiritual nourishment.
The reasons for this are pretty obvious. It is in the Bible, that God tells us:
especially about Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God
his commandments and how we how broken them
what he has done in Jesus to tackle this problem of our sin
how we must repent and believe in Him if we are to have our sin forgiven and to enjoy eternal life
how he wants us to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ
All this, and so much more, is to be found in the Bible and only in the Bible. Therefore it follows that if we want to know God and live lives that are pleasing to him we need to know what this book has to say and we need to know it intimately. Knowing what the Bible teaches, and knowing it in ever increasing measure, must then be a priority for every one of God’s children.
Now before some of you reach for all those old excuses you have for explaining why you don’t spend more time with the Bible (or perhaps I should say "more quality time" with the Bible) let me point out what astonishing invitation is offered to us.
God is ready to meet with us and eager to speak to us! He is not reluctant to help us as though putting up with us is an unfortunate consequence of the salvation he wrought for us through his Son. The Bible itself makes it clear that he has not reluctantly saved anyone:
2Pet.3:9 "The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
And after all, if he had wanted to keep things secret from us then he would never have caused the Bible to be written in the first place! He wants to make himself known to us. If this were a psalm we should probably add "a selah" here – just pause and think about that!
This is why the psalmist could write so positively about his delight in God’s word. Psalm 119 as you know is an extended celebration of God’s revealed word, well in it the psalmist declares some six times how much he loves God’s word adding a seventh declaration for good measure that great peace is enjoyed by all who love this Word.
Hymn writers too have written about their esteem for the Bible.
Holy Bible, book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine, to tell me whence I came,
Mine, to teach me what I am.
2 Mine, to chide me when I rove;
Mine, to show a Saviour's love;
Mine art thou to guide my feet;
Mine, to judge, condemn, acquit.
3 Mine, to comfort in distress,
Mine, with promise sweet to bless;
Mine, to show by living faith
Man can triumph over death.
4 Mine, to tell of joys to come,
Mine to show the sinner’s doom;
Holy Bible, book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.
And yet we might sometimes wonder deep down why we don’t always (ever?) feel that to be true in our own experience. We probably have some esteem for the Bible but past experiences may have left us thinking that we’re not really cut out for this kind of enthusiasm.
Well I want to remind you that successful Bible intake is not all about us somehow wrestling truth out of the hands of a reluctant God but about us putting ourselves in the place where God pours out his blessings. We must find ways of putting ourselves before an open Bible and look to him to teach us – and yes, this does require spiritual discipline, spiritual training, but it is most definitely worth it for each and every one of us. Bible intake is not reserved for a few people with a particular type of personality, interest or education. When William Tyndale was involved in translating the Bible into English at the risk of his own life he fully expected the uneducated boy driving the plough to be brought to a fuller understanding of the Bible than the theologically trained priests of the day!
Three Obstacles that Stand in Our Way
A first obstacle which will quickly sap your energies and undercut your resolve will be the obstacle of unrealistic expectations we may simply be wanting to see too much fruit from too little effort on our part.
Discipline is discipline and training is training and we must be realistic about this whole business. In an instant age we can come to expect instant or quick-fix solutions – we don’t like to have to wait anymore. So we can be tempted to give up when we don’t see the immediate results we unrealistically expect.
A second obstacle to us committing ourselves to a serious training regime may also be our own sense of simply being too busy. If we really want to be Godly, then we must face the fact that we will always be busy. To do what God wants most, that is, to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself (Mk.12:29-31), can’t be done in our spare time as though it were just a hobby. There will always be others things competing for our time and our energies – we must face that and carve out the time and the occasions we need to grow spiritually.
The third obstacle that will inevitably try to get in our way is that of our own innate laziness. Here we need to remind ourselves that there are no short cuts to Godliness. The flesh, our natural inclination toward sin, does not contribute to our spiritual growth. We will have to learn to take ourselves in hand and not pander to our weaknesses.
Just as the only way to God is through Christ, so the only way to Godliness is through the Christ-centred practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. What we need is not just to make a few new resolutions nor even to make a good start but what we need most are those tortoise qualities that keep on keeping on. Plodding perseverance will yield better results in the long-term than erratic inconsistency however spectacular that may appear to be at times.
Can you be s plodder? If you can then increasing Christ-likeness will be the order of the day as you practise the spiritual discipline of Steady Bible intake.
Three Helps along the Way
It is good to remind ourselves that we are not in this on our own. It is good to remember that especially if we have resolved to do things differently in the past only to fail to maintain our commitment.
The Holy Spirit is dwelling within and it is he who produces every spiritual thought we ever have. It is he who engenders the desire to be like Christ, who gives us a measure of self-control so that we can stick to the path of the spiritual disciplines and so be made more like Jesus. The Scriptures encourage us with the promise that:
Phil.1:6 "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
We can indeed do all things through Christ who strengthens us and he does that by means of his Spirit whom he has given us.
Phil.4:13 "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
The fellowship of other believers. Not only can we receive encouragement and the prayerful support of other believers we can also turn to them for help and advice. We can share the Word of God together and take in with them in their company.
The recognition that struggle is normal! Beware of those who say that growth in grace will be easy!!
The Bible tells us that we’re in a war pitted against a relentless enemy who has a number of allies in his attempts to destroy our Christian lives and witness: the world, the flesh and the devil will not be overcome lightly but they will be overcome:
1Jn.4:4 "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
How we can take in God’s Word
It is one thing to be convinced of our need to imbibe God’s Word but that is not the same as knowing practically how to go about it
Hearing God’s Word
Lk.11:28 "those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed!" HCSB
The easiest way to intake God’s Word is simply by hearing it. We must discipline ourselves to regularly hear it. Steadfastly attending a church where the Word of God is read and preached is of course fundamental.
Prepare yourself to hear – remember as you listen in church that this is not some space-filler element on the programme as it were but it is God’s Word that is addressing us.
It is possible to listen to God’s Word in a variety of other means too where we perhaps need to be even more careful that we listen with reverence. If you have access to the internet you can listen to the Bible from almost any translation you could care to choose. Or you could CDs or tapes if you’re locked into old-fashioned media. But it is very easy to put a CD on and to allow it to become a background noise as we don’t give it our wholehearted attention. I have found that to be the case when driving: I can listen closely until something on the road demands my attention and I find I’ve missed a lot before my mind refocuses. This is not a problem when listening to music but with God’s word it is different.
For what it’s worth I do have a complete set of CDs you could borrow. I have the NT on cassette in French too but I doubt that many of you will find that helpful!
Our listening to the Word of God in any of these ways is not meant however to be an end in itself. Jesus spoke about obedience as the goal. If we don’t listen carefully and attentively we won’t know what is expected from us. Good hearing on this kind does not come about by chance but has to be cultivated.
Reading God’s Word
Because Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4), He intended us to read every word. But the Bible’s such a big book! How am I to go about it?
a. Choose a Bible version that’s understandable and easy to read. That might mean you need to buy yourself a new Bible in English you can understand; or with print that is large enough for you to read it comfortably. If you’re not sure then ask.
b. You don’t have to start at the beginning. You can of course and you can continue all the way through from Genesis to Revelation – but you don’t have to. If you want to cover the whole Bible you will need to have some sort of plan – choose one you like and then stick with it. There are aids out there if you need them.
c. Pick a book of the Bible and work your way through it. This is far better than opening the Bible at random . If you need a little help along the way there are any number guides available to help you but beware of paying too much attention to what others think about the Bible – think about it yourself!
d. Read a little every day. If you haven’t read much before don’t suddenly try to read for an hour or two. It may work the first day and the second but then the third you might slip up and begin to feel a failure. Little and regular is far better than a glut and a full stop.
In so many areas of life we are creatures of habit and we may do well to chose a time and place that’s convenient for you and then try to stick to it.
e. Pray before you begin. Remember we’re seeking to put ourselves in the path of God’s blessing so ask him for his help.
f. Ask questions. What does this teach me about God? What does this teach me about how I should live? To keep your focus you may want a pencil to jot down what you learn.
Studying God’s Word
Reading God’s Word gives us breadth, but studying it gives us depth. Why then do so many Christians neglect the study of God’s Word?
Our main problem is that we are lazy.
Our growth in Godliness is greatly affected by the quality, and not just by the quantity of our Bible intake. Hearing, reading, and studying with a focus on becoming Godly will provide that quality.
Sermons ought usually to take us a little deeper than a simple Bible reading so listen carefully to the sermons you hear preached. After all, the Bible instructs pastors how they are to prepare themselves:
2Tim.2:15 "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
And you can often have the preacher’s notes afterwards so you can work through it again and see whether he had done that. You can also tell him later on where you agree or disagree! Or you can start to use a Study Bible or commentaries. You’ll need to sit at a table if you want to read comfortably with those!
But get the Bible into your system! God will use his truth to direct you, to encourage you, to comfort you and to strengthen you. Share what you’re reading and finding helpful with others – sharing like this will help anchor it into you and may well encourage them too in their own reading of the Word.
And Don’t Worry
If you sometimes forget what you’ve read – it’ll be more familiar next time round.
If you can’t remember where a particular truth is found – it is more important to know the truth than to know chapter and verse for it (though knowing both will be an undeniable help)
It you miss a day or two – simply get back to it as quickly as you can
Don’t beat yourself up on some guilt trip – Satan is the only one served if you do that
And may God be glorified in your life as he transforms you more and more into the Jesus’ likeness!