I fear that in our day and age of being too familiar and comfortable with God and His Word (in America), we have lost the sense of awe and fear of Him and His Word. It’s too familiar, and we are too comfortable. We have heard the Bible stories again and again. We pick them apart as objects of study, to be looked at closely under a microscope. It is educational and academic. Or we pick them apart so that we can piece them back together again in a way we like better. We twist them for our own ends. Or we just shrug our shoulders and yawn and ignore it.
I think that we, as Christians, are missing out on a vibrancy and a passion in our lives and our walks because we don’t take these two things seriously enough: prayer and God’s Word. If we are only half-committed to meeting with God in prayer and in His Word, we will have only a partial relationship with Him. We’ll get just enough of God to make us feel good, but we will miss out on “great” - on a vibrant, living relationship with Him. And we can’t blame Him for that. We are as close to Him as we work to be.
I think that if we can pinpoint why we are lazy in this discipline and do away with it, it would free us up from the false notion that it’s “extra-credit.” So let me start with exploring some reasons for why we don’t read our Bibles more. And many of these come from reflecting upon my own reasons or excuses for letting my Bible sit on a shelf.
2. Scripture is so familiar that I don’t think I’ll be missing out on anything by not reading it. It’s old news.
3. I want to read it more and feel like I should, but I am just too busy. And God understands, right?
4. I might be actively or passively avoiding it because I don’t want to be convicted by anything that it might reveal to me.
5. I’m a good Christian. Serving at church, saying the right things, behaving well. I know what the Bible says and do my best to abide by it. So do I really need to be reading it daily, too? When I’m already doing what it tells me to do?
6. It’s just an item on a To Do list that needs to get done just so I can check it off. And so I don’t really see much point to it or much benefit in it. But if this is what God thinks I should do - for whatever reason - then I’ll try to get to it.
7. I feel like I get enough of God’s messages through sermons and Christian music and through my spouse, so I don’t really need to sit down and read it for myself.
[I actually read an article in a Christian magazine by a woman who was married to the son of a well-known preacher, and she said this very thing. She said that we wives should get our Scripture teaching from our husbands, that this was better than reading the Bible for ourselves. It blew my mind! Sounded like she was making up fancy, godly-sounding excuses for her over-busyness and failure to be in the Word. Seriously, it blew my mind.]
8. Other civilizations and ancient people didn’t have the Bible to read. And they did just fine without it. If it wasn’t necessary for them, it can’t really be necessary for us, too. Right?
9. And on top of that, the Bible doesn’t command quiet, personal time in the Word, does it? I never read a verse that said, “Thou shalt spend thirty minutes a day reading this Book.” Right? So how crucial is it really when the Bible itself doesn’t say that we “have to read it every day.”
10. I don’t like to be told what to do or to be forced to do anything. Then it’s not really a genuine desire on my part anyway. So I’ll just show you all how good of a Christian I can be without being forced into your idea of what’s necessary.
11. It’s too hard to understand.
12. My parents or neighbor or friend used the Bible as a sword to hack others to pieces. And they forced it down my throat. And so it’s left a bad taste in my mouth.
And the only way to get past this is to confess it to God, to ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding God’s Word, and . . . to read it. Read it as though God has something to say to you personally - about your life - through it. Read it as though He is in the pages, waiting to meet with you and speak to you.
The Bible isn’t about ancient people’s sins from yesteryear; it’s about our sins today. It’s not about an old-time God; it’s about the greatness, holiness, and love of the God who lives today. Once we grasp this - once we read the Bible as relevant and alive - it becomes much more powerful and applicable to our lives. It is so full of rich life lessons and so full of the power, glory, mercy, wrath, and love of God - the God who is the same today as He was then. And it humbles us, like trembling children at His feet. The fear of God!
But I just don’t care? It’s not that important to me? I have better things to do?
We make time for the things that really matter to us. What does our use of time tell us about our relationship with God?
The sad thing is, while many of us wouldn’t actually say this out loud, if we dug down deep enough, we would have to admit that this is exactly how most of us live our lives day to day. We know the importance of the Bible, yet we find ways to excuse our lack of reading it and meditating on it. We think that listening to Christian music or going to church once a week will suffice.
I have four young boys at home. I know the busyness of life and the need to find ways to meet and meditate on God all throughout the day, even in the noise and chaos of family life. Christian music uplifts and encourages me as I go about my busy days. It helps me to remain focused on God, and it has been an incredible source of comfort during very stressful trials. (Get all the albums you can find from The City Harmonic. They are incredible and so uplifting! I don’t know how well I would have made it through this depressing, anxiety-filled year without listening to them every day.) I value it immensely, but I do not think that this wonderful resource should take the place of personal, quiet Bible Time.
There are definitely times in our lives that are busier than others, times of crisis or severe stress that leave little room for quiet reflection and Bible reading. (However, this is usually when we need it most.) And it is possible during these times to have a spiritual walk that survives on the snatches of Scripture that we get from music, books, sermons, and other people. But to live long-term with this practice, I believe, will threaten the strength and integrity of our spiritual walks and our faith.
I think that God gave different revelations of Himself at different times. First, there was the law and the commandments. Then there was Jesus. Now there is the Bible. While they didn’t have the Bible back in the day as we know it, they did have commandments, Scriptures, and the law. And they were encouraged to read and meditate on them often, to write them on the doorframes of their houses, to hide God’s word in their hearts, and to have quiet times where they interacted with God. The Psalms speak a lot of this:
Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait in expectation.”
Psalm 119: 1-2, 7, 9-11, 15-16: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. . . . I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. . . How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. . . I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
My guess is that people with this kind of devotion to, delight in, and respect for God’s words would hunger and thirst for the words of the Bible, if they had one back then. They would probably hold the Bible in the highest regard and advocate searching it daily for His truth so that they could live more godly lives. If they had a Bible back then.
They didn’t . . . but we do!
I believe that we are all held accountable for what is revealed to us. For cultures that do not have a Bible, they have the revelation of God through nature and the messages that He imprints on everyone’s heart. But for us, we have the revealed, written Word of God. And we will be held accountable for what we do with it and what we teach others to do with it.
While there is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt sit quietly with this Book for thirty minutes every morning,” it does show us by Christ’s example that quiet time is necessary. Jesus gave us an example of getting away alone with the Father. And He is God.
Mark 1: 35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Luke 5:16: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Jesus is God in the flesh. He gives us His example to model. And Ephesians 5:1 teaches us “Be imitators of God . . .” Jesus, who is God, needed to and often got away on His own, in solitude, to spend time with the Father. And yet, somehow we think we can fare better without regular quiet time with the Lord, though even Jesus Himself felt it was important enough to do so regularly?
Jesus also stressed the importance of Scripture when He said this: Matthew 4:4: “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Every word from the mouth of God. Scripture is God-breathed. It is a whole book of God’s words. Music and sermons are only pieces, retold by someone else. Yes, they are wonderful and necessary, too. But Scripture supersedes all messages spoken to us by others - in sermons, in songs, in other books.
Scripture is the measuring stick that we judge all other messages and “truths” by. But you have to know it to be discerning. And you have to read it for yourself to really know it. In this verse, being in the Word of God is compared to bread. Bread is a daily thing, our daily bread. We eat to sustain our lives. And we must eat daily, or we get weak and malnourished.
So let’s not add to your daily schedule by claiming that you should read the Bible for yourself or that you must meet with God in private quiet times. It is simply not necessary for you since you have Christian music and a pastor to teach you what God tells him in his quiet times.
We don’t think that God actually meant His Word to be read by everyone, just by the teachers. So if you want to be a “good enough Christian,” there is no need to read this long, hard-to-understand, and (let’s be honest) sometimes boring Book. (Trust us, we know. We’ve read 1 Chronicles 1-9.)
But all you have to do is listen to your Christian music, go to church on Sunday, and listen to what your spouse tells you about the Bible. That is so much easier anyway. So let’s not complicate it.
Besides, God knows that you are busy. Therefore, let us, the teachers, do the reading of the Scriptures so that we can teach you what we think it says. That way, you have more time to clean your kitchen, feed your family, update your Facebook page, read your newspaper, watch your television, and text all your friends.
As long as you listen to good, godly music and go to church on Sunday, you will never go astray.”
They received the message from their teacher, the famous and godly Paul. And yet, they examined the Scriptures . . . for themselves . . . every day . . . to see if Paul’s message was on track. And they were called “noble.”
While Bible reading and quiet time are not necessary for salvation or to be a “good Christian,” I firmly believe that it does have a tremendous effect on our understanding of Him, our level of “righteousness,” our ability to be discerning, and the level of effectiveness that we have for God’s kingdom work.
How much we immerse ourselves in the Word (and spend time praying and listening to God) should have a huge impact on how we live as Christians and if we are on target with God’s truth. Training in righteousness, discernment, correction, wisdom, spiritual maturity (among others) are all things that come with immersing ourselves in the Word. Guidance, peace, learning to discern God’s whispering voice (among others) all come with spending quiet time with God.
We, unfortunately, can go on deceiving ourselves for a long time that we are close enough to Him and doing just fine with our books, sermons, and music. (Or is it just me?) While this may make us feel better at first - relieved of our guilt for not maintaining quiet time with the Lord - it will leave us high and dry later. Someday, we will wake up and wonder, Why don’t I feel close to God anymore? Why can’t I hear Him or feel His presence like I used to? It won’t be God who drifted. Doing “just fine” falls far short of doing our best for God’s glory, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
What will happen to the level of commitment and the Christian character of generations of believers brought up on the idea that “Bible operator” is good enough, that accepting secondhand Scriptural truths (without searching it for ourselves) is perfectly acceptable?
2 Timothy 4: 3-4: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
It is only by knowing and training ourselves in the Word, as God reveals it in His Bible, that we can correctly discern spiritual myths. To feed on what others tell us about Scripture (instead of having the disciplined, mature habit of maintaining personal time in the Word and in prayer with the Lord) is a sure way to make us susceptible to being misled by teachers who will say things that we like to hear, things that sound good and right, but that might not be biblically accurate.
But how will we know?
We won’t be able to discern inaccuracy unless we are immersed in the Truth for ourselves. These myths are not always blatantly obvious. Satan’s best schemes are the super subtle ones that have an air of godliness. By these, we end up nibbling our way lost because it “sounds good” to us. And it’s what we wanted to hear anyway. So we won’t seek any other truth. But it takes careful studying and reading and discipline in the Word - in the God-breathed Word - to keep on track.
Hebrews 5:12-14: “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
How do we get mature in this Christian walk? Constant use of what teaches us to distinguish good from evil?
Constant use of Scripture leads to the spiritual maturity necessary to distinguish truth from falsehood. Is our level of spiritual maturity something that we want to take casually?
2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This says “all Scripture,” not just the few passages that we learn about through other people and through music. Think about how many messages and lessons we would miss out on if we felt that it was “good enough” to just listen to the Sunday sermon or Christian music.
[I think it’s interesting to note that James 5:16 says “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” And we just saw that Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. I think that there is a link between abiding in the Word, seeking righteousness, and the power of our prayers.
Now, it’s not our righteous acts that make our prayers powerful and effective. It is His righteousness working through us as we humbly submit our lives completely to Him - for His glory! And since we will always sin, we need to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convictions and to return wholeheartedly to God in genuine repentance whenever sin has broken fellowship.]
Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.” Scripture is living and active, and God leads us by it and speaks to our hearts. But by not constantly using it, we are opening ourselves up to being misled, spiritually immature, ignorant, self-focused, and self-serving.
And we miss out on what God would teach us through it today. We miss out on seeing the messages that fit our needs each day, each moment we seek His guidance through it. This is the living and active part of it: it interacts with us each day as though God were speaking right through it to our needs or blind spots. It guides and convicts and brings us up in wisdom, as we use it (and need it) daily.
“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:1-5)
But the truth is that we just don’t make the effort or time to draw that close to God (or we are actively or unconsciously avoiding Him for some reason). We want permission to focus on our lives, while neglecting a serious study of the Word and quiet time with the Lord. And yet, we still want to be patted on the back and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I have been there a lot during my life, wanting to believe that I was doing good enough with my music, my inspirational books, and my Sunday sermons. I was a good Christian, and I loved the Lord, and I was growing in my walk. But I was “so busy” with life that I convinced myself that these other things were enough. Scripture was extra. Beneficial, but not as inspiring as music and inspirational books. And honestly, it was so familiar that it was boring and just not doing it for me anymore.
I wanted permission to remain slack in my spiritual disciplines. But what I needed more was gentle encouragement to persevere, to make devotional time a priority in the midst of the busyness. I needed to understand that my life, my faith, my trust in God, evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit,” my level of righteousness, and my effect on the kingdom of God are all greatly affected by the quality of my devotional life and the priority that I put on meeting God in prayer and in His Word.
For so long, I didn’t know what it was like to passionately pursue Him, to meet Him in the pages of the Bible, and to know the living and active nature of Scripture . . . until these past “furnace” years. Through these many trials, God has broken me of my lazy, stagnating attitude. He has shown me the vibrancy that comes with deep times in prayer and Scripture. I always knew it was good and important, and I always valued it immensely. But I didn’t know what it was like to drink deeply from it, to hunger and thirst for it. Until now.
And now, I have become incredibly jealous for it, for wanting to see God’s Word honored and valued above all. God has moved me from seeing Bible-reading and prayer as the icing on the cake, to seeing it as the whole cake itself. It has become so precious to me - a cherished lighthouse of truth - that I want others to know the joy and peace and vibrant life that come with hungering and thirsting for the Word also. It breaks my heart to hear, “I know I should read the Bible and pray more, but . . .”
And I’m sure it breaks God’s heart, too.
The God of the universe - the God who is available to us and waiting to meet with us in His Word and to help us have the fullest life possible - has written His message to us in the Bible. He has poured out His love and His heart and His Truth to us in that precious book. And we’d rather watch a mind-numbing television show.
How is it that we have enough time for TV, newspapers, the mundane and unglorifying television shows, a leisurely cup of coffee, the ridiculous amount of texting, emails, web-surfing, etc., but we can’t carve out thirty minutes a day to see what the God of the universe has to tell us? If we are really “that busy” then we should get our affairs in order because we need to be prepared to die of a heart-attack in the near future.
Or maybe we have learned to rest in Him when we shouldn’t be. Maybe we’ve gotten “comfortable” in life because we are not in His Word. We are not reading what He requires of us, discovering areas we need to be convicted in, learning what He says we should be striving towards and focusing on, and seeing just how much we miss the mark. And I speak from experience. If this is the case, we need to get back in the Word, or life will be lackluster and full of self-deception. And we will wonder where He is and why life is so blah.
The Word is Truth. And only Truth and humility will break down our walls, will break through the lies that we let ourselves believe . . . lies that make us too big and Him too little.
I want to say this one more time . . . and I want to say it LOUD: The Bible is not extra-credit reading. It is not “Gee, it’s sure nice to pick it up now and then for a little burst of God” reading.
And it’s not just history.
It is the living Word, active and completely applicable to our lives today. It is God as He reveals Himself. It is our map for how to live and think and act. And it is up to us to mine it for its riches. So many of us don’t even know what we are missing.
I highly value godly music and Sunday sermons and any bits of wisdom and truth I glean from others (because God is the author of all truth, wherever we find it). They are good and should be part of our lives. But I hold the Bible up in a category of its own. Those other things should not replace the daily reading of Scripture and daily, quiet time. That would be like living on the bread crust that we pull off of someone else’s bread, rather than taking the time to sit down and eat the whole glorious meal prepared by the Chef.
Well, I’m here to say, pull up a chair, grab a fork, and put on a bib. Dig in deep and get messy. And watch as it changes your heart and your life. Watch yourself get more and more hungry for the Word, the more you devour it. Don’t settle for second-hand lessons, but dig deeply into the living Word where God is waiting to meet you. Hunger for hearing His whisper in the quiet times, to see what the God of the universe, our Loving Father, wants to tell you. Don’t look at it as a “To Do” item, but as a chance to meet with the God who made you and loves you. If you look at it that way, you can see why I say we need to do it every day. It will change your life!
. . . I want more emotional, dynamic experiences of God. I want to find Him in miracles and nature and inside myself, instead of inside some old Book.
. . . I have concerns with what seem like discrepancies in the Bible. And I don’t like the hard-to-swallow images of God as being wrathful or killing people.”
Are these valid? Are they excuses? Are they common in our country? How would you respond to them and any others that caught your attention?
I believe we are firmly in the time of people turning aside from truth to myths, surrounding themselves with what tickles their ears. And it’s not just individuals but whole churches and denominations. We are deliberately turning our backs on God’s Word. This is why it is crucial for those who value it to cling desperately to it, to absorb it, and to live by it.
It is so important to really know what God says in His Word instead of just accepting what others believe it says, because there are so many ways it has been twisted recently.
In addition to reading the Bible, we should read what good theologians have learned about it. We should get a concordance and study it. We should look at the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words. We should make God’s truth a serious pursuit, not just a casual dabbling. It is important now more than ever to really know what the Word says because so many are nibbling their way lost and dragging others with them.]
Monday, May 11, 2015
ISI 12: God's Word