Wednesday, February 4, 2015

NBA #4: Abiding in the Word

New Believer Advice #4:  It is critical to abide in the Word regularly. 
             “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.”  (Psalm 119:9-11)
            This is how you grow and mature in the faith.  But you will not grow if your Bible only comes out on rare occasions.  If you are not in the Word regularly, you will be drifting.  And you won’t even know it.  
            But do not just read the Bible to check it off your daily “To Do” list.  Read it to find God in the pages.  To draw near to the heart of God.  To become more like Christ.  To get His help and wisdom for life.  And to learn more about who He really is and who you really are.  Read especially to find the balance between God’s love and God’s holiness/justness.  Read it to know what you really believe and why you really believe it, so that you have answers and can take a confident stand when it comes to your faith.  Read it with your heart, not just with your mind.  God is in those pages, waiting to meet you and help you on your walk through life.
            And don’t just read it.  Mull it over all day.  Meditate on it.  Post verses around your house.  Let it dwell in your heart, change your outlook and your life, make you more like Christ, make you more in love with God, and inspire you each day. 
            I have been reading it for 30 years, and I still find new things to love and learn every time I open it.  If you treat it and value it the way you should, it will become so precious to you.  Your most treasured, powerful possession.   
            And remember that the Word is one of the pieces of spiritual armor.  (More on that later.)  Use it like it is.  When negative thoughts attack you, use Scripture to battle it.  When temptations strike, use Scripture to fend them off.  When you want to doubt God’s goodness and love, use Scripture to remind yourself of who God really is.  When you want to give in to guilt and self-condemnation, immerse yourself in verses about God’s forgiveness and grace.  Use the Word like the sword that it is (Eph. 6:18), to defend yourself against the flaming arrows of the enemy.
            Reading God’s Word is not a chore or an obligation.  (Yes, it may be difficult to understand at first, but it gets more familiar and easier to understand the more you read.)  It is a chance to connect with the love  and Truth of the God of the universe who wants to have a real, authentic, vibrant relationship with each of us.  Don’t treat it as just an old book.  It is God’s heart poured out to us on paper!   
            And when the “new faith excitement” has waned and the hard times and trials come, it will help keep you on-track.  It will be like a life-preserver.  It will be what you cling to, to keep your head above water and your spirit from crumbling.  It is during those times that you will need those verses that you have hidden in your heart and committed to memory.  So immerse yourself in the Word during the easier, good times so that the Truth is already there when the hard times hit.
            And no excuses!  There is always time for the Word.  If you have time to update your Facebook page and watch TV and talk on the phone, you are not so busy that you cannot spend some time in the Word every day.  No excuses!  You are only fooling yourself - not God – when you say, “I know I should read the Bible more but . . .”  There is no “but”! 
            And find a church that faithfully teaches the Word of God and that does not add to it or subtract from it or alter it to please people.  It doesn’t matter how nice the people are . . . if they alter the Word and treat clear teachings as “negotiable,” get out of there fast.  And find a church that upholds the Word of God for what it is: God-breathed!  Once you start tampering with Scripture and changing it to fit what you want it to say, anything goes.
             “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.”  (2 Timothy 3: 16-17)    
             “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.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
             “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2: 15)    

(New stuff for this post)
            I once read something written by the wife of a well-known minister.  And she essentially said (and clearly said) that we wives don’t need to read the Bible for ourselves.  That it’s enough for us to get our Biblical teaching from our husbands and pastors.  And that it’s better that we get it that way, instead of reading it ourselves.  I just about had a heart-attack when I read that.  I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
            I think it becomes easier for us to excuse our “lack of Bible-reading” the older we get and the longer we walk with Christ.  Because we know the Word.  It is familiar.  It’s so familiar that as soon as we hear or read the first couple words of a verse, our minds go, “Oh yeah, I know that one already.”  And we check-out mentally or gloss over it because we have “heard it all.” 
            Or maybe we have gotten so busy with life that we don’t read the Bible anymore.  And we convince ourselves that God understands because we are so busy doing things for Him.  So surely, it’s excusable.  Right? 
            Plus, I think that we Christians have grown just as enamored with life and its pleasures as anyone else.  So we spend our time building up our “stuff” and enjoying wonderful experiences, living it up while we can.  And Bible-reading . . . well, we get around to reading the Bible when we can.  And we feel like that’s good enough.  Just a little extra shot of God to make us feel like “good Christians.” 
            Or maybe we diligently read the Bible . . . just so we can check it off our daily To Do list.  And then we pat ourselves on the back for doing our job, yet we fail to apply anything we read.  It’s just a duty, not a heart- and mind-changing discipline. 
            In so many ways, we fail to really meet God in the pages.  We fail to draw near to His heart through His Word because we are too busy with life and because we treat the Bible as just ancient words on a page.

            I’m curious, have you ever stumbled across this passage in your Bible? . . . 

            “Now, brothers, we know that God has written down His Word and that it’s available to us all.  But we tell you that it is not necessary to read it for yourselves.  Christ’s death is sufficient for salvation.  And salvation is sufficient for leading a godly, righteous life. 
                        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 Book.  All you have to do is listen to your Christian music, go to church on Sunday, and listen to what your spouse or friends tell 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 can keep your kitchen clean, your family fed, your Facebook page updated, and get rested and rejuvenated by reading your newspaper, watching your television, and texting all your friends.  By this, you will be a godly example for all to follow, and you will greatly impact the kingdom of God.  As long as you listen to good, godly music and go to church on Sunday, you will never go astray.”  (2 Bolognaians 1:1-10)   

            Neither have I!  Yet I think that many of us are hoping to someday find a passage like that.  Then we could feel a lot better about our busy lives and our lazy disciplines. 
            But I’m sorry to say, there is no Book of Bologna-ians.  There is no passage like this in the Bible.  (Actually, I’m not sorry to say it.  It needs to be said.  Loudly and boldly and over and over again.) 
            Instead, I find this example in Acts 17:11:  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” 
            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 on God’s kingdom work. 
            How much we immerse ourselves in the Word (and spend time praying and listening to God and the Holy Spirit) 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.
            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.”
            In this busy, disconnected, self-focused age, we should be challenging ourselves and calling others up to higher levels of righteous living and to drawing nearer to God through prayer, His Word, and the quiet times. 
            God is spirit and He oftentimes speaks quietly, like a whisper.  And in Scripture, we are told over and over again to be still in God.  I think part of the reason we are told to be still is because that’s where we hear His whisper - in our spirits and through meditating on the Word.  But if we never slow down enough to do that, we miss out.   
            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 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.” 
            This won’t just happen someday . . . it’s happening now.  And 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 and ear-tickling fantasies. 
            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 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 2: 15:  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  
            We are responsible for how we handle the “word of truth.”  Is correctly handling the Word leaving it on the shelf for extended periods of time?    

            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.  But if we are not feeding on it regularly, 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 comforts and guides and convicts and grows us in wisdom, as we use it (and need it) daily.  

            My fear is that we are growing into a community of ignorant, stagnant, weak, lukewarm, mal-nourished, easily-deceived, less-effective Christians.  We have filled our days with too much activity and technology and noise to really dwell on God anymore.  We are just too busy and too self-focused. 
            And we don’t want to be convicted of our shortcomings, so not reading the Bible suits us just fine.  And we welcome any excuse that gives us permission to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner. 
            And yet, we are offended by anyone that implies that we are not disciplined enough in our Christian walks.  And we look at those who diligently maintain quiet-time with the Lord as super-spiritual giants.  They are in a special class of believers that we can never be a part of because we “live in the real world.” 
            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 serious study of the Word, quiet time with the Lord, and the pursuit of righteousness.  And yet, we still want to be patted on the back by God and hear Him say, “I’m so proud of you.” 
            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, evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit,” my level of righteousness, and my effect on the kingdom of God are 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 He put me in the refining furnace of trials. 
            And through many trials which destroyed my over-confidence in myself (and five months of night-time demonic harassment which opened my eyes to the definite reality of the active spiritual world, explained in the “Supernatural Stuff and Spiritual Armor” post), 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 that 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 recently. 
            And now, I have become incredibly jealous for it, for wanting to see God’s Word honored and valued above all.  It has become so precious to me - a cherished lighthouse of truth and a way to remain vitally connected to the Lord - that I want others to also know the joy and peace and vibrant life that come with hungering and thirsting for the Word and prayer.  I want them to know the delight (even in the midst of problems and pain) that comes with making the pursuit of righteousness and the building of God’s Kingdom main priorities.  It breaks my heart to hear, “I know I should read the Bible every day and pray more, but . . .”    
            The God of the universe has written His message to us in the Bible.  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, sports, friends, the ridiculous amount of texting, emails, web-surfing, etc., but we can’t carve out at least 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 be prepared to drop dead of a heart-attack in the very near future.      
            If we are not in the Word regularly, we are nibbling our way lost and opening ourselves up to being easily deceived.  By the Enemy and by ourselves.  And we are missing out on the kind of life that God wants us to have, that He wishes we would have for our best and for His glory and Kingdom. 
            [And if your church isn’t preaching straight from the Word - if it’s editing His Word to fit what they want to say and what you want to hear, or if they are only telling you about all the blessings you deserve and should grab a hold of, or if you always feel warm and cozy after a sermon and never convicted or challenged or uncomfortable - get out of there fast.  And find a church that preaches God’s Word as God revealed it, the hard stuff and all.]   
            I think that if we are not passionate about God’s Word, it’s because we are not passionate about God.  We haven’t yet seen Him for who He really is (as opposed to our own ideas of Him) and we haven’t yet fallen in love with Him.  Sure, we love Him, but we are not wholeheartedly consumed by Him.  Because when we are consumed with someone, we hang on their every word.  We deliberately and regularly seek them out.
            I think we will all go through ups-and-downs with the Word.  That is to-be-expected.  But when we find ourselves in a low point and we realize that we don’t even know where our Bible is, we need to confess it to God.  We need to ask for forgiveness for treating Him with such apathy.  We need to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to new truths in the Bible, to create a fire in our hearts for Him, and to help us reprioritize our lives.  And then, we need to read the Bible. 
            Just start reading it, every day.  Set aside time for it and protect that time.  Our hunger for the Word and for God will not grow if we do not read the Bible.  Our hunger for righteousness will not grow if we do not have a hunger for the Word and for God.  And our effectiveness in prayer will not grow if we are not growing in righteousness.
            James 5:16:  “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”   
            So no excuses from here on out.  Meet God every day in the Bible and in prayer.  Does He deserve any less than that?