Stumbling is better than not trying


There are some who consider making a regular ‘quiet time’ habit to be tantamount to legalism.

I am far from being legalistic – I am too lazy! But I would argue that not making a regular habit of prayer and Bible reading is effectively spiritual suicide. Going even a couple of days without spending some time reading from the Bible and honestly praying results in me becoming noticeably more worldly and less Christ-focussed.

As I spend a longer period of time not praying as Jesus taught us, my desire to do so decreases, along with my motivation to read the Bible. My thoughts are less taken up with God and more with my own anxious concerns.

I’m not a good example:

Don’t get the impression that I spend hours on my knees praying, read ten chapters of the Bible a day and memorize entire gospels. Often my time with God is a couple of chapters read distractedly while feeding breakfast to myself and one or more children. My prayers look strangely like I am ‘resting my eyes’ (sleeping!) and are fragmented by random stray thoughts.

To remind myself to pray I have photos of people I want to pray for on my bookmarks in my Bible – simple, but it really helps ensure I pray.

And what I have found is that even an interrupted, somewhat sleepy time dedicated to seeking God and His will really does make a difference. A difference which is very noticeable if those times are not happening.

Do you have any strategies for ensuring you get time with God?

A relaxing Word shower

brass shower head with steaming water running from it

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)

I find that when I’m not doing so well emotionally, what I most need is God’s word, yet meditating or thinking deeply upon the Bible eludes me. At these times my fallback strategy is to just keep reading – allowing the flow of biblical words and thoughts to wash over me, slowly eroding a better stream through my heart.

There is a saying (commonly ascribed to Charles Spurgeon, though some attribute it to Vance Havner) that “The Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” I am obviously not there yet – my soul is definitely rather frayed, whereas my bible still looks reasonably new (I did buy this one only 2 years ago!).

Sometimes it can be extraordinarily difficult to read the Bible, particularly when my heart is far from God. For this reason I try to make the most of any motivation to read the Bible while it exists, building a reservoir to draw upon when my heart dries up.

At the moment, although I feel like crap inside, reading the Bible helps me greatly. Getting some quiet space and reading a good chunk of Scripture feels like the spiritual equivalent of a deliciously hot shower, allowing the Word to wash over me, taking away the grime and releasing tension. What’s more, I can have a half hour Bible-read without worrying about the electricity bill!

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

Live!

The fight continues, but my King has not only ordered me to keep battling, He also fights alongside me.

chaos-inside-300x224

Like devouring black insects they settle on me, these swarms of self-destructive thoughts.
Graphic imaginings. I try to push them away, thrashing around internally, but these thoughts persist. Buzzing at me, biting into me, infecting my heart with poison.

They need competition, so I open and read. Letting the words wash over me – Job of all places – and after five chapters the swarm has been beaten back. The buzzing blackness still threatens, though for now better thoughts have lifted my eyes to God. I realize a life is not mine to dispose of. Misery can be endured.

Later, I read of living the resurrection and the Spirit brings to mind His words: I said to you in your blood, “Live! (Ezekiel 16:6 ESV).

Those words, these thoughts – strangely fitting.

The fight continues, but now I know my King has not only ordered me to keep battling, He also fights alongside me.

There is an element of this life of mine which does need to die – sin. But the killing is not mine to do. Jesus ordains life, my Father willed that I be born (John 1:13) and the Spirit of resurrection is actively giving life to this mortal body (Romans 8:11).

So I am holding fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:16), knowing this is God’s will at so many levels. It is comforting to have this boundary firmly fixed, redirecting me from death to resurrection.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
(Romans 8:11 ESV)


Photo credit: h.koppdelaney / CC BY-ND

The crusts of my day

a crust of communion bread and wine goblet on a wooden table

I do enjoy the scrap ends of my days when I get to spend some time with God and enjoy the Bread of Life.

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:34 ESV)

Even a small portion of Bible reading and quiet prayer is refreshing and brings everything back closer to where I should be. Maybe I should be offering the best parts of myself/my days to God, but they are taken up with the mundane details of being faithful to the roles He has already placed me in. We do what we can.


Image source: Lightstock

What is a bible really worth?

Getting a spiritually flabby heart into shape is every bit as hard as getting flabby flesh active again.

“Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”(Deuteronomy 32:46-47 ESV)

I still remember buying my first bible soon after becoming a Christian. It was an NIV with a brown bonded leather cover and after four years it literally fell apart. To me the words in that bible truly meant life to me and as I read I found the hunger to know God grew, so the motivation to keep reading built. After the first complete reading, re-reading had more depth because I now knew, at least superficially, the whole story.

Unfortunately that passion cooled and the momentum dwindled. It would be nice to say that I began to read more deeply but slowly, chewing over the word of God. However that would be a lie, or at best only partly true – I fell into a big, deep spiritual hole and lost all interest in the bible for a couple of years. After that it became an exercise in discipline to read the bible, like doing physical exercise I knew that it was good for me and once trained in it would be enjoyable, but getting a spiritually flabby heart into shape is every bit as hard as getting flabby flesh active again. The key is persistence over time, regardless of failures along the way.

Fortunately persistence has paid off, I again crave the bible. Although there are more distractions in my life (children and computers perhaps being the major ones) I am pushing the roots of my life deeper into biblical soil. A valuable lesson learned from plummeting into a slough of despond and being trapped in doubting castle is that times of spiritual depression are not when I want to be trying to build strength in Christ – that has to already be there. It is when things are going well that I need to be building myself up even stronger in the faith so that when the time of trial comes again there are resources to draw upon. One of those resources is a deep knowledge of Scripture (others would be a solid prayer life, robust Christian friendships, strong fellowship with mature Christians, and a deep humility before God).

I was reminded that the bible really does contain the words of eternal life as I read the lasted newsletter from Vision Beyond Borders which praised God for being able to deliver bibles to Christians in countries where owning a bible can get a person into serious trouble with law enforcement authorities. The freedom I enjoy to be a Christian without being hassled is not normal for many (maybe most) in the kingdom of God.

But [Jesus] answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
(Matthew 4:4 ESV)

Why read boring bits of the Bible?

asleep_on_bible

A confession:

I find some parts of the Bible really boring!

While I am convinced that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that all of Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16), there are some bits which seem most useful for putting one to sleep (such as the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles). Another repetitive portion of the Bible is Numbers chapter 7, in which the same four verses are repeated twelve times with only four words changed each time (the day, name of the chief, his dad’s name, and his tribe). Therefore, I was relieved to discover that John Piper also had to stop and think about why this passage is so tedious. Here are some of his conclusions:

  • Efficiency is not always the highest value. Slow, long, repetitions are sometimes the best way to make an impact.
  • Patience in reading God’s word may be a test of the frenzy of our pace and our demanding attitude toward the Bible that it be the way we want, not the way God made it.

This is difficult for me to get my head around — is there really anything to be gained by tediously plowing through long lists of dead people’s names, or how many gold dishes were donated?

There can be if I embed my reading within the assumption that these lists are in the Bible for a reason. My task in coming to the Bible is to take in what is written such that God can achieve His purpose (Isaiah 55:10-11). So the assumption I need to have is that there is something to gain from reading these lists.

Here is another angle on reading the Bible slowly and thoroughly, again from John Piper:

… much of the Bible is poetry. It is self-evident to me that poetry is not meant to be speed-read, but ordinarily read aloud. So I would encourage you to supplement your speed with slow savoring of the way things are written to be heard.(One Advantage of Reading Slowly)

There are, of course, advantages to reading quickly also – it is good to be able to read through the entire Bible relatively quickly and so gain an overview of the whole story and scope of it. For what it is worth, my advice would be to attempt to read the entire Bible through at least once, scanning some of those repetitive passages at a speed that enables you to get the idea of what they are on about without becoming stuck in a mire of boredom. Once you have read through the whole Bible once it is easier to grasp the context of the less interesting sections and pay attention to some of the details. My personal approach is to have several bookmarks, one of which is in a book of that Bible that I am reading more slowly and meditatively, and another bookmark that moves at a quicker pace so I don’t get tired of being stuck in one book for a month.


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Image: iStock

Plodding is OK

Whenever a mature Christian comments on how they could have better use their time, it is worth paying attention. Especially if that Christian is still known as a faithful servant of Jesus 200 years after he died. So take note of what John Newton wrote about his own reading habits:

Alas, how much time have I lost and wasted, which, had I been wise—I would have devoted to reading and studying the Bible! But my evil heart obstructs the dictates of my judgment, I often feel a reluctance to read this book of books, and a disposition to hew out broken cisterns which afford me no water, while the fountain of living waters are close within my reach!

In Jeremiah 15:16 the prophet says that God’s words became a delight to him, implying that they were always so. It is generally the case with us that God’s words do not initially delight us. The Bible is a big book, it is culturally far removed from our western materialist experiences, and it’s meaning is very deep.

Whenever something is deep we need to spend time peering into it in order to see the substance of what is held in those depths. It will take repeated readings of the Bible to take it all in, but lots of small readings over time will get you there. Again, from John Newton:

To make a few efforts, and then give up—is like taking a few steps and then standing still, which would do little towards completing a long journey. But, though a person walked slowly, and but a little way in a day—if he walked every day, and with his face always in the same direction, year after year—he would in time travel over the globe! By thus traveling patiently and steadily through the Scripture, and repeating our progress—we would increase in Scriptural knowledge to the end of life!

Plodding through the Bible is OK, just keep going!

Here is the entire Reading the Bible article by John Newton.