Bible Intake Part 1
Last month in the Body Builder I started a series on spiritual disciplines. I told you how they are the things that keep us moving (by God’s grace) in a godly direction, the things that help to sanctify us or make us more like Christ (Rom. 8:29). We are commanded in Hebrews 12:14 “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” We also said last month that spiritual disciplines promote spiritual growth, that is they serve to correct, mold, or perfect the things that God desires for us as we are sanctified (Rom. 6:19, 22). Likewise, we have to have direction when pursuing spiritual disciplines for discipline without direction is drudgery. So what is our direction? Ultimately, spiritual disciplines are a means to godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7 says “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…” Spiritual disciplines are habits and experiential in nature and have been performed by Christians as far back as the Bible. So what are these disciplines? Christian author Donald Whitney in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (of which I highly recommend) points to 10 disciplines that God deems as being important from the pages of Scripture. The disciplines that he examines in his book are Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning. He also points out that in no way is this an exhaustive list. For our purposes in the Body Builder, we will look at some, if not all of these 10, sometimes combining more than one in an article. Again, we always want to remember our purpose for pursuing spiritual disciplines and here the Bible is crystal clear, it is for the pursuit of godliness (1 Tim 4:7). One last thing to consider is what happens if we neglect spiritual disciplines? It’s quite simple, as Whitney says, “we face the danger of bearing little spiritual fruit.” That being said, let’s jump right in to the first discipline we want to cultivate and that is our Bible intake. Our Bible intake can come about in three ways, through hearing, reading and studying. Let’s talk about hearing. Jesus said in Luke 11:28 “…blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” Jesus’ purpose for Bible intake is obedience, His method is hearing. If we don’t make a concerted effort to hear God’s word, then we will only hear it by accident or maybe not at all. So what is the primary way most of us will hear the word of God? By going to church and hearing it preached and taught. This needs to be our habit, our discipline. Consider Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” This is not to say that faith can’t also come about by reading the Bible, but the context of this verse centers around the preaching of God’s word. Paul also makes a strong case for the hearing of the word in 1 Timothy 4:13 when he is exhorting his protégé Timothy in probably the most important aspect of the ministry, “13Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” Obviously, the hearing of the word was very important to Paul and important to the Lord who, through His Spirit, inspired these words. How else might you hear the word of God? There are things you can listen to by way of audio recordings such as the Bible read on tape or CD. I personally would recommend anything read by Max McLean. These can be purchased at any Bible bookstore or online. One of the best and cheapest online resources is Christianbook.com (1-800-CHRISTIAN). You can also get sermons of many preachers on tape or CD including yours truly. We record all of the sermons here at FBCW so if you would like to have one free of charge, just call Sue in the office and let her know. Otherwise, there are cassette lending libraries nationwide. Your best bet for these is to check the classifieds of Christian publications. You can also listen to Christian radio stations such as KVIP and hear a host of preachers like John MacArthur (who has his own tape/CD ministry called "Grace to You") and Alistair Begg. The important thing to remember is that hearing the word of God should not be a ho-hum passive “if I happen to hear it” kind of thing, but rather a discipline to be cultivated.Next on the list is reading God’s word. Do a little survey of yourself asking the question, “How often do I read my Bible?” Is it everyday, a few times a week, once a week, only in church, hardly ever? Consider those, in say Africa, who have very little to eat…we’ve all seen the news clips, how healthy are they with their distended bellies and skin-draped bones? Not very. In fact in many instances they are starving to death, literally, because they don’t have enough food coming into their bodies to build their muscles and put flesh on their bones and give them the vitamins and nutrients they need to be healthy. It’s the same way with you. If you starve yourself from the reading of God’s word, you will start to become un-healthy, spiritually speaking. You will become sick from not having the vitamins and nutrients the word offers and, in a spiritual sense, will start to wither away.Jesus often asked people of their understanding of the Scriptures by saying, “Have you not read…” while in Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered the devil from the wilderness saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ” The implication being the reading of God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:16 is familiar to many of us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” How would one utilize Scripture for these means? By first reading it. Revelation 1:3 says plainly “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” It is clear from Scripture that Scripture is supposed to be read, why do you think we have Bibles? The question is…are you reading yours?!Here’s three helpful ideas to encourage you in your Scripture reading, 1) Find the time. You have to pick the time that is going to be most conducive to you reading your Bible and once you pick this time try like mad to keep it consistent every day. I personally recommend starting your day with Bible reading as opposed to right before you nod off at night. It makes sense, doesn’t it, to start your day in the Word? One, you will retain more than if your reading it while your sleepy and two, you tend to fight more spiritual battles during the day than in your sleep so let God’s word have its most purposeful impact on your day. 2) Have a plan. Many people start out with good intentions but quickly fall away from their time in the word because they don’t have a plan. They kind of hap-hazardly flip through the Bible looking for something to read. This is not the best way. Instead, pick a specific book that might be of interest to you maybe because of certain things going on in your life. If you want to read about Jesus, go to the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). If you want doctrine, go to Romans. The Psalms is great for those who might be going through hardships or for words of adoration and praise to God. The Law (the first five books of the Bible) is great for foundations and understanding how everything started. Or just call me up and ask me for help, that’s why I’m here! Did you know if you read three chapters a day and five on Sundays, you would read through the whole Bible in a year? There are many other Bible reading plans that you can find at a Christian bookstore or online.3) Meditate on one word, phrase or verse. Do this every time you read your Bible. Many times we just race through our Bible reading, close it up and our minds are off and running to all the things we have to do that day and we easily forget about what we just read. So as you read, take this one word, phrase or verse and allow yourself to think deeply about it for a few moments. This will start to give you an even deeper understanding of the word which will in turn help you to see better how it applies to your life. The more Scripture that you can apply to your life, the more you will grow in godliness and be like Jesus.Listen to this story that Donald Whitney retells from evangelist Robert L. Sumner’s book The Wonder of the Word of God. Whitney writes, “[Sumner] tells of a man in Kansas City who was severely injured in an explosion. His face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He had just become a Christian when the accident happened, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read Braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in Braille. But he discovered the nerve endings in his lips had been too badly damaged to distinguish the characters. One day, as he brought one of the Braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, “I can read the Bible using my tongue.” At the time that Robert Sumner wrote his book, the man had read through the entire Bible four times. If he can do that, can you discipline yourself to read the Bible?”Lastly we want to look at studying God’s word. Christian author Jerry Bridges says, “Reading gives us breadth, but study gives us depth.” Regarding study, the Scriptures are clear. Consider Ezra, a great man of God in Ezra 7:10 “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” So what is the difference between studying and reading you might ask? Whitney believes it’s a pen and a piece of paper. I would agree. Remember when I encouraged you all to put on your Sherlock Holmes hats and take up your magnifying glasses? As you hear or read God’s word, make observations and write them down; thoughts, comments and questions. If you have a Bible with cross references, look up the ones that pertain to the verse or word you want to know more about. Sometimes using a concordance to look up how a certain word is used elsewhere in the Bible can be helpful or try outlining a chapter, one paragraph at a time. If you’re not sure how to do any of this, just ask me, I’d love to show you! I also guarantee that as time goes on you will become better acquainted and equipped with how to study your Bible and this will only deepen your understanding of God’s word, draw you closer in your relationship to the Lord and grow you in godliness. Next month…Bible Intake Part 2.