This past Sunday was a difficult sermon for our congregation. As I talked about the treasures of God's Word, and the importance of planting ourselves by these streams of life giving water, I could tell that something was missing. As a preacher, I am used to seeing the occasional yawns and frowns, and even closed sleepy eyes, but this time I had the sense that I had really missed something. We were facing some serious guilt and doubt in this arena. By reflecting on the time, and talking with some friends I have identified a couple of areas that might help us, so allow me to address a few questions that probably should have been addressed on Sunday morning:
1. How can I find time to read the bible daily, when I am already working, commuting and doing a lot of other difficult things?
For many of us we don't have time for anything else. We are already over committed, and to add something else to the schedule isn't realistic. We don't have the luxury of being a 'professional Christian' like our pastor, who can spend plenty of time in the bible every day.
I know we are busy and I respect the long, difficult days that many of us put in daily, but, honestly, I don't think this is the issue. The truth is, we find time for the things that are really important to us. We find time to eat every day. We make it to work. We watch our top TV show, or sports team. We exercise if that is important to us. We make time for our favorite things. Truthfully, reading the bible just isn't one of our favorite things. And maybe we feel guilty about that at times (or we used to), but that is the reality, which leads me to the deeper question:
2. How come I don't place great value on spending time in the bible?
I respect the person who is able to acknowledge this, and there are different responses to this question, for example, maybe the bible is very confusing to you, but let me address what I believe are the top two reasons we don't value regular time in the bible. My goals and my practice. First, my goals:
In today's world it is extremely easy to drift so far away from the goals God has for your life, that the bible ceases to be relevant. God intended us for all sorts of wonderful things including growing in gratitude and worship, being formed in Christ's character, developing healthy relationships, advancing the healing, teaching and order of Christ's kingdom through our work, being His missionaries to our circles, etc. But if we don't know that, or we abandon those goals for a new set of goals that our culture says are important, the bible ceases to be important. What types of goals might replace these God intended goals? There are so many options- making lots of money, living a luxurious lifestyle, having lots of fun, looking fabulous, finding the perfect romance, being the best at my job, or (the favorite of many teens) becoming famous. If these are the goals that you have adopted for yourself, then the bible may very well become a hindrance, and it will not be something that you want to spend time with daily. In fact, the time you do spend with it will call into question whether the worldly values that you love, are really going to be satisfying for you 3-4 decades from now.
This leads me to the second reason we don't value our time in the bible, which is our practice:
We may be willing to admit that some of our values have taken us away from God's goals for us. But then when we have made efforts to draw closer to God and His purposes, the bible has not been able to hold our attention. Some of us love to learn, and just the joy of growing in knowledge is a enough to keep us coming back. But for most of us, the bible just isn't as exciting as television, music or the slot machine. We need to learn practices, or styles of spending time in the bible that nourish us, help us grow and keep our attention. There are many helpful practices, but I would like to introduce one that has richly blessed me lately, A Simple Way by Martin Luther. It goes like this:
Choose a Scripture to read. It doesn't have to be a large portion. I suggest using one of the daily lectionary readings found here.
Say a short prayer that God would meet you in your time in His Word.
1. Read the passage with a desire to understand the content, and then write a summary in your own words. (When you begin using this method, I strongly suggest you write things down to help solidify the process, though this isn't always necessary. And once you know the process it can happen internally also.)
For example, yesterday's reading was on Matt 4:1-11. My summary statement read as follows:
Jesus endured 40 days of fasting, resisted the temptations of the devil by clinging to God's Word, and then the enemy left Him.
2. Now this is powerful, and often a step we skip in our time in the Scriptures. Take what the passage says and praise God for Who He is according to this Scripture, and give Him thanks.
For example, in yesterday's passage, I wrote:
God, I praise you for sustaining us in difficult times. You are Sustenance. You are the Defender. You are the Long Sufferer. Thank you for overcoming the devil. You are the Devil Conqueror. You are the Slayer of Sin.
3. Third, in light of the passage's truth (1.) and who God reveals Himself to be (2.) in this passage, we take time to confess our sin and guilt.
I confess Lord, that I don't always stand and resist the devil. Sometimes I collapse. I'm sorry I don't always press in to Your victory. I don't always rely on Your Word when the enemy come at me.
4. Finally, just write (or say), a prayer to God with whatever is on your mind. This can be significant because now you are thinking of your day, and needs, through the lens of who God is, and who you are, as revealed in God's Word.
If this style of getting into God's Word helps you, use it. If not, try something else- Lectio Divina, Daily Examine, SOAP devotional method. The goal is to find a practice that you enjoy, that allows you to plant yourself regularly by God's Words, and to be formed by them. This is the place of great promise where we want to remain.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor