Finding Time to Read the Bible

A blog friend was once reading a book about Bible study. She lamented that, as good as the book was, it didn’t mentioned how to find the time to employ all that instruction.

I guess the authors feel that once we are assured of the importance of Bible reading and study, we’ll make it a priority and make time. And I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to. If we are waiting until time magically opens up with the solitude and inclination we need without a dozen other things crowding in…I just don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not regularly.

Years ago our assistant pastor spoke of struggling to make time for reading his Bible. He said to our senior pastor, an older, godly man, “I guess you don’t have trouble making time for Bible reading any more, do you?” The older man just laughed.

Finding the time is always going to be a struggle. There are always duties, distractions, and people clamoring for that time. The Enemy of our souls fights against our spending time in the Bible. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we can just accept that it is a common problem and  prayerfully seek ways to deal with it. Perhaps reminding ourselves of reasons to read the Bible will renew our motivation.

We need to remember, too, that making time to read the Bible isn’t just about ticking off another duty. Every relationship thrives on communication. If we went for days without talking with our husbands except in the briefest necessary exchanges, we’d feel the effects pretty soon and realize we need some time alone together. Though sometimes we need to set up routines to establish good habits, taking time to read the Bible shouldn’t be a matter of rigid schedules, but rather of taking time to meet with the One Who loves us best.

So with these things in mind, here are some suggestions for carving time out to meet with the Lord:

1. Get up earlier or stay up later. I can hear you groaning. But for many of us, that’s the only way to get some time alone.

2. Keep the Bible handy. One friend with three small children close in age kept her Bible out in her kitchen. She couldn’t set aside a longer period of solitude, but she could read in smaller snatches through the day.

3. Bible apps. There are a number of apps with Bible reading plans, reminders, etc. Since we usually have our phones nearby all day, we have easy access to the Scriptures all the time.

4. Listen. Some people like to listen to recorded versions of the Bible while driving, exercising, making dinner, etc.

5. Plan for it after a natural break in the day. It’s hard for to stop in the middle of a morning or afternoon and put everything aside to read. But a break in the routine, when we’re shifting gears anyway, can help us work in some time for reading, like after a meal, after taking the kids to school, etc.

6. Meal time, especially if you eat alone.

7. Waiting time. We usually check social media or open a book if we have to wait at a doctor’s office or in car line at school, but that can be a good time for some Bible reading.

9. Establish a routine. Once we get used to setting aside a certain time for Bible reading, it’s not such a scramble to look for that time every day.

9. Don’t wait for perfection. One problem with a routine is that we can’t always figure out how to function when the routine is disrupted, like when we’re traveling or someone is sick or we have small children at home. I wrote a post some time back called Encouragement for mothers of young children about trying to find time for devotions with little ones in the house. Though I normally like getting up early and having solitude and quietness for Bible reading, that just didn’t work with little ones. Yet God enabled me to read and profit from it while they kept me company or played near me, even though usually I couldn’t concentrate under those circumstances.

10. Anything is better than nothing. You may not have time on a given day to work out your full Bible reading routine. But you can usually read something. I’ve found that when I truly only had a few moments, God often gave me just what I needed in a verse or two.

11. Talk with your husband, roommates, siblings, whoever you live with. Years ago I caught part of a radio program where the preacher was scolding women who wanted to spend early morning time to have devotions. He said the husband as the leader should have that time, since the wife had “all day” in which she could have devotions. The man obviously had not spent a whole day at home alone with kids. That mentality is wrong on many levels. Not long after that a missionary speaking at our church mentioned protecting that time for his wife, a much better example of servant leadership and love. If the only way either parent can have devotions is for one of them to watch the children, then they can do that for each other. If a particular time of day is the best time for two people in a house, they can work out different locations if they get too distracted in the same room. Whatever conflict there might be about time and place preferences, talk with each other to work out the best solution for both and be willing to compromise.

12. Pray. In the blog post I referred to earlier, I mentioned that sometimes I’d get to the end of the day and lament to the Lord that I had no idea when I could have read my Bible that day. I began instead to pray at the beginning of the day for wisdom and alertness for those moments when I could, and that made a profound difference.

13. Set something aside. If we have times to read other books, peruse Facebook, watch TV, or play games on our phones, we have time to read the Bible. I admit, if I sit down to relax for a few minutes with a book and realize I haven’t read my Bible yet that day, I don’t always have the best attitude about laying down my book and picking up my Bible. But when I confess that to the Lord and then go ahead, He graciously speaks to me through His Word. We do need time to relax as well, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of time in God’s Word. He knows our needs, and we can ask Him for both time to spend in His Word and for some down time.

What about you? What ways have you found to make time for Bible reading?

(Revised from the archives)

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Dwelling Richly

Letting God's Word dwell richlyHave you ever wondered what Colossians 3:16 meant when it said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?

A couple of translations and one commentary connected “rich” to the “Word of Christ,” indicating that God’s Word is rich, and we should let it dwell in us. It is, and we should.

However, most translations phrase the verse so that “richly” modifies “dwell.” In fact, according to the definitions at the bottom of this page, the Greek word translated “richly” is an adverb meaning “Richly, abundantly, copiously.”

So how do we let God’s Word dwell “richly, abundantly, copiously” in us?

One former pastor put it this way. When a guest of honor comes to your home, what do you do? You “roll out the red carpet” for them. You give them the best bed, the best room. You bring out the guest towels and dishes that you save for company. You make your best recipes. You generally set aside your normal pursuits to some degree to spend time with that person.

In these days of more casual entertaining, you might not have special dishes or towels for guests, and you might have everyone work together on the meal and the clean-up. Still, you make some accommodations for a guest. You don’t generally put them in a drafty back room with a lumpy mattress where the Wifi doesn’t reach. You don’t invite someone over and then ignore them. You don’t go about your business and then bump into them in the hallway and act surprised: “Oh! I didn’t know you were here. Carry on.” Well, you might if one of your children’s friends came over unexpectedly.

What do most who come to your home value? Time, the hardest thing to give. As lovely as special table settings, wonderful food, and a well-appointed guest room are, they all fall a little flat if the hostess is constantly flitting about taking care of details. As Martha learned, Jesus cared more about her time, attention, and open heart than what was on the menu.

So how do we let the Word of God dwell richly with us? First of all, notice the word “dwell.” The Bible isn’t just a special guest who comes to visit once a year. It stays, lives in, abides in, inhabits us. Jesus spoke of His words abiding in us. God often tells people in the Bible to meditate, think over, chew on, His Word. You can’t think on what you don’t know. That meant they had to have read or heard it enough to mull over a piece of it at a time.

So we don’t treat God’s Word as a once- or twice-a-year visitor. We let it abide, dwell with us. That involves spending time with it. As we’ve discussed before, that doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours a day reading and studying it. Some days and seasons of life allow for more time than others, but we try to give it some time most days. We try to give it the best time of our day when we can get the most out of it rather than the leftovers of our day. One of my mottoes regarding the Bible is any time spent with it is better than nothing. So there may be busy, weary days when we fit it in whatever spare moments we can find. But as much as we can, we make room and time for the Bible.

And then, throughout the day, we think about it. That might involve listening to Christian music, sermons, Christian radio or podcasts. Or it might involve just thinking. John O’Malley suggests in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles that we jot down on a 3 x 5 card something that stood out to us during our Bible reading, and then set the card where we can see it through the day and think over it.Some people have memory verse cards they’ll go over when their hands are busy but their minds are free.

Many mental health experts recommend getting away from the constant barrage of information available through our phones and computers, especially when so many agitated opinions are flung about. Instead of automatically checking our phones, we could spend those minutes reading the Bible or thinking about what we read earlier.

Psalm 1:1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

What’s the result of this rich dwelling we give God’s Word? Colossians 3:16 continues: “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” When we fill up on God’s Word, we spill over into serving others and worshiping God. Psalm 1 goes on to say that the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” When we’re filled with God’s Word, we have a continual source of nourishment.

If our service seems lifeless and forced, our worship barren, our inner spirit dry and withered, we probably need some time letting God’s Word dwell richly in us.

What are some ways you let God’s Word dwell richly with you?

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God’s Word: Our Sure Guide

My husband sat on the Zoning Board of Appeals in the town where we used to live. People would come before the board to settle disputes over property lines or usage or appeal a ruling. The board had a thick book of zoning regulations which the members were to consult in order to make their decisions.

Sometimes people would appeal to all the work they had put into a structure that they had placed in a wrong area without checking the zoning regulations first. “It’s already there. It’s not hurting anyone. Can’t we just leave it?”

Sometimes the board sympathized with the plaintiff. Occasionally public sentiment swung heavily toward one side.

But the board members could only make their decisions based on the zoning regulations.

Why? Because they were Pharisaical hard-nosed rule-followers who only cared about regulations?

No. The regulations were there to insure the greatest efficiency and happiness of the people and businesses of the city. To allow a structure in a wrong place or a usage of land that went against the zoning ordinances would cause problems for other people down the line.

This need to go back to the book, to make every decision in accord with the zoning regulations already in place, reminded me of the Bible.

People don’t want to hear their choices are harmful, they are worshiping a false god, they’re going in the wrong direction.

Sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow. “If I take a stand on this issue, I’ll only stir up a hornet’s nest.” But we don’t do people any favors by hiding truth.

There are some issues where the Bible allows for differences (Romans 14). We don’t die on those hills. We pray and study God’s Word and make the best informed decision we can, and we allow others to do the same.

But where God draws the line in the sand, we need to draw the line also. We speak the truth in love, with kindness and compassion.

Satan still questions, attacks, and twists God’s Word today just as he did with Adam and Eve. He even masks his falsehood by seeming as an angel of light.

Our church is almost finished reading through the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament. Many of the prophets had to contend with false prophets who told the people what they wanted to hear. When Jeremiah warned that God was sending the Babylonians to take Judah into captivity, he was considered a traitor. Who wouldn’t rather listen to the prophets who said everything was going to be all right? But who would be better prepared to face what was coming—those who listened to Jeremiah or those who listened to false prophets?

The New Testament warns:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3-5).

Who do we listen to? Those who make everything pleasant, who never mention sin and repentance, who never take unpopular stands, who promise prosperity and blessing no matter what? Or the ones who tell the truth according to God’s Word, even when it’s hard, even when it’s painful, trusting that He is good and right and true and kind and will work everything out for good in the long run?

Do we go to the doctor who says everything is okay when we have an insidious cancer growing in us? Or the one who says, “We have to treat this thing aggressively or it’s going to kill you?”

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The KJV says His commandments are not “grievous.”

But His Word is not just about rules.

Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors (Psalm 119:24).

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life (Psalm 119:49-50).

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).

Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord,  and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1-3).

What a treasure trove we have in God’s Word! We can echo the psalmist: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). How we need to consult His Word every day and build our lives around it.

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My Journey with the Bible

My journey with the BibleI never heard Handel’s Messiah until I was in high school.

I had not grown up listening to either classical or religious music. (I grew up hearing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties). So while I was impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Handel’s oratorio, I can’t say I got much out of it. It was like drinking from the proverbial fire hydrant.

But my college performed selections from the Messiah frequently. And the church we attended the first fourteen years we were married did the same. I even got to be in the choir at church some of those years, so I learned the songs in more detail. Plus, I had become a Christian in later high school, so I could understand more of the spiritual significance and message of the piece.

When I learned that The Messiah had been composed during the Baroque era, with its “excessive ornamentation or complexity,” I understood why it was written the way it was.

As a result of hearing The Messiah over and over, becoming more familiar with it, learning more about it, and growing in the Lord, I came to love this piece of music. I anticipated each section just like I would rereading a favorite book or rewatching a favorite movie.

And then, just from growing familiarity with the music, I began to notice details. For instance, I had always thoughts of Isaiah 53:6 as somber and sad: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him   the iniquity of us all.” But the tune Handel put to this verse seemed almost jaunty to me at first. Then one day I noticed the notes on the word “astray” were going astray.

Further into that piece, on “We have turned,” the notes are turning over and over.

Isaiah 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” In the song based on this passage, the notes on the word “crooked” go up and down—they would look crooked on the sheet music. And the melody on “straight” and “plain” is mostly straight. The notes on “exalted” go up.

The melodies illustrate the words! And I had listened to and sung this I don’t know how many times before that clicked. In fact, I just caught “exalted” going up watching this video.

In many ways, my journey with the Bible parallels my journey with this piece of music.

I had attended church occasionally growing up. I knew some basic Bible truths and narratives. But I didn’t start reading the Bible myself until high school. The church I started attending when I was sixteen strongly encouraged its people to read the Bible through in a year. So I did.

And it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

But I am so thankful for that emphasis at the outset of my Christian life. That grounded me more than anything else and set me off with good habits.

I didn’t understand everything I read. Similarly, in church, I couldn’t have told you the main points of the sermon afterward. But I got enough to chew on and to nourish me. The Bible speaks of those young in the faith as taking in milk from the Word. So I took in and digested what I could, and my life was changed.

When I got to something I didn’t understand, I’d just keep going.For instance, Psalm 60:4-5 says:

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

And I would think, “Wow, that’s good!” Then the next few verses listed a bunch of names I didn’t know. And then I came to verse 8: “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.”

And I thought, “Huh?”

And then I’d keep going to verses 11 and 12: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” And I’d think, “Wow, so good!”

I don’t know if that’s the best way for a new Christian to go about Bible reading. But no one had told me what to do about the parts I didn’t understand. I had never heard of study Bibles in those days. Still, the Lord met me in those times with His Word.

And as I kept reading in the 40+ years since (though not through the whole Bible in a year any more), I understood more and more. I saw how individual verses and books fit within the whole. I know what Moab and Edom and Philistia are now. There are parts that are as familiar as any favorite, much-read book. There are parts holding dear memories of God giving me just the right words in an hour of need. I anticipate what’s coming next in a passage. But I am still learning new things even from old, familiar stories and chapters.

So, why am I telling you this today?

I want to encourage you to get into a habit of reading your Bible, if you’re not already doing so.

And I want to encourage you to read all of it. Maybe not in a year. There are two-year plans and five-year plans and almost any kind of plan you could think of. But if we just keep turning to our old favorite passages, we’ll miss so much.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much you don’t understand, I want to encourage you to keep reading. You’ll “get” more and more of it the more you read it. Someone has said that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in. God can speak to you and minister to you even if you don’t understand every little thing in the passage. In fact, we’ll never exhaust the Bible in this lifetime.

The Bible says to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2-3), and then to go on to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) as we “ mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-13).

But even more than spiritual food, the Bible provides spiritual fellowship. We don’t read the Bible as an end in itself, but to get to know God better. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to us. From the time God’s words were first written all the way through until the end of time, God expected His people to read and follow it.

God’s thoughts are precious to us. The Bible bears witness about Christ, increases our faith, guides us, teaches, improves, corrects, trains us in righteousness, equips us, builds us up, gives us hope and comfort, helps us avoid sin, makes us stable and fruitful, gives us life, understanding, joy, hope, wisdom and discretion.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

What a treasure trove we have in the Bible! May we partake of it every day.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).

Taking in and rejoicing in God's WordSee also:

Finding Time to Read the Bible

Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

Real Life Devotions

Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

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Real Life Devotions

I’m sure you’ve seen Facebook or Instagram photos of ideal quiet times with the Lord. A beach at sunrise. A sunny deck and a glass of lemonade. A comfy chair, throw blanket, and steaming mug of coffee. A reading plan tidily checked off.

I admit I like having a plan and a routine. And there’s nothing wrong with those kinds of inspirational photos. It’s lovely when the setting comes together beautifully with devotional time. Maybe those pictures document the settings specifically  because they are so rare.

But I think sometimes we set ourselves up for failure because we don’t reach that ideal. When we struggle to stay awake, when we can’t find a quiet minute in the day, when the kids clamor for attention any time we sit down, when we hit the ground running with meetings all day and our attention span is shredded at night … what then? We often give up on our quiet time because it won’t look like we think it shoud.

But Bible reading isn’t just a nice thing to do when we can fit it in, when we can do all the things we think a quiet time requires. It’s vital to our walk with God. It’s our spiritual nourishment. We have our flesh and an enemy of our souls to fight against.

I’ve written before about finding time for Bible reading, so I won’t go into all that here. I just want to encourage you that real life devotions won’t always look ideal. God can speak to my heart in my comfy chair with a half hour set aside. But He can also speak through His Word (and has) when I am tired, rushed, ill, nursing a baby, traveling, or only have a few scattered minutes through the day.

With that in mind, I started a hashtag on Instragram and Twitter for #reallifedevotions. The idea was to show what real Bible reading time “in the trenches” was like.

Here’s my usual spot:

I used to be the comfy couch and throw blanket person, but then I too easily dozed off. So I moved here. My desk is cluttered, my inbox is stuffed, there’s a sprinkling of dust. My drawer is hanging open for easy access to pens, pencils, and sticky tabs. I do believe in dusting and straightening. 🙂 But if I waited to get everything else done before I read my Bible, well, I’d never get to it.

This is my second real life devotions photo:

I used to journal quite a bit, but then it seemed like I was spending more time writing my thoughts rather than reading God’s. For years I didn’t write anything. I guess some of my blog posts are processing what I have read. But lately I’ve started almost a bullet journal, just jotting down a summary, sometimes just a sentence. Sometimes I’ll write more if I need to process something. I look back at what I have written at the end of my quite time for that day, but rarely after that. (DL stands for Daily Light on the Daily Path, a devotional book I first discovered in missionary biographies and have read for years.)

With my mix of printing and cursive, I don’t know if others could even read my notes. (My handwriting has never been good, and trying to take notes in college lecture classes made it worse.) But they’re not meant for others to read. These aren’t the literary quality of The Journals of Jim Elliot or David Brainerd’s diary.

Nor are my journal entries decorative. I love to see what artistic people do with their devotional jottings, like Karla Dornacher. They can probably whip up beautiful art in journals or Bible margins in no time. I know for many, this is a way to meditate on God’s Word. But for me, trying to be artistic would be a distraction, a frustration, and one more thing to do. Their way works for them; my way works for me.

All of that to say, don’t feel like you have to have a beautiful, artistic, calligraphic journal with a pretty cover to jot down notes from your Bible reading time. You don’t even have to write anything down at all. If you do, great!  If it’s lovely, wonderful! But if it’s merely functional, a way to remember or think through what you’ve read, that’s fine, no matter what it looks like.

This third photo is staged because this has not been my practice. It’s in memory of a neighbor from decades ago who had three little stairstep children in a row, all under the age of five. Her washing machine was in her kitchen, and she left her Bible on top of it to get a few minutes reading in as she could.

As I wrote in Encouragement for Mothers of Small Children, the time when my children were little was the most challenging to try to carve out any quiet time, much less to read the Bible in a coherent manner. Yet I suffered spiritually when I didn’t read. It’s important to both read and study the Bible, but some seasons, it’s hard to do either. When I truly only had a few moments, God met with me and fed my soul in that time.

Moses met with God on a mountain. Daniel met with God in captivity. David met with God in pasture while shepherding, in a cave while hiding from enemies, and in a palace. Jonah met with God in the belly of a whale. We can meet with God any time, anywhere.

How about you? What does your real life devotional time look like? How has it changed through the different seasons of life? What was your most unusual devotional setting?

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Biblical Self-Talk

I once heard a preacher say that sometimes he had to sit himself down and have a talk with himself. Have you ever felt that way?

For years after I had transverse myelitis, I struggled with panic attacks and extreme fears. I didn’t realize until fairly recently that, just as I had to recover from the physical effects of the disease, I also had to recover emotionally and mentally from the trauma of the disease itself.

We all know anything can happen any time. We’re not guaranteed our next breath. But then when something catastrophic does happen, it can throw us for a loop. Our foundations are shaken, our security is threatened. Looking back now, it’s no wonder I had panic attacks. Unfortunately, some of the things I feared were psychiatrists and psychiatric drugs, so I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through. I was given Xanax for a while in the hospital, but no one explained why. I heard it was addictive, so I didn’t take it when I got home. I even wondered if they thought my symptoms were in my head.

If I had it to do over again, I’d talk to my neurologist, who was primarily in charge of my care at the time. I’d ask why I was given Xanax, explain what was going on, see what he had to say, and evaluate the options. That’s what I would advise anyone else to do.

Instead, I read what I could about anxiety and panic attacks. I learned that breathing in slowly through my nose and out through my mouth had a calming effect. I would think through or sing through hymns to get my thoughts on another track. And I would remind myself of truth and common sense, which I later learned was self-talk.

For instance, on our way to the church we attended at the time, we almost always got caught at a red light on an overpass. This overpass was one that trembled when an 18-wheeler passed, which happened often. When a visiting speaker’s wife mentioned that this overpass scared her, my own fears escalated. We knew no other way to get to church than this route. So I would tell myself, “Seriously, how often do you hear of these things falling down? Not very often. It’s more likely not to happen than to happen. If it does happen, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll either go straight on to heaven, or God will help you through whatever happens just as He did with TM. Don’t ruin or waste your day by worrying about something that is not likely to happen.” Then I’d sing hymns to myself not only to guide my thoughts away from scary things, but also to remind myself of God’s care and promises.

That helped with things not likely to happen. But what about things that could very well happen? TM was a one-time occurrence with lasting ramifications. But one form of it did cause repeat occurrences. And sometimes what was thought was TM was actually found to be MS when repeated attacks occurred. My TM had started with one hand feeling a little funny, like I had slept on it wrong. Within three hours, my whole left arm and both legs were numb and I couldn’t walk on my own. So every time a limb fell sleep, every time I had a funny, not-quite-right feeling, every time symptoms flared up, so did the fears of a repeat attack. I had to remind myself that this probably was not another attack, but just a flare-up. If it was another attack, God would help me just as He did the first time. Eventually, after multitudes of flare-ups without another full-fledged attack, and after a significant amount of healing, I learned to just roll with the symptoms and eventually to hardly notice them.

Sometimes we have to talk to ourselves over spiritual issues, too, don’t we? A tragedy occurs, and we feel like maybe God doesn’t love us like we thought He did. We remind ourselves that God loves us “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), that He loved us even when we were His enemies. Or we feel worthless and remind ourselves we are accepted in the Beloved.

We have several instances of Scriptural self-talk in the psalms. The psalmist asks himself three times, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5, ESV). Then he answers himself, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” David tells himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul”  in Psalm 103 and then reminds himself why he could do so. He reminds himself about God’s character, what He had done for Israel in the past, what He had done for David himself.In Psalm 57, David is hiding in a cave from Saul. After pleading for God’s mercy and reminding himself of God’s power, love, and faithfulness, David tells himself to wake up and praise God:

My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul!  Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. (Psalm 57:7-8, NIV).

Other psalms don’t employ that exact language, but they show the writer coming to God with a problem or an issue: Where are you? Why are you not acting? The wicked are faring better than Your people. I’m hurting here. People are persecuting me for no reason.

And then the writer reminds himself of truths about his God: He’s here. He loves us. He cares. The wicked will face their consequences some day if they don’t repent. God will strengthen me and help me.

I shared this quote before from David Martyn-Lloyd Jones in Spiritual Depression, but I love it:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”

Instead of being at the mercy of our thoughts, we challenge them and correct them. We need to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We set aside wrong thoughts and actively pursue truth. We steady our souls with God’s truth. We fill our minds with God’s Word so the Holy Spirit can remind us of it.

Have you ever had to give yourself a good talking-to?

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Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

When I first became a Christian, the church I was in urged people to read the Bible through in a year. I’m so glad, because I believe that grounded me in my faith more than anything else.

In later years, pastors often emphasized the need to read passages of the Bible in context and encouraged to read a book of the Bible through at a time rather than scattering our reading all around. I mentioned last week Drew Hunter‘s quote that we wouldn’t read only page two of a friend’s three-page letter. Nor would we read a paragraph on page three and a line on page one. The Bible isn’t a book of random quotations. Each book is a coherent whole, and all together they present a unified message.

Reading the whole Bible helped me keep things in context and see the grand themes of the Bible. It helped me get into books like Leviticus and Chronicles, which I probably would not have drifted into. I found some nuggets there I would have missed. Reading all of the Bible helps you interpret it, as some passages shed light on other passages.

Kelly Needham says:

Most Christians I talk to have never read the entirety of the Bible. They may read it frequently but only parts of it. But daily reading parts of the Bible doesn’t mean you know it any more than daily reading the first chapter of Moby Dick makes you an expert on the famous novel. Ignorance of the whole of God’s Word makes us easy targets in the war Satan has waged against God. Lies can slip through undetected like poison gas because we’re just not that familiar with the truth.

I still believe in reading the Bible through, but I don’t do it in a year any more. Sometimes I wanted to slow down, but felt I couldn’t or I’d fall behind schedule. Once one does fall behind, it’s hard to catch back up. So now I just go at my own pace. I don’t even know how long it takes me. Sometimes I read a couple of chapters a day. Other times I read more or less. I usually read the shorter epistles a few times through before moving on because they’re packed so full and go by so quickly.

I’ve seen some two-year or other plans. John O’Malley said in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles, “If it takes you five years to read through the Bible, you are not less of a Christian. Read it at a pace that you can comprehend it and receive something from it.”

Some folks I know have tried “binge-reading” the Bible occasionally. Joel Arnold says, “A pretty average reader can finish in 100 days by reading just 40 minutes a day.” My friend Kim once read the whole Bible in 90 days and shared her experience here.

Joel once read the whole Bible in a week, 10-12 hours a day. Afterward he noted:

The Bible is the most intertwined body of literature I’ve ever read. The books cite, quote, allude and echo each other constantly. It’s like a city, built up layer by layer, strata by strata, so that each later addition rests on every layer that came before … We don’t usually sense these relationships because we’ve forgotten 95% of the OT before we ever get to the New. But having it all out in front of your brain at once changes that completely. You find yourself flipping back and forth constantly between the testaments, jumping across thousands of years of history to study the same teachings and sometimes even the same phrases (Meditations from Binge-Reading the Bible).

Obviously no one can read 10-12 hours a day every week. But if we can use vacation time to binge watch a TV series, why not use it to read the whole Bible?

However, if we only read the Bible in great chunks, we miss something. We’re also told to study it, meditate on it, chew on it. Sometimes we need to slow down and spend more focused time on a smaller passage. Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying, “Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!” Sometimes there’s nothing like honing in on one or a few verses for an extended amount of time.

Remember, the early churches did not have the entire Bible bound in one book for a long while. They had the Old Testament and gospels, but they would have spent a great deal of time on the one letter sent to their congregation and others as they came around.

I mentioned last week that Tim Challies said the larger blocks of reading were for familiarity, and reading for intimacy was slowing down and meditating on or studying shorter passages. Kelly Collier calls these two methods plow work (which “moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly,” like reading the Bible in a year or two) and trowel work (“taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time,” like inductive Bible Study). I likened the two styles to a panoramic or macro lens. Or we could simply call them reading and studying.

I wrote a few years ago about finding time to read the Bible. Some seasons allow for both reading and studying, and it’s great to do both each day if you can. With the friend’s letter I mentioned earlier, we usually read the whole thing once or twice and then go back over it section by section. That’s good to do with a Bible passage as well. But it’s hard enough some days to get a few minutes to read the Bible at all. How can we possibly employ both reading and studying?

Here are some ideas:

Take turns. Often after I’ve finished a book of the Bible, I’ve taken a break to do a shorter study. Then I go back to the next book of the Bible.

Alternate days. Use a few days of the week for general reading, the others for more focused study.

Do the opposite of your church. For several years we were under a pastor who took a very detailed, thorough approach to preaching through a book of the Bible at a time. It took us years to get through Romans. But that was great, because then we knew it well. Since the preaching I heard was the in-depth, verse or two at a time style, my personal reading was more general. By contrast, when in other churches where the preaching covered more ground, I liked to do in-depth studies on my own.

Join a Bible study group. Bible studies tend to be slower and more focused (unless they’re topical), so I did in-depth study for the group and more general study on my own.

Adjust as needs arise. Once, chagrined and ashamed after an angry outburst, I set aside my regular Bible reading to look up and mediate on passages dealing with anger. That kind of thing has happened several times: an issue came up that I had to study out now.

Slow down and speed up as you feel led. In reading the Bible through, if I feel the need to put the breaks on in a certain passage and camp out for a while, I do so. Then I’ll pick up the pace for more general reading later.

There are going to be days when your regular routine flies out the window: illness, traveling, company, emergencies. God gives grace for those. I have a small devotional book called Daily Light on the Daily Path that is a few verses on a certain theme each day. Usually I use it to start my devotions, but some days that’s all I get to.

There are going to be seasons in life when finding time for quiet study is nearly impossible, like when young children are in the house. Just like we sometimes grab a protein bar instead of having a sit-down lunch, so our spiritual feeding sometimes has to be grab-and-go rather than a leisurely meal. When I truly only had time for a verse or two, God fed my soul with just those verses. Anything is better than nothing. One writer proposed a micronutrient Bible reading plan for those times.

We need to keep in mind the goal for reading the Bible isn’t just to get through it in a specified time. Instead, we read to learn it, learn from it, get to know God and His Word better.

Our current church has us read through a book of the Bible together. We’re asked to read five chapters of the Bible a week, one a day Monday-Friday with Saturdays to catch up. Then the preaching focuses on a short passage of a different book. Then we all learn a verse each month. So we incorporate the general overview reading, have a more in-depth study of a short passage, and spend a longer time meditating on one verse. That’s not a bad practice for one’s personal reading as well.

What ways have you find to incorporate both reading and studying the Bible? Do you tend toward one more than the other?

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Book Review: Engaging the Scripture

I enjoyed Deborah Haddix‘s Journaling for the Soul so much, I bought her new Engaging the Scripture: Encountering God in the Pages of His Word not long after I first saw it.

I love that Deborah emphasized engaging the Scripture—not just reading an assignment, not just searching for information. Rather, “we are to read intentionally with the purpose of hearing from God, knowing Him, deepening our relationship, and nourishing our soul” (p. 28).

Deborah has chapters on the importance of God’s gift of His Word, dealing with distractions, further explanation about what’s involved in engaging the Scripture. Then she has a chapter for each aspect of engaging Scripture: reading, writing, meditating, memorizing, and praying it. A later chapter shares ways to interweave these practices (meditating while memorizing, praying verses while writing them, etc,)

Each chapter is fairly short: three to six pages of text, a page of personal reflection about the chapter, a section on resources for implementing the chapter, and a practice page or two.

Each chapter includes multiple ideas for engaging, with the encouragement to chose which works best with your wiring, schedule, and season of life. Tidbits of advice, encouragement, and wisdom are interspersed throughout the pages. Just a few:

Experiencing distractions during our quiet time does NOT make us a failure (p. 34).

Overwhelm often results in total abandonment. Start small. Experience success. Then incorporate additional ideas as you move forward (p. 39).

The physical food we take into our physical body does not nourish us unless we properly digest it and take it into our cells. Just as physical food is needed for physical strength, spiritual food is necessary for spiritual strength. The Word you read (the spiritual food) must be chewed, digested, taken into your being, and one way to chew your food is by memorization (p. 100).

Deborah has mastered the art of writing the way writers for the Internet are advised to: short paragraphs and lots of white space. The book isn’t long, but its style makes it seem even more manageable.

This is a wonderful resource that I highly recommend.

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Making the Bible Come Alive

“He really makes the Bible come alive!”

Have you ever heard that about a preacher, speaker, teacher, or writer?

People could mean several different things by that statement. Perhaps they mean the teacher is exciting. They have a dynamic presentation. Or maybe they make the Scriptures seem particularly relevant. Maybe they help us understand things from the Scripture that we hadn’t before. They use a lot of eye-opening illustrations.

Those are all good traits. Years ago, at a former location, a Christian radio station ran a program from a local pastor who spoke in a monotone. I used to turn off the radio when his program came on. I actually got angry at him and thought, “Doesn’t the Bible deserve better treatment than that?” Then I got convicted of a wrong attitude. The man had been a pastor and had this program for years, so he obviously had listeners. Maybe some people like monotones, who knows.

But here’s the thing: we don’t make the Bible come alive. It IS alive.

Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, ESV).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

We’re the ones that need to be made alive. And what enlivens us? I like the King James word “Quicken,” which sometimes means to make alive, sometimes revive. God quickens us with His Word:

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:25)

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psalm 119:93)

God making us alive through His Word is not surprising, really. He created the universe and everything in it with His Word.

God’s Word can enliven us even if it’s read in a monotone.

That doesn’t mean we should be careless when we read, explain, or teach from it. There’s no virtue in reading the Bible in a monotone or presenting it in a dull way if we know better and can help it. We should try to present it in as understandable and winsome a way as possible.

Each of the Bible writers has a style about them: the Holy Spirit gave them the words, yet worked through each of their personalities to express truth.

But we should be careful of our tendencies to follow “exciting” teachers. If they can be exciting and Scripturally accurate, great. But too often, people gravitate towards excitement rather than truth.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The Bible is so full of good truth that convicts, comforts, enlightens, teaches, rejoices our hearts, builds us up. We don’t need to dress it up or manipulate it to make it “interesting.” We just need to show people what it says. And we need to know it well enough to seek teachers who do the same.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

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Biblical Prayers

I mentioned in my earlier post about prayer that I sometimes like to pray Scripture directly.

Of course, not every prayer in Scripture is something we would pray today. Sometimes people in the Bible prayed for specific situations or people that we don’t deal with. We can still learn from them, but in our day we wouldn’t pray the same thing.

Also, as I said earlier, praying isn’t a matter of finding a magic formula or reciting certain words rotely.

But some examples of prayer in Scripture lift us up out of everyday life into real soul work, for ourselves and others. Some years ago I started making a list of these prayers when I came across them, and I still add to this list occasionally. So I thought I’d share with you what I have so far (all are from the ESV unless otherwise noted):

  • May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (Though this is talking about the church, I often put this on wedding cards.)
  • For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:15-20
  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20 (KJV)
  • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
  • For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV)
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  • Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
  • Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (KJV)
  • And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. II Thessalonians 3:5 (KJV)
  • Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (KJV)

And that’s just the epistles!

Many of the psalms are prayers that we could pray in our day, like David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 or  his prayer of wonder and praise in Psalm 8.

A couple of Old Testament pleas come to mind often, like 2 Chronicles 20:12: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” and 2 Chronicles 14:11: “LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.”

Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-15:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
     and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Phrases from the gospels come to mind as prayers:

Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The more we read the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit can bring back to our minds what it says, the more our thoughts and prayers will be infused with God’s truth and will.

Of course, we can’t just rip words out of context and use them in prayer. But as we read the Bible and see how these prayers arise in context, our own hearts can be stirred up to pray according to God’s will.

Even verses that aren’t prayers in themselves can be turned into a prayer request that God will help us understand and incorporate the truth of it into our lives.

Writing this post has given me the idea for a project. Maybe the next time I read through the Bible, I’ll make note of any prayer that we could pray today. That would be an interesting study!

Are there prayers from the Bible you like to use when you pray?