Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Bible Reading and Self Feeding

I've always been haphazard with personal Bible reading.  For a long time after I became a Christian, I rarely read the Bible on my own.  I almost completely relied on other people - church, Bible study, one-to-one - for my consumption of Scripture.  This wasn't because I hated reading the Bible; I just didn't think I needed to spend time sitting around reading it on my own.  I didn't get why so many Christians had 'morning devotions' or 'quiet times'.  It sounded all a bit too legalistic for me.

Emma, my dear housemate at the time, noticed that this was an area I struggled in, so she bought me a devotional book for a Christmas present in 2004.  I really enjoyed the book, but I still couldn't develop a consistent Bible reading habit.  They say it takes 21 consecutive days to establish a habit.  I never got close to 21 days.  By this stage, it was mainly due to my own laziness (busyness can only ever be so much of an excuse).

I've tried devotional books and reading plans, but they aren't really for me.  I found having set readings on set days to be quite unhelpful.  I would get stressed if I missed a day and get in a panic trying to catch up.  Eventually it would be all too hard and I'd throw in the towel.  Some of the devotionals were just way too light on for Scripture.  There would be a verse taken out of context, and the rest of the page would be the author's thoughts which often weren't even about the verse.  I know plans and devotional guides really help some people with self-discipline and structure, but that's not the way I learn best.  I think I need a mixture of discipline and freedom.  That is, I need a set time per day, but I need freedom to decide what I read.

Over the past few years, I've been challenging myself to read more of the Old Testament.  I started with 1 and 2 Samuel, then 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Jonah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.  Now I've decided that I need some New Testament for a bit of variety so I've been reading Hebrews.  I think that reading OT, NT and then doing a topical study is the way to go.  Often I try and get hold of a commentary or study guide to supplement my reading.

As far as times go, I've tried early in the morning before I get up (I fell asleep in bed again), and at night before I go to sleep (often I've been too tired to really concentrate).  Lately I've been reading the Bible while having breakfast and this seems to work well.  If it's a work day or I have to be somewhere early, I only read a chapter of the Bible.  If I don't have to be anywhere in the morning, I read a chapter of the Bible, and then do either a chapter of a study guide or read a chapter of a commentary.  Sometimes I pray for a country using Operation World or I write in my journal.  Other days, either prayer is very rushed, or it doesn't really happen (just being honest here).

I'm always wary in writing about Bible reading as I'm aware it can create a lot of guilt.  A friend of mine reckons that if you feel you HAVE to do anything, then it's legalism, and therefore we shouldn't do it.  I agree partly in that we shouldn't be reading the Bible to try and win brownie points with God, or so we can feel superior to others.  But we also need to acknowledge that self-discipline is a good thing, and that we are sinful people who often use any excuse NOT to delve into God's Word (I know I do).  Sure, there are different seasons of life, and spending time with God might be easier in one season than another.  At the moment, reading the Bible at breakfast is working reasonably well for me (I'm wary about saying that as it sounds like pride and it could all fall in a heap again), but it might not work so well in a different season.  Yet, we also need to stop making excuses and need wisdom to realise when a season has ended (unless we're retired and spend all our time at home, we're ALL busy in different ways).  We're always going to have mixed motives in whatever we do.  I pray that I will read the Scriptures because I want to love and honour Jesus more, and not for any other reason.

Since I read yesterday's verse in Hebrews, I've been thinking a fair about Christian maturity.  When someone says, "He/she is a mature Christian," what do they mean?  How do you become a mature Christian?  As I've reflected on this, I think a lot of it is due to God's Word.  We need God at work in us by His Spirit, yet we also need to co-operate with Him.  We need to WANT to mature in our faith, and not be infants.  I was having a conversation with someone recently and they asked how long someone else I know had been a Christian.  I said that they'd been a Christian for a lot longer than I had, but the person responded by saying that that doesn't necessarily mean they are more mature.  I'm beginning to see that my friend was right, that time as a believer doesn't always equal maturity.  I'm not saying that someone who sits around and reads the Bible all day is necessarily more mature and godly either, but we need to WANT to grow and take some responsibility in this.  If God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, then that is the logical place to know more about Him.

This has been a big kick up the bum for me.  We can encourage one another, but no-one else can take responsibility for this.  I have been blessed by ready access to the Scriptures, churches, conferences, books, sermons....Christians in China would love to be in my position.  I can't rely on my church, other Christians, or even my husband in this.  There will be times in my life where I may not be able to get to church, but doesn't mean I stop seeking God.  I hear a lot of Christian wives (younger than me) say it is the husband's responsibility to lead his wife spiritually.  Yes, I agree with that, but that doesn't mean that I become this kind of dumb woman who turns off her brain and just drinks in whatever Duncan says without being wise and discerning.  Duncan is not God, God is God, and my ultimate allegiance is to Him before my husband.

I'm no champion when it comes to Bible reading.  Satan will do whatever he can to distract us from this.  He doesn't want us to love and trust Jesus more in the way we live.  I still find Bible reading hard, but when I do it, I wonder why I thought it was so difficult.  Let me encourage you in this - have a desire to grow in the Lord by reading His Word, but remember Romans 5:8 during the difficult days.


bettyl said...

We all have our own need for reading Scripture--I firmly believe it has a lot to do with where we are in our Christian journey. So, don't let the world tell you that you should read more-listen to God when He tells you! Too many people listen to too many people.

Just as you say no one can take responsibility for your Bible reading, you can't be responsible for any guilt that your post might produce, either. If it's your guilt, deal with it and read more; if it's someone else's then you did your part to bring it to their attention. ;) God even uses blog posts to speak to his kids!

Meredith said...

Great post. And how wonderful that you are feeling increasingly hungry to read the Bible. I know exactly how you feel. When I don't read it I am battling away with all the reasons for not doing it...but when I sink back into it, ahhh. The sweetness of it. Even the "hard" bits are so full of God's love and mercy.

I am always reminded of the words John Piper said in that sermon that I keep on quoting and linking to...

"I have known terrible seasons of barrenness in reading the Bible. Did you hear what I said? Not in neglecting the Bible - in reading the Bible. I am not God. The Bible is not God. God is God. And He blows with His power where and when He pleases. I make you zero promises that reading the Bible will make you strong. God will make you strong if He chooses to make you strong.

But this I know. He will not do it without the Bible. That I know."

God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him and that is done through hearing from Him through His Word and speaking to Him in prayer. Any guilt raised, unless a post is poorly worded (which this one isn't, by the way) is actually rebuke. And that is a good thing. We need to constantly encouraged to be busy about our Bible reading and our prayer. And it isn't always easy. But we need to press on.

I think the idea of "if you feel you HAVE to do anything, then it's legalism" is probably not a helpful slogan to have running around your head. Because if we do want to thrive in our relationship with God then we do need to read the Bible and we do need to pray. THere is no legalism there. It just is. The Bible certainly doesn't lay down when or where or how much so if people start setting rules (like the old get up at 4am and have a three hour quiet time before the day starts thing) and you think you can't read the Bible any way but this, then that is legalism.

And as you say, we never have completely pure motives. Sometimes reading the Bible is just going through the motions for me. Sometimes it is like that for weeks on end. But I press on knowing that even as I just let the words go past my eyes and I turn the pages over, I am in fact being washed in the Word. And most of the benefit of ongoing Bible reading comes from the long term. There are A-HA moments along the way, but a lot of it is goodness that comes from ongoing reading. So I would suggest not thinking of it in light of legalism and just get on with in, in the good times and the harder times.

Long reply! Very excited to read your post.

Sarah said...

I love that quote from Piper since I first read it on your blog, Meredith. That's really what my post is meant to be about, but he says it far better and more succintly than I ever could. :)