The Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Intake

By Peter Amsterdam

January 21, 2014

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Christians who desire a flourishing relationship with God and who are interested in spiritual growth recognize that spending time taking in and absorbing God’s Word is of utmost importance. It is within the pages of the Bible that we learn about God and His love for humanity, about Jesus and His message, about how to live in harmony with God and our fellow human beings.

God is the Creator, and He wants to be in relationship with His creation. In order to make that possible, He has revealed Himself to us through the Bible. In it, He tells of His love for us and of the actions He has taken to make it possible for us as imperfect and finite beings to be in relationship with Him. The more we abide in His Word and let His Word abide in us, the more we understand how to live our lives in alignment with Him, in accordance with His will, and in a manner that reflects Him and His love, especially in our interactions with others.

Reading God’s Word

Setting aside time daily to read the Bible provides the opportunity to connect with God each day. It opens us up to letting Him speak to us through what we read, to His instruction and guidance, to His help through life’s problems and difficulties. Regular reading of God’s revelation to us reminds us of the moral code which we are meant to fashion our lives around, and provides us with guidance when we are faced with decisions. It is a key element for those who seek to be like Jesus, because it is in the Bible that we hear His teaching, see the example of His love, and are introduced to the relationship with His Father that His sacrifice has opened up for us. As we abide in His Word, we become more and more aware of the value He places on each individual, and the love and compassion He has for every human being. As we begin to absorb the truth contained within these pages, as we ponder and pray about those truths, and as we apply them to our daily living, we begin to anchor both our inner and outer lives on the foundation of Christlikeness, on godliness, and on the truth of God.

Each day we are flooded with a barrage of input from a wide variety of delivery systems which influences us in one way or another. Taking time daily to read what God has said to us provides a way to navigate through the maelstrom of information and input that we are faced with. It enhances our spiritual ability to discern truth and falsehood. It makes it easier to keep our hearts centered on those things which are important to living lives of true happiness, inner peace, and alignment with God and His will. It helps us to survive and overcome all that life brings our way. As Jesus said: Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.[1]Abiding in God’s Word brings us in regular contact with His Spirit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.[2] Part of having that contact with the Lord, of having that promised peace, is spending time reading His Word.

Carving out the time to read daily is no easy task—it requires self-discipline, as does each Spiritual Discipline. Like the workouts and training that athletes must do daily to maintain their conditioning and excel in their performance, taking regular time to read Scripture will strengthen your spirit and make you a stronger Christian—one who is grounded in God’s truth and love. The connection with God, that savoring of His Word, helps you to be Spirit-led in your daily interactions with others, in your decision making, and in your ability to stay strong in the face of daily temptations.

There is no specific formula for how much you need to read daily or what portions of the Bible you should read. The key is setting aside the time to do it and then sticking to it. It helps to have a good contemporary translation. The English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New International Version (NIV) are known to be good and accurate contemporary English translations.

It helps to commit to reading a certain number of chapters per day, as having a realistic goal can motivate you to stick with your reading even on busy days. The book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life makes the observations that reading 15 minutes a day will take you through the entire Bible within a year, and that reading three chapters a day and five chapters on Sunday will accomplish the same. It also points out that since the Bible contains 66 different books, for variety’s sake you might want to consider starting to read in three places—Genesis, Job, and Matthew—as this divides the Bible into three sections that are equal in length, so by reading the same number of chapters in each section each day you will finish the three sections, and thus the entire Bible, at roughly the same time.

Finding and following a Bible reading plan of some kind can help you stick with your reading and forge ahead when you find yourself in the more difficult portions of Scripture. There are a variety of apps for electronic devices which can help you design your reading plan, including some that provide the reading program and the text. Some people prefer to read from the pages of their Bible in book form. Whether you read from a Bible or on your computer or use a mobile app, what’s important is that you read it.

Information about apps:

http://thecripplegate.com/three-must-have-bible-apps/

http://appadvice.com/appguides/show/best-bible-apps-for-the-ipad

http://rachelwojo.com/4-fabulous-bible-apps-i-recommend/

Information about Bible reading programs:

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/

http://www.navpress.com/dj/content.aspx?id=138

Ideally, you should read in a situation free from distractions, perhaps in a quiet spot early in the morning before your day begins or late at night when all is winding down. The quietness and absence of activity around you facilitates meditating on what you are reading. If early morning is not possible, try to find another time of day when it is. But even if you can’t carve out some quiet time, then read on the run, in whatever time opens up for you—or listen to it in audio form as you go. It’s a fight to keep your commitment to read/study the Bible, but doing so will make a difference in your life.

Hearing about God’s Word

Along with personally reading God’s Word, it can be beneficial to hear His Word spoken about as well. This would entail reading, listening to, or watching sermons, talks, discussions, and posts which pertain to the Word and godly principles. Anchor, Directors’ Corner and Just One Thing can help with this, and there are other very good sites where men and women of God speak about and teach God’s Word.

I’ve found that there are some teachers I like to hear, whose style and what they speak about resonates with me more than others. But other people I know love to listen to someone who doesn’t appeal to me. We’re each different, but the point is that it can be helpful to watch or listen to those who share God’s words in a manner which speaks to you and helps strengthen your connection and relationship with the Lord.

It’s often much easier to listen to someone else speak about the principles and teachings of God’s Word than it is to take the time to read the Word yourself and to think about and meditate on what you have read. While it’s spiritually feeding and beneficial to listen to sermons and read articles about the Word, it shouldn’t replace your time reading the Bible and benefiting from what the Lord Himself has to say to you personally through His Word.

Meditating on the Word

When you read the Bible or listen to others expound on it, it’s important to ask yourself what God is speaking to you about through what you’re reading or hearing. Take time to think about what you’re reading. If a passage stands out to you, read it again. Think about it; ask yourself why it stood out to you and what the Lord might be trying to tell you through it. If a part of a sermon you listen to speaks to your heart, listen to it again, and think and pray about it. Remember, the reason for reading or listening isn’t to get through the material as quickly as possible, or to cram in as much as you can in the allotted time, but rather to absorb it, and to let it speak to you and become part of you. It’s a time to let the Lord communicate with you through His Word.

Focusing on what you read or hear, and thinking more deeply about it, is part of meditating on God’s Word. Our lives are so busy, and we often feel we need to rush from one thing to the next, so it’s difficult to take the time to truly think about what we’ve read and how to apply it, but it’s important to do so if we want it to affect us.

In the Psalms we hear David speak of meditating on God and His Word:

I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.[3]

Hundreds of years earlier, God spoke to Joshua about the importance of continually meditating on the Word of God.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.[4]

The great prayer warrior George Mueller wrote regarding meditating on God’s Word:

What is food for the inner man? The Word of God, and here again, not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water passes through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it and applying it to our hearts.[5]

Donald Whitney wrote:

The tree of your spiritual life thrives best with meditation because it helps you absorb the water of God’s Word. Merely hearing or reading the Bible, for example, can be like a short rainfall on hard ground. Regardless of the amount or intensity of the rain, most runs off and little sinks in. Meditation opens the soil of the soul and lets the water of God’s Word percolate in deeply. The result is an extraordinary fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity.[6]

Reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God brings His blessings into our lives. As Psalm 1 says: Blessed is the man … [whose] 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. In all that he does, he prospers.[7]

Reading God’s Word and meditating on it brings us into personal communication with God. As we meditate on what we’ve read, we create the opportunity for His Word to speak to our hearts because we put ourselves in the position of being willing to listen to Him. In meditating on His Word, we enter into His presence, hungering to learn, to grow, to change, to draw close to Him, to do His will. He desires to speak to each of us directly. However, if we aren’t listening or meditating on Him and His Word, if we are so busy reading what He’s said that we don’t give Him room to speak to us personally about what we’re reading, then we are truly missing something important.

Many Christians are happy to listen to what this or that speaker or preacher has to share, to be inspired by someone’s sermon, yet are much less inclined to have that one-on-one communication with the Almighty that comes when we discipline ourselves to read, study, and meditate on Scripture. Richard Foster addresses this point:

Human beings seem to have a perpetual tendency to have somebody else talk to God for them. The history of religion is the story of an almost desperate scramble to have a king, a mediator, a priest, a pastor, a go-between. In this way we do not need to go to God ourselves. Such an approach saves us from the need to change, for to be in the presence of God is to change. That is why meditation is so threatening to us. It boldly calls us to enter into the living presence of God for ourselves. It tells us that God is speaking in the continuous present and wants to address us … All who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord are the universal priesthood of God, and as such can enter the Holy of Holies and converse with the living God.[8]

Of course, meditating on what you’ve read or listened to takes time, and if you find you don’t have the time to stop and listen, then you might want to consider reading a little less to free up time to meditate on what you’ve read. Author Maurice Roberts wrote:

It is not the busy skimming over religious books or the careless hastening through religious duties which makes for a strong Christian faith. Rather, it is unhurried meditation on the gospel truths and the exposing of our minds to these truths that yields the fruit of sanctified character.[9]

If we want godliness in our lives, if our desire is to emulate our Savior, if we want the light which shines through us to be the light of God and His love, then we need to take time with Him and His Word. Disciplining ourselves to take this time daily is a key component of Christlikeness. Of all the Spiritual Disciplines, this is the most important, as God’s Word—the Bible—is His revelation of Himself to humanity. Reading and meditating on it, applying it to our inner being and to our outer actions is vital to being like Jesus. It is through the regular deep absorption of the water of His Word in our hearts that we are gradually renewed and transformed to become more like Him. It is through the application of what we read and meditate on that we have the grace to live lives that are in alignment with His will. For His Word is a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path.[10]

Take the time to commune deeply with God through His Word. It will change your life.

[Jesus] said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”[11]

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”[12]

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.[13]

You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.[14]

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word.[15]

I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.[16]

I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.[17]

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.[18]


Note

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Matthew 7:24–25.

[2] John 6:63.

[3] Psalm 119:15–16.

[4] Joshua 1:8.

[5] Roger Steer, Spiritual Secrets of George Mueller (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1985), 62, quoted in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 76.

[6] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 49–50.

[7] Psalm 1:1–3.

[8] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 24.

[9] Maurice Roberts, “O the Depth!” The Banner of Truth, July 1990, 2, quoted in Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 55.

[10] Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

[11] Luke 11:28.

[12] John 14:23.

[13] John 15:7.

[14] Psalm 138:2.

[15] Psalm 119:9 NIV.

[16] Psalm 119:11.

[17] Psalm 119:15–16.

[18] John 17:17.

 

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