“Our only business is to love and delight ourselves in God.”Brother Lawrence
We are once again close to summer’s end, and the fall semester is fast approaching. I recently registered for my second year of graduate studies. I always feel both excitement and dread this time of the year. Excitement because I love learning. I especially love the research and writing (I could skip all the memory work). Dread because of the stress I know my family and I will feel while taking classes, working a full-time job, and ministering at my church.
Between the busyness and stresses of life and school, we can easily forget to love and enjoy our God. Unexpectedly, this can be a bigger problem for Bible college and seminary students than many other Christians. Why? Because in addition to the busyness of study, work, family, and church life, most seminary students are intensely studying the Bible, at least intellectually. Often students will lose themselves within the knowledge of God’s Word and forget to enjoy the goodness of God expressed within.
I hold the eternal Words of life within my hands, yet I often allow the Bible to become a mere textbook to fill my head with sharp arguments and cold logic. I have to seek God’s help to pull me out of this rut multiple times each semester. To learn to love Him again. To learn to enjoy His Word again. If I have all knowledge, if I can preach beautifully-crafted sermons, write the most theologically sound papers, and yet I do not love my God, my understanding is useless. This is vanity.
I find that I have a tendency to enjoy God’s knowledge while forgetting to enjoy God.
Our works have no meaning apart from our love. Our love gives every work meaning. By love, I mean a deep affection and genuine passion for God that dictates our life. A love that halts at knowledge alone is no love. Love extends past knowledge into enjoyment. Do you enjoy God? Or do you just know a list of facts about Him? Has the Bible gripped your soul, your whole being, or merely just your mind?
“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'” –Matthew 22:37–38*
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” –Revelation 2:3–4
Focus on devotion
In the first chapter of The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges discusses devotion as the foundation of Biblical godliness:
Later in the book, he writes:
Work, study, minister, eat, do devotions, sleep. If we aren’t careful, we reduce “devotion” to a 30-minute period on our daily to-do lists. It becomes something we do rather than the way we live. This strikes to the central issue of this whole article. This issue is not limited to the question, “Why do I read the Bible?” but extends into every motivation-based “Why?” of our lives. Why do I go to church? Why do I spend time with my family? Why do I go to work? Why do I take a vacation? Why do I register for fall classes? If devotion to God is absent at the heart of any motivation, we promote an idol in our hearts and lives.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –Colossians 3:17
“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” –James 4:14–15
How does this apply to the way we read Scripture? It means we read it as the very words of God written to us. We see the love in that, and we love Him in return. We open Scripture, not to check a box on our schedule, but to enjoy our God. To walk with Him. To weep with Him. To know Him.
We are devoted to Him, as a son to a good father. We cherish His praise and weep at His frown. His words often affirm our current attitudes and works, and it brings us joy to know we are serving Him faithfully. And sometimes, His words express loving rebuke, and our hearts are deeply cut. This is also an aspect of enjoying God. We enjoy God most when we are most like Him. Rather than a thought experiment, studying the Bible should be a catalyst for radical transformation as we walk with our God.
Focus on today
“Your future ministry depends on your present study.” I heard variations of this saying over and over again in Bible college. “Your attitude toward study now will affect your future church.” As a lazy sophomore, it was the swift kick in the rear I needed. I picked up my grades during my junior and senior years. I was determined to give Biblically sound instruction to those I would someday lead.
Perhaps the most useful class I took during my undergraduate studies was Expository Preaching with Dr. Surrett. Preparing an expository sermon taught me how to analyze a text thoroughly and systematically. I still use the skills I learned in Dr. Surrett’s class every day.
In my personal Bible reading, I began studying the Scriptures as I would study for an expository sermon. Opening Logos (my Bible software of choice), I would highlight keywords, exegete, make basic observations and ask questions about the passage, diagram, make truth statements, and finally search through commentaries to make sure I hadn’t stepped into some form of error.
This practice wasn’t morally wrong, but for me, it was a mistake. I already had enough time devoted to the in-depth study of Scripture through my school studies. I had forgotten the intimately devotional aspect of reading God’s Word. I was filling my head with a lot of knowledge, I was preparing for my future flock, I had great arguments for tough questions, but I had forgotten that the Bible was a living book that can change me, that could breathe life into my spirit.
Since then, I have taken a new approach to my personal Bible reading. I put away the highlighters. I turn off my computer. I close my Greek New Testament. I don’t worry about who I’m going to teach tomorrow. I worry about myself and my relationship with my God today. I read for the present. I don’t read the Bible like it’s a code to be broken. I read it like it’s a meal to be eaten…and I’m hungry. I don’t read the Bible out of duty but out of necessity.
Everyone has a different approach. This is what works for me: Before I fall asleep at night, I open God’s Word. I focus on reading large passages of Scripture. I read through a different translation of the Bible every six months.** That comes out to around thirty minutes a day. Unless I get a sudden urge to dive deeper into a particular passage, I leave detailed work primarily to my ministry or seminary study. I focus on reading as much as I can. I’m not looking to finish my reading with a “nugget of truth,” but as I fall asleep, I think of the passage as a whole, and I simply meditate on it.
Many Christians approach the Bible like it’s a daily treasure map, and if they don’t find their treasure for the day, their reading was a waste of time. They forget that the Bible, not our study plans, not our minds, is powerful. Why should I rely on myself to find a hidden gem in God’s Word every day? In seminary or in sermon preparation, pressure to present truth is a reality. It should not be the same in our daily Bible reading. If I finish my daily reading without any “take-aways,” who cares? That’s not up to me. That’s up to God. I’m just supposed to read His Word. He reveals the truth, not me. I just do what He says.
It’s not a single Bible reading that perfects a saint, but a lifetime of walking with God in His Word.
So, you missed a day of Bible reading? And? Get over it. We all forget. We all get busy. None of us are perfect, and God knows our frame. He knows we are but dust. Pick up His Word, and walk with God today. Let the Bible be powerful. God’s Word will not return void. Enjoy it! Meditate on it! Walk in it! And feel how the Holy Spirit convicts you to change sinful habits. Watch as He comforts you through life’s stormy seas. Cry tears of joy as He grips your spirit with the wonders of His magnificent love!
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”John 17:17
*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.
**I originally got this idea from Mark Dever on a Pastor’s Talk podcast episode. I don’t remember which one. In it, he describes how in Bible college, he would read through a different translation every three months.