POSTED ON FEBRUARY 11, 2020
By Pastor Nick Sterner
Last week, I wrote an introductory blog post for those who are reading through the Bible with us in 2020. The goal seems easy enough, especially when you realize it can be done in twenty minutes or less a day. The problem people run into with this practice is twofold:
- It takes consistency and discipline, and most people fall off of their plan after a month or so.
- Those who stick with it often find themselves going to the Word of God with their hearts in the wrong place.
The First Problem: A Simple Fix (Not Easy)
In my own walk with Christ, the first one has been the easiest to overcome. Finding fifteen to twenty minutes somewhere in the day was easy for me to do when I began adding up social media and TV time.
Twenty minutes isn’t hard to find when we count the minutes we spend doing things that aren’t worth anything in light of eternity.
The Second Problem: A Heart Issue
Just the other day I was having one of those mornings. I was rushed and overwhelmed. All the things that needed to get done were all that was on my mind.
I managed to get my run in first thing, headed to the office. I opened up my planner and set it to the side, opened my Bible and rushed through my daily reading.
The next thing I did revealed a heart issue. I closed my Bible, grabbed a pen, and put a big check mark next to the “read the Bible” item on the top of my to-do list. I felt like I accomplished something. My time in God’s Word was nothing more than something to cross off my list.
There was no prayer beforehand. I didn’t take a single note. I didn’t even stop and ask myself what God was saying to me in that moment.
What Does This Say About Our Faith?
Most Christians I know pray, but none of them would say they pray enough. The same goes for me.
We pray for our meals. Hopefully we make it a point to pray at other times throughout the day as well. But if Jesus doesn’t intend for us to “live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4, ESV), why would I pray before eating a sandwich but not before reading my Bible?
A Hard Truth:
As I mentioned last week, I began reading a short book by Matt Smethurst. It’s called Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word. In it he offers a simple help that leads us to approach the Bible in a meaningful way.
In the first chapter, he addresses the problem I just described. Matt writes:
“I am convinced that a prayerless approach to God’s Word is a major reason for the low-level dissatisfaction that hums beneath the surface of our lives. We rob ourselves of joy and peace when we fail to pray. Indeed, approaching Scripture apart from prayer is one of the most counterproductive things we do. For prayerless Christianity is powerless Christianity.”
(Smethurst, Before You Open Your Bible, p. 6)
He’s not lying! His statement couldn’t be truer.
Starting With Prayer:
Smethurst goes on to share a simple prayer guide from Scripture that he got from John Piper. I’ve been using it daily before I read my Bible each morning, and I hope it can be a help to you as well.
A Helpful Acronym: I-O-U-S
I – “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain” (Ps 119:36, ESV)
O – “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps 119:18, ESV)
U – “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps 86:11, ESV)
S – “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Ps 90:14, ESV)
(Smethurst, Before You Open Your Bible, pp. 7-11)
**A very helpful article on avoiding repetitious prayer, specifically in light of this acronym can be found here.**
Asking God to Incline Our Hearts:
As we read the Word of God, it’s important to recognize that our hearts and minds will naturally drift toward things of the world. We have goals and plans. Let’s pray that our hearts wouldn’t be focused on those things during our time in the Word.
Asking God to Open Our Eyes:
The Bible gives us the most wonderful news in all of history: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as payment for the sin of all who believe in Him. The entire Bible points to Him, and every word within its pages is intended by God for us to live by.
The access we have to Scripture has made its glory appear dull to us. Let’s pray against that!
The Need to Rightly Fear God:
The fear of God is not the same thing as fearing a character from a horror movie. We are to be awestruck God, and even by His very name, in a similar way we stand in awe of the ocean the first time we see it.
God’s Love for Sinners: The Ultimate Satisfaction
If we understand the severity of the problem of our sin in light of a holy and just God, there should be nothing more satisfying than God’s love for us. Though we deserve His wrath and condemnation, Jesus paid for our sin in full so that we might be restored to our Father in heaven.
Slow Down, Just a Little:
I know that we’re all in a hurry. In the business of life, we feel stretched to just come up with the time to read the Bible every day.
As we approach God’s Word, let us approach it with prayer. This is the first step in making sure we’re getting the most out of our pursuit and effort.
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 3, 2020
By Pastor Nick Sterner
Hey, guys! As many of you know, each year we encourage folks in our congregation, as well as anyone else who’s willing, to read through the entire Bible us. When we do this, it’s very easy for our time in God’s Word to become just another line item on our list to be checked off each day. When this happens, we’ve allowed something glorious to become common and undervalued. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it happens to everyone from time to time. This unfortunate truth is commonly stated by people who often choose subject specific reading plans over systematically reading through the Bible on a regular basis. Not to say that reading subject specific plans are bad!
Pros and Cons of Subject Specific Bible Reading:
We should be grateful that YouVersion exists. It’s a blessing to be able to go to a place where people have compiled Bible reading plans alongside devotionals that help us grow in specific areas of our lives! There’s great wisdom from Scripture that applies to specific areas of life. Not everyone has the time, skillset, or drive to dive into the Bible to find that wisdom. When we struggle with marriage, singleness, parenthood, particular sins or temptation to them, subject specific Bible reading and devotionals are tools we should quickly reach to for help!
However, one of the downfalls of making this your primary method of feasting on the Word of God is there are very important things that can be missed. When we neglect the whole council of God’s Word, we can quickly become lopsided in our growth as disciples. We can become obsessed with God’s love and His desire for friendship with us to such a point where we neglect His other attributes. God does love us in the most pure and deep way, but He is also perfectly just, righteous, wrathful, vengeful, omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (ever-present). These other attributes of His also demand our attention and focus just as much as His love, mercy and grace.
What Jesus Says About It:
In Matthew 4 we see that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4:1 ESV). This is the transition into His public three year ministry of preaching, miracles, and calling His disciples who would later give us the accounts of it all. After going forty days and nights without any food. He was more hungry at that point than any of us have ever been.
Satan comes to Him and says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3 ESV). Can you imagine the temptation He must have felt in that moment? Hunger and unmet needs often cause the best of men to do horrific things. Satan was right in what he implied, too. Jesus… the One who commands demons and the weather… the One who can raise the dead to life with a simple word… this Jesus could have absolutely turned a stone into bread to eat, but He didn’t!
What It Means for Us:
Instead of giving in to hunger, He says something that should startle us, and make us pay attention: “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD THAT COMES FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD‘” (Mt 4:4 ESV – emphasis added). The Lord was quoting directly from Deuteronomy 8:3, which means this concept of people needing every single Word of God more than food didn’t come out of a vacuum. It’s something God intended for His people to know for thousands of years, and He still intends for us to know that today. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) states that “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.”
As people in a fallen world, we don’t know what living outside of sin is, anymore than a fish knows what it is to live outside of water. That’s just the reality of it. That means we need to be taught, reproofed, corrected, and trained in righteousness in more ways than we know. We are aware of many areas that need work, such as our marriages, our roles as parents, and specific areas of known sin in our lives. But there are countless other ways that God wants to work in us that we aren’t even aware of.
IF WE ARE TO BE GOD’S PEOPLE, WE NEED TO BE MADE COMPLETE, AND EQUIPPED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK!
What this implies is that we need every single word of Scripture; not just the parts that we think we need. We need to know God! He’s given us His Word in its entirety in the Bible, and He calls out for us to know Him. To be more satisfied with His Word than anything else.
This truth should lead us to conclude that we need to be familiar with Word of God in its entirety, Old Testament and New Testament alike. And not just familiar, but consistently in them.
The Solution is Simple, Not Easy:
As the Lord has brought me to this truth, I’ve attempted to make it a point to read the Bible all the way through at least once a year. When I started, it was intimidating. There have been years, even recently, where I’ve allowed life to get in the way and not complete it. There are times when sin gets in the way. That’s a common struggle for us as we feebly attempt to grow closer to God in the midst of a world that constantly tries to push Him away.
Whether you’re attempting to read the Bible all the way through from Genesis to Revelation (front to back), or reading from multiple places each day, or any other version of a Bible in a year plan, it can be done with 10-20 minutes a day. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by life that even coming up with that much time can be a stretch; but, when we add up the minutes we spend on things that are far less important (and even worthless in the grand scheme of things), we most likely find far more than 10-20 minutes. The trade off is simple, but not so easy.
Something to Help:
In 2019, Matt Smethurst, wrote a short book entitled, Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word.You can buy the Kindle version or paperback for a very reasonable price! In it, he offers nine very practical ways to examine ourselves and approach our Bible reading that inspire the rightful awe and wonder we should have as we seek to live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
In the next several blog posts, I will be reporting and commenting on how I’ve engaged and applied each chapter of Matt’s book, and will offer some practical ways for you to do the same. I encourage any of you who can to get the book yourself, as it’s one that should be read more than once and in different seasons. If that’s not something you want to do, go ahead and refer back to these blog posts for help and encouragement!