Tuesday, October 09, 2012

How to be successful

The central issue about the Bible is whether we live it.

John Alexander

Recently, I visited a church service that had many young people attending. This greatly encouraged me and I was blessed by the experience. I heard a wonderful preach on the parable of the two Sons by Michael Ramsden which I commend to you. However, one thing I did notice was how few people in church these days have physical Bibles. Now this is not necessarily an indication of the state of our Bible reading, as I know many now have access on their phones- YOU version being the most popular. Nor is it a comment on any commitment to taking the Bible seriously -but for me there is something about the word of God- in a physical sense. 

Now perhaps I am just old school. At a wonderful prayer meeting held with other churches a few weeks ago, a lady stood up to share something and I noticed in her hand a much read and clearly loved copy of the Scriptures. It was very dog-eared, faded, it had pages falling out and every leaf appeared as though it had been poured over for hours at a time. As it happens, I know this women to be being powerfully used by God among the poor, addicted and broken. Someone once famously said that if your Bible is falling apart you won't be. There's truth in that.

Here's my question.

How is your Bible reading going? How is your dedicated time with God? How is your prayer life? What are you studying? What are you learning? How's your obedience to what Jesus is saying to you? Is he saying anything? Are you giving him time to speak?

Now I am preaching here as much to myself as to you. Here though are a few thoughts and things you might find helpful.

1. Buy a Bible: I was chatting with a Vicar pal and he was saying he likes to have a Bible that he feels attached to. My last Bible has all but fallen to pieces and became like a good friend so I have been looking for a new one for a while and happily found one over the summer. There are no end of options, styles, sizes and translations. Personally, I preach from the NIV but also use the ESV for study.

2. Allocate time: It's obvious but your Bible won't make any difference to you unless you read it. For most of us this is the start of the day but if you have a young family or are not a morning bod then find another time. It need only be five minutes- we can all find that. Now, if you want to really get to know God and his ways you will also need to enter into some more dedicated times of study and Rick Warren's Bible Study Methods is as good a book as you will ever probably need. Remember, Joshua was told that his very success depended not on his intellect or his talents but on his preparedness to meditate day and night on God's word and submit himself to it in obedience.

3. Ask the right questions: My dad used to say to me often 'Think son, Think'. Usually, I have to say, he said this when I had done something idiotic. The same is true of God. We are not passive religious automatons, we are people primed to engage with the living God by engaging our brains and wills. This post called 'Grow affection for Jesus' offers some really good questions Driscoll asks when studying and spending time reading the Bible

  • What does the Scripture say? (Scriptural question)
  • What does it mean? (Theological question)
  • Why don’t I believe it? (Apologetic/heart question)
  • How is Jesus the hero? (Christological question)
  • Why does this matter for my mission? (Missional question) 

4. Have a plan: There are hundreds of plans and for what it's worth I use For the love of God and have done for some years. This was the Bible reading method of Robert Murray McCheyne with a 'grand narrative' commentary from Don Carson.

5. Pray: Life is not an exam set by God about how much Bible knowledge you have. It is about having a relationship with Jesus, learning his ways, renovating our hearts (worth a read) and seeking to become more like him. God's plan for how this happens is through his word by the Spirit. Our Bible reading leads us to prayer or hopefully should do. Using the questions above and turning them into conversation with Jesus might be a way to put fresh zeal into your times of prayer

6. Keep a record: I make a few notes most days in my moleskine journal. It might be a few names or situations I am praying for, an account of something that encouraged me, a worry or concern, a list of some things I am thankful for or sometimes I just copy a verse or two out that has spoken to me. One book called How to keep a spiritual journal is a great springboard to starting a journal.

7. Cultivate a habit: Covey told us all in the Seven habits that you can form a new practice in 30 days. Intentionality is the key which means implementing what Peck dubbed 'advance decision making'. Instead of spending time with God and his word being something you are really meaning to get around to doing why not make it something you just do. Day be day, week by week. You don't negotiate about brushing your teeth- you taught yourself the habit and because you do it your teeth haven't fallen out. Deciding to read the Bible will do the same for your soul. If you are new to Bible reading then try working through 30 days.

8. Remember Grace: Too many (most) apologise about 'quiet times' or their failure to enact something resembling one. Relax. Start all the stuff I have just written about with the gospel. You're chosen, you're loved, you're justified and saved by his intent not yours. And certainly not by your Bible reading. Rest in that. Abide. Remain in it and start from there. Once you see grace I pray you won't be able to put the Bible down. 

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