Spiritual Disciplines: Bible Intake

We kick off our reading of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life together this week by turning our time and attention to the topic of Bible Intake. If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, you can read about it here: Will You Read Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life With Me? Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of Spiritual Disciplines and shared some of my history with them briefly. In that post, we discovered that Spiritual Disciplines are practices found in God’s word that help cultivate Christlike joy and character within us. We also saw that God uses people, events, and discipline to change us; the latter being the only one we have control over.

There is a danger in this stuff. We must remember that we are to engage in the Spiritual Disciplines out of delight, not duty. Otherwise, they can become a burden that weighs us down or shackles that bind our limbs. At every turn, we must keep the goal of Christlikeness fixed before us! In short, we must beware of drudgery.

Summary

Bible intake is about more than reading it. It is a wheel with many spokes, which include hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating. Each of these sub disciplines works in tandem with the others to move the believer into closer intimacy with God. Let me explain.

Hearing - This is the easiest of the disciplines related to the intake of God’s Word. It requires the least effort of us, but delivers something far greater—God’s word faithfully preached. “Disciplining ourselves to hear God’s word,” Whitney said, “means primarily developing the practice of steadfastly attending a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is faithfully preached.” There are additional methods to hearing God’s word, which can include everything from reading it aloud to listening to the radio or a podcast. The important principle to walk away with is a commitment to hearing God’s Word.

Reading - Jesus expected those claiming to be the people of God would have read the Word of God. We see it over and over again throughout the gospels. Sadly, studies have shown only 18% of Christians read the Bible daily. “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ,” Whitney said, “discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Schedule ten minutes at the start of your day to read through a passage or even a single verse of Scripture. Start filling your mind with it daily. “God promises that those who read and heed His Word will be blessed.” Whitney said, “But only those who discipline themselves to do so will receive those blessings” Remember that our goal is Christlikeness however, many a man—myself included— has turned this life giving practice into one of toil and strife. Be on guard, and fix your end in mind each time you open your Bible.

Studying - The discipline of studying God’s Word, “takes you beneath the surface of Scripture,” Whitney said, “for an unhurried look of clarity and detail that’s normally missed by those who simply read the text.” This is my favorite discipline, I must confess. While I enjoy reading through God’s Word each day, I love slowing down to chew on it even more. To study Scripture is to immerse yourself in a single passage, idea or book for a period of time, that you might glean a deeper understanding of it. Don’t be intimidated to start. A pen and paper are all you need. Write down what stands out to you as your read, and questions you have. There are a million resources to help you study God’s Word in-depth. “Don’t settle only for spiritual food,” Whitney said, “that’s been ‘predigested’ by others.”

Memorizing - Hearing, reading and studying God’s Word is great, but they aren’t usually sufficient for remembering what you’ve learned. For that, you’ll need to apply yourself to memorizing God’s Word. This is where all the spokes on the Bible Intake wheel, start coming together. Memorizing Scripture, helps you not only remember what you’ve read but have access to it at just the right moment. “When Scripture is stored in your mind,” Whitney said, “ it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” The Spirit can’t call it to mind in your time of need if you haven’t memorized it. This is your best tool in the fight against temptation. Memorizing God’s Word also strengthens our faith, by reminding us of truth and gives us words of encouragement to share with others. “Until the verses are hidden in the heart,” Whitney said, “they aren’t available to use with the mouth.”

Meditating - “Let’s define meditation,” Whitney said, “as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture, or upon life from a spiritual perspective, for the purposes of understanding, application and prayer.” I hadn’t given much thought to the discipline of meditation prior to reading this chapter for the first time. I engaged in many of the meditation practices Whitney mentions without realizing it. This chapter challenged me to start intentionally letting God’s Word brew in my brain. The practice of meditation found in Scripture isn’t an emptying of the mind, but a filling of the mind with truth. “Hearing and reading the Bible is the exposure to Scripture—that’s needful, but it’s only the starting place.” Whitney said, “After the exposure to Scripture we need to absorb it. Meditation is the absorption of Scripture. And it’s the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience of God and the transformation of life we long for when we come to the Bible.”

The overriding principle of these two chapters is this: “If you want to be changed, if you want to become more like Jesus Christ, discipline yourself to read the Bible.” Are we disciplined in the ways we seek God’s Word? Do we use these five spokes to fill our hearts and minds with the very words of God? Becoming a doer of the Word comes through meditation upon it. The general rule, then, in your personal, daily intake of Scripture is to both read and meditate.

Reflection

I’ve read and listened to many talks on the topic Bible intake. Few have reached my heart in as convicting and convincing a fashion as these two chapters from Whitney. Being shaped and changed by God’s Word is a far more active endeavor on our part than is usually encouraged. It seems most Christians barely drink at the well of reading the Bible, let alone investing the energy and time it takes to actively engage with it. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times—no one escapes failure in this regard.

Whitney says that growth in Godliness starts with the disciplined intake of Scripture. It is the lifeblood that runs through all other Spiritual Disciplines. If we would grow in Godliness, we need to apply ourselves to this task. Let me then leave you with the words of John Blanchard:

“Surely we only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face problems, temptation, and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and greater encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear his voice, feel his touch, know his power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day! As the American evangelist D.L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

Next Week

We will continue with the next chapter (chapter four) of the book next Sunday. We have only begun, so there is plenty of time to get the book and join in.

Your Turn

I’d like to hear what stood out to you in these two chapters. Please feel free to post your reflections, and thoughts in the comment section below. If you have shared your thoughts on your own blog, please link to it as well. Do not feel the need to be profound or to share something new. Share what caught your eye, or stirred your heart as you read.

3 Features That Make Olive Tree The Best Bible Study App I've Found

How I study God’s word has changed through the years. For the longest time, it involved a hardback Bible, a journal, and a pen. I started using the Olive Tree Bible Study App as my primary study tool little over a year ago. Each morning I pull out my iPad, click on the little green app and off I go. Over that time several features have improved my learning of God’s word. I’d like to three of them with you.  

Create Notes To Capture What You’re Learning

Olive Tree allows you to create notes and pin them to specific verses. This feature has transformed how I study God’s word and is by far my favorite component of the Olive Tree app. I have immediate and uninterrupted access to all I’ve learned about God’s Word as I dive in and out of conversations throughout each day. If I read something that provides a special insight into a topic or passage I add it to a note. This one feature allows me access information and organizes my learning in a whole new way.

Highlighting Important Verses

One of the primary ways I study the Bible involves marking up the text. Utilizing different colors can be helpful as it allows you to see things at a glance. Every passage of scripture is teaching us something different. Making up each passage are groupings of verses with individual meanings and purposes. Some might be promises, others warnings, and so forth. The Olive Tree Bible Study App not only allows me to highlight these things in various colors but also recall them by color. For example, I can sort by purple and pull up all the promises I’ve highlighted in the Bible. Here is the highlighting key I use:
    
Purple = Promises
Green = Commands
Yellow = Noteworthy
Red = Things to avoid or guard against
Blue = Things of heaven or to imitate

Access Study Resources Within The App

Sometimes you need a little help understanding a passage or more information and context while studying. In these moments outside resources are helpful. This is where the strength of the Olive Tree app shines. You can access to different translations as well as hundreds of other resources including commentaries, maps, and dictionaries without leaving the app. You can even pull up the text and a study resource side by side in a split window. I love being able to immediately access tools that help me better understand a given passage. The Olive Tree resource library has been a real game changer.

Final Take

This is the best bible study tool I’ve found. You get so many features and benefits that you have a hard time believing it’s free. I use it each day and can’t imagine ever changing to a different app. It is simple, straightforward and powerful. The Olive Tree Bible Study app has transformed how I study and interact with God’s word and I couldn’t be more grateful. If you’re looking for a bible study app to help you learn more of the Bible, give this one a shot.  

 

 

Marching Into The Unknown

You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a powerhouse duo exchanging witty banter wrapped in an Affair To Remember esk story. At least once each year, I beg Hannah to let me dig it out and throw it in the ol’ DVD player. Every time, is almost like the first time all over again. Isn’t it that way with our favorites? No matter how many times we’ve seen them, we never get tired of them. As I sat down to write this morning, it popped into my mind. Scene after scene, line after line. In fact, I’m replaying the scene about the Godfather in my head as I type. Greatness!   

As I sat here replaying it in my head, another scene came to mind. Less funny, more serious, yet something I find immensely helpful in this season of life. Midway through the film, Meg Ryan and a character named Birdie have lunch. Meg Ryan’s character has just made the decision to close her charming little bookstore. In the exchange, Birdie issues a series of lines that have stuck with me. They hit me each and every year.

“You are daring to imagine,” Birdie says, “that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn't feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you're not. You are marching into the unknown armed with...Nothing. Have a sandwich.”

Everything about those lines is lovely. Meg Ryan’s character is feeling low because the business her mother built and left to her, is closing. In the midst of this deep pain, Birdie reminds her of the immense bravery it takes to face the unknown, to do the thing you find particularly hard and difficult.

I feel Hannah and I are marching into the unknown ourselves. In just a few short days, our first son will arrive. Talk about a life changer. Our whole world is about to be upended, in a good way. While we’ve done everything we can think of to prepare, there remains a great deal we are unaware of.

I’m freaking out inside. There are so many questions swirling around in my head, that it hurts. How little sleep is in my future? How will that stress impact our marriage? Do we have enough diapers? Is there anything I’m forgetting? Do we have everything we need for the nursery? Will I drop him? Will we be good parents? What will this new adventure bring into our lives? So many questions, so little answers.

How do you prepare for unknown situations, when you’re freaked out and haven’t a clue what to expect? I’ve thought about that question and a hundred like it. They’ve kept me up at night, and haunted my dreams. They’ve followed me around and lived with me for months on end. Today, I’d like to share with you the result, and how we are preparing to face the unknown once more.

The truth is, this isn’t the first time we’ve “marched into the unknown” and it certainly won’t be the last. We’ve walked this path before, and so have you. Facing situations, events and circumstances you aren’t entirely sure of, is as common as it gets. You don’t know the future, and as a result everything comes with a side of doubt and uncertainty.

Your level of uncertainty changes minute by minute, day by day. While uncertain of every aspect of most situations, you have a reasonable expectation for how it will go. You’ve had similar experiences before and have formed some idea of what most things on your calendar will look like. Other events however, throw massive amounts of uncertainty your way. The more that stands to change in your life, the more unknowns you have to be stressed over. Whether something big or small, the uncertainty is headed your way.

Abide with Christ

Don’t allow uncertainty and stress to threaten your world, and hold you captive. The surest way I know to throw off the heavy yoke the things of this world attempt to lay upon me is to look to Jesus. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Abiding with Christ is the only path to peace in this life, and joy everlasting. One mark of walking with Him is peace in the midst of chaos. You have no need to worry, because you know who’s in control. There is never a moment in your life, during which the Lord wants you to worry. To worry is sin. It communicates your concern that God might get things wrong and that if you just had control things would turn out alright. How often does this pattern play out? How many of the things you’ve prayed the Lord would spare you from, are the very things that ended up shaping who you are the most?

Abiding with Christ involves spending time with His word and doing what it says. Abiding and obedience are inextricably linked, so what does God’s word tell us to do, with our anxiety and fear?   

Pray

“Don’t be anxious in anything,” Paul said, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry, anxiety and stress are heavy burdens you just don’t have to carry. Cast them off and let Christ deal with it. What keeps us up and costs us sleep, makes Him laugh. He is not worried and He has it under control. Lay your burdens down at the feet of Jesus in prayer because He cares for you. While the burden may be too much for you to bear, it’s not too much for Him. Let Him carry it.

Prayer is a powerful tool God has given you to fight the stress and anxiety uncertainty sends your way. Lay it all out there. "Tell God all that is in your heart,” Francois Fenelon said, “as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability. Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself as to others."

God can do something about what’s troubling you and He wants to. What you have in Him is a loving father. Loving fathers are concerned with what’s keeping their kids up at night and want to alleviate their burdens. The Lord is no different. Put it all out there in very real, and raw terms. He loves you and wants to hear what’s on your heart.  

Focus On Truth

“The most important battle you will ever fight,” Todd Wagner said, “is the battle for your mind and the most important weapon in this fight is truth.” Your mind is flooded with a million different thoughts each day, and not all of them are good, helpful or even true. What you do with each of those thoughts will determine everything.

You have to train yourself to think rightly in all circumstances by constantly reminding yourself of what’s true. You facedown what you don’t know by focusing on what you do. You may not know exactly what the future holds, but you can know who holds it. Fix your gaze on Him.

Consistent time in God’s word is the only way this happens. There’s just no way around it. No matter how many times you hear it, daily time in the Bible is the lifeblood of the Christian life. It offers practical and helpful instruction for every aspect of life, especially when staring down anxiety, but most importantly the Bible connects you with the author of life Himself.  

“Finally, brothers,” Paul said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Releasing your anxiety is only half the battle, you have to embrace truth in its place. Focus on what is true, honorable, pure and more. This is how you transform your mind, so that you know how to respond rightly no matter what comes your way.

Seek The Wisdom of Others

“The physical presence,” Bonhoeffer said, “of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” The Lord has been incredibly kind to you in that He has made you a part of the body of Christ. Within the body are countless men and women who have walked your steps before. What is uncertain to you, may not be to someone else. Ask good questions, seek counsel and wisdom, and avail yourself to the wisdom of others.  

The input and experience of your fellow believers can help alleviate a great deal of stress. Their insights can be huge. Go find someone who's walked the path you’re headed down. Regardless what the road ahead looks like, you can face it. Lock arms with other believers and wade into ambivalent seas ready to tackle what comes together. Remember that we is stronger than me. You don’t have to go it alone.