Guard your heart

Your heart is filled with many desires. 

Desires yearning and pleading to be fulfilled. 

Desires for food, drink and a hundred other things.

Not all of your desires are good, however. 

Some of them are dark, twisted and evil. 

Which is why you must stay on guard and sift those desires like wheat. 

Not all of the desires of your heart need find fulfillment. 

Many of them must be shattered, broken and defeated. 

Knowing the difference is the key to a happy and joyful life. 

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.

Look To Christ Not Self-Discipline

The default position of the human heart is set towards earning. We assume that we must work and work and work to achieve absolutely everything, including God’s praise. 

“We all automatically gravitate toward the assumption that we are justified by our level of sanctification…We start each day with our personal security resting not on the accepting love of God and the sacrifice of Christ but on our present feelings or recent achievements in [religion]. Since these arguments will not quiet the human conscience, we are inevitably moved…to a self-righteousness which falsifies the record to achieve a sense of peace.” —Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life

Hit pause for a moment before heading out the door to worship or whatever it is on your calendar this day. Look at your heart and life. Consider its defaults position and ask yourself examining questions. Questions like, “Do I place too much stock in my own self-discipline?” Or, “Have I come to believe that I am saved by my own efforts and will?” Better still, “If someone were to look at my life, would they conclude the same?” 

I struggle and fall into this trap far too often. I can allow how I am doing and how disciplined I am to become the measure of my relationship with God. I feel close and pleasing to Him when I am doing well; and distant and displeasing when I fall short. 

Neither of those things is true. My standing before God does not change regardless of how early I get up, how much time I spend reading the Bible, or how I pray. It also does not shift or change when I choose to sin. 

Right behavior and discipline are not the foundation of our relationship with God. Christ’s is. He measured up in every way we fall short and more.  

Look to Christ for security instead of at your subjective performance. It’s a far more stable foundation. It will not fail.