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.

You Should Try A Story Night With Your Family

Rachel stood by the Audi watching Raylan, Raylan the show. Watching him facing Coover holding the bright-metal piece at his leg. Watched Coover swing the rat by the tail and let it go and saw it coming at her to land on the hood of the Audi. Rachel didn't move. Raylan didn't either, didn't glance around. 
But said, "Coover, you throw a dead rat at my car. What're you trying to tell me?" 
Rachel unsnapped the holster riding on her hip. 
Coover said, "Take it any way you want, long as you know I'm serious." 
"You're telling me you're one mean son of a bitch," Raylan said to his face. "You know how many wanted felons have given me that look? I say a thousand I know I'm low. Some turn ugly as I snap on the cuffs; they're too late. Some others, I swear, even try to draw down on me. All I'm asking, how'd you come to take Angel's kidneys?"

 
The world of Elmore Leonard is as rich in characters and story as it is witty dialogue. I settled on this classic from his novel Raylan because I read it in January. You may be familiar with it because FX created the TV series called Justified based on his main character, Raylan Givens. 

Leonard was a master at dialogue. He had a way of making you forget you were reading. It's easy to spend three hours turning pages right in the middle of the action without noticing.  

Good writing does that to you. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. I haven't particularly enjoyed reading fiction for most of my life. I considered myself far too serious a person to waste my time on silly fiction. 

Then at the tender age of twenty-eight Lee Child and his iconic character, Jack Reacher came into my life. Here was a larger than life character that reminded me of my uncle George, right down to the former Army MP background. It grabbed me by the throat and pulled me into the world I'd long abandoned. 

I read over 30 fiction books that year. I was back in the fiction reading business. I've sought to make up for lost time since turning the page on my first Reacher novel two years ago. From The Hobbit to Harry Potter I've been swimming in the seas of tall tales and loving every second of it. It's brought color and light to my reading life, where once were only the dreary shadows of the real world. 

It's all about storytelling for me. I enjoy getting lost in the sights, sounds, and memories of another. Be it a novel, short story or fireside chat, storytelling is a tradition we've lost touch with over the years. 

How often to we gather around the living room for no other purpose but the telling of stories? We're usually talking over one another and half listening as we go. That's why I'm especially grateful for a tradition Hannah's family started this past year called Story Night. 

It's exactly what you're picturing. After dinner, we'll gather around with coffee, water or hot tea and take turns telling tales. This isn't the free for all you're most likely picturing. It's an ordered process designed to help us learn to not simply to tell good stories, but to listen.  

Here are the ground rules: 

1.) Participation is voluntary - If someone doesn't want to share a story, they're welcome to skip doing so.  
2.) The speaker has the floor - Whoever is talking has the floor, no exceptions. They have 5-10 mins of uninterrupted time to share their story. It can be a story they've prepared, a song, or a tale from their childhood. What matters is that while they are talking, no one else may jump in. 
3.) Questions are welcome - After the storyteller has completed their turn, others in the room can ask as many questions as they want. Sometimes this time is even better than the stories. You get to hear all the behind the details on how they chose their topic and why. 
 
Story Night is one of my favorite nights. Sometimes I read something I've written and other times I don't prepare anything at all. It's a beautiful tradition full of fun, and laughter that I can't get enough of.   

Hard Conversations

We live in a broken, fallen world full of strife, difficulty and disagreement. We don't always get along with or agree with those around us. Maybe someone has done something that has hurt you financially, emotionally, or otherwise. You might feel bitter and you might be wounded, but things don't have to stay that way. 

Often the conversations you most dread are the ones you most need to have. There is something deep down inside us that knows exactly what we need to do. That feeling of dread or fear may not mean what you have always thought. Those knots in your stomach might not be telling you to run, but just might be confirming what you need to do. Whatever conversation has you scared, run towards it. Sure things could blow up in your face and go badly, but being willing to lean in and engage in tough conversations just might lead to outcomes you've only dreamed of.   

Tough conversations don't have to be negative or destructive. It can actually serve as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships and help you grow as an individual. If for no other reason, lean in and engage those you most fear. It has the potential to completely change everything. If you think about it in these terms, those tough conversations all of a sudden get a whole lot easier. 

Ok, you know you need to have a tough conversation but you aren't sure how. Here are a few quick hits that can help you master the art of the difficult conversation. 

Prepare your heart. This is the most challenging part of any difficult interchange. Before going to the other person pause and take a look at yourself. Search your own attitudes, words and actions. Many times you'll find that you've contributed far more to the relational strife your experiencing than you previously realized. Taking a swim in your own stuff will better prepare you to talk to someone else about theirs.

Be humble. humility looks good on you..jpg

Plan out what you will say. Scripting your conversation may be impractical however, it is extremely helpful to spend some time processing not only what you will say but how you will say it. While the content of your message is important, method and tone are even more so. A helpful way to address tone and method is by how you would like to be confronted. One golden rule that won't steer you wrong is to be humble. A humble attitude smooths over a lot more than you realize.