At least once a year I try to read a book on parenting. It deepens my understanding of the task to which God has called me. It also reminds me of truths I may have started to take for granted. One such truth, for example, is that I cannot give what I do not have.
In Deut. 6:5-7 Moses instructed the Israelites: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
The basic idea is that parents should teach their children God’s Word, and that they should use every opportunity to do so. Sounds simple enough, but did you notice how Moses introduced the command to teach? Before he deals with a parent’s ministry, he deals with a parent’s heart. The first command of the passage is that we should “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 4).
Jesus called this “the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:38). Here we have the first key to an authentic and enthusiastic witness: a genuine love for the Lord. We all have things that we are passionate about. I had a high school teacher who was passionate about cricket. It was a passion that we exploited if we didn’t want to have class. “Sir, what do you think of the Proteas’ chances at the world cup?” We’d sit back and listen as he waxed lyrical about his favourite players. He was positively effervescent in his enthusiasm for the game.
It is the love of God which compels us to share his gospel with others (2 Cor. 5:14). Sadly, we often find that Christians share their faith reluctantly. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they were ashamed of the gospel, as though it wasn’t “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). If we don’t love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might, we won’t be motivated to share his Word with others. You cannot give what you do not have.
How can I grow in my love for the Lord? That is where the second command of the passage comes in: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (v. 6). Our love for the Lord is deepened by our knowledge of him. Our love is a response to his love revealed in the Word and in his Son (1 John 4:19). For example, in Psalm 1:2 we are told of the blessedness of those whose “delight is in the law of the LORD” and meditates on it day and night. Similarly, David wrote: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11).
Have you ever joined a conversation only to realize that we have no idea what they are talking about? We stand there quietly, politely nodding our heads, but we’re just looking for an opportunity to leave. If we want to participate joyfully in Christian fellowship or share our faith effectively with family and friends, we must know what we are talking about. We cannot give what we do not have.
These are the fundamental requirements for an authentic, enthusiastic, and effective witness. We must love the Lord our God and his Word must be on our hearts. Only then are we equipped to share it with others.
Because of Christ,
On the 19th of February 1948 Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand was arrested on his way to church. His only crime was shepherding his flock and witnessing to others about his faith. He would spend 14 years in jail. His sole comfort, when all contact with family and friends was cut off, was the Word. Night after night he would console himself with verses stored away in his memory – something his communist captors could not take from him.
Stories like these illustrate the importance of memorizing Scripture. Here are five reasons every believer should memorize Scripture:
You may not live under the threat of persecution, but that does not diminish your need for God’s Word. Dallas Willard wrote: “As a pastor, teacher, and counsellor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture.” So, which passage will you memorize first?
Because of Christ,
Congratulations. If you started the Read Scripture plan on the first of January, you’ve already read through Genesis and you are almost midway through Exodus. You’ve also read about a fifth of the Psalms. This might not seem like much, but you are well on your way to reading the Bible through from beginning to end.
But what if you’ve lost some ground? What if you’ve struggled to keep up with the reading plan? You are not alone. I started the reading plan on the first of January, but this last week I’ve struggled to finish the assigned reading for each day. I made a point of reading each day, but I struggled to finish every chapter for each day. After two days I was behind. So what do you do?
Give up or catch up?
You could abandon the plan altogether. To give up or catch up, that is the question. I’d like to encourage you to catch up. There are a few ways you could do that. The first would be to set aside some time on Sunday to complete the chapters you’ve missed. This is one of the best uses for a Sunday afternoon. A cup of coffee, a comfortable chair and the Word of God... turn it into an event, instead of a chore.
Catching up does not necessarily mean that you have to read it all a single day. Another way to catch up is to increase the amount of chapters you read for a few days. Read two Psalms instead of one. Another way to do this would be to read in the morning and in the evening: take the first day’s reading in the morning and the second reading at night. Before you know it, you are back on track.
A third suggestion would be to use your “idle” moments. Standing in line at the bank, waiting for the car to be washed or for your doctor’s appointment... use these moments to read God’s Word instead of grabbing the nearest magazine or newspaper. Obviously this is not ideal: you don’t have a quiet, uninterrupted time in God’s Word. This cannot replace our dedicated time with God. But when we’ve fallen behind and we don’t want to lose touch with our reading plan entirely, these moments can be used to claw our way back.
When my plan becomes a tyrant
Doesn’t this make me a slave to a reading plan? Your reading plan can feel like a tyrant sometimes. There are days when discipline feels like duty or drudgery. However, discipline turns duty into delight – just give it time.
In 1 Cor. 9:27 the apostle Paul said: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control” (ESV). The term Paul used usually meant “to strike under the eye”. This is not gentle language. The NIV translates it as “I beat my body” and the NASB as “I buffet my body”. Paul wasn’t advocating violence against our bodies (that would contradict the rest of Scripture), but he was serious about keeping his body under control. Discipline is not always enjoyable, but it is necessary. Paul concludes the verse with these words: “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Discipline can feel tyrannical, but its purpose is not to torment. Like a dedicated trainer, discipline wants you to achieve your goals. What is the goal of our reading plan? We want to get to know God better.
From duty to delight
In 1960 Maxwell Maltz published a book in which he explained that habits take about 21 days to form.Every self-help book written since have focussed on this supposed magical number: 21 days. To be fair, Maltz did say that it took at least 21 days to form a new habit. There is no magical number. The reality is a little more complex than that.
Subsequent studies have found that forming new habits differs from person to person, and sometimes from habit to habit. On average a person takes about 66 days or two months to form a new habit. In a study by Phillippa Lally of the University College London it was discovered that some people can form new habits in as little as 18 days, but most took much longer. Some took up to 254 days to form the new habit.
What does this mean for our new habit of reading through the Bible? It means that Genesis and Exodus will be hard, Numbers and Leviticus may be a little harder, but somewhere between Deuteronomy and 1 Kings you’re discipline will start to pay off. Your new habit will have taken root. That new habit will not just benefit you for the rest of this year, but for the rest of your life as you seek to walk with God. 1 Timothy 4:7-8: “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Because of Christ,
Resolutions have been made – now is the time to keep them. By the grace of God and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we will read through the entire Bible together. Let’s get started.
As I mentioned on Sunday, the first step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make time. Setting aside time for reading the Bible means that we order our lives in such a way that Bible reading happens. For some, this means setting aside a set time in the evening. For others, it means setting aside time in the morning, before the day starts running away with you. For moms it might mean reading while Junior takes his nap.
Whatever your situation, look for a set time during the day where you have some measure of peace and quiet. If you can find such a time, make such a time. Get to bed 30 minutes earlier and get up 30 minutes earlier. Make time.
Stick to the Plan
The second step to ensuring that the Word of God is a daily part of your life, is to make a plan and stick to the plan. A reading plan helps you move through the Bible in a meaningful and orderly way. It takes us to passages we might choose to skip and prevents us from getting stuck on passages we prefer. Reading the whole Bible in a year gives you a great “bird’s eye view” of Scripture. It immerses you in the world and vocabulary of the Bible. There are a number of reading plans out there – you may even find one printed in the back of your Bible.
This year I’m going to follow the Bible Project Reading plan. It takes you through the Old and New Testament in a more or less chronological way. It includes a Psalm for every day, which is not only great to read, but also great fuel for prayer. I’ve also chosen this plan because it includes a series of videos which introduces each book. There are also a few videos that cover important topics you’ll encounter, such as Atonement or Holiness. This helps bring your Bible reading to life in a way that keeps the plan interesting and keeps you motivated. You can use the “Read Scripture” app (available on IOS and Android). The videos can be watched in the app, on the Bible Project website (www.thebibleproject.com) or on Youtube.
Once you’ve read the section of Scripture for the day, take a few minutes to consider these questions:
It helps to keep a diary, but it isn’t essential. One piece of advice with diaries: don’t try to write a commentary! A few lines, key words or verses that moved you should be enough.
May the Lord bless you as you seek Him daily in his Word.
Because of Christ,