Happy 2013! New year, new resolutions…. right? A time to reflect on the year behind us and look forward to the year ahead of us. Honestly, I love this time of year. I love to contemplate, pray, thank God for His faithfulness, repent, ask God for vision, set goals, make commitments, etc. New beginnings are wonderful and given by God for a reason (see Ecc. 3). Perhaps you will set goals & make resolutions for 2013 (or at least read somewhere that you should). I think it’s healthy if in humility & love for the Lord. For many of us, our resolutions will revolving around our health: “balanced eating”; “exercise more”; “weight reduction”; or, get into our society’s latest diet phenomenon “only eat meat between 7-8:20am then only eat vegetables until 2:17pm and then switch to chewing on raw wheat until midnight” (or something like that).
With everyone else in society recommending resolutions to you, I’d like to offer one myself as your pastor and friend. Consider it a 2013 Diet Recommendation. It is for the good of your daily health. Not just physical, but spiritual. I encourage you this year to prioritize seeing that your soul is healthy and fed….. every single day. Your size can be slimmer, your arms firmer, and your looks better….. but if your soul is not alive & healthy in God, what does it matter? “For the Lord sees not as man sees: Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) Jesus says: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt. 16:26) Our soul’s true home is in God. Our soul’s were created to dwell there, to find rest there, to find strength there, to find purpose there. God is our source of life. Apart from Him, we can do nothing and have nothing (see John 15). We all want to be happy. True happiness is found in Him. In every season, circumstance, and decision, we should desire the best. The best is Him.
So how do we spend time with Him? Jesus told the woman at the well that true worship is found in spirit and in truth.
God’s Word is true nutrition for our souls. Can you imagine only eating food and drinking water one day a week? Let’s say that every Sunday you went to eat at an all you can eat buffet and ate your fill. But then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday you ate nothing. You could perhaps make it through Monday with energy to sustain you. But, you probably would struggle to function the rest of the week. Why? Your body was made to eat food and drink water. This is modus operandi. Now, in the same way, our souls are made to find nutrition in God. Jesus says that we were not meant to live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4). He says that He alone is our true food and true drink, that finding our daily nutrition and home in Him will lead us to eternal life (see John 6:41-58). The psalmist says to God: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103). [I encourage you to read Psalm 119 and make a list of the awesome benefits of the Word of God.]
If we understand why we would struggle physically to survive only eating or drinking once a week, we should understand why we would struggle spiritually if our only spiritual intake is on Sundays. We were made for daily, constant relationship with God. Our souls need daily nutrition from His Word and His Spirit. When we do this, God promises we will be like a tree by a river who’s roots go deep into the life-giving stream of water and grows healthy, strong, happy, and fruitful (see Psalm 1). I believe you want to be all of these in 2013.
Honestly, I know of no better goal for you than to say: “I will enjoy time with God being fed by His Spirit & the feast of His Word every day. I will see to it that my soul finds daily nutrition, life and health in God.”
You can prayerfully make that your goal and commitment out of desire for more intimate relationship with God. I hope you will today and every day of this new year. Tell God you want Him, deeper relationship with Him, to hear from Him in His Word, to receive from Him through His Spirit.
Now, how can you do this practically? I believe most of you will read this and desire to spend daily time in God’s Word. But how do you do this? As with most resolutions, we must have both desire and discipline for initial commitment to find lasting change. As Paul tells Timothy, we must train ourselves for godliness. This involves hard work, sweat, and discipline (as with anything you want to pursue). Personally, I have found great joy in the discipline of reading God’s Word, setting myself to meditate on it day and night. It is not a burden or chore, but a joy.
If you’re like me, you may need some practical help. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of practices and resources that you can use yourself in 2013. As you work and commit yourself afresh to God’s Word, I encourage you to remember one thing: hearing from the Lord in His Word is totally dependent on His Spirit (see Mt. 13:13-16, 1 Cor 2:1-10, John 14:15-31). If you desire God, pursue the discipline of time in God’s Word, and live in dependence upon the Spirit, you will discover the joy of daily “soul food” this year.
1. Bible Reading Plans. I have found the use of daily Bible reading plans and devotionals a great aid in my personal spiritual journey. Actually, I still use a daily reading plan for personal study and time with God. Most of them are available online or through your smartphone. Set them as a bookmark. Sign-up for their daily emails. Tell the app you want a daily reminder. A few I recommend:
- YouVersion smartphone app (available in most app stores for most phones). Create a free account, then easily search and sign up for whole Bible plans, partial plans, New Testament plans, etc. Automatically tracks your progress and will update you daily. Need some help picking? I recommend and follow the M’Cheyne One Year Reading Plan (OT once, NT twice, Psalms twice).
- ESV Reading Plans (available in multiple formats: RSS, print, mobile, iCal, email). Check out the ESV Study Bible Plan – allows you to read a portion of history, prophets, psalms/proverbs, and NT every day). See also the Chronological Plan – takes you through the Bible in one year in the order of which it is written.
- Discipleship Journal Reading Plan (an easily printed format, plan allows for five make-up days each month to catch-up on readings that were missed).
- Important Note: When reading, it is more important to focus on the quality of your time spent with God (receiving His spiritual food) than the quantity of verses or books you read. While I think we should aim to receive the whole counsel of God, our first aim must be to grow in relationship with God.
2. Journaling. I have found it very helpful to journal while reading and studying God’s Word. There is something about the act of journaling that allows you to move from information to observation to application, then personalization. A sample of my journaling process:
- Reading a line in Scripture like “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious” (Ex. 34) in daily reading gives me pause to stop and begin a journal process. It may begin with listing the characteristics of God: the Lord, merciful, gracious. Then, it moves to deeper meditation and writing: “God is Lord, which means He is sovereign, master, ruler over all things. There is no one above Him. God is merciful which means He does not give us what is deserved. He is slow to anger for our good. God is gracious, giving more than is merited.” Finally, it moves to application and personalization: God, thank you for being Lord of all. You are my rock. Because you are Lord, I can trust you and find strength in you. I will believe you are in control and give you control in my life today. With the decisions I am facing, I know you are the one with the answers I need. I submit myself to you. Thank you for being our King.” This process continues as you read through the Scriptures, helping you remember that your goal is not academic information but Spirit-filled hearing and personal application.
- (A note to men: It does not diminish your manhood to journal what you are learning and hearing from God. In fact, I would suggest this is perhaps one of the most manly things you could do. Real men love Jesus and live in dependency on Him. I got over our U.S. stereotype of journaling as a “girl’s hobby.” You can too. But please don’t use one with a “Hello Kitty” cover, OK?).
- Click here for list of Amazon’s Bible journaling resources.
3. Devotional Books. If you are looking for some encouragement and commentary on the Scriptures, there is nothing wrong with picking up a good devotional book. Many of these books are written to help you process and personalize (think deeply on) God’s Word. The key: You want a book that will SUPPLEMENT your Scripture reading (not replace it). You still want to spend time hearing from God directly from His Word and Spirit.
- Two good devotional books:
- “For the Love of God” by D.A. Carson (a preview is available here)
- “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers
4. Study Bibles. I have found study Bibles a great resource to my personal study of God’s Word. Study Bibles are aimed to help you fully understand the Scriptures. While I believe you can hear from God with simply His plain Word and His Spirit, I also believe these resources can and should be utilized for our greater understanding of God’s Word. In a study Bible, you’ll get the author, historical setting, key themes, key people, etc of every book. Complex words or phrases are explained. Short commentary is offered. Charts, graphs, maps, and illustrations help you visualize descriptions, significance, narrative, or setting. Cross-references to other passages of similar Scripture abound. If you are serious about digging into the awesome riches of God’s Word, I recommend investing in a Study Bible. They are assembled by teams of pastors and scholars and can be trusted. Some good ones are below:
5. Personal Bible Study Methods. There are many helpful methods for personal Bible study that can be learned and applied in daily time in God’s Word. These methods are meant to help you dig deep into the Scriptures in systematic, Spirit-filled, and life-changing ways. Some good methods:
- S.O.A.P. Study – Scripture reading, Observation, Application, Personalization. Very simple but very helpful. I recommended this process above when journaling.
- Precept Inductive Bible Study Method. If you are comfortable marking your Bible and invested in serious study of God’s Word, I recommend this method. I have used it personally and am always blessed. A PDF summary of the method can be downloaded here.
- Wade Akins’ “How to Hear from God” method (included in his book Pioneer Evangelism). Wade is a personal mentor and friend, one of the missionaries we happily support at ICC. His method for Bible Study is simple and wonderful.
6. Accountability / Small Groups. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of living in community with other believers. We were not meant to live life or grow in our relationship with God isolated in a vacuum. God wants to encourage you, teach you, strengthen you, and speak through you others…..all through community. I encourage you to tell someone else that you are committing to spend time in God’s Word this year. Tell them of your commitment too and ask them for prayer, encouragement, and accountability. Give them permission to ask you what God is showing you and teaching you, how He is feeding you.
- Important Note: You need to intentionally seek others to hold you accountable. Don’t assume they will know they are your chosen accountability just because you mention to them you’re reading the Bible this year. No – ask them what you want from them. Give them permission to follow-up with you, to ask you questions, to keep you accountable. Set a time and place to check-in with each other weekly or monthly, however you choose.
- Second Important Note: The WRONG question is ask in accountability is: “Did you read….”? Honestly, this is quite annoying and discouraging to hear when you haven’t read. Save that kind of questioning for their parents. The RIGHT question to ask in accountability is: “Tell me what God is teaching you this week in His Word….” or “How is God growing you and stretching you as you’ve been spending time with Him?” This is much more encouraging and invites deeper conversation and response.
7. Bible Memorization. ” It’s hard to cook when you don’t have anything in the pantry!” In the same way, it’s hard to meditate on the Word of God (call it to mind, chew on it) when you don’t have it stored away in your heart! One of the greatest disciplines you could pursue this year would be to memorize the Word of God each day or week. Your brain has more capacity and capability than you give it credit for. In fact, God made it to handle His Word. Put it to good use and “hide God’s word in your heart” (Ps. 119). You’ll be so glad you did! Some practical helps:
- Fighter Verses – a printable set of verses (in bookmark form) for the year!
- Tips for Memorization
- Bible Memory iPhone App
I pray God will richly satisfy your soul through His Spirit as you give yourself to feast on the abundance of His Word this year! Please feel free to post a comment if you have any other methods you’d like to recommend or share.
Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”