This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Teen-Aged Aimlessness

Though saved as a young teen, I never read the Bible faithfully on my own until my second year of college. As a result, I didn’t grow much as a Christian. I didn’t profit from any private interaction with the Word of God; even in public settings like church, I was rarely convicted or challenged. I don’t remember making any significant decisions during those years. I sang hymns rather mindlessly, and my favorites were based on melody rather than message. I read voraciously, but only fiction and Christian romance, with an occasional biography thrown in. Life was mostly about having fun (and working hard in school). My discussions about spiritual things, when I had them, were to argue about inconsequential issues or to demonstrate my Bible knowledge. I rarely thought about the Bible outside of church.

I guess I thought that was normal, but when I got to college, I began to see Christians my own age who were different. I saw students who prayed and who talked about spiritual things. They shared Bible verses with each other and things God was teaching them. They sang like they meant it. They talked about service they had done for God. In my mind, they were weird. I considered them to be super-spiritual. Because this type of person was so unusual to me, I doubted their sincerity. Were these people for real? Did they really mean the things they said? I didn’t understand them, and sometimes they actually annoyed me. These people had obviously started climbing spiritually sooner than I had, and they were far enough ahead of me that they didn’t even make sense or seem reasonable to me.

So why hadn’t I started sooner? Why had I not spent time alone in the Word? It wasn’t because I didn’t know I was supposed to. I heard more than one message both at church and at my Christian school about the need to read the Bible on a personal level. I knew that good Christians read the Bible every day. In fact, at times it seems I was bombarded with that theme: Have your devotions. A few times I even attempted it. I don’t know that I ever tried because of a strong passion. Maybe after a particular sermon, “everyone” was responding with new resolve, and I joined the excitement. Maybe it was partly my inclination to conform to expectations. I felt guilty about not doing something I was supposed to do.

On the few occasions when I did resolve to read the Bible daily, my attempts usually didn’t last more than a few days. I think my longest attempt lasted less than two weeks. Why didn’t I keep it up? In short, I lacked vision. I didn’t understand what time in the Bible could be. My goal was to establish a habit so that I would automatically read the Bible every day, just like a good Christian should. So if I missed a single day, I had failed already; being successful would require starting all over. My objective was faithfulness in the activity; Bible reading was a Christian task to check off, rather than an opportunity for spiritual profit. I don’t think anyone ever helped me to understand the real benefit of devotions. I was just told that I was supposed to do it.

There was something more damaging, however. The Word of God is powerful, and had I ever continued reading faithfully, I would have discovered the benefit on my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with it because I didn’t see benefit, and I didn’t see benefit because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me how to read the Bible. The only thing I knew to do was to read a chapter every day; if I was in a hurry, I could read less than a chapter, but that was kind of cheating. On a really bad day, I could read a single verse and appease my conscience that I had at least done something to check off my duty. The sad reality was that a single verse could take as little as a few seconds, and I could speed read even an entire chapter in a minute or two.

Reading under these conditions, it’s no wonder that I didn’t grow or see the value of time in the Word. I was reading without comprehension, without direction, and without purpose. With such shallow input and unsatisfying results, it’s not surprising that I never remained faithful. I viewed my devotional time as profitless and, with my methods, I guess it was. I wasn’t gaining anything because I had no tools or procedures to help me learn.

My experience, which mimics that of many others, presents the problem. What is the solution? Learning how to profit from the Bible is a life-long pursuit that could fill many printed volumes. Future posts will explore more in-depth ideas, but for now, let’s examine a few simple tips that can take Bible reading from profitless to meaningful.

Read with comprehension. Speed reading is not allowed. It’s better to read one verse and know what it says than to skim over an entire chapter. Read slowly and thoroughly enough that you can summarize the passage or restate it in your own words.

Read with direction. Do something consistent. Don’t bounce around from day to day, reading randomly from wherever your Bible happens to fall open. Work systematically through a book of the Bible, a section of Scripture, or a particular topic.

Read with purpose. If you look for nothing when you read, you will probably find it - so look for something when you read. The questions below can help to guide your reading. Choose one or perhaps two of these questions, and use them as a guide. This practice can help you learn to read the Bible in a profitable way that will encourage faithful reading.
·         Why did God put this passage in the Bible? What is it supposed to teach?
·         How can I summarize this passage in one to three sentences?
·         What does this passage teach me about God?
·         What things can I pray based on this passage?
·         How should this passage impact my life?

Next weekend’s post will demonstrate answering these questions based on Psalm 23.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.” Psalm 119:18 (NASB)

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