Today is the first day of 2017. And for many the time of reflecting on new years resolutions now becomes a reality and it is time to hit the ground running. There is a chance that some of you may have included Bible study or prayer in your resolutions. We are dedicating our exhortations in January to look at three main habits of grace – Bible study, prayer, and fellowship.
Today, we are going to focus on Bible study, and to be more specific, looking at Bible study in breadth and Bible study in depth.
I know that we are all coming at this with different attitudes and perspectives this morning. Some of you may feel a resurgence of energy and love kicking off new plans in January. Others may have felt that in years past but for some reason, you're in more of a suffering or trial season of life and are down. I remember starting a new reading plan in January 2005 as a newer disciple of Christ with college friends with excitement and lots of energy. I also remember starting a new reading plan in January 2013 just days before my son died. Because of the wide range of places everyone is at, I want to address this topic with seriousness and sober mindedness, and lay out some thoughts to encourage you to think about your Bible study habits in whatever mindset or attitude you have this morning. Bible study is a key ingredient in the Habits of Grace to help us persevere in our faith and to stoke the fires of our heart to treasure Jesus, whether in good times, or bad.
But why study the Bible?
- It contains the truth of Christ and the gospel
- It causes us to see our part in God’s story of redemption
- It is the source to unlocking questions about who God is and who we are
- It anchors us with convictions on how we want to live
- It is the authoritative power in our life that humbles us to confess our sins
- The Bible facilitates worship and communion with God
- The Bible meets us where we are - its alive, active, dynamic
- The Bible sets us free for joy
As Psalm 1 says, “Blessed, or happy is the person who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on the law, or the Scriptures day and night"
First, Bible study in breadth. This would include any Bible in a year reading plans. It's reading the Bible as a story that unfolds starting in Genesis. It’s very important as a believer not to see the Bible only as separate books, but see the Bible as a whole, as a metanarrative, a large story of God’s redemption of the world. Reading the Bible in a year can help us see this overarching story and how everything in the Bible goes together and is connected.
I've dabbled in many different variations of the Bible in a year plan. If you are interested in starting a plan today, I have a recommendation. I strongly recommend an APP called "Read Scripture" which is part of "The Bible Project". This product that they're developing is phenomenal. In the app they tell you what to read each day. Then, it links you to a video they've produced. They have made short, instructional videos to overview every book of the Bible and how it fits into the storyline of the Bible. You can watch these videos to help you as you go through each book in the reading plan. The videos are really helpful. It's so easy to get lost in the Old Testament so the videos in the app are really helpful. My daughter Lily is a huge fan, as am I.
Another recommendation I have for Bible intake in breadth is to use the Audible APP and buy an audio version of the Bible. My brother Charles recommended this to me when I was struggling to figure out Bible study time in the midst of craziness with work and parenting. This has been really helpful for me in the past year. I bought the NIV dramatized version and listen to it in the car, while I’m working out, while I’m walking, while I’m doing dishes.
Those are just some ideas for getting Bible intake in breadth.
Second, let's talk for a minute on Bible study in depth. This is taking a chunk of time, like a half hour to an hour, and zeroing in on a passage. So much to say here, but I will exhort you to consider one key feature of your Bible study in depth aspect of your life and that is to write down your thoughts. Putting your thoughts and reflections to paper is a powerful way to process through the depth of what you are learning. It then leads to personal reflections and thoughts on your heart and your life. I've learned that this writing as I study takes me deeper into God's word and it puts the emphasis on the word shaping me, not me shaping the word. It produces those joyful AH-HA moments. Some use a basic notebook to capture their thoughts. Others a fancy journal from Barnes & Noble. I like to use an app called Evernote. I have a notebook in that app for every book of the Bible and I start a new note every time I do a personal study on a passage.
The passage that has hit me lately on this topic of the word - as Jesus incarnate, the gospel word, and the written word - is James 1:21 "…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." Receive with meekness the implanted word of the gospel. A profound application here is to search your heart on how you to come to the Bible. Do you subconsciously tell the Bible what you think as you read it and subtly dismiss aspects of it? Or do you receive it humbly and let it shape you? So as you start afresh with Bible study in 2017, let's start afresh receiving the Bible humbly and journaling through what the passage means and how it applies to your life.
I know that life is crazy. I had a plan laid out a few weeks ago that I thought was going to last for a year, and it lasted a week. I nailed it for that week. My plan was to get to Bruegger's, have my coffee, and study my Bible from 6am till 7am. Why did it last only a week? Was it my will power? Nope. Life happened. Frannie's sleep routine changed and she started getting up at 6:15 again. So, I had to regroup and think through a new plan to figure out how to get in the word. The point is, life is unpredictable, but I exhort you to always be looking forward. Don’t day dream of days gone by of how you killed it years ago in your Quiet Times. Rather, always be looking forward and figure out what is your plan this week to get in Bible study time. And when that plan is messed up, change direction. Come up with a new plan. It's ok! I LOVE routines, and I LOVE plans, and I've had to learn to die to my routines and plans for the sake of persevering. Persevering to me doesn’t mean sticking it out with a specific detail of the plan. Rather persevering means, continuing on in Bible study in whatever way it looks.
And so it begins, January 2017. Let's take some time now to talk with God in a moment of silence to be honest about our difficulties at times with Bible study and ask him for help in 2017. Let's do that now.
Father God, your word is a lamp unto my feet. You word is life. And yet we confess that we often prefer the counsel of the wicked because it often sounds so good and easy and comfortable. We often trade the Truth of the Gospel message, the Truth of your Bible, for advice from the world. Help us to go to your word in 2017. Jesus, thank you for helping us and forgiving us as we stumble through this. In your name, Amen.