Beloved in Christ,
What does it mean to practice an ordered spiritual life that is centered on God’s word? That’s the question I would like to turn to this month, building on the ideas that we began to consider in last month’s letter. Very simply put, this kind of life means to be in the regular habit of reading (or hearing) the scriptures, trusting that they are in fact a means by which God himself speaks to us. The question of motivation is central to this practice. We must not seek to build a habit of reading God’s word as a means of securing his favor toward us or elevating our spiritual life in comparison to those around us. Not only will these motivations fill us with pride before God and others, but they also will never sustain a lasting spiritual life. If we are truly to grow in our reading of God’s word, we must do so with humility—because we trust that God will speak to us in his word, and we truly believe we need his voice to live day by day. Another way of saying this is given to us in the words of Jesus: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Do we believe this to actually be true?
Each of us has a sense of who God is, and an impression of the way he speaks to us. But it is in the scriptures that God has promised to reveal himself to us, not simply in the intuitions of our hearts. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “Either I determine the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where he will be found…we will only be happy in our reading of the Bible when we dare to approach it as the means by which God really speaks to us, the God who loves us and will not leave us with our questions unanswered.”
Once we are ready to embrace a spiritual life that is nurtured by the word of God, the question becomes: “How can I best receive the life promised in God’s word?” Here are some practical suggestions to that end:
1. Read or listen to God’s word every day. Each day we grow hungry and need bread to sustain our bodies. The same is true for our souls, if we have ears to hear. The daily bible reading plan published by our church is intended as a guide to this practice (of course it is only a guide, not a rule). These readings (OT, NT, Psalm) can be accomplished in as little as ten minutes each day. But if you don’t feel as though you have time to do all the readings, just choose one. If one seems too much, read a few verses. Start somewhere—a little of God’s word is better than none at all. And sometimes our souls require small portions of nourishment to learn their true hunger. In any case, the goal of reading God’s word is never quantity, but to hear God’s voice. He is able to reveal himself in a verse as well as a chapter.
2. Consider reading God’s word out loud. If you are reading the scriptures with another person, this is natural. But consider reading out loud even if you are alone, as a way to hear God’s word in a fresh way. Reading silently in our heads is a modern innovation, and is good for reading quickly (we think faster than we speak), but it is often not as helpful for spiritual nourishment. Slow down and savor the words God has given you each day and receive them as life giving food for your soul.
3. Read God’s word expecting to finding God, especially as he is revealed in the person of Jesus. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we can read God’s word and forget that it is given to us not primarily as a guide to a good or moral life, but as a revelation of God. Though sometimes Christians are called “people of the book,” this is only half true. We are most fundamentally a people who live in communion with a person, united as one body to Jesus. And, as the risen Christ taught the disciples on the road to Emmaus, all the scriptures find their fulfillment in him. This means that when we read God’s word, we should always be asking: “How is God revealed to his people in this passage? What do these words teach me about the person of Jesus? What does this passage teach us about life with him?”
4. Read God’s word in community with the body of Christ. None of us are fully equipped to read God’s word on our own. Whether it is through the use of commentaries or spiritual works, studying the bible in small groups, or simply asking someone else what God has revealed to them in a particular passage, we need one another’s help to receive all that God has for us in his word. I am always available if you have questions about the scriptures, and I believe one of my central callings as a pastor is simply to help you learn to pray and read God’s word.
In closing, consider how the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes the spiritual practice of receiving God’s word: “That the Word may become effectual to salvation we must attend to it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love; lay it up in our hearts; and practice it in our lives.” My prayer is that this will be true for us at Colleyville.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus has promised to reveal himself to us in his word. Indeed, even now he beckons, standing on the road before us, inviting those who love him to live each day not by bread alone, but by the word that comes from the mouth of God. By which, of course, he means himself.
Let’s follow him together.