I’m sure you’ve been there – your quiet time hasn’t been very consistent, you’re not sure which book of the Bible to turn to next, and you keep thinking, “If I could just find a good daily devotional book, I would be a lot more disciplined.” If you’re like me, you may look around a bit, download a few apps, subscribe to some blogs, attempt to find a nice devotional book, and maybe even read it most days. But there’s a really big problem here I’m afraid we are missing.
Why is the pure word of God not enough for us?
I get it. I’m right there. Sometimes I don’t feel my brain has the capacity to wade through scripture I often don’t understand. I’d rather read a great devotional with two or three verses I can really cling to, followed by a solid word from a speaker or author I trust. Are these studies inherently wrong? I definitely don’t think so. There are a lot of men and women I trust who produce great devotional material; the problem lies when we are completely forsaking our Bibles in place of another study. Here are the real reasons we like devotionals so much: we live in a culture that boths caters to and feeds our desire to be merely entertained, and someone else has already done the work for us. Not only do we not have to narrow down a book of the Bible to go through, but we don’t even have to read an entire book of the Bible. We’re drawn to devotionals that include feel-good, encouraging verses, that hardly require us to exercise any deep thought. They’re short, they’re nicely worded, they’re maybe even funny, and we’d rather hear someone else’s thoughts on the Scriptures than put in the work to hear from the Lord ourselves. Truthfully, we’ve become so incredibly lazy that not only do we struggle deciding where to read, but we don’t really want to form our own thoughts on the subject, either. We are stuck in a day and age marked by a Christian cultural that does not truly know their Bibles, and we try instead to be filled by worship songs, fluffy devotionals, journaling, and if you’re like me, anything that can at least momentarily nourish the need for truth.
Trust me, I fully understand how difficult it can seem to decide where to read next, and then to actually follow through with that plan. I was the girl, who for the first several years of her faith, literally opened the Bible and read wherever it fell. I constructed my faith around verses that uplifted me and made me feel rejuvenated, and at the end of the day, I did not know the Word of God. I knew the pieces of an enormous puzzle that happened to strike me as pretty, because they said something about me as a person. I was reading Scripture not to learn more about an awe-inspiring, unmatched Creator, but to validate some sort of misplaced longing for identity – which was more in myself than Jesus. And this is, sadly, how we’re taught to interact with scripture – “how does this passage apply to my life?” is the question we’re told to ask, instead of, “what does the passage teach me about God’s character?” I’m going to be a bit cliche and use my personal favorite example, but here’s a common verse we use to pamper ourselves instead of being moved by the power of our Savior: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. Tell me friend, do you know what Philippians 4:12 says? Do you know why Paul said these words? Believe it or not, he was not competing in an athletic event (forgive my snarkiness – I have to joke somewhere). While Paul wrote these words, he sat in prison for his faithfulness to Jesus. Prior to the ever-famous words in verse 13, he penned these: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” This is incredibly important. This passage is a prime example of how we pick and choose scripture to fit our ever-changing whims. Here, Paul is professing the source of his joy to be Christ, regardless of whether he is starving, naked, impoverished, or abundantly blessed, while we are slapping this mantra (often being as irreverent and selfish as simply quoting “I can do all things”) onto any task we feel we need some extra self-produced “oomph” to overcome. And we don’t just do it with this verse. We’re doing it all over Scripture because we have no comprehension of the overarching biblical narrative or the profound glory of God, because we’re too busy trying to make the scriptures “apply to us.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m ashamed of this. We wonder why the non-Christian world often sees us as silly, ignorant, passionless fools, and the answer lies in our embarrassing lack of Biblical knowledge. There is hope though, dear reader, because the same loving author who provided these words also beckons us to come learn about His majesty through them. Scripture reading is truly a discipline. There are simply passages that are easier to process, and it is a fight to possess the diligence to spend time in books that aren’t quite so catchy to us. It a worthy fight though, friends. Your favorite pastor is not your salvation. You most beloved author is not your glory and sanctification. Your journaling and coloring are not the source of your grace and mercy. There can be immense learning and conviction through avenues like podcasts, daily readings, worship through song and art, and online articles, and they can certainly have their place alongside a well-established Bible reading plan, but they should not serve as our main source of spiritual nourishment. We have been avoiding this topic too long in Christian circles and are becoming increasingly more blind to who Jesus is. What a sad thing it would be to stand before our Savior on the day of His return and feel as is you’d never learned anything about him.
If you’re coming from a place of virtually never spending time in the Word, receive grace, friend. Start with something more palatable like one of Paul’s letters, and soak up their rich truth, but be aware of their context. Search first for what the words reveal about the character of the Father, then secondarily understand what that means for your daily life – we have too often completely avoided the former in search of the latter, but we cannot understand who we are without first seeking to understand who made us. Salvation is much too serious for us to keep neglecting our Bibles in search of something that is easier and makes us feel better. When the Holy Spirit is working in your heart during your time of reading, you may not end your time feeling more uplifted than you do convicted, and that’s a good thing. Never should you end your Bible study time feeling guilty and hopeless, for that is not the work of the Spirit, but we are too hungry for shallow encouragement and not longing deeply enough for the revelation of our own sin.
I want you to walk away from this feeling empowered to spend time with Jesus, not shamed because you haven’t been doing so. But we have to fall reverently, hopelessly in love with the Word of God if we want to be molded and used by Him. Jen Wilkin says it this way, “the heart cannot love what the mind does not know” (from Women of the Word, pg 31 – a MUST read book, by the way). Better yet, the scriptures themselves say it this way, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). We cannot worship a God we don’t know, and we cannot know God apart from his Word. Yes, the Lord can reveal himself through other people, through songs, through nature, through dreams, and frankly however he chooses, but the view we have of God must always be in line with who He says He is in His Word, or it is not true. I love the way my pastor often puts it – if I tell my spouse I am enamored with his gorgeous blonde hair and blue eyes, that would seem like a lovely compliment, but here’s the issue: my husband has dark hair and hazel eyes. We have to stop doing this to Jesus. He will not be reduced to mindless, false worship of a god we’d like him to be, rather than who He really is.
Get in the Word today, friends. Start with 5 minutes a day if you need. Busyness is not a valid excuse – there are Bible apps, and reading a passage of scripture will take you the same amount of time as reading a daily devotional chapter. Work up to spending lengthy times studying the Word if you have to, but begin practicing a reverent, purposeful time of Bible-meditating. I cannot express the difference in my own faith from making this switch, and while I have to rely on Jesus to pull me back to Himself daily, He does, and usually through Scripture. I heard a testimony recently, of a woman with a painful past and recently lost her husband, who professed that her time with Jesus was not optional. And it isn’t, friends. We cannot wait for tragedy to strike before we deem it necessary to pursue the Lord. What a beautiful thing it is to serve a Savior who longs for us. Rejoice in that love and abide in it, reader.