January 7, 2014.
When all is said and done, this life is over and we stand before the judgement seat of God, what question do you think we will be asked? How successful we were monetarily? How many honors we were granted? What our alma mater was? I can’t tell you what questions we will be ask, or if we will be asked anything anything at all (as if God wouldn’t already know), but I can guess that if we are asked questions, many people will not be prepared. They will be questions about things that so many people don’t deem very necessary or profitable, whether in word or by their actions. I’m even addressing Christians here. One of the questions I imagine being asked might go something like “So, how did you like my book?”
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
(II Timothy 3:14-17)
I believe that we all too often deemphasize the importance of reading the word of God, to our own detriment. Reading the word is a blessing. We sometimes see it as a chore. I have listened to Christians across the country, and surprisingly few have a decent grasp on what the scriptures actually say. For many, Christianity is what their preacher or pastor tells them it is. Christianity is love. Christianity is doing nice things for people. Christianity is making sure I’m not a drunkard and I am sexually pure (or at least when I want to be). As each of these are well and good in their own right, I feel that we are missing out on one of the greatest gifts from God when we push the word aside and fill our religion based solely on the teaching of others.
Consider this case study of the Apostle Paul and his teachings:
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas andTimothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.”
The story goes (short version), Paul went to Thessalonica to preach the word, and he was not well received. Then he went to Berea, and they accepted him with eagerly. What I want to point out here is what was said about the Bereans: Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Now, if any preacher who ever lived could be trusted without question, I would say it would be Paul. He was an apostle, called out directly by God to spread the gospel. He was given supernatural gifts of the spirit and seemed to have had at least somewhat of a direct line of communication to God (though to what extent, I cannot say). Yet the Bereans were called “more noble” because they searched the scriptures to make sure Paul was teaching them the truth. I think this subtle lesson is often overlooked in American Christianity.
Now, before you get defensive, I am not writing this post to guilt trip anyone into reading the word. I need to read more just as everyone else. Rather, what I am encouraging you to do is to pick up the word and make a new resolve to be a better student of the bible. (We often beat ourselves up for what we have not done in the past instead of acknowledging our missteps and simply changing them. There is no dishonor in acknowledging a fault and working to fix it. In fact, this is very noble and what we should be doing. The dishonor comes from seeing the fault and not subsequently working to fix it. This is the dividing line between being a sinner and simply sinning. God looks at our lifestyle, not necessarily how many times we mess up.)
The new year has just started, and along with it comes resolutions. We always hear about them, and perhaps we always make them. Many times, they aren’t perpetuated. Since it is the beginning, however, I challenge you to make a resolution to read the bible more this year. I promise you will be blessed because of it. As with all resolutions, to make them work you need a goal and a plan. Last year (well actually, I don’t think I started at the new year, I kinda just started and went with it), I had a goal to read the bible cover to cover, straight through. I made it a habit to at least read a set number of chapters a night. I remember the exuberant feeling when I got done with the last chapter of Revelation (on the plane ride to Panama). Throughout the study, it seemed like I hit the right chapters at the right times, being able to apply what I had recently read to some aspect of my life or to help others. It’s funny how God works like that. For you, cover to cover might not be the best plan (in fact, if you do not have a strong biblical base beforehand, I would not suggest reading straight though). There are so many plans out there on the internet and even in specialized bibles, one of them will be tailored to fit your needs well. Maybe you will use the suggested daily readings here (though I can’t promise them to be an exhaustive list of the entire bible as I am not following a set order but rather choosing the sections that directly apply with the topic). The important thing is that you pick one and do it. Not just because you think God will condemn you if you don’t (thus making it an obligation), but rather because as Christians, we should know the standard we are called to live by. It should be a joy to us. There are some things, I will admit, that are simply hard to get though. That’s ok. Press forward. Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy, his child in the faith:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
(II Tim. 2:15)
Pay attention to the suggested reading today. It emphasizes the psalmist’s genuine love and devotion to the word. It’s a beautiful psalm. I strongly encourage you to find a plan that works for you, and stick to it. Find someone who will do it with you. Make your religion your own, not just what your preacher says. I have been blessed so much by this, and I know you will be blessed too! I am very excited to be reading through again in a different version (ESV). I am currently starting II Chronicles (don’t be alarmed, I began before January 1st). I hope you will join me as we all draw closer to the Lord through the study of his word.
Daily Suggested Reading: Psalm 119
May your journey of growth begin today.