“For I want you to know what a great CONFLICT I have for you…” ~ Colossians 2:1
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always LABORING fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” ~ Colossians 4:12
“…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement CRIES AND TEARS…” ~ Hebrews 5:7
Prayer is not the last resort of the weak-minded, it is the inner refuge of indefatigable men and women who know how to wait before their infinitely wise and mighty God.
The great struggle in prayer is not between God and you, as if you were straining to wrest some meager token from a stingy deity. Because of His unreserved love for you, your Father knows what you need before the thought is framed in your mind or any word leaves your lips.
No. Your battle is not with God.
But the moment you set out to go to God in prayer, all hell breaks loose. Distractions will come. Interruptions. Discouraging thoughts. Powerful emotions that posture as the truth but act as blinders to it. Instead of finding rest you seem to incur greater distress in your soul. Your path to Him lies submerged beneath a swirling eddy of anxiety. Your praying seems useless beneath the smothering effects of your circumstances.
And all the while, He is still there, He hears you, and He loves you.
It bears repeating: your battle is not with God.
Your battle lies in shutting out the mad noise of the outer world…
- slipping into the secret place and sacred space of your inner world…
- to lay down your worries and weights and terrors at His feet…
- to move over and surrender the controls…
- to let go of your fiercely-held “maps” to your happiness…
- to enter the sanctuary of His Presence…
- to simply be with Him…
- and to discover He has been seeking you for this relationship all along!
The noise of battle ends in the loving Presence of the all-sufficient King and the infinitely satisfying Savior… Jesus!
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. John 6:5-6
Philip was stunned. Jesus was asking where to get the food for thousands of people. Immediately his mind didn’t go to where to get it, but to how much it will cost: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
Overhearing Jesus’ question to Philip, Andrew added, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Andrew’s mind went to available resources.
John, writing years later about the incident, describes Jesus’s question as a “test.” But what was the test?
- To see who could whip out their iPhone and locate the nearest market?
- To see who could most quickly calculate the cost?
- To see who could conduct a speedy inventory of personal resources and accounts?
Not even close.
Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing – both proclaiming the ruling power of God and demonstrating it – and sowing absolute truth into their minds. Now presented with an impossible situation, Philip must apply what he has been taught.
The test exposed the inner working of Philip’s thought life under stress. We say we are trusting Him, but our thoughts tell the real story. Under pressure and experiencing anxiety, Philip’s mind didn’t run to the Father who is the King of kings. He stopped at the walls erected by a worldview chained to the physical senses, but blind to an unseen, spiritual realm. He slid off into a mental pit of self-reliance, rather than rest in the unseen, almighty God.
The Old Testament is full of examples of kings who failed to trust God when confronted with vastly superior military threats. They ran and forged alliances with other nations, placing their faith in the popular, collective wisdom of their generation for deliverance. Over and over again, God allowed His people to discover the hard way that He is the rock, the hiding place, and the refuge in the midst of overwhelming problems. They were being tested.
The mature disciple doesn’t ignore a problem. He is intensely aware of the needs. He can see that his immediate resources are inadequate. But the distinct difference within the mature Christian mind is this: he seeks first the kingdom – or ruling power – of God. His mind escapes the confines of a Western worldview… and runs to the absolute authority and infinite resources of the one Jesus called “Father.”
Jesus simply took what was available, lifted it up to His Father, and said “thank you.” And everything changed.
When tested, the problem-solving disciple has disciplined his mind to go first to the Father. Only in His Presence can we see the truth about ourselves and our problems.
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10
In the summer of 1980 I worked as a night watchman for an airline. As a new Christian and college student, I spent long hours reading God’s Word for the first time. Tears and laughter filled my nights as the Lord opened up the Scriptures to my young heart. Early in my Christian walk I discovered a love for reading the Bible.
Whether you are a new child of God or a long-time follower of Jesus Christ, Bible reading is an essential discipline for every Christian. Many believers make resolutions to begin a Bible reading habit, only to flounder when they fall behind schedule or encounter difficult-to-read passages in the Old Testament. It is vital that you and I cultivate a habit of Bible reading. Why?
Without reading the Bible…
- I am depriving myself of LIFE. In the wilderness the Israelites learned that their lives were dependent on the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). The provision of bread in the wilderness was a daily reminder that life is more than sustaining a heartbeat or holding off hunger. Real life is defined as an intimate relationship with God—which is of greater value than physical survival. God’s Word is the source of spiritual life.
- I am stunting my GROWTH. By the time we had our sixth child, my wife and I had learned to distinguish between the cries of an infant. Crying indicated different needs for diaper changes, relief from gas, entertainment, or milk. In 1 Peter 2:2, Peter challenges us to desire God’s Word in the same way—as a baby craves milk. Why? So that we can grow!
- I am undermining my FAITH. In Romans 10:17, the Apostle Paul explains that faith comes from hearing the message of Christ. Faith in Christ is strengthened as I continue to read about Him in His Word. Because He is unchanging, what I observe in the Scriptures helps me to trust Him in the present. Confusing circumstances and painful experiences can undermine and weaken my faith. Faith is strengthened through a regular diet of truth.
- I am steering away from personal PURITY. In Matthew 4, Jesus Christ responded to each satanic temptation with the same phrase, “It is written…” If Jesus could not combat temptation apart from a personal knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, how can I escape temptation without a daily engagement with the Scriptures and an intentional effort to saturate my mind with God’s Word?
- I am cutting myself off from GUIDANCE. God “breathed” the Scriptures to change me through a relationship with Him. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul highlights the four types of guidance found in the Scriptures: teaching (what is true?), rebuking (what is wrong with me?), correcting (how can I literally straighten out what is wrong with me?), and instruction in righteousness (how can I live routinely in the will of God?).
- I am abandoning the primary source of all effective MINISTRY. In 2 Timothy 3:17, Paul also links effective ministry to our handling of the Scriptures. God’s Word is sufficient to change my life and the lives of those I minister to. By submitting to the life-changing guidance of the Scriptures, I am equipped to impact the lives of others.
In the busy world we live in, finding the time to read and study the Bible can be a challenge. Even after thirty years of pastoral ministry, I have found that the most intense spiritual battles erupt around my efforts to fellowship with God through the Scriptures. The devil will do all he can to distract you and me from simple devotion to Jesus Christ.
Here are five simple Bible reading strategies for developing and maintaining a consistent and meaningful time alone in God’s Word.
Strategy No. 1: Read the Scriptures to Deepen Your Relationship with God
“It came as a surprise to me that one of the problems I faced in the ministry was that when I opened the Scriptures I found it extremely difficult to forget the need to determine the background, outline the passage, divide it into an appropriate package for delivery, and think of ways to get this particular truth across to others.” – Curtis Thomas, Practical Wisdom for Pastors, Crossway Books, Wheaton IL, 2001, 21-22.
Pastors and teachers are susceptible to reading Scripture just to prepare for the next sermon or lesson. When we read the Scriptures, we should seek Him first. To know Him is our highest privilege and should be our primary aim when we open up God’s word. He wants to reveal Himself to you and He wants you to know Him. Through His Word, He has provided all you need to know about Him on this side of heaven.
Reading the Scriptures is our primary vehicle for knowing and serving God. In an authentic, passionate relationship with God, His Word fills our hearts and our homes (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
If you struggle with a reading plan that takes you through the Bible in a year—relax! God wants to meet you in His Word throughout your life. There is no biblical requirement to complete the entire Bible in a year. In fact, every seven years the nation of Israel was supposed to gather for a public reading of the first five books of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 31:10-11). When was the last time you came across a 7-year Bible reading plan?
Bible reading plans come in all shapes and sizes. You will find Bible reading plans in bookstores, on the Internet, and in many Bible software packages. There are 1, 2, and 3-year plans. To allow for missed days, some plans are based on 5 readings per week (instead of 7). While some reading plans guide the reader straight through the Bible, other plans encourage a daily mix of Old and New Testament readings.
Do you really want to read through the Bible in one year? You will need to allow about 80 hours. Be prepared to commit 10-15 minutes per day. You can also read through the Bible in one year by simply reading 3 chapters per day and 5 chapters on Sunday. A more aggressive approach is to read 3 chapters in the Old and New Testaments each day. You will read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament four times each year.
However, a Bible reading plan is valuable only when combined with a thirsty heart—a heart that longs to know God (Psalm 42:1-2).
Strategy No. 2: Read the Scriptures Until It “Burns”
“I think a new world will arise out of the religious mists when we approach the Bible with the idea that it is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.” – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill PA, 1982, 82.
God still speaks to us today through His Word. When He does speak, the words of the Bible come alive and glow with a brilliant relevance to our lives. He uses the Scriptures to place truth in our minds, inject truth into our decisions, and impress truth on our hearts. He comforts us and corrects us. Our hearts are captured and stirred by His Word.
In a post-resurrection appearance of the risen Christ, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him at first. After he disappeared and they realized Who had been teaching them, they exclaimed, “Weren’t our hearts a blaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
Read the Scriptures with an expectation that God is going to speak to you. Listen for His voice. Depend on the Holy Spirit to open your ears. Read the Scriptures until His voice sets your heart “ablaze.” Do not be satisfied with checking off the day’s reading assignment—long to encounter Him in His Word.
In World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her fellow prisoners were enduring the horror of the Holocaust. Each day she secretly shared the Scriptures with other women around her. If caught she could have been executed by the guards. Years later, she described the immediate, life-giving properties of God’s Word in the midst of that dark experience. She wrote,
“I would slip the Bible from its little sack with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry.” – Lawrence Kimbrough, Words to Die For, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville TN, 2002, 168)
Strategy No. 3: Read the Scriptures Every Day
“Those who are willing to immerse themselves daily in God’s Word will find that he reveals enough to keep them busy for the day at hand!” – Henry and Richard Blackaby, Hearing God’s Voice, Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville TN, 2002, 110.
Read the Bible daily. Although the amount of Scripture read may vary from person to person, the believers who read it daily are better prepared spiritually for the journey ahead. The kings of Israel were expected to copy the first five books of the Law (the Torah) and to read it “all the days” of their lives (Deuteronomy 17:18-20, Joshua 8:34-35). Each day the king was to take up his handmade copy of the Law and read it.
Read the Scripture in the morning. Even if you intend to read more later in the day, do not start your day without the intake of God’s Word. For your regular reading time, choose a time and place that is right for you. If you cannot stay awake, let me suggest you choose a different time of day for your reading!
Sit upright in a well-lit, private location. Choose a plain text Bible with a readable type. In order to concentrate on the text, consider using a Bible that does not have annotations or study aids—they can be distracting and keep you from the actual text. Using different translations each year can help you “see” passages in a new way.
Strategy No. 4: Study the Scriptures Every Week
“There is a freshness and a vitality about every sermon which is born of study; without study, however, our eyes become glazed, our breath stale and our touch clumsy.” – John Stott, Between Two Worlds, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982, 180.
John Stott stresses the importance of personal Bible study for preachers. It is true for all believers. I would argue that your best Bible study is going to be birthed out of your daily reading. As God calls your attention to particular issues or passages, He is often teaching you something that will be of benefit to others. In your Bible study time, go deeper into the questions raised during your reading. Bible study helps and commentaries will help unfold the meaning of Biblical concepts or difficult passages.
However, daily Bible reading and Bible study are not the same activity. In fact, you should avoid mixing the two. As you read the Bible, keep a journal handy and jot down issues, questions, ideas and topics for further study as they arise. Then set aside time each week for in-depth study.
Strategy No. 5: Remember What is Written
“Nothing perhaps more strongly indicates the tone of a believer’s spirituality, than the light in which the Scriptures are regarded by him.” – Octavius Winslow (writing in 1841), Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle PA, 1978, 17.
When we are passionate about a topic, we learn all we can. With great ease, we are able to recite, dates, statistics, and facts concerning our passion. Why? Because we remember what we love!
The writer of Psalm 119 described God’s Word as sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103). You will not be able to sustain a meaningful reading habit apart from a real passion for God Himself. Remembering what He says to you each day will help keep your passion for Bible reading white-hot. Mark down the truth in your Bible or journal, and it will help you mark it down in your soul.
As you read God’s Word, write down the truths that God brings to mind. Make brief notes in a journal or in the margins of your Bible. Underline and memorize the verses with special meaning. Talk about what you are reading with your spouse or friend—share what the Lord is showing you. Be alert to ways the Lord will use your reading to help others. God will often use your reading to help someone else during the week!
He will also use His Word to fend off the attacks of the enemy. As Jesus recalled what was “written” when He was being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4), so He will bring His Word to your mind in the face of temptation and challenges to your faith.
With great fondness I can recall the life-changing lessons learned during those long summer nights of Bible reading many years ago. I can show you the notes in the Bible I was using, but more importantly, I can show you the changes He made in my life.
Still looking for ideas? Here are some online resources that may help: