Reading through the Bible is always a good thing to do, although sometimes when I am in the middle of Leviticus or the genealogies in 1 Chronicles I question that approach. There are a number of web sites on the Internet that list plans for reading through the Bible. One such is ewordtoday.com/year that offers several different approaches and lays them out for various starting dates throughout the year. This year I have decided to do something a little different. I am going to pick a book of the Bible each month and read through it for the entire month. But this process of laying out a plan for reading in the Bible led to some further thoughts. It caused me to think about the whole matter of Bible reading and prayer.
In his book, The Jesus of Suburbia, Mike Erre wrote, “We are witnessing the rebirth of an emphasis on spiritual formation in the American evangelical churches…The termspiritual disciplines is no longer foreign to our Christian vocabularies. And yet the church looks pretty much the same as the world around it. For all our talk of transformation, we see very little evidence of it.” What an indictment. Unfortunately I think he’s right. Perhaps part of the problem is that we discipline ourselves to spend time reading the Bible and praying, but in effect without intending it, the activity gradually becomes an empty ritual. We do it, but lose the point of it. In fact, our thinking about it can gradually and subtly shift into a mindset that is distinctly contrary to the gospel of grace. Erre maintains in his book that what is needed is a greater sense of the mystery and wonder of a relationship with God. I believe what he means is that what is most needed is for us to simply see God as he is and to walk with him continually.
Van Morris, a pastor from Kentucky, tells of an experience he had not long ago that I think has some bearing on this topic. He was in the grocery store doing some shopping. He was on the potato chip aisle looking at the bewildering panoply of chips offered at the store. But he was not stymied. He knew exactly what he wanted. He grabbed a bag of the particular brand he was looking for. As soon as he did so he heard a familiar voice behind him say, “Way to go, Van! Thanks a lot, buddy.” He turned around and saw that it was Chuck, a friend and member of his congregation, who delivers that brand of potato chip to grocery stores. Van said that about a half hour earlier he had run into Chuck in a local bakery and they chatted for a few minutes before going their way. It was that encounter that caused him to look for the particular brand of potato chip that he bought. When he went to buy chips it occurred to him that Chuck worked for that company and would probably be pleased if he bought their brand. He said the experience made him think of what spending time with our Lord should be about. It is putting him and his will in our conscious minds so that as we go through the day we will say, “God will probably be pleased if I…”
There are many ways to keep devotional times from becoming routine. Varying what one reads, listening to recordings of the Bible instead of reading, listening to songs that speak of God’s majesty and grace or even singing them, reading a good devotional book, writing out one’s prayers, journaling, are all things we can do to keep from becoming stuck in a rut that is spiritually dry. But when all is said and done the most important things that we must do are to live in the truth of the gospel, that what causes God to delight in us is not our performance but his grace, and to remember that what this is all about is simply walking in a love relationship with a God of awe and majesty. God wants us to revel in his love and in his presence with us. He wants a love relationship with us. Love relationships may involve some routines as life always will, but they are not defined by routines. Relationships are living things, and so must be our relationship with God.