Here comes our annual reminder to take stock and make fresh resolves. And for many of us, a new year means an opportunity to re-up on our spiritual disciplines. However poor our eating has been or however inadequately we’ve exercised, we never seem to end the old year with the fully functional “habits of grace” we want to enjoy in the new year.
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Inevitably, in this age, even the most basic spiritual-discipline inventory will give us something to feel guilty about. Could we ever avail ourselves enough of God’s ear in prayer? Ever memorize enough of his words in Scripture? Ever personally share the news about his Son with enough unbelievers? Without a seared conscience, we’ll annually find ourselves lacking in some way, and have more to aspire to on this side of heaven.
Perhaps you feel so overwhelmed when it comes to the failures in your spiritual habits, or lack thereof, that you barely even know where to start. Do I start praying more, and memorizing Scripture, and sharing my faith aggressively, all at once? But the more resolutions we try to bite off at the same time, the less likely we are to make real and lasting progress on any of them. We can’t change everything at once, but we can pursue in faith, with God’s help, just a few keys habits that may have a domino effect. Even just one key habit.
So, if you’re looking for just one fresh spiritual focus for the new year, I’d like to offer a suggestion: Marry the Bible this year.
God Himself Comes First
Without downplaying prayer or fellowship or witness in the least, I say start with the Bible because hearing God’s voice in his word is the most fundamental of his ongoing “means of grace” for our Christian lives. Having his ear (in prayer) and belonging to his body (in the church) are equally essential, but they don’t play the same fundamental role, because the Christian life is not a symmetrical partnership between man and God.
God’s word comes first, because God comes first. He acts first. We did not create the world or ourselves. And we do not initiate the Christian life; he does. First he speaks, and then we respond in prayer. First he speaks, and his word creates a people called the church. Marry the Bible this year, and it’s only a matter of time before God’s word lights a fire in you to respond in prayer. Marry the Bible this year, and you won’t long keep to yourself, but will soon feel compelled to lock arms with others as his word not only feeds you, but gives you bread to share, with baskets left over.
Absorbing Culture or Christ?
I say marry the Bible because it’s a phrase that jumped out at me recently when reading an early Piper sermon from 1982. I’m sure it made for a powerful call then, but these words are perhaps all the more relevant today, a generation later:
Satan devotes himself 168 hours a week trying to deceive you and fill your mind with junk. He has seen to it that you are surrounded almost entirely by a Christless culture whose mood, and entertainment, and advertising, and recreation, and politics are shot through with lies about what you should feel and think and do.
Do you think that in this atmosphere you can maintain a vigorous, powerful, free, renewed mind with a ten-minute glance at God’s book once a day? The reason there are church people who are basically secular like everyone else except with a religious veneer is that they devote 99% of their time to absorbing the trajectories of the world and 1% of their time to absorbing the trajectories of God’s word.
If you want to bring forth the will of God in your life like a mother brings forth a child, you must marry the Bible. For some of you, it is a stranger that you greet on the way to work but never have over for a relaxed evening of conversation, and seldom invite along to spend significant time with you on vacation. Do not, then, be surprised if you are ill-equipped to read the trajectories of God’s will for your own life. (“He Will Send His Angel Before You”)
It may feel admirable to start a new year with a firm resolve to spend ten minutes in God’s word every morning. Ten minutes every day is a good step forward from less, or nothing. If that’s where you are, take step one first, then step two later. But don’t be naïve about where you stand after one step. And if dipping into God’s word for ten minutes is the grace and joy it really is (rather than mere duty), what’s keeping you from enjoying more? Receiving more grace? Basking in more blessing?
As we look at the larger picture (“surrounded almost entirely by a Christless culture”), we see that a ten-minute glance is just a start. This is not a call to balance every single minute in the world with an equal and opposite minute in God’s word — God’s voice is stronger than Satan’s. But we will do well, here at the outset of a new year, to think how we can indeed walk with our God, and enjoy him throughout the day, and not simply touch base quickly for ten minutes.
More Than a Reading Plan
By all means, yes, make a habit of making a beeline to the Bible first thing in the morning in 2018. Find a realistic, enjoyable reading plan, let your reading give rise to meditation, and meditation to prayer. A daily “quiet time” or “time alone with God” is a great place to start. They are like date nights with your wife — but dates do not a marriage make! Consider what a “marriage” with God’s word might look like for you here as a new year begins.
Perhaps it might include regularly hearing the Bible read. What tremendous opportunities we have in our day through technology to hear the Scriptures. Try the YouVersion app, or the forthcoming Dwell app. Hit play on the treadmill or in the car or while doing chores. The Bible was originally written to be read to crowds of listeners. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13). In the history of God’s people and his church, far more people have heard his word read to them than have read it themselves.
It’s a glorious gift that we have it ourselves today and can read it ourselves, but God also means for us to hear his word. Hearing engages us in a way that reading does not, and vice versa.
And marrying the Bible in 2018 will include, in some form, hearing God’s voice through faithful teachers. God gives his church pastors and teachers for her equipping and upbuilding (Ephesians 4:11–12). First and foremost in person, in our local churches. And then, secondarily, in the wider church. Come ready to receive God’s word from your pastor each Sunday, and midweek, and avail yourself of the remarkable riches pouring out today from faithful Christian publishers, along with the plethora of substantive, well-written articles online (like TGC, Ligonier, Challies, For the Church, and more). And as long as it’s been in coming, perhaps we’re coming into a golden age of podcasting as untold millions seem to be discovering not only the convenience of audio as a medium, but also its power to engage the heart through the imagination. (Choose from among eight such podcasts here at Desiring God.)
Better When You Share It
Finally, marrying the Bible this year will eventually mean some fresh effort to share your nourishment with others. As the very life of God himself in and through his words dwells richly in you, and feeds your soul, you will want to extend and deepen your joy by sharing him with others. When we commend to others what we ourselves are tasting as sweet in God’s word, we enjoy it all the more. Hearts full of joy in Christ don’t stay full by putting a lid on them, but by taking the lid off and spreading out the feast before others.
Marrying the Bible is not a sequestering pursuit. As God fills us with the spiritual life and joy he imparts to us through his word, he will put a word in our mouth and make our meal all the more filling as we pass it around to others. The dominos will begin falling as the word of God comes into its central, initiating, energizing place in our souls.