The Motivation for Reading your Bible
Course: How to Read Your Bible
Lecture: Motivation for Reading your Bible
I. A Review
I want us to review a little bit what we did last week and then talk today about another very important issue: How we’re going to do Bible reading and Bible study consistently.
We talked last week about our grand metaphor or word picture that describes what the process of Bible study or Bible reading is like. The word picture we used was that Bible study or Bible reading is like taking a trip. You remember the steps in that trip? We said you’ve got to leave home. Just as in any type of communication where you’re talking to someone else, you’ve got to get out of yourself and tune in to that other person if you’re going to communicate well with him. So the first thing is you’ve got to leave home. The vehicle that will get us to where we want to go in terms of understanding what the writer meant by what was written is a process of study. A sound process of study will help us make that trip back, for instance, to understand what Paul was writing to the Corinthians. And so we want to do the work of making that trip and going and understanding what was originally intended.
The destination we want to get to is the original meaning of the text. I said last week that if a text can mean anything, it doesn’t mean anything. So it’s not up for grabs where just whatever you want it (the Bible) to say is okay. But the place we have to start is what did God inspire the writer to say at that place and that time. So that’s our destination. We’ve gotten to the point where we understand what the text meant for them. What then is the vehicle that helps us to get back to today and to application? It's the significance of the truth that we learned from this passage for us today.
There are a lot of things we experience today that the Corinthians never experienced. None of them was ever tempted to take a computer and throw it out the window. We have a lot of things that we face today. Nuclear war. There are all kinds of examples we could use which they did not experience that we experience, but the principles that we have in Scripture are significant for any type of experience that we have today. So we’re going to ask the question: What is the significance And when we get to the session on making sound application, we’re going to talk about how to think through step by step what is an appropriate application of a passage and then where do we start coloring outside the lines a bit. And then where we want to come to when we come all the way back home on our trip is application of the text. The Word is not just to be understood; it’s also to be lived.
II. Be motivated to read and study the Bible consistently
So we have this word picture of a trip. Now with any trip, you’ve got to get to the place where you become committed to the trip. You commit yourself. That’s why I call this session “buying the ticket.” It's as if you’re sitting there looking at the computer screen and you’ve gone onto Orbitz or maybe some other website where you’re buying a ticket for a trip. You’ve got to get to the point where you’re motivated enough to push the button to pay the money to get that ticket and to go on your trip. So we want to talk about this issue of motivation.
Last year, or I guess it’s really two years ago now, my family and I went to North Carolina and we were staying in a friend’s cabin out there. And while we were there, Joshua and I did something very special. We took a hike up a mountain to a place called St. John’s Rock. It’s a beautiful rock that looks out over this phenomenal scene of mountains and valleys. As a special marker of him turning 10 years old, kind of a rite of passage, we went on this long hike up the mountain and we got up to this rock that was jutting out from the side of the mountain. And we were sitting here looking out on this beautiful scene. I was about to talk to him about the transition to becoming an adult, about what it means to be responsible and to have more privileges. As we were about to have this conversation, all of the sudden, a bunch of Boy Scouts came bursting out of the woods onto the rock and running around the rock. So the plans didn’t go exactly like we thought, but it was really a phenomenal day. I gave him a watch because we talked about how we need to use our time well as we grow up. We had this wonderful, wonderful conversation and a great day. We even took pictures to commemorate that time.
Now when we were thinking about taking this trip and taking the hike up the mountain, I had thought – I think the round trip is like seven miles. This is going to take a lot of energy, and it’s going to be hot and sweaty. But thinking about the relational payoff of going up that mountain with my son and having a day where we just focused on talking about growing up and all this, I was motivated to pay the price to get there, to take the hike, and to spend that day and focus on him. And you know what? It was a lot of fun. It was a great memory. But it took energy to do that.
Now in the same way, when we talk about studying the Bible, it is something that takes energy. We have to be motivated to get off the dime and move on it if we’re going to do it in a consistent way.
Now two thoughts I want us to begin with are this. ''Consistent Bible reading and study are foundational for life.'' That’s really what this session is going to be about. Christ followers are to be people of the Word, people who are living in the Bible, who are reading the Scriptures on a consistent basis, who are getting into studying it. This is not optional for those of us who are Christ followers. It is something that is very, very important. But even though we agree with that statement, most of us would also say that we struggle with reading and studying the Bible consistently. And I just want to say right from the beginning that for me, consistent Bible reading and Bible study doesn’t come easily. It’s something that I have to stay with and come back and recommit to at times. Why is that? Why is it that we struggle with Bible reading and Bible study on a consistent basis?
III. Hindrances to reading and studying the Bible consistently
Let us consider some reasons why we do not read and study the Bible consistently.
A. Lack of discipline
We lack discipline to make interaction with the Bible a priority. I know for myself, at times when I’m struggling with my pattern, it boils down to the fact that in one sense I’m lazy. I don’t have the discipline to really do the things that I know I should do. And so, the lack of discipline is a real issue. We make time to do the things that we want to do. And I should say, we fill the time we have. We don’t make time. Time is there for all of us. Everybody has the same number of minutes in a day. It’s a matter of how we’re going to fill that time. If you can imagine that I have a big basket up here and the things in the basket represent the different things that I do during the day. So maybe there’s a newspaper because I like to read the newspaper in the morning. Maybe there is an animal because I need to go feed the dog. I guess the animal wouldn’t fit in the basket. Maybe a piece of dog food is in the basket. And I have a gardening trowel because I love gardening and I like getting out there with that. And I have a book because I’m reading something. You have all these different things filling the basket. All of us have a basket that is probably very full. And if we’re going to make the time to do something very important, like Bible study and Bible reading, then we have to rearrange the basket a bit, maybe take a couple of things out of the basket that really ought not to be that big a priority for us, and put those things like the Bible in the basket. Because we all have the time; it’s just a question of how we’re going to use our time.
So for most of us, we do struggle with being discipline.
B. Lack of skills
The second reason might be a lack of skills. It may be that no one has talked us through a process of Bible reading or a process of how we go about studying the Bible. It can be very frustrating for us. And it’s not very fulfilling to get in there and struggle with even knowing how to start and how to approach it.
I have a chest. It’s an antique chest next to my chair at home. And that chest had the hinges broken off. And I think it’s been like that since we got it. I’m wanting to start using it. Instead of just piling all my books and junk on the table next to my chair, I want to pile all my junk in the chest so at least nobody will see it when they come over. And so I went to the store. Well, I’ve never fixed a chest like this. I’ve never had to fix those kinds of hinges, and honestly it was a frustrating process because the first hinges I got did not work well. They weren’t heavy enough, and I got this real fancy kind of hinge that fit on the inside of the box and would hold the lid up, and I couldn’t get that thing to work right. But finally, by trial and error, after a while, I used hinges that really aren’t even supposed to be used on this kind of box and I painted them black so they would look antique-ish. But at least now the lid will raise and close, but it was frustrating because I never had anybody walk me through and say, okay, here are the kinds of hinges that you use, and here is how you put them on. So it took a while and don’t look too closely at it if you come over to my house because you can tell that my skill is not great there. But one thing I hope we have happen in this class is that for all of us here, our skill levels will rise significantly.
So skill is an issue. And we’re also going to talk about tools along with that. There are wonderful tools that have come out in the last 15 to 20 years. Wonderful Bible study tools. And so we’re going to talk about some of those in the next session.
C. Lack of motivation
The third thing would be a lack of motivation. And I think in some ways the lack of discipline and lack of skills feed into this lack of motivation. Motivation is the energy and the desire to get moving. And so we’re going to talk about some things this morning that will help us to be motivated, to say, “Wow, let’s give this a shot. Let’s put in the energy here and really get moving.”
D. Poor heart condition
The final point is our spiritual condition. Ultimately when we don’t spend time in the Word consistently, it goes back to a matter of the heart. It really goes back to an issue of our spiritual life and condition. That is absolutely foundational. In fact, if we get that issue addressed in some ways, it will help us greatly with motivation and with the issue of discipline.
Well, are there passages that really deal with this? I think so. But I want you to think of a relational parallel before we look at the passage. Think about marriage, for instance. If the relationship is off in the marriage, then everything else is harder. All of us have relationships. Those of you who are students can think about your relationship with your parents. If you have a very close relationship with somebody but it’s messed up, it’s kind of off kilter in some way, then what that does is it makes everything else that surrounds the relationship difficult, harder. Doing the right thing is just harder to do when you have this relational difficulty.
And it’s the same way in our relationship with God. When we’re not walking with the Lord the way that we need to or when we’re struggling, then it makes it much more difficult to do other things and to hear God’s word, to study God’s Word the way that we need to, because we’re not really where we need to be spiritually.
Parable of the Sower
In Mark 4:3-9, Jesus was giving a foundational parable for all of his other teaching, for all of the other parables really. And the reason why this parable of the sower is foundational is because it is about how a person receives the word of God, how receptive we are to the word of God. It really focuses and highlights the spiritual issues that surround our openness to hearing God’s word. Look at what Jesus said in verses 3 through 9:
::Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. And he was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
So Jesus gives this wonderful word picture and this is a very simple word picture. It’s about a farmer going out to sow seeds in a field. Now back in that day and time, they would take and broadcast those seeds by hand and you can imagine that as the farmer is going down one side of the field and he’s taking that seed and throwing it out – maybe like some of you have done if you’ve sown grass seed before or some other kind of seed – as you throw that seed, it’s not an exact science. You can see about where the seeds fall and then try to hit it just right, but as you’re going down the side, some of that seed is going to blow out of the field itself and over on the side and that’s the picture that Jesus is giving here. He said some of the seeds fall on the path. Now you can imagine a person who is walking down that path, and that path is packed down. Like the path that goes around the west side of our house. That soil is just as hard as it can be because our dog goes on it constantly and we walk on it. It’s just packed down. And so there is seed that falls on the top of the ground and the birds come and they snatch it away because there’s no penetration at all. And Jesus describes here a person who has what I call a hard packed heart. Their heart is so hard to God, to God’s word, that they’re just not receptive at all. They don’t want to hear it.
The second picture is a person who is like a seed falling on soil that is very thin. The seed does penetrate a little bit. It sprouts and starts coming up, but it is shallow. So when the sun comes and bears down on it, because the roots are very shallow, it withers away. Jesus describes this and says it’s like a person who initially is open to what God would say. They want to hear. They may be motivated in a very initial way but when difficulties and persecution comes, then what it does is it dries up that motivation because their heart is shallow. It's not a hard-packed heart in this case. It's one that has a little bit of receptivity but it's shallow, and therefore it doesn't handle the situations that come along that demand endurance and depth of person.
The third type I can identify with tremendously and that is the seed that falls in weedy soil where the plant comes up and it's starting to grow, but it's among the weeds and the thorns, and so the plant gets choked out. We're in a process at our house right now. We have some beds in a perennial area that has gotten out of hand, and Pat is the master weeder. She gets out there, and she's a detailed person. I'm not a very good detailed person. But for some of our plants, we have perennials that grow well normally in this climate but they have gotten choked out, crowded out because of the weeds around them.
And Jesus says this is like a person who have some depth to them, who want to do the right thing, but the cares of this world and the desires for other things come in and choke out the Word. And so this is the kind of person who gets distracted and gets caught up in other things to the point that they're not focused spiritually on the Word that they need to.
When I am struggling with Bible reading and Bible study, one of the things I stop and ask myself is, okay, what's distracting me here? What is it that's really draining my focus and my energy away? What am I lying in bed and thinking about at night and waking up the next morning thinking about to the point that it's taking all of my attention and it's taking me away from the Word? Well, that's a spiritual issue. We can't simply write it off and say, well, I'm busy at work or whatever. We need to think, okay, what's the underlying spiritual issue there? Am I not trusting God with this or that. I love gadgets and things like that and I can get so focused on getting one that it becomes an obessesion. Well, that's a spiritual issue. Is it draining my attention away from a healthy walk with God?
The fourth picture that Jesus gives through this parable is a receptive heart. It's the kind of seed that thrives because it has a great atmosphere to thrive in. And what I want to say to you is that Bible study and Bible reading is not an end in itself. There's not an angel up in heaven who keeps a list of those who study the Bible who will say, "Okay, they did it that day so they get the blessing for the day." Or "they were consistent this week so, we're going to give them five stars this week because of what they did." That's not it. You know what Bible study and Bible reading do? They put us in an atmosphere that is conducive for growth in our relationship with God. That's what they do. It's relational. And that really brings up why we should read and study the Bible consistently. So let's talk through several of these issues.
IV. Reasons for reading and studying the Bible consistently
A. It's a matter of obedience
Well, what we need to land on first is that God's love is expressed in his call for us to believe and live his word. In other words, it's a matter of obedience. R. C. Sproul says, "I could plead with you to study the Bible for personal edification. I could try the art of persuasion to stimulate your quest for happiness. I could say that the study of the Bible would probably be the most fulfilling and rewarding educational experience of your life. I could cite numerous reasons why you would benefit from the serious study of Scripture. But ultimately the main reason why we should study the Bible is because it's our duty. If the Bible were the most boring book in the world, dull, uninteresting and seemingly irrelevant, it would still be our duty to study it. If its literary style were awkward and confusing, the duty would remain. We live as human beings under an obligation by divine mandate to study diligently God's Word. He is our sovereign. It is his word and he commands that we study it. A duty is not an option."
Now I want to start there because we in our culture tend to be so self-centered that we can't start out by just appealing to what this is going to do for us. And we are going to get to that because the Bible has a lot to say about how the Word of God itself is really the way to live. And we’re going to talk about that in just a minute, but I want us to start with the fact that we need to remember we are under the lordship of Christ. It’s not just about us. And it is something that is really an obligation for us to get to know God’s Word and to live it and to try to be obedient to him. You studied Psalm 119 for this week and I hope that you saw a lot of wonderful things there about what God’s Word will do for us. For instance in Psalm 119:4-5, the Psalmist writes, “You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles.” In verse 52, “I meditate on your age-old laws, O LORD, they comfort me.” Circle the word in those two passages of commandments and laws.
Laws and commandments are not options. They’re not suggestions. They are something we are intended to take seriously. Now thankfully God’s laws are not something that are hard and egregious and something that really bring us down in life. They are something that give us life. And that’s why I want us to move to the next point.
B. God's Word is a gift for life
The wonderful thing is these commandments that God gives us – the fact that these are obligations, a matter of duty - are also right in line with what really blesses us in life, with what gives us life.
Notice the value that the psalmist places on God’s Word. Here are the different ways the psalmist puts it in Psalm 119: "I have rejoiced in your decrees as much as in riches. Your law is more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver. Your decrees are my treasure. They are truly my heart’s delight. I will delight in your principles and not forget your word. Make me walk along the path of your commands for that is where my happiness is found. How sweet are your words to my taste. They are sweeter than honey. Look down on me with love. Teach me all your principles."
Notice all of the words here that have to do with value, that have to do with the Word being a wonderful gift. It is like riches. It’s like treasure. It is a delight. It is something that is where my happiness is found. The Word is sweet. It is an expression of God’s love that he gives us his principles. In other words, the Word is a key to happiness or fulfillment in life. William McDonald has written this in his little booklet ''Seek Ye First''. He says, “Life with Christ is life in deed. He is the answer to every question of the human mind, the answer to every longing of the heart, and the answer to every need of the spirit. He is the fountainhead of all true pleasure. He is the only one in whom we can hope without fear of disillusionment. The only one of whom we can boast without fear of disappointment and the only one in whom we can trust and not despair. The Lord Jesus is the ideal companion, the one who sticks closer than a brother. Through him the troubled soul finds peace with God. He takes away the burden of sin and gives perfect rest. He is light; we need not stumble. He is the way; we need not go astray. He is the truth; we need not err. He is the life; we need not perish. He alone gives purpose to living and a bright prospect to dying. Christ is love. He is wisdom. He is hope. He is strength. He’s a wonderful Savior, a blessed Redeemer, a glorious King. Truly, he is all in all.”
So Christ really is the source of our life and the Word, his word, is foundational for us experiencing life as a gift.
Some of you studied Psalm 119 this past week. What are some of the things that you remember from your study about how the Word is a blessing to us?
1. Through the Word we know God
First of all, ''through the Word we know God''. Psalm 119:10 says “I’ve tried my best to find you. Don’t let me wander from your commands.” Notice the connection between finding God, knowing God and knowing the commands of God. Psalm 119:57, “Lord, you’re mine. I promise to obey your words.” Again, the connection there between relationship and the dynamic of knowing God, of having a relationship with God.
When Pat and I met, we were down at Southwestern Seminary and she was in a class I was teaching. I remember that like it was yesterday. Just imagine with me that I had gotten to the point I finally got up enough courage to go up to her there on campus and ask her to go have something to drink, coffee or tea or whatever. I can remember this so distinctly. I was walking across the campus and I saw her over near the women’s dorm. And I plucked up courage and started towards her. And as I went towards her, she was talking to a couple and suddenly she saw me coming and she turned towards me and took a couple steps towards me, and I thought, this is a good sign. So I went up to her.
But what if, when I had gone up to her, I just stood there and smiled and had not said anything? Well, maybe somehow she got the message that I wanted to go spend time with her and talk to her or something. What if I had gone to pick her up that first time we went out together which was breakfast 7:00 in the morning. Guys, don’t do that. She had to get up like at 2 to start getting ready. 7:00 in the morning, but that was the only time that weekend that we could get this time together. But what if I had picked her up and the whole time we went out to eat, I hadn’t ever said anything and just smiled and nodded my head every once in a while? The relationship would not have gone anywhere, would it? Think of how foundational words are to relationship, in the initiation of relationship, in the ongoing growth and progress of relationship. It’s the same way in our relationship with God. It is by the Word of God that we are born again. We are changed. We are transformed into his people. It is also by the Word of God that we are nurtured and fed and grow in our relationship with him. So it is by the Word that we know God, and that is a phenomenal gift.
2. Through the Word we are blessed
Secondly, ''through the Word we are “happy”'' – and I have that in quotes – as we live by God’s truth and principles. The term that is translated happy in these passages often is translated as blessed. It has to do with a person having well-being in life, having a sense of life working the way it’s supposed to and being something that is really rich and fulfilling. Look at Psalm 119:1-5. “Happy are the people of integrity who follow the law of the Lord. Happy are those who obey his decrees and search for him with all their hearts. They do not compromise with evil. They walk only in his paths. You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully. Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your principles.” And then verses 54-56, “Your principles have been the music of my life.” I love that. Think about that. “Your principles have been the music of my life throughout the years of my pilgrimage. I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord, and I obey your law because of this. This is my happy way of life obeying your commandments.”
The psalmist was excited about the Word of God because he saw this very positive effect of the Word on his life. As I think back over the past 25 to 30 years of trying to grow in Christ, it is increasingly clear to me that basically the Scripture means for us as God’s people to be people of prayer and to be people of the Word. And if we are walking in the principles of God in a way that we are receptive to hear God’s voice as he speaks to us through the Word, and we’re intent on being obedient to that and applying it to our lives, it’s rich. It’s something that really enhances us in life and gives us a great deal of blessing in life. But what are some ways that the Word blesses our life, gives us this pattern of life where life can be like music?
Well, the first is that ''the Word guards against sin''. We’re familiar with Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verses 36-37, “Give me an eagerness for your decrees. Do not inflict me with a love for money. Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through your word.” Pleading with God. “God, help me to think correctly about life where I’m not placing a value on things that really should have no value. Help me to make the right choices.” It also has to do with our relationship with other people. Psalm 119:61, “Evil people try to drag me in to sin but I am firmly anchored to your word. I’m firmly anchored to your law.” And then finally verse 133, “Guide my steps by your word so I will not be overcome by any evil.”
Well, God’s word guards us in two ways. God’s word both conforms and transforms. As we read the Word, we learn God’s principles so that we adjust our lives to God’s principles. But we also experience God’s power as God’s word works to transform us. It works to change us.
Let me give you an illustration of what it means to live by principles. Years ago what they would do when they were training Arabian horses to carry the kings and queens of Europe is this: They would take a horse that was a beautiful specimen out of the herd and they would begin working with the horse, training it using a whistle so that the horse learned various kinds of commands. If the trainer blew the whistle a certain way, the horse would stop. If he blew it another way, the horse would turn right; another way, the horse would turn left; another way, the horse would gallop ahead. And after weeks and weeks and months of training, when it seemed that the horse was completely obedient to the trainer’s whistle, what they would do is they would take the horse and they would put it in a corral and they would give it no food and give it very little water for two or three days.
And at the end of that period when the horse’s hunger was intense, they would open the gate to the corral and the horse would take off to the trough of food that had been placed out in the field near the corral because it could smell that food and those hunger pangs were just energized by that food. And so the horse would take off for that trough of food. Halfway to the trough of food the trainer would blow the whistle for the horse to stop. And if the horse stopped at that point and was obedient to the trainer’s whistle more than just the hunger pang that it was feeling, then that horse went on to carry the kings and queens of Europe. Why? The reason is they knew that horse could be trusted in a wide variety of situations to listen to the trainer’s whistle and be obedient to that, even when other voices were calling to it.
The Word of God acts to us like the trainer’s whistle. When we are walking in the Word and meditating on it and thinking about it, and as we are going through, what happens is God’s principle’s come into play in life. So even when we have conflicting desires, we can conform our actions to God’s word rather than yielding to the other things that are going on around us. But I want to suggest to you that it has to be even more than us just making the choice. It has to be something that God is working in us.
Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword. It can pierce down to the depths of who we are. It’s not something that is static; it is something that is active and powerful. And as you and I expose ourselves to the Word and open our lives up to it, then we make choices to obey it. But it’s also as the spirit of God is working dynamically and supernaturally inside of us to transform us.
And it brings to mind that passage in Romans 12:1-2 to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. How is our mind renewed? I want to suggest that it’s renewed by the word of God. As we are listening to God’s truths and open to him, then God brings about transformation.
Besides guarding us from sin, ''the Word also gives guidance''. Psalm 119:19, “I am but a foreigner here on earth. I need the guidance of your commands.” In verse 59, “I ponder the direction of my life and I turn to follow your statutes.” Now that doesn’t mean that every decision that we make we’re going to open the Bible up and it is going to tell us, oh, you should marry this person rather than this person. Or you should take this job rather than this good job over here. It doesn’t do that. But what it does is it gives guidance by giving us principles and guidelines. And a lot of times if we are walking according to the principles of Scripture, that will narrow down the choices of the decisions that we make, and the Word helps us have wisdom to know how to make good choices. So it gives us guidance in life.
A third thing is ''the Word gives encouragement''. Psalm 119:25, “I lie in the dust completely discouraged. Revive me by your word.” Probably all of us have had times when we’ve been very discouraged and just to sit down and read through portions of the Bible that mean a lot to us really revives us. It gives us a tremendous amount of encouragement.
And then a fourth point, ''the Word gives general well-being''. Psalm 119:143, “As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands." Psalm 119:165, “Those who love your law have great peace and do not stumble.” And then verses 92-93, “If your law hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. I will never forget your commandments for you have used them to restore my joy in him.”
So the Word is a gift to us. It is meant to bless us, to give us life the way it was meant to be experienced and lived. This morning is Father’s Day, and I got all kinds of neat Father’s Day gifts that I was not expecting. This really cool watch, this is my Father’s Day gift, and this really nifty Parks-Belk shirt I have on this morning. This is a Father’s Day gift. And so I’m excited about the gifts that I received this morning for Father’s Day. But what if when my family brought out the bag that had the gifts and we started going through those – what if I had just looked at that watch and I’d said, “Do I have to wear this? I mean I’m just not real excited about wearing a watch right now, so do I – do I have to wear this?” and kind of put it aside. That would not have been good. My family would not have responded well to that kind of attitude. And the fact is that the watch is going to be great. It’s going to be a wonderful thing to keep me where I should be when I should be there. And all the gifts I got this morning are things that are going to be useful. They are really blessings to my life. And what I want to suggest is we need to look at God’s word that way. We need to see that it is something that God has given to us to enrich our lives, to bless us in wonderful, wonderful ways.
3. Through the Word we have a positive impact on others
The third thing, very briefly, is this. Through the Word, not only do we have the opportunity to know God and to have a blessed life, through the Word we have a positive impact on others. Howard Hendricks says, “It is the preaching and teaching of God’s truth, not my human perspective, that changes lives.”
Now there are a lot of tools that God uses in this world. Counselors and different books you can read and things like that. There is nothing wrong with those. But transformation of life and real phenomenal impact on other people comes through us having a biblically based approach to what we’re doing in trying to minister to others. Psalm 119:74 says, “May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy for I have put my hope in your word.” I hope that we are developing a community of faith here at Northbrook where we are grounded in the Word. And as we minister to each other, we are in part ministering to each other on the basis of God’s word, the principles of God’s word, so that when someone has a need we can help address that need because we’re on track in terms of thinking the way that God would have us think according to his word.
Think about ways that the Word helps us in having a positive impact on others. First would be ''bearing witness to the gospel itself''. Being able to share with somebody else how they can know Jesus.
Secondly, the Word is ''powerful to meet people’s needs''. If it’s an encouragement to us, we need to also be able to come alongside someone who is discouraged and on the basis of Scripture say, hey, let’s read this together and let me encourage you here or help you find the answer to your needs.
A third thing would be ''combating poor teaching and heresy''. There are a lot of quirky, weird and sometimes damaging ideas in the world. There are a lot of people out there who believe very strange things about God. Let me give you just one example. Right now one of the most popular books out there is The Da Vinci Code. I haven't read all of it. I've read just a little bit of it. What I hear is it's a great read and that doesn't surprise me at all. But what the guy does is he mixes things that are historical with a whole lot of stuff that's not historical and calls into question the whole approach and ministry of the church and who Jesus is. What it's doing is it's having a profound impact on those millions of people who are out there reading it. I have a student in school who said his sister's response after reading that book was, "You know, I knew the church was all screwed up, and this just confirms it." Even though this guy is not basing his stuff on historical fact, people are being sucked into this very wrong way of thinking about Jesus and about the church. Well, how do we know what is the right way to think? How do we approach truth? Well, it's going to be on the basis of really understanding God's word and learning from it, and then finally, to understand how the church should function.
V. Practical tips on motivation
Let me give you several brief thoughts for help with motivation and we'll draw to a close.
A. Be realistic
As we over the coming weeks think about starting or energizing our pattern of Bible reading or Bible study, first of all, be realistic about the goals you set. I remember when I was in college, we had a speaker come and he was dynamic and he was talking about relationship with God and spending time with God in the morning. He spent two-plus hours every morning with God. So I thought, well, that's what you're supposed to do. And as this young college student, I set out to spend two hours with God every morning. Well, that lasted for like three days, and then I just burned out and gave up because I wasn't able to handle that. For most of us, when we're just starting out, it would be more realistic to spend 10 to 15 minutes reading the Bible each day, consistently, and then maybe one time a week dive down a little bit deeper in the process of study. If you're just starting out, I would encourage you to have a goal of maybe one time a week either on a passage that's going to be preached on or taught on here at church or some passage that you're interested in, but just to start out with 10 to 15 minutes of reading a day and about 45 minutes to an hour a week of more in-depth study.
B. Read and study the Bible in community
A second thing is do Bible reading and study in community. And what I mean by that is if I have friends around me who are also reading and studying the Bible and we're sharing and encouraging one another, then that is very helpful. I'm in a SALT group on Wednesday morning with Chuck and some other guys, and that's a very encouraging group and their response to God's word and eagerness to be obedient is very encouraging to me and helps me in my own processes.
C. Have a set time and place
A third thing is to set aside a consistent time and place. If you do Bible study and reading serendipitously, just wherever and whenever, it's never going to become a pattern of your life. And I found if I have a set place and a set time that I'm trying to do that every day, then it becomes something that not only is a habit, but also a hunger. I long for it and I miss it if it's not a part of my day. So have a set time and place.
D. Work hard at application
The fourth is work hard at application. We're going to have a whole session in which we talk about application. As we adjust our lives and see God changing our lives, it is a tremendous motivator to spend time in the Word. And so we want to work hard at applying the Scripture.
E. Have the right tools and spiritual commitments
And then finally make sure that you have the right tools and spiritual commitments. And again we're going to get more into that - even in the next session - to talk about what are our basic spiritual commitments and tools.
Let me give you a couple of assignments for next week. What I would like you to do - those of you who have the book, the little book that David Dockery and I did - is to go ahead and read at least the first chapter in that book, which is on motivation. It covers some of the things that we've talked about this morning. But if you can read that first chapter, that would be a good start. And the other thing I would ask you to do is to think through for yourself where are you in your motivation for Bible study and your use of time. Think through that a little bit and think about what value you're placing on the Scripture right now and then maybe in light of what we've talked about this morning, how you could change your perspective some to increase that value.