Posted by Sophie Bannister, 9 Jan 2018
In this article from the latest edition of Crossway, Sophie Bannister encourages us in daily Bible reading, with some excellent suggestions for those who are always on the go.
Let me ask you a question: how many cookery programmes have you watched in the last year? We all know about the Bake Off, naturally, but how many of these do you follow: Masterchef, Saturday Kitchen, Come Dine With Me, Eat Well for Less?, The Great British Menu…? And now here’s a follow-up question: out of all the programmes you’ve watched, how many of the recipes featured on them have you actually cooked? Hundreds? Five? Or, none? Before you start wondering why I am quite so interested in your TV/culinary habits, let me draw a parallel with your devotional habits. After searching websites, apps, videos, podcasts, and books, I have come to the conclusion that you and I have literally hundreds of Bible-study resources available to us in a wide variety of accessible formats. But are we actually studying the Bible more? Have our quiet times become more regular and rich as a result? Apparently not: 60% of Anglicans never read their Bible, 21% read their Bibles once or twice a year, and only 2% read it every day.
I imagine that a few thoughts are springing to mind about how and why we find ourselves in this situation, but let’s hold our focus on your heart and mine for the moment. I wonder whether you, like me, have ever had that “not again” feeling on a Sunday, when a familiar passage of Scripture is read out just before the sermon (about the birth of Jesus, for example, or the Prodigal Son). Perhaps, like me, you’re tempted to zone out ever so slightly during the talk, convinced that, seeing as you’ve heard this passage many, many times, it will be impossible for the preacher to draw out of it anything that you don’t already know. If this is how you and I tend to think about Scripture, it means that we are approaching it primarily as if it were a collection of spiritual facts needing to be analysed and mentally understood.
Clearly, a ‘head knowledge’ of the Bible is not wrong in itself. It is entirely necessary: unless we engage with our minds, seeking to understand the text, we will not be able to access what it means. But if we do not approach Scripture desiring God to speak through our minds to our hearts, our motivation for reading the Bible will either become a dull duty that we do out of fear, or it will dry up completely. If you and I were to sit down tonight to watch an episode of Bake Off with hungry stomachs, it would not take very long before one of us got up again to turn the oven on. Similarly, if we were more aware of our own spiritual hunger pangs, it would not take long before we started seeking out opportunities for feeding on the Word of God.
Psalm 1 describes a tree that is a picture of plant health: it grows strongly, and is covered in leaves and fruit. The only reason that this tree grows so well is because it is planted close to a stream. It cannot help but draw up water, and so daily it is refreshed and strengthened. It would be a kind of madness if that tree were deliberately to stop drawing up that water. It is a kind of madness when we do not regularly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, because in doing so we deny ourselves the essentials of spiritual life. The pressures of work, family responsibilities, mental health and social life can make us feel as though we are living in a spiritual desert. Life with a small child, for example, as my husband and I are finding out, makes regular, uninterrupted Bible study a significant challenge. It is a challenge infinitely worth taking on, however, because when you and I start to believe that we are too busy for Bible study, we turn off the spiritual water supply to our own hearts.
The Scriptures themselves give us insight into how God intends us to meet Him in His Word. Reading through Psalm 119, I am challenged by the intensity and depth of fervent love expressed there. The psalmist rejoices in, delights in, loves and longs for God and His Word. When was the last time I felt such hunger for God? When was the last time I devoured His Scriptures, meditated on and lingered with them, all because they are His words? How often do I make space and time for Bible study – not out of a legalistic desire to please, but because I want to follow the apostles’ example of allowing God’s Word to fuel and guide my hope, faithfulness and spiritual resilience? If all this is to happen – and not just in you and me, but in our denomination - we need the Lord to change our hearts. We need to pray that God would increase your and my desire for Him and for His Word, so that more and more our hearts burn within us with joy and recognition as we meet with Jesus in His Scriptures.
Keen to engage with Scripture but tight for time (and energy)?
Here are a few practical and app-based suggestions to help navigate those periods of life when time and energy are in precious short supply but our phones are almost always to hand…
Have you tried the Bible Project’s app, a ‘Bible-in-a-year’-type plan, called Read Scripture? It divides the Bible into accessible chunks (‘The Wilderness,’ ‘The Promised Land,’ etc), and begins each chunk with an engaging animated video introduction to the scope, structure and themes of the books included.
If you prefer a more structured devotional-style resource, you might like the St Philemon’s Bible notes (accessible via the PrayerMate app), which provide a short passage of Scripture and some simple but punchy questions. Also, Scripture Union’s Daily Bread devotional is now in app-form, and the Explore App brings together a good selection of thoughtful and weighty devotionals.
Sophie Bannister is a Christian, wife, mum, and curate in the Church of England (at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate and St Margaret’s Lothbury). She supports City workers as they seek to follow Jesus Christ in a busy world. She writes a weekly Bible-devotional blog: awomanmustlearn.wordpress.com. This article previously appeared in Crossway, the quarterly magazine of Church Society.
Photo by © tiwaz / 123rf.com
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