Read Stay Tender, Stay Ready | Introduction, the first post in a series of four, here.
As I seek to keep my heart tender and ready to the instruction of the Lord in my life, the fact of the matter is, I don’t know what His instruction is unless I learn it. I came preloaded with software that does not lead me in His ways, but quite the contrary, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). My natural inclination is toward these ways that lead to death, but I want to avoid them. As I do, what will replace these ways that lead to death? This is the first obstacle in overcoming a hard heart – replacing natural inclinations with the ways of the Lord. This is a content issue. I simply do not know what I need to know. Thankfully, God left me printed instructions to teach me all that I need to know to follow Him.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
If we are careful not to gloss over it, we are met with a pretty profound statement. Through the study of God’s word I can be competent and equipped for every good work. Within the pages of God’s word I can find all the content I need to live the Christian life. God’s word will address all my areas of ignorance and teach my mind what it is I need to know. So where do you start?
Read the Bible. While it should be obvious, you would be surprised at how many followers of Jesus attempt to follow him without spending any substantive time in his word. I believe two of the most important keys to reading the Bible are to be consistent and systematic in your approach. Otherwise, you will find yourself not making much progress through it or be susceptible to reading only parts you find encouraging or (in your estimation) applicable to you. How can you be consistent and systematic in your approach? There are various great reading plans to help you in this regard. I use the ESV – Bible in a Year. Each day presents me with a section from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. While the Bible is simply broken up into 365 segments, you would be surprised at how applicable each day can be!
Study the Bible. Remember the goal of Bible reading is to be “competent and equipped for every good work.” I am not looking to receive a spiritual “check mark” for having read that day, but to understand what I am reading so that I can know what God wants me to know. Often in the course of my study, I will come across passages that, frankly, I do not understand or seem just downright weird. At those moments, I have the option to disregard and move on or to write down the reference and and questions in order that I might seek more understanding. If I choose the latter, there are many options available to me including excellent study bibles, insightful commentaries, knowledgeable Christian peers, faithful pastors and solid sermons. I just need to avail myself to these resources. Essentially, I must desire to become a student of the bible. Sitting in a message is no longer a passive activity, but one where I am actively listening, taking notes and pondering the implications. My goal is understanding and I actively pursue it.
Meditate on the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Unlike any other book or text, the Holy Spirit is actively at work when we study God’s work to bring it to bear upon our hearts. Each and every time I go to read the Bible I would be well served to pray as the psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18). After reading and studying his living word, it is essential for me to pause, and invite the Holy Spirit to teach me and lead me in understanding. Toward that end, I often ask the same questions Saul asked when confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, “Who are you, Lord? And “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:8-9). When I do, I do so expectantly that the Holy Spirit will answer and teach me about whom he is and give me direction about what I am to do.