Monday, November 25, 2013

But how?!

Is it possible for a person to make a serious commitment (to start a good habit) without becoming legalistic?  Can a person in love with grace also be in love with discipline? What would that even look like?

I'd like to argue that there is not a conflict between grace and discipline. That one shouldn't let the fear of wrongly trusting in forms and disciplines stop them from growing in grace and truth through time-tested disciplines or methods. The Bible is meant to be read, to be studied, to be loved and beloved. It is to be meditated upon, embraced. The Bible is to be known. We are called to be people of THE BOOK.

I don't deny that there are legalists out there, that there are believers who allow their devotions to be the thermometer of their faith. If they've prayed and read the bible, then all is well, and all is good, and reconciled they be. If they've not prayed or read the Bible, then, all is off. For how can God love them if they haven't done their part today?

I don't deny that legalism can creep into the lives of men and women who know better or who should know better. Sometimes people can say all the right words, repeat the right creeds, know all the right doctrines…and still act and behave in such a way that they reveal their weaknesses. They are trusting in Jesus and trusting in their continued faithfulness--doing all the right things for all the right reasons. Do you think of Christianity as a do religion or as a DONE religion?

My advice

  • Don't wait. Don't wait for a new week, a new month, a new year. Begin today. January 1 isn't the only day of the year you can start a new habit!
  • Find a time that works for you. Have realistic expectations of yourself ALL THE WHILE holding yourself accountable. I let the excuse of "I'm not a morning person" keep me from reading the Bible for a ridiculous number of years. True, some people read the Bible in the morning, some people find it the absolute best time of day for Bible reading. But all hours of the day work! Some people are morning people: happy, cheerful, alert, ready to go. Other people may get up early--if they have to--but they'll never be "happy" about it. Some people make things overly difficult for themselves because they're trying to copy others. Imagine this: a person who normally wakes up between 9 and 10 who decides that they "have" to wake up between 5 and 6 to have daily devotions just because some bestselling book told them to! Would that new habit be likely to stick? There isn't one hour of the day that is the "right" hour, the "only" acceptable hour for meeting the Lord! Be flexible if you need to be flexible. If you missed your "set" time for the day, then schedule it in somewhere else. 
  • Start small, but be prepared to GROW, GROW, GROW! Don't set your goals so high that they're impossible. Let's say you're new, a beginner. You've not been in the habit of reading the Bible. You've not done anything that qualifies as "quiet time" or "daily devotions." You know that some people recommend twenty minutes or thirty minutes or even an hour. But you don't know how you would ever fill that time, what you would do with yourself, what it would look like, how you could keep your focus, how you could fit that large a space into your busy life. It seems hard--too hard. Start small, but, don't stay small. You might start by giving the Bible three to five minutes here, five to six minutes there. Do you check your email more than seven times a day? Try trading one of those times for a few minutes in the Word. Do you watch a lot of TV? Try muting the TV and reading the Bible during the commercials. Always keep pressing forward. Week by week, month by month, year by year. Don't be content to read ONE CHAPTER a day year after year after year your whole life through! Don't stay small! Don't be afraid to grow past your beginnings! Plan to neglect things if you must!
  • Pray, pray, pray. Perhaps this should have been listed first! Pray before, during, after. Pray to the Author! Pray for understanding, pray for wisdom, pray for wisdom, pray for guidance. Don't try to be eloquent. Don't try to copy others. Keep it simple, keep it honest, speak from your heart. Wrestle with God if you must, but be open. Don't put on a happy face if you're weighed down with worry or grief. Just open yourself to listening to God speak to you in His Word. Let His Words speak to you in your situation, in your life. Let His Words resonate with you--haunt you if they must. The Bible is powerful and transforming. Expect much from God! 
  • Don't accept excuses for yourself, but, be forgiving! This one is oh-so-tricky. It is easy to find thousands of mediocre reasons why you just can't read the Bible today. Sometimes the excuses we try to use are incredibly flimsy. But sometimes there are very legitimate reasons. The key is to know the difference! Misplaced guilt over missed times is wrong. And sometimes guilt just keeps on multiplying. Sometimes people let guilt hold them back. That is why I personally do not like--and do not recommend--dated reading plans. Reading plans with a date attached can lead to guilt and shame--needlessly! It's hard to read a portion of Scripture designated January 20th on April 3rd. Read what you can, when you can. I think God has an easier time forgiving us than we do feeling forgiven. You might have spent years feeling discouraged and frustrated. I can't. I just can't. I can't make myself do it. I'm not consistent enough. I'm not organized enough. I'm not disciplined. If I can't be perfect, I don't want to try. I'm not good enough. I mess up. Again and again and again. I mess it up. I just can't focus. Why bother trying if I'm not going to be able to keep it up? DON'T believe it. DON'T listen to the negative talk. I spent decades with an on-again, off-again Bible-reading habit. A little over twenty years. There would be good times (reading the Bible all the way through in two months!) and bad times (NOT reading the Bible AT ALL for two or three years). I was all extremes; I was a mess. (A mess God graciously loved, but a mess). Anyone can become disciplined. (But remember, even disciplined people have messy bits!)
  • Read for understanding, but, focus on the big picture perhaps instead of worrying and stressing over tiny details. If you've never read the Bible, if you're not sure what the Old Testament has to do with the New Testament…if you're not sure how the books fit together…but you know that somehow Jesus is in there somewhere…you might consider seeking out a few resources. A good free resource for the gospel message itself is viewthestory.com. But more will be needed, most likely. I recommend Sally Lloyd-Jones' Jesus Storybook Bible OR David Helm's The Big Picture Story Bible. Learn about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and David. You might be surprised how often the New Testament speaks of the Old! Want the Bible and nothing but the Bible? Try the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible OR the ESV Grow Bible. The NIV Student Bible or the ESV Student Study Bible are also good choices. Know this too, there are some passages in Scripture that don't clear up no matter how hard you try. For example, don't stress about Genesis 6:1-4! 
  • See yourself as a learner, as someone who is seeking. There is a right framework and a wrong framework for reading. For example, the framework that says "I know better than God, and I'm a better judge of what is right and wrong, of what is fair or unfair, of what is good or bad." Don't read the book and judge the author! Don't try to rewrite it and make it better!  Realize that the text has meaning apart from what it means to you. Realize that much of the Bible speaks about sin, about the seriousness of sin, and that our disagreement--if there is disagreement--comes from us not getting how God truly feels about sin. Our indifference of sin, our tolerance for sin, our love of sin is a problem. Keep proper reverence for God, but, don't assume that all questions are bad questions. (The problem isn't that we are curious and wanting answers--demanding answers; the problem is sometimes that we're proud and arrogant and stubborn! Don't read the Bible as if you are personally the authority on it!) Remembering that God is God and that we are not is always key!
  • Don't be ruled by feelings. Read when you're happy. Read when you're depressed. Read when you've got a cold. Read when you're feeling fine! Read when you're worried. Read when you're confident. Don't wait for that horrible, desperate, hopeless moment. You might not feel passionately in love with God; you might in fact feel cranky and MEAN. But READ. Read yourself out of that bad mood if you must! I've found that reading when angry usually means a humbling conviction, a revealing of my own weaknesses and flaws. Don't wait for that oh-so-magical, just-right feeling.  
  • Don't be surprised if reading the Bible changes you. It's meant to. God's ways are not our ways. Our wills often clash with HIS will. We don't love the things we should love; we don't hate the things we should hate. We don't forgive as much as we should; we don't love as we should; we are quick to assume, quick to judge. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, with the Spirit revealing His Word to us, change will happen. Hearts are united. God will be our one thing. 
Chris Tomlin's Lay Me Down



© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Joyful Reader said...

Some great tips Becky! I am not a morning person either. But I started the habit of getting up an hour before my kids and husband. It took a while to get used to getting up at 5:30 but now I look forward to doing my bible reading in the stillness of the morning with my coffee and a low lit lamp. Such a peaceful way to start my day!