Challenge: The Word
If you’ve spent much time in church, you have likely often heard the first verse from Psalm 42, “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.”
But if you’re like us, those words may sometimes seem a bit stale. Both of us have often sung them on Sunday - but not always with sincerity. Yes, we long for God. But if you took a good hard look at how we have spent our time through the years, you might think we long for other things a bit more – things like a clean house, time with friends and “enough” sleep.
And as good as “digging into the Word” sounds, sometimes it’s hard ground to break through. When we discuss the reality of how we live, we have to confess that there are times when we truly think about how we really should read it and sincerely intend to study His word….later. Perhaps you know what we mean. Have you ever found yourself moving toward a quiet time, and then suddenly a thousand other things begin fighting for your attention? You remember that you need to respond to that email. You start making a grocery list. You get sleepy.
Even after pushing through those initial distractions, you realize that you don’t know where to start. After all, the Bible is a big book. So you flip pages for a while, hoping something will catch your attention and magically transform the way you view the world. And then you start thinking that your time in the Word would be more successful, that you could “get more out of it” if you used a devotional. So you end up reading what somebody else said about the Bible instead of actually reading it for yourself.
Have you ever lived out that kind of lukewarm Christianity? Or maybe the more important question is; have you ever experienced the opposite?
Have you ever rushed home so you could throw the Bible open? Have you ever read it for so long, been so absorbed in its pages that you have forgotten to eat? That you have put off sleep? Have you let other books grow dusty on the shelves as you wore your way through the binding of your marked-up, tattered-up Bible?
Matthew 4:4 says, “People do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The words of scripture and Jesus himself are often referred to as “daily bread” and “living water.” They are entirely necessary for life. And it is even more important to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst than it is to eat and drink.
In the book of Haggai, God makes a simple observation about His people:
“The people procrastinate” (Haggai 1:2, MSG).
He’s waiting for them to rebuild His Temple, but they keep putting it off. Sound familiar? He’s waiting for us to read and study His book, but we keep getting distracted.
The Hope: The Word
What He says next is just as much for us as it was for those Jewish people thousands of years ago.
“Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.
You have spent a lot of money,
But you haven’t much to show for it.
You keep filling your plates,
But you never get filled up.
You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,
But you’re always thirsty…
Here’s what I want you to do:
Climb into the hills and cut some timber.
Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.
Do it just for me. Honor me.
You’ve had great ambitions for yourselves,
But nothing has come of it” (Haggai 1:5-9, MSG).
Essentially, God is saying, "You’re spending your life pursuing all these things that won’t last. You forget that I am eternal. You love all the gifts I’ve given you in life, but you ignore the One who gave them to you. This isn’t working. Here’s what I want you to do: quit delaying and get to work. Get your priorities in order – our relationship should come first.“
Because God’s Word is entirely essential to growing in faith, it is the Enemy’s number one task to distract us from reading it. Knowing God’s Word is to know the One who conquered death and offers each of us the fulfilling love and oneness with him that we crave. "God’s Word became flesh.” It is the one true hope for every generation.
Satan keeps us in bondage – to things, to schedules, to stress, to ourselves - when we do not spend time in the Word, in the Truth. But it is the Truth that sets us free! The Word of God is both our challenge, and our hope!
The Bible is more than a book for you to read. You are in the story. It’s about your past – all of your hurts and fears and mistakes and broken dreams (no matter who you are) – and it’s about your future – God wants to turn everything in your life into an eternal blessing.
It’s tempting to think that you must have some kind of professional help in order to grow from reading the Bible, especially if you’ve been around church for a long time and feel like you’ve heard it all already, but it isn’t true. You can open up the Bible right now and if you are attentive to it, if you’re patient and willing to let it teach you, you will learn something. Yes, there is “wisdom in the multitude of counselors”. But God’s Word is also the story of how He speaks to all who are willing to listen.
Learning to read your Bible regularly – not just read it, but soak in it, chew on it and digest it – requires discipline. It takes practice, but when you get used to it, you begin to desire that time. You begin to hunger for the Word.
Ann Voskamp wrote, “Daily discipline is the door to full freedom.” If you exert yourself in an effort to know God, if you make your relationship with Him into a two-way street and feed that relationship above everything else, then God will respond in a magnificent way.
“This Temple is going to end up far better than it started out, a glorious beginning but an even more glorious finish: a place in which I will hand out wholeness and holiness” (Haggai 2:9, MSG).
No matter where you are in your faith, there is room to grow. And if you dive deeper into scripture, you will.
This is our prayer:
“Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. I am but a pilgrim here on earth: how I need a map – and your commands are my chart and guide. I long for your instructions more than I can tell” (Psalm 119:18-20, TLB).