Just Me and My Bible?
The Personal Aspect
“My general rule is that I wake up two hours before I need to be at my first engagement. This allows me to get ready for the day, and ensure that I have plenty of time to spend in the Word.”
“That sounds kinda legalistic.”
“What is your method?”
“Well, I find that if I force myself to read the Bible, most times I don’t have the proper motivations, so I don’t get much out of it. I’m trying this thing where I only read my Bible when I really desire to spend time with God.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Honestly? I hardly ever remember to open my Bible these days.”
“I think I’ll stick with my method.”
This is the dialogue my spiritual mentor relayed to me as he recounted the conversation he had with a close friend. They were both genuinely seeking to grow in their walk with the Lord. His encouragement to me was that even though there will be mornings when you don’t want to get up early, you’re in a bad mood, or you’d rather do something else, it’s those days when it’s almost more important to spend time in God’s Word. While it could potentially lead to legalism or become drudgery, it’s important to at least give God an opportunity to speak truth into your day. Additionally, the more you get in the habit of not doing something, the harder and harder it is to get back into a routine, he explained.
We know what the Bible says about vain repetitions (Matt 6:7), and we know that God cares about the posture of our hearts more than burnt offerings and sacrifices (Ps 51:16–17), but what about when doing what is right takes precedence over how we feel. Spiritual formation isn’t something that just accidentally happens to us. This may sound like it wholly depends upon our willpower and spiritual fervor. No, but there is a joint participation between the Spirit at work in us to make us more like Christ, and a conscious (consistent) decision on our part to willingly be changed as we seek to participate in spiritual disciplines. Professor Craig Dykstra has said, “The practices of faith are not ultimately our practices but rather habitations of the Spirit, in the midst of which we are invited to participate in the practices of God.”
The Corporate Aspect
This spiritual formation doesn’t take place in a vacuum, however. I’ve heard people literally say, “I don’t need to go to church…I just need me and my Bible.” While this sentiment hints at the truth that the Holy Spirit indwells and teaches each of us as believers, it also sadly misses three (among other) crucial factors.
- God has called us to assemble/worship with other believers.
- God gives us spiritually mature examples to emulate.
- God has spiritually gifted teachers of His Word for the edification of the church.
The author of Hebrews encourages believers to draw near to God together, “stir up one another to love and good works,” and not neglect gathering together (Heb 10:22–25). Again, the author of Hebrews and Paul speak of imitating the faith and example of godly leaders who help point us to Christlikeness (Heb 13:7; 2 Thes 3:7,9). Finally, in regard to the public teaching and study of His Word, God not only gave individuals the spiritual gift of teaching for our benefit, but also expects the church to appoint leaders who, “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [they] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). If we as believers are not willing to place ourselves under the authority of those God has called to teach, shepherd, and set an example, we are not only rejecting the Body we are called to be an integral member of, but we are also rejecting God’s design to disciple us as a follower of Christ.
I am so thankful for the numerous Bibles I have in my own possession in my own language — which is more than many believers around the world and ages past could say. I am so thankful for the freedom to open my Bible in the mornings and allow God’s Word to teach and point me to Christ. But I would be a fool to think that the spiritual formation God desires is limited to even the best moments of this spiritual discipline. One of my favorite verses speaks of the corporate act of worship and study of God’s Word:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.