Spiritual Disciplines, Part 2: The Priority of Bible Reading and Mediation

In his little book, Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World, former Navy SEAL and Admiral William H. McRaven offers his readers ten pieces of hard-earned wisdom, each culled from the rigors of life as one of the U. S. military’s most elite soldiers. Making one’s bed first thing in the morning, McRaven suggests, is a discipline that sets the tone for the rest of the day. Why? Because “sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give you the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right.” By beginning the day with a task completed, we establish a pattern that will enable us to accomplish larger tasks during the day.

This is sound advice, and I am glad to receive it as a gift of common grace. But there is another discipline that is infinitely more important when it comes to setting the tone for our day, even if our bed remains slightly disheveled.

Why Must We Make Bible Reading a Priority?
When we talk about the discipline of Bible reading and meditation, the first question we need to ask is why we should make this practice a such a priority. The most important reason is that the Bible is the place where God reveals himself (see 1 Sam 3:21). In order to behold the glory of Christ and fellowship with our God, we must meet him in his Word.

These comments are not meant to downplay the role of prayer. Indeed, prayer is a primary means of fellowship with our Creator (and we will talk specifically about prayer in a subsequent post). Nevertheless, when it comes to our communion with God there seems to be a logical and intrinsic priority to the Bible because (1) the words of Scripture are what brought us into relationship with God and enabled us to call out to him for salvation in the first place (Rom 10:17); (2) Scripture teaches how to pray; (3) Scripture kindles our affections for God; (4) the Bible is God’s infallible Word; prayer is our fallible response to this Word.

There are countless incentives presented in Scripture for why we should make it our priority to read it. When the words of Scripture are received into a believing heart, they provide us with the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:5), create life (John 6:63), give hope (Rom 15:4), expose our sin (Heb 4:12), strengthen our faith (Rom 10:17), guard us from spiritual danger (Prov 2:1-22), reveal the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:1-6; Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:1-6), prepare us for useful ministry (2 Tim 3:16-17), revive and encourage our souls (Ps 19:7), give us wisdom (Ps 19:7), supply us with joy (Ps 19:8), and give us freedom (John 8:32), to name only a few benefits. We should long like the Psalmist to mine these treasures from God’s Word (Ps 19:10-11).

Focusing on Personal Bible Reading
There are many ways we might receive God’s Word. One of the primary ways is through the Sunday morning sermon. Another way we hear the Word is through corporate Bible studies. We certainly cannot neglect these venues. We might also listen to sermons online or to podcasts on our smartphone, which are also legitimate means to receive God’s Word. In this post, however, I am focusing on personal Bible reading.

At this point, I want to offer you what I’ve found to be a tremendous encouragement in this task of Bible reading. You might be intimidated by the prospect of regular Bible reading because you think you need formal training in biblical studies in order to understand Scripture. And while it is true that God has given us teachers to help us safely and effectively navigate his Word, it is also true that the best interpreters of the Bible are simply the best readers.

This means that the basic skill that must be constantly exercised and honed in biblical interpretation is the skill of reading. That’s encouraging.  If we want to know what a text says and what it means, we must read the text. In his recent book on the discipline of Bible reading, John Piper helpfully notes,

I will say in a nutshell here that I do not intend to discuss the different guidelines for reading different kinds of writing in the Bible, such as narrative, proverb, parable, poetry, and many more….My approach is based on the simple observation that before anyone can discern from a text what kind of writing it is, one must be reading. Which means that there are important general strategies of reading that take place before you can let a certain kind of writing determine how you read….Most of what I have seen in Scripture has come not from learning rules for each kind of writing, but rather from the more basic discipline of looking hard at what is really there.

We will be wise to remain teachable and seek to learn from the best Bible teachers. And rightly handling the text of Scripture with sound principles of interpretation is vital. But above all, we must read.

Are We Commanded to Read the Bible Every Day?
Before we talk specifically about the practical aspects of Bible reading, we might want to ask: Are we commanded to read the Bible every day? This is an important question. We want to avoid legalism and the addition of man-made commands even when it comes to something as important at reading Scripture.

Personally, I don’t see daily Bible reading as a direct command for at least three reasons. (1) I am unable to locate an explicit command in Scripture for Christians to read the Bible every day. (2) Not every believer in church history has had access to a Bible or even been able to read. It seems foolish to conclude that these Christians in the past were in sin, or those in places where Scripture is currently scarce and illiteracy common are walking in sin because they presently have no way of reading the Bible every day. (3) There are Christians who are seriously ill and unable to read the Bible every day. It seems cruel and unnecessary to require that they read their Bibles every day. (Indeed, rather than chiding these dear Christians, better to find some time to read the Bible to them.)

But for those of us who can read and do have access to Bibles, I believe Scripture would strongly encourage us to make Bible reading a daily priority for the following reasons.

(1) The Immense Benefit We Derive From It. Given the essential place the Word of God is meant to have in our lives and the massive benefits derived from spending time in it (see above), it seems natural that we would not only desire to read Scripture but that we would discipline ourselves to be regularly in it.

(2) Our Need for Daily Spiritual Food. Scripture is our spiritual sustenance (Matt 4:4). We need to eat every day, so it makes sense that we need to feed spiritually every day. Yes, we can go for a few days without eating, but when we do, we eventually become physically weak, less alert, and less able to attend to our daily tasks. Similarly, we can go without spiritual food for a time, but we will soon realize that lose our ability to effectively fend off sin, walk in the Spirit, and minister well to others.

(3) Our Need to be Equipped for Battle. We know how easy it is to drift from faith in and obedience to the Lord and how quickly the influence of the world can infiltrate our spiritual defenses. We need constant refreshing and re-equipping for the battle (see Eph 6:10-17). In order to prepare for a full day on the front lines, we need to daily gather new stores of supplies and clean and recalibrate our weapons.

(4) The Example of the Old Testament King. In Deut 17:19-20, we learn that the king was commanded to (1) have an authorized copy of the law, and (2) read it every day. This daily reading would enable the king to keep the law and keep his heart from becoming proud toward his countrymen. In other words, daily Bible reading helped the king to obey the Lord and remain humble. Although this was a command for the king of Israel (and not specifically for New Testament saints), I think we can derive valuable instruction from it.

(5) It Helps Us with Mediation. We are expected to regularly meditate upon the Word of God. Daily reading aids us in keeping this command (see Psalm 1:2; 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78). We can read slowly and meditate as we read, or we can memorize what we are reading in order to meditate later.

(6) Bibles Are a Precious Gift and a Serious Stewardship. I occasionally hear the following objection for why we shouldn’t trouble ourselves to daily read the Bible. “Because the early church and nearly all Christians prior to the Reformation did not have personal copies of the Bible, we shouldn’t feel compelled to read the Bible every day.” I believe this line of reasoning helps us to see that daily Bible reading shouldn’t be viewed as a divine command, as I noted above. But to use such reasoning to help people feel better for neglecting their Bibles is like telling a cancer patient they shouldn’t feel bad for ignoring current medical treatment because folks in the 1800s weren’t as fortunate. Full copies of canonical Scripture are a precious gift from the Lord, and we must make use of this gift. “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

(7) It Prepares us for When We Won’t Have Our Bibles. There may come a time when we won’t have such easy access to Scripture. Due to persecution and imprisonment, we may someday find ourselves without a Bible in our hands. I tremble at this possibility, but I don’t think this is the wild-eyed speculation of a religious conspiracy theorist. We know that persecution is promised in the New Testament (John 15:20; 2 Tim 3:12); how that persecution occurs in our individual lives is something only the Lord knows. For some, their experience of persecution won’t include having their Bible taken from them. For others, it might. Best to prepare well now.

So, while we aren’t commanded explicitly to read our Bibles every day, I think Scripture on the whole would say that it’s a really, really good idea. In light of the stewardship we’ve been given, we certainly don’t want to be found guilty of neglecting our Bibles. In the next post, I will offer several practical ideas to help you make regular Bible reading a priority in your life.

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