Our family morning routine involves a prayer, a Bible verse and a few songs while eating breakfast. The other day we sang a song that many of us equate with juice boxes and butter cookies: Read your Bible, pray everyday if you want to grow.
My eldest daughter abruptly stopped singing and asked, “What does reading your Bible have to do with growing?” To this I replied, “Well, it is not our physical bodies that we want to grow, it is our hearts.”
“But what if our hearts grow too big? Won’t they jump out of our bodies?” she responded. I laughed, until someone spilled milk, and the conversation ended.
Later that morning, I recalled the dialogue with my daughter while singing rather half-heartedly those words read your Bible, pray everyday, neglecting the impact of what happens when we actually read and pray everyday — we grow.
Sure, I talk a lot about God — I read books by Christian authors, listen to podcasts and sermons, and I even subscribe and faithly read a few devotions daily. However, a closer examination of the substance of my spiritual diet reveals one glaring truth — how little time I actually spend reading God’s Word. While Jesus walked on earth, He referred to Himself as the bread of life and urged His followers to feed their souls before looking to satisfy their bodies.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
Frequently, this text is used as a stand alone verse of hope and deliverance by the transforming power of Jesus, but read on to learn what else Jesus did in this passage. After teaching a multitude of people, He separated Himself from them. Then dinner time arrived, and there was no food around. Jesus rejoined the group and Andrew, a disciple, presented five loaves of bread and two fish, along with the comment that this was not nearly enough to feed everyone, but we continue to read the miracle of God feeding the entire multitude with this seemingly insufficient amount of food, with twelve baskets of leftovers!
The next day, the same throng of people followed Jesus, still seeking signs after witnessing Him perform many miracles merely hours before. Yet, they completely dismissed who He was, the Son of God, and that He was sent to save them from physical and spiritual death, if only they believed. Like many of us today, they focused on filling their bellies, gratifying the flesh, instead of seeking a life filled with the Holy Spirit.
While the overall message that Jesus taught here is that He is the giver and sustainer of life, both physically and spiritually, He wanted them to believe in God’s goodness and grace. But, first and foremost, they must believe that He is the Son whom God sent to offer salvation and that He is able to meet every need when they trust and submit to Him for all eternity.
As I wrestled with why I personally struggle to regularly read my Bible, even though I fully acknowledge my need of its truth to grow spiritually, God revealed to me some other lessons in this passage:
1) Jesus intentionally left the crowd to spend time alone.
Being a part of small group, a church, or even discussing God’s word with a friend are all great tools to grow our faith, especially to encourage us to stay on the “straight and narrow.” Our faith is personal, although God loves the entire world, and His story of redemption is the same as it has been since the beginning of time. However, he speaks to each of us differently. We need to silence the noise of man’s opinions to allow God to speak to our heart, on an individual, one-on-one basis. Our relationship with God should be as comfortable as one we have with our best friend. It’s like this: I enjoy spending time with my husband and my girls as a family, but when I am given the chance to have one-on-one time, it gives me a completely new perspective. My middle child, whom we assume is shy, isn’t really shy when she is alone, but actually quite silly and loud. But I would not know that because around her more outgoing sister, she is reserved. After each time spent intentionally and purposefully focusing on just that relationship, I feel refreshed, renewed and fall in love with her all over. The same is true when we separate ourselves from everything going on around us and intentionally commune with God in quiet and stillness. He shows us things that perhaps we missed in a group setting. We begin to see God as a friend, as the LIVING Word.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. Psalm 42:1,2
2) Even after witnessing the miracles of Jesus, the crowds still doubted that He was the Son of God.
Reading the Bible is hard work. Like, really reading, and studying can take some brain power. If you have ever tried to read the Bible straight through, you know how arduous this becomes around Leviticus and Numbers. Often I put down my Bible to pick up a commentary because frankly, it’s easier for my brain to comprehend. I rely on The Message interpretation instead of journaling verses and putting them into my own words, because, well, I am lazy and often want instant answers. I become discouraged if I read a passage and do not experience an immediate awe-inspiring, God-filled moment. Instead of taking a few minutes, perhaps hours or days, to allow the text to speak to me, I close the Bible, convinced that deep Bible study is only for true scholars, and people like me should stick to daily devotionals. We must stop believing that not ALL of the Bible is important and that God is incapable to speak directly to us through His written Word. I am a big fan of commentaries, study Bibles, speaking to my associate pastor, and other Godly influences to discuss Scripture, but had to stop believing the lie that I was not smart enough or spiritual enough to understand the Scripture alone. And a tool that also helped me to grasp this was the book by Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word. Even though I grew up as a regular church attender, I was never really taught how to actually study the Bible. Now, before diving into a particular book of the Bible or a passage, I’ve learned that it’s important to know who wrote the book, to whom was it specifically written and what was the historical context. Approaching God’s Word in this manner was a game changer in aiding me to more clearly understand Scripture. Do not allow a verse, a chapter, or a Book of the Bible discourage you and make you doubt that God’s Word is relevant — keep reading, keep going to the Word with a sincere desire to learn, and God will reveal Himself.
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square . . . and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses. . . And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people . . . So they read distinctly from the book, . . . and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading. And all the people went their way to . . . rejoice greatly because they understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:1-12
3) People were more concerned about satisfying their flesh than their souls.
Each night around 10:30 p.m., I have the best intentions of waking up thirty minutes earlier the following morning to have some quiet time alone with the Lord. My Bible is out, along with special pens and a notebook, and the coffee maker set on auto. Nevertheless, many mornings I hit the snooze button or a child wakes up early or an email grabs my attention or I just do not feel like reading right then, truth be told. The needs of my family, including my own, coupled with the interruptions of life, leave my Bible collecting dust as this routine repeats itself day after day. I recently heard that Satan has become smarter in his attacks to keep us from advancing in our spiritual lives by using things like Netflix, Facebook, e-mail, our jobs, even our families, to keep us from prioritizing time with God. Spending time in prayer (talking to God), reading, studying and meditating on Scripture (listening to God), is every bit as important as maintaining a healthy diet and workout routine. Now, you wouldn’t miss a workout, would you? Why — because over time, the consequences of neglecting to exercise will be evident in your jeans! Likewise, there are consequences for not spending time with the Lord. They may not be so evident today, or even tomorrow, but over time, misprioritization of our spiritual walk wreaks havoc on all our relationships and personal well being. We must treat our time with God, as non-negotiable, like our spin class or not skipping breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Blocking off time on my calendar, having an accountability partner, and telling myself that even if it is just for five minutes that day, helps me be more consistent. Everyone has a time that works better for her or him; my husband is not a morning person, and I, on the other hand, can’t keep my eyes open past 10 p.m. We must not let the “business” of life distract us from the nurturing of our souls and spirit that time alone with our Father provides.
O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and a thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
My prayer for the Church is that we will carve out time to spend alone with God and rely on His Word as our main source of Truth and allow it to penetrate our hearts so we become more like Christ.
“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates..”