As we dive back into the practice of spiritual disciplines this week, this segment should probably come with a warning. Something along the lines of: Spending time in the Word is both beneficial and hazardous to your life.
Actually, it might also need another caution: Setting aside time for the Word will be one of the hardest and yet most beneficial habits you can form.
If these ideas seem overly negative or somewhat pessimistic, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we (I) spend our (my) time. I’ll start out with my daily routine. Wake up. Get ready for work. Work. Work. Work. Go home. Eat dinner. Spend time with my wife/friends. Take the dog for a walk. Watch TV. Go to sleep. Wake up. Rinse and repeat.
That incredibly basic summation doesn’t even include the myriad of things that we–the talented multi-tasking generation–do along with our usual “stuff.” There’s music, movies, phone calls, Blackberrying, emergencies, duties at church or school, etc. And if you have one or more children, you can multiply those responsibilities by 10 (or 20 or 100).
Regardless of where you find yourself along life’s path, the struggle to carve out time with your Creator is one that consistently tugs at the hem of your soul. For those committed to living a life with God, spending time with Him is absolutely vital. Yet, at least for this humble writer, actually making this a daily practice is incredibly difficult.
In truth, the practice of spending time in the Word goes hand in hand with solitude. In the same way that we can only know God by spending time with Him, we can only learn His voice by reading what He has to say in the Bible. As always, His Son’s example is both compelling and convicting.
In the previous installments of this series, we’ve focused on Jesus’ time in the wilderness and His confrontation with the devil, in part with this practice in mind. His response to the three temptations in Matthew 4 all begin with the same phrase: “It is written…” In chapter 5, He also uses the phrase, “you have heard that it was said…” as He delivers the Sermon on the Mount. In each instance, these two sayings were followed by quotes from Old Testament Scriptures, quotes that were completely applicable and on-point for the topic (or temptation at hand).
In these examples (and others throughout the New Testament), we can see that a thorough knowledge of God’s Word gives the student of that Word (be it Jesus or one of His followers) some interesting characteristics. First off, it allows the student to speak with authority and power. Jesus thwarted the devil’s attacks with Scripture, not with physical power or might. There is something potent about speaking the Word of God and Jesus recognized this.
Secondly, Jesus knew the Word deeply enough to know when it was being wielded improperly. During the second temptation, Satan took a page from the Scripture-quoting playbook. He invited Jesus to throw Himself down from the top of the temple by referencing a couple of verses from Psalm 91.
This particular Psalm is full of promises for those who trust in the Lord during times of conflict and war. But it doesn’t advise God’s followers to unnecessarily place themselves in the path of harm. And this is what Jesus calls the devil on when He responds, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.’”
Finally, understanding the Word in its entirety is crucial for understanding the teachings of Jesus Himself. Throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount (and indeed the rest of His earthly ministry), Christ constantly referenced Scripture and spoke of how He came not to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it. As a Jew, He was well versed in the teachings that grew out of the Torah and He used those as starting points for His parables and instructions.
As His followers, we should be equally immersed in both the Old and New Testaments, learning as much as we can about the content and context of the Word. We need to be like Christ, “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). In so doing, we can speak with authority, love and understanding into the lives of people around us. We can recognize the misuse of Scripture when we hear it. And we can learn what it means to truly follow the teachings of Jesus.
Which bring us back to those warnings above. Doing all of this and doing it well is hard. It’s not easy to set aside time for the Word. There is so much that calls out for our attention. And it’s not always “bad” things that pull us away. Taking care of family, loving on our neighbors and attending to work responsibilities aren’t intrinsically bad pursuits.
But they are the enemy of what God wants for us when we allow them to interfere with getting to know Him. We can’t properly know what it means to truly take care of our family, love our neighbors and accomplish our work outside the context of God’s definitions for those parts of our lives. We have to be centered on Him and His Word or the rest all falls to pieces. In this regard, being in the Word on a regular basis could be the best waste of time ever created.
–by Jeremy Hunt