So, you’re at the dentist. And if you’re like me, you’ve postponed the appointment at least once, and now the plan is to simply survive the scraping, scratching and stretching, and get on with your day (full disclosure: I do enjoy picking the toothpaste flavor and receiving the little blue gift bag). But I realized something recently: I can avoid most of the pain and discomfort by taking better care of my teeth between visits. What a novel idea! This conclusion is nothing new. It’s not news-worthy or surprising. So why did it take so long for so many of us to realize this? It’s not because we didn’t know better. It’s because being disciplined is hard, and if we are honest, it just wasn’t worth it before.
There’s a parallel between dental hygiene and studying the Bible. A sermon can sometimes seem painfully irrelevant or be terribly convicting. A small group Bible discussion can get so personal that it hurts, or so over-our-heads that it’s embarrassing to admit we aren’t keeping up. This emotional pain and discomfort is as real as the physical feelings we avoid by canceling our dentist appointment. The only difference is your church (most likely) doesn’t charge a cancelation fee. These feelings, at least in their unbearable forms, can be avoided by making Bible study a regular, even a frequent habit. It must become a discipline, and Lord-willing, a joyful discipline (Ps. 11:47-48).
When we are habitually in God’s Word (reading it, praying it, studying it, meditating on it, discussing it), we grow in our own spiritual awareness, holiness, intimacy, and understanding. And when this is the case, we are not as easily discouraged from showing up with God’s people to open His Word. Not surprisingly, habitual personal Bible reading and study lead to (among other important things) increased understanding, increased obedience, and increased interest in the things of God.
Want to understand more of what is taught or discussed? READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE HABITUALLY. Scripture makes it clear that true understanding, being convinced of the Truth comes from the Holy Spirit, and that He is our true Teacher (1 Cor. 2:14). That said, disciplined reading and diligent study of God’s Word (Acts 17:11) is always rewarded (Is. 55:11). Just like anything else worthwhile, it takes time. It can take months to feel like you have learned something you didn’t already know. And it can take years of consistent study to get a good grasp on the Bible as a whole. What is keeping you from asking questions (Js. 1:5, Prov. 2:3-5)? Are you overwhelmed by all you don’t know? Is it pride, because you think you should already know something you don’t? The solution might simply be a humble admission that you want to grow in your understanding and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18), or that you struggle to grasp more complex spiritual truths (2 Pt. 3:16). You would likely benefit from a class or guided study, just as long as it’s coupled with habitually and prayerful study of your copy of God’s Word.
Want to feel deeply convicted less often in sermons and group Bible studies? READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE HABITUALLY. This will most certainly not protect you from all conviction (Heb. 4:12). That’s not the point. The goal is regular personal examination and confession of sin. And when this is case, there will be far fewer things I am confronted with for the first time in the public context of a sermon or group study. Image going a week without looking into a mirror, and all the corrections and cleaning you would have to do when you finally saw what you’d become! (This is equivalent to showing up at the dentist’s having not brushed your teeth for months) God’s Word is a mirror (Js. 1:22-25) that exposes our selfishness, our lack of faith, and anything else un-Christlike from which the Spirit would be so gracious to cleanse us (Jn. 17:17). To daily look into this mirror, and to daily be washed by the water of the Word (Eph. 5:26) is to remain unstained by habitual sin. In this case, any obedience that is encouraged would likely be something of which we are aware (Josh. 1:8), and any sin taught or discussed may well be something over which we have become victorious.
Want to care more about sermons and group Bible studies? READ AND STUDY THE BIBLE HABITUALLY. I admit, boring or even bad sermons exist – and I’ve preached one or two (Acts 20:9). However, as long as a sermon is based on Scripture and faithful to the text, there is food there by which to be nourished. The key is a humble understanding of our need for God’s Word as spiritual food (Matt. 4:4) and our desire to live a life that pleases our Lord we love (Jn. 14:15). With this attitude, the Holy Spirit can work powerfully through a sermon or group discussion on a topic you feel like you already know (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Have you ever eaten the same thing twice? Do you ever eat vegetables? Do you not need reminded from time to time? Do you trust the Lord to work through His Word and those in your church to feed you what you need? If we find ourselves being picky about our spiritual diet, the issue may not be with the food, but with our appetite. Habitual study of the Bible will foster in us the proper appetite for God’s Word, making us dependent on the light (Ps. 119:105), the milk (1 Pt. 2:2), and the bread of the Word on a daily, even moment-by-moment basis.
Off to brush my teeth,