Thursday, October 18, 2012

COM Ch 21: Digging Deep

Chapter 21: Digging Deep

            By this point, it had been a couple years’ worth of waiting for God to bring us a house.  I would even take an inkling of guidance in any direction.  But there was none of that.  Nothing but . . . well, nothing.  We had found and then lost one house.  We had severe mold issues in the downstairs of the rental and then got mold in an upstairs bedroom.  (And, yes, I did notify the landlord, several times.  But no one else seemed to smell it.  And then when they did do something about it, it was done wrong.  Twice!)  So we were sleeping on separate floors just so we could fit, the boys on the downstairs floor with Jason, and me and Jackson in the boys’ bunk bed upstairs.  We had stopped inviting company over because of all the boxes and the mold.  And during the day, we would spend hours just sitting outside, trying to stay out of the house.  My tonsils had become very swollen and rock hard, and my arms would go numb if I was in the back room too long.  And still . . . we were getting no direction from God. 

            Surely, it’ll be any moment now, right?  But we couldn’t find any suitable house in our price range, and we had no idea when Jason’s pay would go back to normal.  So we couldn’t make any move yet.  Maybe this was the new normal?  Maybe we would have to get used to the idea of finding a different rental?  Ugh!  Please, Lord, no!  Not another rental?  Not the camper in my parents’ backyard?  
            As I walked up and down the sidewalk outside the house, analyzing our situation, I got the feeling of being suffocated.  It was like I had climbed into a giant balloon, pulled it up over my head, and then the air was vacuumed out of it.  And so, it’s skin tight on me, covering my face, sealed around my arms and legs.  And then I panic because I can’t breathe, and I’m trying to kick or punch through it.  I’m trying to rip it off my face so I can catch a breath.  But I can’t, because it’s like a second skin that has swallowed me whole.  And I can’t get out.  That’s how I felt.  Trapped.  Suffocated.    
            Sure, I was learning to see benefits in waiting, as I said in the last chapter.  And I was learning to praise God and find things to be thankful for.  But that was about 20% of the time, random moments throughout the day.  For the other 80% of the time, I was getting more and more discouraged and beginning to despair.  Just being honest!  If I made it look like I was handling it really well and learning the lessons fast then I would be lying.     
            I felt like I was floating at sea all alone in a deep fog.  There were rocks and cliffs all around, and I had no way to find the lighthouse myself.  I needed something or someone to help clear the fog a little.  I needed something to lean on when I couldn’t see or think straight.  I needed God to give me just one more indication that I was on the right track, that it was right to still be waiting on Him.  I didn’t trust myself to hang in there, without some word from Him.    
            Where do we go when we need this kind of extra strength and patience, because we feel ourselves falling?  Suffocating?  Obviously, (as I’ve shared in previous chapters) to the Lord in prayer, as honestly as possible.  But equally important is running to the Word.  When times are dark and we feel hopelessly lost, we need to remember that God’s Word is the Truth that lasts forever.  The lighthouse that guides us safely into the harbor.  When we can rely on nothing else, we can rely on that.  If we would mine its depths, it would speak to any need or concern we have as the Holy Spirit leads us to certain passages that address our situation. 
            2 Timothy 3: 16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  God has not left us alone to figure out life for ourselves, even when it seems like we are alone.  He is always waiting to meet us in His Word, even if He doesn’t seem to be meeting us anywhere else.  He has given us guidelines for living properly and for opening ourselves up to Him and His blessings, and He has given us promises to claim.  But it is up to us to dig for them. 
            I fear that most of us would rather find God in exciting, emotional experiences or in dynamic, supernatural signs than in His “boring, old” Word.  But there is danger in that.  We become easily lost and swayed if we are not grounded in the Word.  Just look at some of the doctrines that some churches are teaching nowadays (or not teaching).  And we should be getting grounded in the Word before we face difficult times and choices and before confusing, off-base doctrines come along that try to pull us away from Truth.     
            Once I realized that God’s Biblical promises always stand and that they are there for us to claim and to cling to, I began to search the Word for a verse that could be my anchor, my guiding light as the times got more difficult and I got more confused.  When I couldn’t trust myself and I was afraid that I’d miss His sign, I decided to take Him at His Word.  His Word is the one thing that remains true and stable through all generations.  And once I learned that it was active and alive - and not just some ancient, dried-up book - it became a wellspring of wisdom and hope for me.   
            And so I got out my shovel and my pickax, and I dug down deep into the Word.  And I found three promises that I felt that I could claim as my own in this situation.  Three promises from God that did not hinge on my ability to see clearly or on knowing the future, but on His faithfulness.  And these are the reasons that I could so boldly claim that I knew waiting was the right thing for us to do, even when all those around me doubted it.  Even when I doubted it! 
            James 1:5:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” 
            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” 
            Isaiah 48: 17:  “This is what the Lord says . . .’I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’“ 
            When I wanted to wonder if I missed His Will, I had to remind myself that He promised us wisdom if we asked.  And we asked!  We asked over and over again!  He said that He would make our paths straight if we trusted Him with all of our heart and acknowledged Him in all our ways.  We have acknowledged Him every step of the way in looking for a house, and we are learning to trust Him with all of our heart.  (Always learning!)  And He said that He will tell us the way to go.  And we were listening. 
            He promised to do these things, but we haven’t been given guidance yet!  The path is still crooked!  And so I have to believe that it’s because He hasn’t shown the way yet.  (I mean, I could be missing it, but that would be strange because I’m really, really watching for it.)  And if He hasn’t shown it yet, then we couldn’t make a move yet.  
            And so, the question then became, How could I recognize His guidance when He was revealing the next step?  Because it obviously wouldn’t come with neon lights, like I wish it would.  And I really have to thank Gigi Tchividjian here.  Through her book, A Woman’s Quest for Serenity, she helped me understand how to discern God’s guidance, when so many other things were making it hard to hear His leading.  (If you can find her book, it is well worth reading.) 
            Though He won’t come down here with the address and the keys for the house (that’s too bad!), I’m learning that He has given us other “keys” to help us unlock the next step in His plan for us.  (Gigi calls them “lights,” and they are what I based these “keys” on.)  To boil it all down, God guides us in three different ways: guidance from the inside, indications from the outside, and confirmation from God’s Word. 
            1.  Guidance from the inside would be what our conscience tells us, what our heart tells us, and, most importantly, what the Holy Spirit tells us.  This would be the impressions or convictions that we have from the Holy Spirit about what He wants us to do or what the next step is.  Sometimes it coincides with what we want to do, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it confuses us even more.  Sometimes it speaks to the current concern or situation that we are praying about, and sometimes it hits us out of the blue, completely unrelated to anything we were thinking about. 
            But we need to be deliberate about being receptive to the Holy Spirit, about actively listening for Him to speak to us.  And we need to expect that He will.  And did you know that we can ask to be filled with the Spirit?  Luke 11:13:  “. . . how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 
            [As a side note, I’ve come to believe that there are different levels of “being filled with the Spirit.”  One is when we become believers and are sealed with the Spirit.  That is for all believers.  But there are other levels that have to do with how much we live by the Spirit in our daily lives.  And this is affected by how much we want to be, seek to be, and allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit.  And this is affected by our receptiveness, our choices and thought-life, and our level of obedience.]      
            2.  Indications from the outside would be open doors or circumstances falling into place that seem to be saying “this is the way you should walk.”  Maybe it’s about an issue you are praying about, or maybe it’s God interrupting your plans with something new that He wants you to do.  It could be a need that comes to your attention or a fork-in-the-road that calls you to make a choice.  It could be a call to move forward, or it could be a call to take a step backward.  And these indications could also come from other people.  It could be impressions that they have had about you, or it could be wise advice from godly people.   
            (But as we consider “open doors” here, remember that not all open doors are from God.  Satan would love nothing more than to get us out of God’s perfect Will for us by dangling enticing offers before us.  With every open door, we need to seek God’s wisdom, be discerning, and be willing to obey whatever God calls us to do in that situation.  Maybe it is an open door from God, or maybe it’s just an opportunity to practice doing those things.)   
            3.  And confirmation from God’s Word is just what it sounds like.  It’s when God leads us, through His Word, in the right path.  Sometimes, after praying for guidance, the Spirit leads us to a passage that speaks directly to our problems.  And sometimes, we find God’s message to us as we go about our normal Bible reading.  We should be regularly reading God’s Word - immersing ourselves in it - so that we can know it as a whole, and not just pulling out the verses that we want when we want them. 
            While we do our regular reading, we should always be alert for any passage that speaks to us, because there is so much more to glean from Scripture than just the answer to a particular problem or prayer request.  In the course of reading God’s Word (even if we are looking for specific guidance in something else), we may be led to passages that speak to us about something we weren’t even considering.  Such as about forgiveness or how we use our tongue or how we treat others, etc.  It may be that God wants us to settle these areas before He guides us to the answer that we are looking for.    
            Guidance from God’s Word also means that we check the steps we want to take against His Word.  He will never, NEVER, ask or tell us to do anything that violates a Biblical command that He has already revealed to us in His Word, no matter how strongly we feel that He wants us to do it. 
            Therefore, things like affairs, cheating, lying, harshness, jealousy, idol worship, running after wealth, gossiping, dabbling with the occult, contacting the dead, etc., can never be God’s Will for us.  Even if our inner convictions and the outside circumstances are telling us to do it, God’s Word says, “Don’t do these things!”  And His Word is the Truth, The Measuring Stick.  So to try to find permission in His Word to do these kinds of things would mean that we would have to twist what He has already clearly revealed as His Will in these (and many other) areas.    
            Those are the keys to discover God’s Will for us, the next step.  And when all three of these “keys” say the same thing, we can confidently take the next step as it has been revealed.  But if any one of them says something different, we need to wait.  Wait and recheck Scriptures and pray some more until all the keys match.  And then, if we are right, the doors will open smoothly in time.  We are just responsible to do the next step as we best believe that God is leading us. 
            (But we need to be careful to resist the urge to be hasty, or to interpret subtle or ambiguous signs as saying what we want them to say.  We should be cautious about interpreting any guidance that we get.  And even more so when the decision is a significant one.  Proceeding cautiously and wisely also involves asking God to and trusting God to close the door if we are not on the right path.  And then, if He does shut the door or change our direction, we need to just trust Him and be willing to follow.)      
            Concerning our house search, I haven’t yet been given any of the three keys.  There are no open doors, no internal sense that God is leading in a particular way, and no confirmation from God’s Word to go ahead with any action.  And since I believe that He will be true to His Word and to the promises that I claimed, I have to wait. 
            I have to wait until I am sure that He has given me the wisdom that I need to make a decision.  If there is doubt and I am not sure what the next step should be, then I’m going to believe that it means that He hasn’t yet revealed it.  To go ahead with any plans would be running forward with no leading from Him.  And so I wait and trust that He will fulfill those promises when it is time.  (Oh, and I tell ya, waiting and trusting is sooooo not comfortable or easy for me.  What a lesson!)            
            As I studied the Word, though, during this time of waiting, God has drawn my attention to something that I haven’t noticed before.  There is a Biblical prerequisite to finding this “wisdom” that I so desperately want.  The Word says that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  (Psalm 111:10)  If I wanted wisdom, I needed to fear Him.  And lately, I seemed to have more fear of everything else than of Him.  Fear of failing, fear of losing our teeth, fear over our health, fear of missing the sign.  I feared everything . . . except Him!
            But “the fear of the Lord” seems like such a lofty concept.  What does it look like?  How do you “do” it?  Well, that answer is found in Proverbs 2.  Verses 1-5 tell us clearly how to go about understanding what “fear of the Lord” is:
            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” 
            It goes on to say that you will have wisdom, that knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, and that discretion will protect you. 
            I think proper fear in my situation would mean that I believed Him, that I took Him at His Word when He said He would make our paths straight as long as I was doing my part, that I trusted Him because He is a good God.  Fear of Him also means that I become more concerned with righteousness, obedience, and glorifying Him than I am with meeting my wants and needs.  I need to not fear that I won’t hear Him, but I need to believe that He will faithfully come through loud and clear when the time is right.  If I do these things, then I can confidently believe that He will guide me right.  And I can confidently wait.  (I didn’t say “comfortably,” I said confidently.) 
            I have to wonder, How many of us can really claim that we have “the fear of the Lord” when we look at all that is required to understand it?  Accept His Words, store up His commands in our hearts and minds, seek wisdom and understanding and insight with tenacity and conviction.  And then we will know the fear of the Lord.  This is why immersing ourselves in the Word is so crucial to a proper understanding of Him, a proper relationship with Him, and a proper fear of Him.  It’s where we find His words and His wisdom.  It’s where we learn about who He says He is, and who He says we are.             
            I fear that we, in our country, have become so familiar and comfortable with the Bible that we don’t cherish it and read it as much as we should.  We live like the Bible is optional reading in our daily Christian lives.  We don’t know the glorious, deeply satisfying feeling of hungering and thirsting for God’s Word . . . because we don’t dig deeply into it, as though we were searching for buried treasure.  Or maybe we do an equally troubling thing of dissecting the Bible and piecing together the pieces to fit what we want to hear.  Either way, we miss out on what God wants to tell us through it. 
            How many of us share this thought:  Sure, the Bible is good, but I can get just as much out of my Christian music, my inspirational books, and my Sunday sermons.  Quiet time with God is just not necessary.  And God understands, because He knows how busy I am.  Besides, the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us that we have to have quiet time in the Word, does it?  And what about all the people who don’t have Bibles, or the Old Testament believers who didn’t have them?  How could Bible Time be “necessary” for us, but not for them?  We can do just fine without it!   
            The sad thing is, I don’t think that this is an uncommon belief.  While many of us wouldn’t actually say this out loud, if we dug down deep enough, we would have to admit that this is exactly how most of us live our lives day to day.  We know the importance of the Bible, yet we find ways to excuse our lack of reading it and meditating on it.  . 
            I have four young boys at home.  I know the busyness of life and the need to find ways to meet and meditate on God all throughout the day, even in the noise and chaos of family life.  Christian music uplifts and encourages me as I go about my busy days.  It helps me to remain focused on God, and it has been an incredible source of comfort during these years of very stressful trials.  (Thank you, K-Love!)  I value it immensely, but I do not think that this wonderful resource should take the place of personal, quiet Bible Time. 
            There are definitely times in our lives that are busier than others, times of crisis or severe stress that leave little room for quiet reflection and Bible reading.  (However, this is usually when we need it most.)  And it is possible during these times to have a spiritual walk that survives on the snatches of Scripture that we get from music, books, sermons, and other people.  But to live long-term with this practice, I believe, will threaten the strength and integrity of our spiritual walks and our faith. 
            I think that God gave different revelations of Himself at different times.  First, there was the law and the commandments, then there was Jesus, now there is the Bible.  While they didn’t have the Bible back in the day as we know it, they did have commandments, Scriptures, and the law.  And they were encouraged to read and meditate on them often, to write them on the doorframes of their houses, to hide God’s word in their hearts, and to have quiet times where they interacted with God.  The Psalms speak a lot of this:
            Psalm 1:2:  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
            Psalm 4:4:  “. . . when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.” 
            Psalm 5: 3:  “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait in expectation.” 
            Psalm 37:7:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. . .” 
            Psalm 119: 1-2, 7, 9-11, 15-16:  “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. . . . I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. . . How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. . . I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
            My guess is that people with this kind of devotion to, delight in, and respect for God’s words would hunger and thirst for the words of the Bible, if they had one back then.  They would probably hold the Bible in the highest regard and advocate searching it daily for His truth so that they could live more godly lives.  If they had a Bible back then.  They didn’t, but we do!
            I believe that we are all held accountable for what is revealed to us.  For cultures that do not have a Bible, they have the revelation of God through nature and the messages that He imprints on everyone’s heart.  But for us, we have the revealed, written Word of God.  And we will be held accountable for what we do with it and what we teach others to do with it. 
            While there is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt sit in quiet with this Book for thirty minutes every morning,” it does show us by Christ’s example that quiet time is necessary.  Jesus gave us an example of getting away alone with the Father.  And He is God. 
            Mark 1: 35:  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” 
            Luke 5:16:  “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  
            Jesus is God in the flesh.  He gives us His example to model.  And Ephesians 5:1 teaches us “Be imitators of God . . .”  Jesus, who is God, needed to and often got away on His own, in solitude, to spend time with the Father.  And yet, somehow we think we can fare better without regular quiet time with the Lord, though even Jesus Himself felt it was important enough to do so regularly?   
            Jesus also stressed the importance of Scripture when He said this:  Matthew 4:4:  “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Every word from the mouth of God.  Scripture is God-breathed.  It is a whole book of God’s words.  Music and sermons are only pieces, retold by someone else.  Yes, they are wonderful and necessary, too.  But Scripture supersedes all messages spoken to us by others - in sermons, in songs, in other books. 
            Scripture is the measuring stick that we judge all other messages by.  But you have to know it to be discerning.  And you have to read it for yourself to really know it.  In this verse, being in the Word of God is compared to bread.  Bread is a daily thing, our daily bread.  We eat to sustain our lives.  And we must eat daily, or we get weak and malnourished.   
            Try as we might, we will never find the kind of Bible passage that many of us wish we could find.  A passage like this: 

            2 Bolognaians 1:1-10: “Now, brothers, we know that God has written down His Word and that it’s available to us all.  But we tell you that it is not necessary to read it for yourselves.  Christ’s death is sufficient for salvation.  And salvation is sufficient for leading a godly, righteous life.  So let’s not add to your daily schedule by claiming that you should read the Bible for yourself or that you must meet with God in private quiet times. 
                        It is simply not necessary for you since you have Christian music and a pastor to teach you what God tells him in his quiet times.  We don’t think that God actually meant His Word to be read by everyone, just by the teachers.  It is fully commendable and fully sufficient to be able to live a righteous Christian life by just listening to these teachers: to Christian music, to your pastor, to what others teach you about Scripture, etc. 
                        Besides, God knows that you are busy.  Therefore, let us, the teachers, do the reading of the Scriptures so that we can teach you what we think it says.  That way, you can keep your kitchen clean, your family fed, your Facebook page updated, and get rested and rejuvenated by reading your newspaper, watching your television, and texting all your friends.  By this, you will be a godly example for all to follow, and you will greatly impact the kingdom of God.  As long as you listen to good, godly music and go to church on Sunday, you will never go astray.”  

            Honestly, I think that many of us are secretly hoping to find a passage like that.  Then we could feel a lot better about our busy lives and our lazy disciplines.  But, I’m sorry to say, it’s not in there.  Instead, I find this example in Acts 17:11:  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  They received the message from their teacher, the famous and godly Paul.  And yet, they examined the Scriptures . . . for themselves . . . every day . . . to see if Paul’s message was on track.  And they were called “noble.”
            While Bible reading and quiet time are not necessary for salvation or to be a “good Christian,” I firmly believe that it does have a tremendous effect on our understanding of Him, our level of “righteousness,” our ability to be discerning, and the level of effectiveness that we have for God’s kingdom work. 
            How much we immerse ourselves in the Word (and spend time praying and listening to God) should have a huge impact on how we live as Christians and if we are on target with God’s truth.  Training in righteousness, discernment, correction, wisdom, spiritual maturity (among others) are all things that come with immersing ourselves in the Word.  Guidance, peace, learning to discern God’s whispering voice (among others) all come with spending quiet time with God. 
            In this busy, disconnected, self-focused age, we should be challenging ourselves and calling others up to higher levels of righteous living and to drawing nearer to God through prayer, His Word, and the quiet times.  He oftentimes speaks quietly, like a whisper.  And in Scripture, we are told over and over again to be still in God.  I think part of the reason we are told to be still is because that is when we learn to hear His whisper.  But if we never slow down enough to do that, we miss out.   
            Deuteronomy 4:29:  “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”  I’m going to guess that searching for Him with all our hearts and souls implies putting aside the necessary time to do it properly and deeply. 
            We, unfortunately, can go on deceiving ourselves for a long time that we are close enough to Him and doing just fine with our books, sermons, and music.  (Or is it just me?)  While this may make us feel better at first - relieved of our guilt for not maintaining quiet time with the Lord - it will leave us high and dry later.  Someday, we will wake up and wonder, Why don’t I feel close to God anymore?  Why can’t I hear Him or feel His presence like I used to?   It won’t be God who drifted.  Doing “just fine” falls far short of doing our best for God’s glory, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. 
            What will happen to the level of commitment and the Christian character of generations of believers brought up on the idea that “Bible operator” is good enough, that accepting secondhand Scriptural truths (without searching it for ourselves) is perfectly acceptable?
            2 Timothy 4: 3-4:  “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 
            It is only by knowing and training ourselves in the Word, as God reveals it in His Bible, that we can correctly discern spiritual myths.  To feed on what others tell us about Scripture (instead of having the disciplined, mature habit of maintaining personal time in the Word and in prayer with the Lord) is a sure way to make us susceptible to being misled by teachers who will say things that we like to hear, things that sound good and right, but that might not be Biblically accurate.  But how will we know? 
            We won’t be able to discern inaccuracy unless we are immersed in the Truth for ourselves.  These myths are not always blatantly obvious.  Satan’s best schemes are the super subtle ones that have an air of godliness.  By these, we end up nibbling our way lost because it “sounds good” to us.  And it’s what we wanted to hear anyway.  So we won’t seek any other truth.  But it takes careful studying and reading and discipline in the Word - in the God-breathed Word - to keep on track.
            Hebrews 5:12-14:  “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” 
            How do we get mature in this Christian walk?  Constant use of what teaches us to distinguish good from evil?  Constant use of Scripture leads to the spiritual maturity necessary to distinguish truth from falsehood .  Is our level of spiritual maturity something that we want to take casually? 
            So how important is Scripture and quiet time really?  I think that the Word of God itself has a lot to say about that, and we would be wise to take it to heart and let it convict us.
            2 Timothy 2: 15:  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  We are responsible for how we handle the “word of truth.”  Is correctly handling the Word leaving it on the shelf for extended periods of time?    
            2 Timothy 3:16:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  This says “all Scripture,” not just the few passages that we learn about through other people and through music.  Think about how many messages and lessons we would miss out on if we felt that it was “good enough” to just listen to the Sunday sermon or Christian music. 
            [I think it’s interesting to note that James 5:16 says “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  And we just saw that Scripture is useful for training in righteousness.  I think that there is a link between abiding in the Word, seeking righteousness, and the power of our prayers.  Now, it’s not our righteous acts that make our prayers powerful and effective.  It is His righteousness working through us as we humbly submit our lives completely to Him - for His glory!  And since we will always sin, we need to be remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convictions and to return wholeheartedly to God in genuine repentance whenever sin has broken fellowship.]    
            Hebrews 4:12:  “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.”  Scripture is living and active, and God leads us by it.  But by not constantly using it, we are opening ourselves up to being misled, spiritually immature, ignorant, self-focused, and self-serving.  And we miss out on what God would teach us through it today.  We miss out on seeing the messages that fit our needs each day, each moment we seek His guidance through it.  This is the living and active part of it: it interacts with us each day as though God were speaking right through it to our needs or blind spots.  It guides and convicts and brings us up in wisdom, as we use it (and need it) daily.  
            And as I said, we are called to search for wisdom.  Read Proverbs 2, the wisdom chapter.  It instructs us to store up commands, turn our ear to wisdom, apply our heart, call out for insight and understanding, to search for it as though we were looking for hidden treasure.  Then we will know the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:5:  “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  What better place to search for God’s wisdom than directly in His Word?  (I know I keep saying it, but is it being heard?)
            My fear is that we are growing into a community of ignorant, stagnant, weak, lukewarm, mal-nourished, easily-deceived, less-effective Christians.  We have filled out days with too much activity and technology to really dwell on God anymore.  We are just too busy and too self-focused.  We don’t want to be convicted of our shortcomings.  So not reading the Bible suits us just fine.  And we welcome any excuse that gives us permission to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner. 
            And yet, we are offended by anyone that implies that we are not disciplined enough in our Christian walks.  We look at those who diligently maintain quiet-time with the Lord as super-spiritual giants.  They are in a special class of believers that we can never be a part of because we live in “The Real World.” 
            But the truth is that we just don’t make the effort or time to draw that close to God (or we are actively or unconsciously avoiding Him for some reason).  We want permission to focus on our lives, while neglecting a serious study of the Word and quiet time with the Lord.  And yet, we still want to be patted on the back and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 
            I have been there a lot during my life, wanting to believe that I was doing good enough with my music, my inspirational books, and my Sunday sermons.  I was a good Christian, and I loved the Lord, and I was growing in my walk.  But I was “so busy” with life that I convinced myself that these other things were enough.  Scripture was extra.  Beneficial, but not as inspiring as music and inspirational books.  And honestly, it was so familiar that it was boring and just not doing it for me anymore. 
            I wanted permission to remain slack in my spiritual disciplines.  But what I needed more was gentle encouragement to persevere, to make devotional time a priority in the midst of the busyness.  I needed to understand that my life, evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit”, my level of righteousness, and my effect on the kingdom of God are greatly affected by the quality of my devotional life and the priority that I put on meeting God in prayer and in His Word. 
            For so long, I didn’t know what it was like to passionately pursue Him, to meet Him in the pages of the Bible, and to know the living and active nature of Scripture . . . until these past “furnace” years.  And through these many trials, God has broken me of my lazy, stagnating attitude.  He has shown me the vibrancy that comes with deep times in prayer and Scripture.  I always knew it was good and important, and I always valued it immensely.  But I didn’t know what it was like to drink deeply from it, to hunger and thirst for it.  Until now. 
            And now, I have become incredibly jealous for it, for wanting to see God’s Word honored and valued above all.  God has moved me from seeing Bible-reading and prayer as the icing on the cake, to seeing it as the whole cake itself.  It has become so precious to me - a cherished lighthouse of truth - that I want others to know the joy and peace and vibrant life that come with hungering and thirsting for the Word also.  It breaks my heart to hear, “I know I should read the Bible and pray every day, but . . .”    
            The God of the universe has written His message to us in the Bible - the God who is available to us and waiting to meet us in His Word, to show us the best way to live and how to access His blessings so that we can live life to the fullest.  And we’d rather watch a mind-numbing television show. 
            How is it that we have enough time for TV, newspapers, the mundane and unglorifying television shows, a leisurely cup of coffee, the ridiculous amount of texting, emails, web-surfing, etc., but we can’t carve out thirty minutes a day to see what the God of the universe has to tell us?  If we are really “that busy” then we should be prepared to die of a heart-attack in the near future.     
            If we are not in the Word regularly, we are nibbling our way lost and opening ourselves up to being easily deceived.  By the enemy and by ourselves.  And we are missing out on the kind of life that God wants us to have, that He wishes we would have for our best and for His glory.  (And if your church isn’t preaching straight from the Word - if it’s editing His Word to fit what they want to say - get out of there fast, and find a church that preaches God’s Word as God revealed it.)   
            And, sadly, we are missing out on the kind of relationship with God that we were meant to have.  We meet with God when we pray and when we read His Word.  And we need to get into the Word to learn who He really is and who we really are.  If we are not learning what God says about Himself and about us in the Word then we are living out of our own misconceptions.  Misconceptions about who God is, what He wants from us, who we are, what we are capable of, how we are to live, etc.  And we will never be able to rest in Him and His love because we won’t really know Him.  And I speak from experience.
            Or maybe we have learned to rest in Him when we shouldn’t be.  Maybe we’ve gotten “comfortable” in life because we are not in His Word.  We are not reading what He requires of us, discovering areas we need to be convicted in, learning what He says we should be striving towards and focusing on, and seeing just how much we miss the mark.  And I speak from experience.  If this is the case, we need to get back in the Word, or life will be lackluster and full of self-deception.  And we will wonder where He is and why He isn’t using us mightily.   
            The Word is Truth.  And only Truth and humility will break down our walls, will break through the lies that we let ourselves believe . . . lies that make us too big and Him too little.  I want to say this one more time . . . and I want to say it LOUD:  The Bible is not extra-credit reading.  It is not “Gee, it’s sure nice to pick it up now and then for a little burst of God” reading.  And it’s not just history. 
            It is the living Word, active and completely applicable to our lives today.  It is God as He reveals Himself.  It is our map for how to live and think and act.  And it is up to us to mine it for its riches.  So many of us don’t even know what we are missing.     
            For so many years, I had been so diligent about many things: about searching for the right food, about “greening” our home and the products we used, about raising my children “by the book,” about my education, about finding the right house, about praying right, and about being pleasing.  But I hadn’t been that diligent in mining the Bible for its treasures.  It was a “really good, necessary book “ but it wasn’t deeply satisfying.     
            But now, after all these years, I am finally discovering the incredible joy that comes with deliberately and conscientiously digging deep into God’s most amazing letter to us.  And it has awakened in me the wonderfully insatiable hunger and thirst that come with falling in love with the Word.  And now it’s more than just God’s words, it’s God’s heart being poured out to me.  And it’s what makes life worth living!   
            I highly value godly music and Sunday sermons and any bits of wisdom and truth I glean from others (because God is the author of all truth, wherever we find it).  They are good and should be part of our lives.  But I hold the Bible up in a category of its own.  Those other things should not replace the daily reading of Scripture and daily, quiet time.  That would be like living on the bread crust that we pull off of someone else’s bread, rather than taking the time to sit down and eat the whole glorious meal prepared by the Chef. 
            Well, I’m here to say, pull up a chair, grab a fork, and put on a bib.  Dig in deep and get messy.  And see if it doesn’t just change your heart and your life.  See if you don’t get more and more hungry for the Word the more you devour it.  Don’t settle for second-hand lessons, but dig deeply into the living Word where God is waiting to meet you.  Hunger for hearing His whisper in the quiet times, to see what the God of the universe, our Loving Father, wants to tell you.  Don’t look at it as a “To Do” item, but as a chance to meet with the God who made you and loves you.  If you look at it that way, you can see why I say we need to do it every day.  It will change your life!    

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