As we near the end of February, much of our zeal for the ways we want to be better in 2019 is beginning to dwindle. Gym memberships are left unused, snooze buttons are well-worn, and our Bibles sit on the coffee table unopened.
This is not new, and it is not surprising. As broken humans in a fallen world, we all sometimes take two steps forward and one step back at some point in our efforts to grow as people and as disciples of Jesus. This is not reason to feel shame and guilt, but our inconsistency should impel us to refocus and try again.
Because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, we can trust that our record before the Father is perfect and blameless. We need not dwell in shame for our failures because the righteousness of Christ has been placed on our account! What grace!
At the same time, we can gain motivation to live faithfully by looking to Jesus. The one true God, creator of the universe, loved me and gave himself for me. He has given me his perfect record in exchange for my failure and has called me loved and accepted. I can look to him, grateful for the amazing work on my behalf, and start again. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I take another step toward faithfulness.
So if you’re feeling discouraged about your Bible reading plan and thinking you’ll try again next year, I want to encourage you to try again tomorrow (or today!). Kathleen Nielson is a Bible teacher and author and she wrote the following article for Desiringgod.com to do just that.
Look to Jesus, the one who has made you right with God, and then open your Bible again (or your CBR app) - eager to know the one who made you and loves you.
Why? Instead of just the guilt-inducing, duty-bound statement, “I should read my Bible,” why not ask why you should read it?
And why ask about tomorrow (as opposed to in general)? Tomorrow is concrete. As I type this, I’m flying back to the U.S. from Indonesia, arriving late afternoon. I will pick up milk on the way home today, because I know I will want milk in my coffee tomorrow morning.
And why read my Bible while I’m drinking that coffee? The coffee’s not optional. Well, I suppose in the end the coffee really is optional, but is the Bible reading optional? What will draw me to stop everything else and take the time to read Scripture and pray through its words?
The question, instead of setting rules in front of me, gets at the soul inside me: Why should I read my Bible tomorrow morning?
1. My soul gets hungry.
I will get hungry, and I will eat (unless I’m fasting or ill). That’s how bodies are made: we need food to live, and our bodies tell us so day by day.
Our souls are hungry as well, for we humans are made to live on the word of God. We have God's word on this: “Man does not live by bread alone, but . . . by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). We live as we feed in faith on God’s inspired word. In that word we find Jesus the living Word, the bread of life (John 6:35).
Disturb me, my soul, with your growlings. Am I restless, or discontent? These may be hunger pangs.
2. I say I love God.
I’ve sung, “I love you, Lord,” and “My Jesus, I love thee.”
Let’s confront ourselves: Can we love God and not listen to him consistently and attentively in his word? We turn our ears to the seemingly endless murmurs of daily needs, but the end will come, and on that day everyone will listen to his voice. Oh, that his voice will come to us then as a beloved voice, one we know, one we’ve followed into his presence through his Son.
Be whole, divided soul of mine. The psalmist would ask me not to split apart his poetic parallelism:
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:12)
3. The God of the universe has spoken.
It’s a wonder. We forget the wonder again and again. Just like we forget the wonder of the Word made flesh, as Christmas passes. We’re compelled by a political leader’s words, or a controversial article gone viral — or a call from someone we love who lives far away. We’ll stay up or wake up for that.
Wake up, my sleepy soul. Wake up and tremble at God’s word. Tremble with fear — and tremble with joy! With the mercies of a new morning, wake. Hear his voice cutting through:
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
4. I must share what he has said.
How can I proclaim this word? I am fearful, and sinful. I am busy, and with good things. The world is unreceptive and unkind. I will get to this in time.
Be quiet, my self-full soul that feeds on fear. Feed instead on the word that makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Depend on the Spirit, by whom God breathed out these words, to understand and communicate them adequately. And look to God’s people, the body of Christ.
What a mercy that we are not called to read and speak the word alone. Our daily bread comes as part of the feeding of God’s people, gathered regularly to worship, learn, and pray — and then to go out together, to live and share good news. How comforting to receive Paul’s plural exhortation to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
5. God has given me work to do.
We’re just a few weeks into a new year and perhaps already frustrated by our work — overwhelming, or unsatisfying, or elusive work. If we could only remember this: there is no way my daily callings will find their proper place apart from the calling of God in Christ — to which I must constantly tune my ears according to God’s word.
The Bible promises and equips us for good works that are not separate from our daily work; they are the joyful calling that shapes all we do.
Dull soul of mine, please hear God’s word tomorrow, and believe tomorrow, that I am, and all God’s people are, God’s workmanship . . . “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Listening Through Busyness
Though these reminders can help wake up our souls, we will still wake up tomorrow morning facing the urgency of bodies and families and friends and appointments and emails and deadlines. It’s not simple, at any stage of life.
It does help to make provision in the midst of busyness: for example, this year I’m using an online Bible reading plan that sends me daily links to the next four chapters in the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. If I can’t sit down quietly with coffee and Bible in hand, I can easily do what I did today: click on my next chapter and read while waiting in a car or standing in a line.
More and more, the wonder of it does break through: the very voice of God. What everyone will hear in the end. What we live on today, and tomorrow.