There are lots of jokes and memes about entering into a new year of the 2020s. The first two years of this decade seem to have brought a lot of challenges with it. Most are entering into the new year with the motto “Proceed with caution.” Many people may be so discouraged that they aren’t sure how to face this new year. What will it bring and how will we handle it?
But entering into a new year also brings with it a hope for what may happen. We tend to reflect on the past year and decide to make changes in ourselves for the next year. After all, bookshelves are littered with books on self-improvement and making a “better you.” What does that entail?
For someone wanting a healthier lifestyle, it may mean setting goals for better eating choices or even starting an exercise routine. January is usually the highest month for gym memberships and attendance. Maybe some people realize they have missed out on the truly important things in life, so they set goals to work less and spend more time with family. They may finally tackle that bucket list instead of putting those things off to the future. Some may want to start a new hobby or even just conquer the giant stack of books they’ve always been intending to read.
If we’re honest though, as the year progresses, we find we just never have enough time so we let the gym membership expire, we quit that new hobby, we can’t find an open week for that vacation, and we never get around to reading anything new. And at the end of the year, we find ourselves just as frustrated in December 2022 as we were in December 2021.
Our problem isn’t that we don’t desire to do more with our lives or to grow in our areas of weakness. Our problem is with insanity – we keep doing the same old things but expect different results. We think that we can add these great goals for personal growth without ever subtracting those things that don’t lead to growth.
We want to learn more, but we still spend more time watching television than reading a book. We want to enjoy life more, but we still end up working more hours than spending time with our families. We want to lose weight, but we still eat too much junk food and put off working out.
We may even want to have a better faith, a faith like David or Daniel or Joseph, but we still never read the Bible. We might even go so far as add to our reading lists a bunch of books about the Bible, but we still don’t read the Bible itself. We may finally get that perfect devotional book, but one that only requires five minutes a day.
So how can we actually make a true change in our personal lives this coming year? We must cut something out that is insignificant in order to make room for the most significant thing, the one thing that will actually make a change in our lives. We must actually start studying the Bible.
Cut out the time we all waste scrolling through social media or binge-watching shows to intentionally set aside time to actually study the Bible – not just a book about the Bible or a book written by someone who believes the Bible, but the very source of God’s wisdom itself.
God has revealed Himself to us in two ways: through His created world and through His given Word. We come to know the creative hand of God, His beauty, and His brilliance in looking at nature. But we come to know the heart of God by reading His Word. It reveals His character, His nature, and His will. It shows how He interacts with His creation, and by the very names He gives Himself, we know who He is.
The Bible is His message to us to draw us to Him. Why are we neglecting to look at it?
We are somehow the most Biblically illiterate generation since the first century, yet we have more and easier ways to access the Scripture than ever before. Want it on your iPhone? There’s an app for that. Want it where you can take notes? There’s a Bible for that. Want it in a different language? There’s a translation for that. Need a commentary to help your understanding? There’s a book for that. Want it with pictures for your kids? There’s a version for that.
We have so many ways to access and read the Scriptures at any moment of convenience, but do we? Do we, in this land of religious openness, free from persecution, ever actually read the Bible?
We need to not only read it, but study it. The Bible is not just one book; it is a collection of books. It holds 66 books written by 40 different people from different backgrounds covering a span of 1,500 years. Each book contained in the Bible was written by a different author to a different audience in a different time and place. You must look at the context around each individual book to understand what is meant by it, why the author wrote it, and what the audience would get out of it.
You would do that with any other kind of book you would read or study in literature class. If you picked up a book by Chaucer, you would want to know when he lived and what kind of style he used. You would want to know why he was writing and to whom he was writing. We must do the same thing with the Bible.
This is why our Bible study should not be based on a 5-minute devotional book. Those may be good to supplement our study time, but it cannot be the only way in which we study the Bible. Typically, those devotions pick a random verse, give a cute little life application story to go with it, then have a short prayer related to the story.
If this is the only way you “read the Bible,” then you are missing out on the fullness and richness of reading the actual Bible. With just a randomly plucked verse, you lose the context of who wrote it, where they were when they wrote it, what was happening in their life when it was written. When you take all of that away, you lose so much depth of not only the people of the Bible, but of the amazing God of the Bible.
And you run the risk of not properly understanding the meaning of the verse. For example, one devotional book had a beautiful little story about enjoying the change of seasons and how God makes everything beautiful in His time. The focus verse for the day was “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty…” from Ezekiel 28:17. Sounds lovely, right? Interesting though that they didn’t include the rest of verse 17: “you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you;” especially since this verse is about the fall of Satan. Context is everything.
When we limit our biblical understanding to just those short devotionals, we miss out on knowing more about God. We can’t even expect to grow in our faith in this way. No wonder we don’t feel like we could ever be like Daniel, standing up for God in the face of the King and culture. No wonder we don’t have the boldness in witnessing like Paul. No wonder we don’t think we could withstand trial and tribulations like Job.
Those men were able to do those things because they had a close relationship with God. They were able to face giants, persecution, troubled times, and doubt because they spent a significant amount of time with God. They could interpret dreams and boldly proclaim truth because they were steeped in God’s ways and soaked up God’s wisdom. Do you think they did that with a 5-minute devotion?
So if your goal is to study the Bible more in 2022, let’s put some actionable steps to being able to do that.
1) Select a single book of the Bible for you to study. If you’re not sure where to begin, pick a simple one to start with (in other words, don’t start with Leviticus or Revelation). Choose one of the Gospels. Matthew is written by one of Jesus’s disciples and John is written by Jesus’s closest friend. Mark is written from Peter’s account and Luke is written like the research from an investigative journalist to put down an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus.
Or pick Acts, which gives the history of the founding of the church and the missionary journeys of Paul. You could start with some of the letters written by Paul, like Ephesians and Galatians which give instructions to the churches established in those cities for living a Godly life.
2) Find a commentary or two to go along with those books. Those will give you the background information on the book and its author to help you understand the proper context. It will help you understand more difficult passages and maybe even make connections to other areas of Scripture that discuss a similar theme to give further understanding of a passage.
3) Make time in your schedule for studying the Bible. Either wake up earlier, go to bed later, or eliminate wasted time during the day to give yourself time to studying this book. If you continue with your same old routine, you will find that “you just don’t have enough time” to read the Bible. That is why your routine will need to change.
It is the same way with anything new we want to try. If you want to start losing weight by going to the gym, you have to either wake up earlier, stay up later, or remove wasted activities from your day in order to make that a priority. The most important thing we can do during the day is study God’s Word. It is how we get to know God and how we get to know how God wants us to live.
It shouldn’t be about an obligation to check the box and say you did it for the day. It should come from deep within our heart out of love for what He has done for us. It should be from the same place where our attitude of worship comes. Because of God’s love and sacrifice for us, we want to know Him, praise Him, and obey Him. Not from a dutiful obligation, but from a heart full of love and gratitude.
4) You should be uncomfortable. I’m not saying you have to sit in an uncomfortable chair while you study but learning more about God should make you uncomfortable. Studying God’s word will not result in an affirmation of everything you do. It will continue to show us where we need to change and where we need to grow. It will highlight things to stop doing and underscore things to start doing, again all out of love for God.
We walk in obedience to God not so that we can be saved but because we are saved. In many of Paul’s letters, he calls on his readers to “walk worthy of the Gospel.” He knows our walk is not the mechanism for our salvation. But because God has loved us so much, we should walk worthy of that salvation that we have received. Studying His Word will make you uncomfortable in your sin to move you to repentance and obedience. Studying God’s Word will change your heart and your thoughts on things in your day-to-day and on things in the culture around you.
And that is what it truly means to be walking as a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t just a label we wear because of what we do on Sunday mornings. And it isn’t about being perfect. It is having a mind set on the things of God. God’s Word should be the foundation for every opinion we form on things. Through studying His Word, we are taught to die to our own thoughts and desires in order to submit to His.
Will you in 2022 be willing to change your routine so that you can be uncomfortable in order to walk worthy of your salvation?