23 December 2015

Discipleship: Knowing the Word

Note: This is part of my series on Discipleship and Disciplines. You might want to read from the beginning if you haven't already.

Remember that in John 8:31, Jesus says, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine." So, then, as I've mentioned before, the first step to discipleship is to know His word. Otherwise, how would it be possible to continue in it?

If you're anything like me, though, "know the word" seems a little bit abstract or poorly defined. What does that look like on a day-to-day basis? How can I have any sort of confidence that I've accomplished this first step?

Here are a few suggestions that I've found helpful in my spiritual walk:

1. Read the Bible. Seriously, read it. The whole thing. Repeatedly. Get to know it like you know an old friend. This certainly doesn't have to happen overnight, but it does have to happen.

So work on it every day. Set an attainable goal and stick to it: Ten verses, a chapter, two chapters, ten chapters -- whatever you can reasonably accomplish every day. Make a habit of it, and don't bite off more than you can chew. If you start losing the meaning amongst all the words, quit for the day. It's not the end of the world if you don't hit your targeted number of verses. Simply taking the time to read is a victory in itself.

When you're reading, go for quality over quantity. Be sure that you understand who's talking, what's happening, why things are going on, and how each piece fits into the bigger picture. If you can only do by reading one verse per day, then only read one verse per day. If you're having trouble understanding, consider investing in a study Bible with commentary footnotes. (Charles Ryrie and John MacArthur have both written pretty solid ones.) There are also a lot of online commentaries and study aids to provide cultural, historical, and doctrinal context.

Bottom line: It's OK not to be a mega awesome superstar Bible-reader; all you need to be is a Bible-reader.

2. Think About the Bible. Grab one or two details from your daily reading and chew on them throughout the day, like a cow chewing her cud. Meditate on what you've read. Think about how -- or even whether -- it applies to your life or the lives of your friends, acquaintances, or loved ones.

As you read through, remember that not everything in the Bible reflects God's attitudes and thoughts about the world. Sometimes the text reflects the viewpoints, assumptions, and actions of other people in the narrative. These won't always align with the way God sees things. Also remember that throughout history, God has dealt in many different ways with nations and people, though His nature and purposes haven't changed.

3. Memorize the Bible. We'll talk more about memorization later, in our discussion of spiritual disciplines, but know that memorizing verses is one of the best ways to let God's word start changing your heart.

Are you struggling with a particular sin? Memorize a whole slough of verses dealing with that sin, and its opposite virtue. Psalm 119:11 says, "Your word I have treasured in my heart, / That I may not sin against You."

Are you feeling discouraged or depressed? Memorize a Psalm that talks about God's faithfulness, salvation, and love.

Basically, you can't go wrong with memorizing Scripture. It takes time, but that time definitely isn't wasted.

4. Ask for Help. First and foremost, ask God to show you what He wants you to see in your daily readings. Ask Him to help you understand it, too. The really good news here is that God already has a mechanism in place to make that happen. Jesus promised his followers that "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name ... will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26).

God wants you to be good at reading, understanding, and thinking about the Bible. That's one of the reasons He sent the Holy Spirit. He loves to teach you; ask God to open your mind and heart to His teaching.

In addition to the Holy Spirit, ask other followers of Christ to help you know Christ's word better. Get involved in a structured Bible study, Sunday School class, small group, or all of the above. And it's vital to be part of a local church that believes and teaches the Bible. There's a reason that Paul commands the Ephesians to speak to one another in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19): We are always stronger when we engage in a community of encouragement.

Another great thing to do is seek out a Bible study partner. Talk through your readings one-on-one with them. Memorize passages of Scripture together. Keep them accountable, and expect them to do the same for you.

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