Do You Care? Really?

Far too frequently we see news stories about parents who neglect their children. It’s hard to look at the pictures of little faces that are suffering because those who should love them do not. In some of those cases there are probably some psychological disorders contributing to the problem. But in other cases it may be nothing more than what Paul described in Ephesians 4:19 as being “callous” (ESV) or “passed feeling” (NKJV). Some have traveled so far from God and his righteousness that their consciences having been seared (1 Tim. 4:2). Bluntly stated, some people just don’t care.

Another tragedy that happens far too often is when people stop caring about their own souls. There is no human possession more valuable than one’s own soul (Mark 8:36-37). Yet many have become so callous and past feeling that they sin “against their own souls” (Num. 16:38) through neglect and abuse. I often ask the same question about them that I do of those who abuse children: how can you not care?

Consider these basic characteristics of a person who cares.

If you care, you feed. Parents who care about their children want them to have sufficient food to eat. In a similar way, the person who cares about his own soul will feed it proper food. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). As we mature in the faith, we should consume the “meat” of the word in addition to the milk (Heb. 5:13-14). Do you care enough to read and study the Bible each day? Do you care enough to attend Bible classes? Do you care enough to be faithful in your worship attendance?

If you care, you protect. Loving parents will protect their children from harm. They will put up safeguards in the home. They will watch them closely in public places. But what about your own soul? Do you care enough to protect it from the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21)? Do you protect your soul from the worldly influences that often come through television and movies? Do you protect it from internet pornography? If you care, you protect.

The danger of neglecting our souls is that if we neglect them long enough, we might never be able to rescue them (Heb. 6:4-6). Examine your life and habits. Do you care? Really?

Intense Prayer

Has anyone ever watched you pray silently and concluded that you were drunk? It has never happened to me. However, it happened to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:9-18. In the past I pictured Hannah’s prayer as coming from a prim and proper June Cleaver-ish young lady sitting up straight in a chair, hands folded and gently placed in her lap. Given that picture, I struggled to understand how Eli could watch a woman sit basically motionless (except for the slight movement of her lips) and presume that she was intoxicated. A deeper consideration of the text (a novel idea, right?) caused me to adjust my mental picture.

Ponder the terms that describe Hannah and her prayer: “deeply distressed” (v. 10), “wept bitterly” (v. 10), “troubled in spirit” (v. 15), “pouring out [her] soul” (v. 15), and “great anxiety and vexation” (v. 16). With those descriptions of this devout woman and the intensity of her emotions, I find it much easier to understand Eli’s response. A silent, practically motionless woman would not lead another to conclude that she was inebriated. But such a conclusion is understandable if that same woman were animated by the heaviest of burdens and looked like she was carrying on a tear-soaked, bitter conversation with no one.

That must have been one intense, deep, and passionate prayer.

The pen of Paul writes of another example of this kind of prayer. In Colossians 4:12, we read,

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Consider these thoughts from the prayer-life of Epaphras.

His prayers were constant (“always”). His prayers were personal (“on your behalf”). His prayers were purposeful (“that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God”). And his prayers were intense. The word translated “struggling” is from the Greek agonizomai, which means to fight or to compete in an athletic contest. When an athlete competes to the best of his ability and exhausts himself in the contest, reporters have been known to say that the athlete “left it all out on the field.” In other words, the player held nothing back. When he left the field of play, he did so knowing that he had nothing left to give. He gave it everything he had. That’s what Epaphras did when he prayed. When he was finished, he had nothing left in the tank.

When I think about Hannah and Epaphras (and Jesus in Gethsemane, Luke 22:44), I’m ashamed that so many of my prayers lack intensity. How easy it can be for our prayers to turn into little more than the recitation of words and phrases memorized long ago. Most of us can probably pray on auto-pilot without ever digging deep into our souls. The words may be there, but the heart isn’t. It seems I remember Jesus addressing that phenomenon (Matt. 15:8).

Spend some time in God’s presence today, but don’t merely recite old phrases. “Pour out your heart before him” (Psa. 62:8).

Mechanics of Daily Bible Reading

Two previous posts addressed the benefits and goals of daily Bible reading. With this final essay, let us consider the mechanics of daily Bible reading. What are some practical tips that can help us to read God’s word each day?

Select a good location. We often pride ourselves on being able to multi-task. But when it comes to ingesting the word of God, we should not divide our attention between that and lesser things. Turn off the television. Silence the music. Mute your phone. Find a place with adequate light and a comfortable seat that will allow you not only to read, but also to take notes.

Read systematically. Instead of picking up the Bible each day and randomly opening to a section, utilize a plan. Perhaps you want to start in Genesis and work your way through the whole Bible. Maybe you want to start in Matthew and read the New Testament. Maybe you want to read the Bible chronologically. Reading plans are abundant on the Internet or in Bible study software. Many of them are customizable. Choose a plan that interests you and stick with it.

Focus on quality over quantity. While there is nothing wrong with setting a goal of reading through the Bible in a set amount of time, make sure that you are not reading merely to finish in a set amount of time. Read at a pace that allows you to understand, think about, and apply what you learn. I would rather read and digest the message of five verses than read five chapters without understanding them.

Meditate on what you read. This admonition goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. To meditate is to let your mind dwell on what you’ve read. It is to contemplate the meaning of scripture. It is to consider ways to apply and use what you learn. The Bible places a premium on meditation (Psa. 1:2; 119:15, 98-99). If you are going to set aside 30 minutes, for example, to read the Bible each day, I would encourage you to read for 15 minutes and meditate for 15 minutes. Write down your thoughts in a journal (lessons you learn, promises you need to claim, commands you need to keep, sins you need to confess, etc.). Then pray about those things.

Utilize audio recordings. This suggestion may not be for everyone, but some may benefit from not only reading but also hearing the Bible being read. Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) offers free audio recordings of the Bible being professionally read from a variety of translations. Listening while you read engages both the eyes and ears in the process.

I hope this brief series of articles has spurred you on to be a more consistent reader of the sacred writings. There is much to be gained by spending time with God in his word. “Blessed is he who reads…” (Rev. 1:3).

Goals of Daily Bible Reading

In a previous post, I highlighted some of the benefits of reading the Bible every day. Building on that, let us consider some objectives of daily Bible reading.

Inferior Goals

The purpose of daily Bible reading should be more than merely checking something off a to-do list. In the interest of full disclosure, I am pro-list. I love my bullet journal and the organization that it affords me. I like to see my day laid out in front of me on paper each morning. I love the satisfaction of being able to mark off tasks as I accomplish them. I will put Bible study on my list and check it off when I’m through. But if my major motivation for reading God’s word is just so I can mark it off my list, then I need to revisit my motives. It’s possible to scurry through a quick reading of a few verses, mark off daily Bible reading from your list, briefly feel a sense of accomplishment, and move to the next task without actually benefiting from the exercise.

The goal of daily Bible reading should be more than seeing how quickly you can finish. If one is to benefit from reading the word of God, its message must be savored, contemplated, and applied. Speed-reading the sacred text to meet some arbitrary deadline will not help your spiritual growth nearly as much as slowing down and meditating on what you read. A lady purportedly came up to a preacher one Sunday as boasted, “I’ve been through the Bible three times this year.” He responded, “That’s great, but how many times has the Bible been through you?”

Superior Goals

A proper goal of daily Bible reading is to know God more deeply. While one can discern certain characteristics of God through a proper assessment of the creation (Psa. 19:1-4; Rom. 1:20), there are some traits of the Almighty that we can only discover through our acquaintance with the scriptures. By reading the word of God, considering how he has interacted with his creation, and studying his laws, we come to know that God is: light (1 John 1:5), loving (1 John 4:8), infinite in wisdom (Psa. 147:5), omnipresent (Psa. 139:7), holy (Psa. 99:9), just (Deut. 32:4), a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), good (Psa. 34:8), faithful (1 Cor. 10:13), merciful (Eph. 2:4), longsuffering (2 Pet. 3:9), and gracious (Exo. 34:6).

A proper goal of daily Bible reading is to increase our understanding of ourselves. James compared the word of God to a mirror (James 1:22-25) that helps us to see ourselves as we really are. The scriptures can penetrate our hearts and reveal our innermost thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12). By spending time each day in the word we can more easily remind ourselves of where we came from (Gen. 1:26-27), why we are here (Acts 17:27), and where we are going (2 Cor. 5:10).

A proper goal of daily Bible reading is to discover God’s will. According to Paul, no one knows the mind of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). But the Spirit did not keep all of his knowledge concealed. He revealed God’s mind and will to “holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5) who, in turn, recorded those things for our good (1 Cor. 2:12-13). By spending time each day reading the scriptures we come to know that God’s will includes: his desire for our salvation (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9); our sanctification and abstinence from sexual sin (1 Thess. 4:3); that we be grateful people (1 Thess. 5:18); that we silence critics of Christianity by our good conduct (1 Pet. 2:15).

A proper goal of daily Bible reading is to change our behavior positively. To know the will of God is important, but it is not the place our goals should end. We should desire to know God’s will that we might put it to proper use. Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11). Paul prayed that the Christians in Colossae would “be filled with the knowledge of his will” (Col. 1:9), but this knowledge was to lead them “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:10). May that ever be our prayer, too.

There is no substitute for the regular, consistent, routine examination of God’s word.

Benefits of Daily Bible Reading

There are at least two things necessary for someone to begin an exercise program: (1) conviction regarding the advantages of the program; (2) the desire for those benefits. If either is missing, there will be no change in behavior. One may long to lose weight and increase heart health, but if he doesn’t believe the program will work, he won’t do it. Likewise, one may think that a program is effective, but if he doesn’t want to lose weight and be healthier, he won’t start the program.

As shepherds who watch the welfare of souls (Heb. 13:17), most elderships challenge the members in their charge to participate in a spiritual exercise program that includes daily Bible reading. With the hope of motivating us to engage in this helpful spiritual exercise, let us consider some of the benefits of it.

Daily Bible reading offers wisdom, direction, and guidance for life. Because “it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23), we must “trust in the Lord” so that “he will direct [our] paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). For us to know where God wants us to go, we must listen to him as he speaks through the words of scripture.

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11).

“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psa. 119:24).

“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (Psa. 119:98-99).

“Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa. 119:104-105).

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psa. 119:130).

As we walk each day down the pathways of life, there are always people telling us which path is the right one. How do we filter out dangerous, destructive, evil advice? How do we recognize who is directing us wisely and who foolishly? By sifting what we hear through the word of God. But each day that passes without our reading it, the less equipped we are to choose the right path.

Daily Bible reading reveals weaknesses and challenges us to work on our character. Regular self-examination is more than wise. It is vital (2 Cor. 13:5). Each time we open the word of God and think about what we are reading, we will discover something about ourselves. Often that discovery involves a weakness, sin, or area of needed improvement. Paul identified this helpful characteristic of the Bible when he wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Is there anyone who could not benefit from this kind of character formation each day?

Daily Bible reading can enhance our prayers and praise. If you find yourself struggling to know what to say to God, reading and meditating on the Scriptures can improve the content of your prayers. Through regular communion with God in his word, we will find more and more reasons to offer thanksgiving and praise.

“I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules” (Psa. 119:7).

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules” (Psa. 119:164).

“My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes” (Psa. 119:171).

Daily Bible reading gives you material to think about when you aren’t reading. Our minds are never idle. They always focus on something. The things we think about originate from things we have previously perceived through our senses. The more we read the word of God, the more thought material we will have stored in our memories.

“At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules” (Psa. 119:62).

“My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psa. 119:148).

Daily Bible reading can increase our comfort in times of difficulty. Earth is not heaven. Therefore, we will not escape hardships in this life. But the word of God offers a kind of comfort and peace in these trying times that nothing else can.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Psa. 119:50).

“When I think of your rules from of old, I take comfort, O Lord” (Psa. 119:52).

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psa. 119:165).

Daily Bible reading can fill us with hope for the future. The more aware we become of the moral and spiritual degradation of our culture, the more prone to discouragement we may become. But the more we read and meditate on the word of God, the more confidence we have in our future as his children. Reading the word of God each day can lift our spirits.

“And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules” (Psa. 119:43).

“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope” (Psa. 119:49).

These are not the only benefits to a program of daily Bible reading. But they should be enough to motivate us to invest time each day in communing with God and allowing him to offer us instruction, guidance, help, encouragement, wisdom, rebuke, comfort, and peace.