There was once a man who was cutting down a tree with an axe. He was pouring with sweat but was making little progress.
A friend came along and said to him, ‘Your axe is blunt- you ought to stop and sharpen it.’
‘I’m too busy to do that. I need to get this tree chopped down.’ he replied, and continued hacking away at the trunk.
This story reminds us that often we know the right thing to do (get our axe sharpened) but for some reason we don’t stop to take the time to do it, and just plough on in life, making very little progress. Of course, the same is true spiritually. If I say to you that each one of us ought to read our Bibles in a thoughtful way, each and every day, most of us have heard that a million times. But the truth is that many of us don’t take the time to do this, and so remain spiritually blunt.
A survey from the Bible Society last year said that amongst Christian millennials in the UK, 51% engage with the Bible a few times a year, or less. Only 9% read the Bible every day and a mere 13% look at the scriptures ‘a few times a week’. These statistics are shocking, but remind us that so often we miss out on blessing by refusing to do the basics.
Sam Hailes wrote an article in response to these statistics. He says, ‘A failure of discipleship means Millennials haven’t been taught the spiritual disciplines. We need to instil in others a passion and a love for this book. We have to teach people how to pray, how to be alone with themselves and God, how to be in community…
It’s a lot of back to the basics…
At some point we millennials have to grow up and take responsibility. Following Christ requires effort.’
Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about different ways in which God’s grace flows into our lives: we thought about prayer being one such channel (Hebrews 4:16); and we thought about how Christians themselves are channels of grace, as we serve one another using our spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10). But as most of us know, perhaps the main way God’s grace is channelled into our lives is through the Bible (Acts 20:32, Romans 15:4, Matthew 4:4). And so, if we seldom read the Bible, we’re saying to God in effect, ‘I don’t need to be strengthened by you.’
One of the most helpful pictures about how essential daily Bible reading is comes from Psalm 1. In this Psalm, [the one] whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night is like… a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season… (Verse 3)
It is important to note that the word ‘law’ here, is Torah, which really just means the Scriptures / the Bible.
This psalm not only tells us that it is possible to have a blessed / happy life (we all crave that), but is also tells us how to achieve that, and it is achieved through receiving grace and strength from the Scriptures.
Who do you listen to most in your life? Who and what shapes your values, behaviours and beliefs? The Psalm starts off (verse 1) by telling us who we should not listen to – the wicked/ the sinners/ the mockers. In other words, our thinking, our values and our understanding of the meaning of life should not come from those who have no time for God.
The godless want us to join them and to be like them. ‘Come and walk with us, come and stand with us, come and sit with us.’ But the blessed person actively resists the wrong thinking and wrong behaviours which come from friends, family, books, music, articles and tv shows which are contrary to the ways of God. We say ‘No’ to living for money, sex, pleasure or our career. We say ‘No’ to drunkenness and promiscuity. We say ‘No’ to the lie that the life of blessing is just about staying true to yourself, whilst completely ignoring what our Maker commands us to do.
Let’s be honest, all of us, as we watch TV, interact with people in normal ways, use social media, and in songs, books and articles are exposed to harmful advice, behaviour and ideas. Who are you listening to?
This Psalm contrasts listening to the ungodly with listening to God himself. Don’t soak up the behaviours and ideas from those around you and from your culture, but instead, soak up the ideas, attitudes and behaviours which God gives us in the Bible. Listen to him!
… ‘but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.’ (Verse 2)
We say “no” to bad advice, but we say “yes” to God’s advice. After all, God is the great Designer, and knows more than your peers about how to have a blessed life!
We are told to meditate on the Bible. That’s the opposite of a very quick read. When your kids have clothes full of stains, and you put on the vanish stain remover, you need to leave it for 5-10 minutes to let it do its work! The Bible is like that – we need to let it soak into us, and do its work in us.
One tool which helps us to meditate is to memorise verses we have read, and store them up in our hearts. Why might we do that? ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ (Psalm 119:11) Sometimes we store up money in a savings account for an emergency fund, for later use. It’s the same with saving up Bible verses: we save them as in the future we’re going to need them.
For example, ‘My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.’ (James 1:19-20) We might feel okay the day we memorise this passage, but then later on, perhaps months later, we find ourselves becoming a bit angry, and this verse pops into our head! And this is the work of God the Holy Spirit, bringing you grace through the Scriptures.
Or you memorise 1 John 3:1: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ And that is what we are! The day you memorise it, all seems well. But then a year later, you have real relationship problems and feel unloved, but the Spirit brings back this verse to you… we are children of God… and you are reminded and strengthened by God’s love.
Friends, if we can crack this, and get stuck into the Bible daily, then we’ll be like that strong and stable tree, planted by streams of water. What a wonderful picture. God grace comes flowing into us like a stream, through the Scriptures, into the roots of our lives, and will actually change and transform us supernaturally. We’ll bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We’ll start to know more about love, and gentleness and self-control.
Donald Whitney: ‘No spiritual discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the meat and milk of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s law and how we must repent and believe in him, to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God, as well as the best information for fulfilling ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore, if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God – intimately.’
Some of you are doing this and are being creative about it. You might listen to the Bible and a devotional as you drive to work. You might use Explorer notes. You might use our website and facebook page. You might download Christian talks and sermons. You come to church week by week. If that’s you, then keep on doing these precious things.
But remember the statistics of how few read the Bible day by day. And they make for sad reading. It means that there are fewer people who are like this beautiful blessed tree, whose fruit is a blessing to others, as well as themselves.
Remember the question: ‘Whose voice are you listening to?’ If you soak up the advice and ideas which are contrary to God’s, God tells you are living for worthless chaff, and as Psalm 1 ends, it’s a pathway which leads to destruction.
Don’t you want a blessed life which doesn’t depend on your own circumstances, but is strengthened by the power of God? Then meditate daily on the Bible! Because as we prayerfully do so, God’s Holy Spirit begins to supernaturally transform us, so that we are people who aren’t rootless and disillusioned and blowing in the wind, but rather are people of godly integrity, with the best of convictions, and who are led by the Scriptures to a life of love, Christian service, faith and repentance.
RCH Lenski: ‘God and the Word of his grace always go together; God lets his grace flow out through that Word.’