As I counsel others and engage in gospel-centered discipleship, I am sometimes distracted away from the Word, God’s self-expression in the form of the Bible itself. Someone struggles to feel a personal relationship with God, and I talk them through prayer and maybe recommend Tim Keller’s new book. Someone wrestles through debilitating self-condemnation over sin, and I lead in a discussion of our identity in Christ and recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Because He Loves Me. Struggles in marriage? What about Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage or Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Wife? If I’m not careful, I forget that these things, while all helpful, are only periphery supports for the infrastructure needed for discipleship. They are helps, but only as support to the better help, which is God’s own Word.
I’ve recognized this in my own life lately. Over the last year, I have received formal therapy from a licensed counselor, informal counsel from my pastor, and much counsel from wise godly friends over meals or coffee. They have pointed me to books that have offered wise counsel as well. While all of those things have been deeply helpful, they help best as periphery support to the essential infrastructure of personal Bible reading. When I pursue those things without reading the Bible myself, there is a gulf in my heart they can not make up by themselves.
Personally, I think of my time in the Bible as just reading, not study. I definitely do study the Bible, but that flows more out of my desire to teach. When I approach the Word for my foundational relationship with God, I just read. And I don’t usually read very long. I don’t set a goal, because I would be personally offended if a friend approached me like that, and I don’t approach time with God that way either. I open my Bible and read, and I stop when something strikes me. I highlight that thing and maybe reread it. Then I close my Bible to think about that truth or concept until the next time, when I pick back up at the last thing I highlighted.
Right now, I am reading through Proverbs and Mark. Each interaction with the Word feels like I’m reaching back and reconnecting to something eternal and timeless. It’s bigger than me, and it centers and grounds me. Of course, I don’t get that sense EVERY time I read the Bible, and it took a while of plugging through with this basic method to start to feel God’s supernatural working through His word. It’s a slow marathon, a day in day out walk. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Please hear what I am not saying. I am not downplaying the value of pastoral counsel, Christian books, or licensed therapy. For optimal health during the day, we need exercise. We may need medicine. We could use a nap. But before anything else, we need basic nourishment. We need breakfast. The slow walk through the Word is the sustaining food on which the other helps build. But without that basic sustaining food, we are set up for failure no matter what other well intentioned help we receive.
John 1 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Psalm 18:30 This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.