Monday, March 5, 2012

Cross Training: Study

As mentioned in the last post, I am discussing No Greater Love Ministries' (NGL) Cross Training in greater depth. Cross Training is basic discipleship, focusing on four areas:

As you can see in this illustration, the foundation of the cross is Study. This is the basis of the Christian life. We learn about God and His ways through study of His Word. And as the Word is hidden in our hearts, we develop godly character and morals. (Psalm 119:11)

2 Timothy 3:16-17 illustrates this principle: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (NIV)

When I started this Christian walk, I had a pretty solid background in Bible study. I'd been in church my whole life* and had gone through years of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes. I knew a lot about the Bible and God - but I didn't really know Him or His Word very well. I have heard it said that when the Spirit comes to live in you at your conversion (see Romans 8:9) you immediately develop a hunger for His Word. I believe this can be true for many people, but it didn't happen that way for me.

I was 14 years old; I really needed to mature. I was much more interested in manifestations of the Spirit than in drawing closer to God through diligent study of His Word. God was patient and kind with me, as is His nature. He gently led me along for several years, guiding me in the paths of righteousness. And I did learn a lot about His ways and experienced the joys of His presence. 
But I didn't really have an overpowering desire to read His Word. I was content to just coast along on other peoples' knowledge and understanding. I read Christian books, listened to sermons and Christian music, sat through a bunch of Bible studies and took part in countless praise & worship sessions. But I really didn't study the Scriptures for myself.

Lots of Christians' lives follow this pattern. Some never move on to maturity. They're happy to be spoon-fed theology from the pulpit and from paperbacks, content to chase after what they think is the latest and greatest manifestation of God's Spirit. Sometimes they find the real thing, sometimes it's just hype. Doesn't really matter - it provides the excitement they crave either way. Compared to the latest thrill, reading the Bible seems boring and mundane. That's the way my life was for several years, and I might have stayed there forever had it not been for a wise decision by my pastor in Nebraska.

One Christmas he gave everyone in the congregation a little booklet. It was a Bible-reading plan. By following the plan, one would read through the entire Bible in a single year. This was a revolutionary idea for me. I had never read through the whole Bible, not even once in my life. 
He challenged us to commit to reading the Scriptures every day, with the intention of finishing the whole thing in a year's time. I decided to go for it.

The best thing about this little plan was it offered a variety of readings every day. You didn't just start at Genesis and slog your way through to Revelation. I had tried that approach once on my own and had bogged down by the time I got to Leviticus. Another problem with that method is, you're reading for 9 months or so before you ever see the New Testament. On the plan I started with, every day you would read a few Old Testament chapters, a Psalm or chapter of Proverbs, a selection from one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and a chapter from the rest of the New Testament. By reading 15 or 20 minutes daily, I successfully read through the Bible in one year's time.

I can't say that I suddenly developed a delight in God's Word. At first, it was kind of a chore - but I was committed and wasn't about to quit. And the process appealed to me - I love checking completed tasks off a list as I finish them. (Sometimes I even write things on my to-do list that I've already completed, just so I can cross them off.) This Bible plan was an already prepared checklist. As I worked my way through that first year, there was a real sense of accomplishment in marking off each daily reading.

And then an interesting thing occurred. Over time, as I consistently read the Bible month after month, it became my habit to do so. Gradually, I found myself looking forward to my time in the Word. I began to find studying the Scriptures to be a genuine delight. As I opened His Book, God began speaking to me through the pages of His Word. I started understanding things I hadn't been able to comprehend before. By the end of the first time through, I couldn't wait to start again.

I have followed this routine ever since. There have been times I've fallen behind in my reading and had to scramble to catch up. But the rewards of regular time in God's Word have been nearly immeasurable. A few years ago, I sensed the Holy Spirit was nudging me to double up, reading through the Bible twice a year. So I revised and fine-tuned my reading plan to take only 6 months. I'm currently reading through for the 42nd time. 

Naturally, my Bible knowledge has increased over the years. This could easily become a source of spiritual pride, and I'm afraid sometimes I fall into that trap. I try to guard against such an ungodly attitude, remembering that the whole purpose of studying the Bible is to know Jesus Christ better and bring Him glory. I pray He lets me share His Word with wisdom and humility, always pointing to Christ rather than myself.

The fascinating thing is, even after all those times through the Word, I'm always seeing new things. It's like God shows me something fresh every time I open the Bible. He speaks directly to current situations in my life, giving me insight and understanding through His timeless Word. One thing is sure, it's never boring. To help keep it fresh, I change translations every time. I rotate between several English translations, including New King James, New American Standard, 
New International Version, and the New Living Translation.** Each has a little different approach***, and sometimes reading a new version helps me get a different perspective.

I've tried a few different Bible reading plans over the years. Every one I've used has offered a variety of daily readings, because I find that to be a most accessible approach.  Currently I'm using a plan put out by the Navigators discipleship training group. The best thing about this plan is, it features only 25 readings each month. This method provides a little grace - if you miss a day or two, you're not way behind. If you're interested in this particular plan (the 12-month version, not my custom 6-month one) you can find it here.

Reading the Bible regularly has changed my life. I'm convinced the study of His Word is the primary way to really know God. He has revealed Himself there, and it's the number one way 
He communicates with His children. His Word never changes; it's forever settled in heaven. 
(Psalm 119:89

You don't have to wait until next year to start. You can get under way any time. If you don't think you can manage the whole Bible in a year, try reading just the New Testament. Here is a plan to do that, reading just 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. The important thing is to get started reading the Bible every day. I promise that God will meet you in the pages of His Word.

*For more on my early life and training, see the Wisest Choice Ever.

**Apparently if the translation doesn't start with "New", I won't use it. 8^)

***Comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of various translations is beyond the scope of this post. In the future, I'll explore that topic.

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