There is no debate over the need to be people of the Scriptures. There is ample biblical data to demonstrate this clear teaching. We are providing practical suggestions for the inclusion of devotional time with the Word of God. This is then an attempt at providing the some missing links in the chain between fact and practice. Let us incorporate time with Scripture into our daily routine.
Centuries ago, a prophet by the name of Hosea lamented over the Hebrew people and their ignorance of God’s word. He said that their calamity was a direct result of their lack of God-revealed-knowledge (Hos 4:1-7:16). To refrain from a study of the Bible is tantamount to a rejection of God, and also may incur rejection of providential protection (cf. Hos. 4:6).
Hosea speaks on behalf of the Creator in the following way:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6)
As Jesus would later quote, the Lord desired Israel’s steadfast love, reflected in their possession and application of the knowledge of God (Hos 6:6; cf. Matt 9:13, 12:7). Instead, the Lord received religious deviance (i.e. idolatry, covenantal infractions, etc.) grounded in an ignorance and the rejection of God’s word.
As a result, God’s warnings of wrath went unheeded, and the Northern Kingdom (Israel and Ephraim) was conquered in 722 B.C. by Assyria, and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was overcome and their citizenry harvested three times.
- 606 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jehoiakim and took the upper class of Judah and the spoils of war (2 Chron 36:6-7).
- 597 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar came again and completed the plunder begun a decade prior to this invasion (2 Kings 24:14-16).
- 586 B.C.: Babylonians burned Jerusalem and leveled the walls, and finalized any deportation desires it had.
Both Israel and Judah suffered at their own hands because they did not commit themselves to the teaching of God. Hosea spoke of this calamity in his prophetic utterances found in Hosea 5:5-7:
The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them. They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord; for they have borne alien children. Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields.
The lesson here is obvious: there is no substitute for actually opening a biblical book in order to read and to study it, in order to apply the message God embedded within its pages.
Let us, therefore, make time to add Bible reading to our daily schedule. And here are some practical places to introduce Bible reading:
- Wake up a little earlier (Or, go to bed a little later) to make time for a 5-10 minute reading or study. You would be amazed how much can be accomplished by a consistent dose – however small.
- If you are a commuter (bus, train, taxi, carpool, etc.) and can read while in motion, try squeezing a paragraph in. Make a photocopy of a page or two out of the Bible, and slip it in your paperwork. Then when you are done reading it, you can give it away or discard it somehow (trash, recycle at office, etc.).
- Flash cards can be great tools at learning wonderful statements in the Bible. A list could be generated of significant passages, then every night before bed one or two verses can be copied down onto a card or two. The next day, the cards are available to commit to your memory. The book of Proverbs lends itself quite well to this type of learning project.
- Above all else, make Bible reading time a family project of Divine learning. God required this of physical Israel:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)
To be sure, there are other ways to incorporate Bible reading into a person’s schedule and routine, but these are provided to get your “thinking caps” charged up.
When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy regarding this young evangelist’s ministry, Paul was specific that Timothy should do several things. He told Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching […] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:13, 16).
In as much as we are accustomed to read the Bible to ourselves, there is much emphasis in Scripture about public settings where the Bible is read aloud. Moses read the Law to all of Israel (Exod 24:3). Ezra read the Law to all of Israel (Neh 8:1-8). Josiah’s reformation was predicated upon the public reading of the Law (2 Kings 22-23). And the Jerusalem church acknowledged that “Moses” (= the Law) was proclaimed since time immemorial (Acts 15:21).
Sometimes a difference is made between “listening” and “hearing,” and one might even suggest that a person can “listen” but never quite listen to the message of a conversation. Likewise, a person can “hear” someone speaking to them and be found in the same predicament – they did not really hear the content of the message.
Jesus faced a similar problem. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt 11:14; cf. Mark 4:9 and Luke 8:8, Mark 4:23, Luke 14:35). Such admonitions stem from an old plea from God through the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy 29:4:
And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Deut 29:2-4)
Moses’ words echo throughout the entire biblical tradition, for both testaments embrace the notion of using our ears and eyes to hear and see with spiritual clarity. We must give attention to the “living and abiding voice” of the Scriptures.
How can we incorporate the listening of Scripture into our routine? Fortunately, technology is our ally; really, it is more – it is our servant ready to perform for our Spiritual needs. There are Bibles on tape, cd, mp3, DVD, online, podcast, and whatever else the future provides as the new “techy” way to provide audio content.
Some audio Bibles are available free online, some are relatively inexpensive to acquire, and others are accentuated with marketing strategies using popular actors, singers, or other types of celebrity voices in dramatized versions of the audio Bible.
There are so many types of Bible in multiple versions that finding the one that we like the most should be our biggest problem, not the listening of the Bible. The problem is not access, it is habit – it is the failure to make it a routine to listen to the Bible.
So here are some practical suggestions.
- Purchase an audio Bible. That is pretty basic. Go to an online store or a local bookstore – Christian or otherwise – and bring home an audio Bible that you can use in the car, on your ipod or mp3 player, one that you can play on you desktop or laptop. The point is: take the first step into a larger world.
- Find a time slot you are going to set aside to listen to the Bible. Select maybe a half an hour every other night dedicated to listening to a book or several books of the Bible (especially those small ones!). We find time to watch our favorite TV show so we can know how the story unfolds (“how will Monk get out of this one?”), we ought to find the same fervor to hear the Bible (“what can we learn from God’s care of Esther and Mordecai?”).
- The iPod should be God’s pod.Surely, we can make room for God in our iPod or mp3 player – be it an “8 gigger” or “120 gigger.” GB should not only stand for gigabite, but also for God’s bite. It may sound korny, but we know this is an important perspective to embrace. Any portable media player can be a source of spiritual enrichment. For example, at the doctor’s office while you are “waiting for those results”, at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you need the patience of Job, or just when you are experiencing a time of deep emotional turmoil. Why turn to The Killers, or Kanye West, when we can turn to the “I Am”.
- Make your car an “Ethiopian Eunuch mobile.” In Acts 8:26-40, we find the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is a story of providence and salvation, but what appeals to our study from this narrative is that the eunuch was leaving Jerusalem in commute over 1,000 miles to Gaza in his chariot. The text reads that he “was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah” (Acts 8:28). We can turn off our typical (habitual?) morning wake-up show for some Scripture time.
Again, these suggestions are just to get your creative juices flowing. Find the time, however brief, to include God and His word in your everyday lifestyle – it will literally change your world.
- Hosea’s ministry is probably fixed between 760-710 B.C., as can be derived from Hosea 1.1 and the list of Hebrew Kings serving as historical benchmarks (Kings of Judah: Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; and Jeroboam II in Israel); Andrew E. Hill, Baker’s Handbook of Bible Lists (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 78-80; Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), 240.
- Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1965), 210.
- The last sure place in the New Testament where such an appeal is made to ears that hear is in Romans 11:8 in a quotations of Isaiah 29:10 and coupled with the oldest biblical reference in Deuteronomy 29:4.
- It is worth noting that such references are mostly found in the prophetic admonitions where spiritual sensitivity is valued at a high premium; such as Isaiah (30:21), Jeremiah (25:4), Ezekiel (3:10, 12:2, 40:4, 44:5), and Zechariah (7:11).
- This reference comes from available fragments of the writings of an early non-inspired Christian named Papias (middle second century AD, cf. Fragments of Papias 3:4; online as ch. 1). He longed to hear from eyewitness auditors of the apostolic circle, those whose memory still rang with apostolic sermons and teaching. He preferred this encounters over the study of books. The longing Papias demonstrates should resonate with our spiritual fervor to hear the Scriptures aloud.
- Bible.org offers a free Bible podcast of their New English Translation of the Holy Bible on iTunes. I have enjoyed the translation in hard copy form and am really enjoying it in audio format on iTunes. If possible, download iTunes and check it out (click).