A few years ago, I knew a man who was a lifelong drug addict, but had been clean for over a year. He had been in treatment for the previous twelve months, in a bubble, unable to visit the shadowy places where he met his supplier and concealed from his enabling “friends.” But it had come to a point at which he needed to get back on his feet, to put what he had learned into practice in the real world.
He did what I imagine most of us would do if we were in his shoes. Enjoying his newfound freedom, yet scared to death he might fall back into old habits, he basically set up camp at our church building. He came to every service and every bible study and every prayer meeting. He didn’t just show up, he worked. He was there early and stayed late. Every single event that we had, from a family movie night to a men’s breakfast to a Mother-Daughter Tea, he was there. And we loved him. It’s rare when someone literally won’t allow you to lift a finger because they are already working on the task you were about to complete. But he was a kind man, as well, so it was that much more enjoyable to be around him.
Today, this friend isn’t doing so well. Little did we know back then the dangers of binging, even binging on church. Looking back, I believe that his main strategic error was his focus on spiritual activity to the neglect of his relationship with Jesus. I don’t condemn him for this. I’ve even seen in my own life how deceptive it can be to fall in love with the goings-on of church, thinking that I was falling in love with Jesus. Believe me, they are two entirely different things.
Not only that, but he had adopted a lifestyle that was unsustainable for his long-term spiritual health. Hours and hours of service at the church actually allowed his addiction to creep back in through the dark, hidden crevices of his heart that were being neglected. His soul wasn’t being nourished. Yes, he was in church a lot, but what he needed was a lot more Sabbath rest. He needed a healthy home environment. And he needed to cultivate realistic life rhythms, like working 40 hours a week, in which he could put into practice all that he had learned in treatment. (At the time, he was working in spurts here and there, which led to a lot of unhealthy downtime.) He needed to clear his plate of a lot of “churchy” activities and immerse himself in the church – encouraging, accountable relationships that nurtured his affections for Christ.
Studying God’s word isn’t just something you add on to your spiritual life like a new cable package. It is not merely a piece that is added to our lives in order to help with spiritual growth. It is a part of an overall system of rhythms in which every piece works with and depends on the others. It’s not just about growing in Bible reading. It’s about knowing Jesus! (See part 2.) The study and meditation of God’s word is a part of this love affair with the Creator that works when it is connected to the rest of the “engine.”
The study of the Scriptures is intended to go hand-in-hand with authentic participation in relationships in your local church. The study of the Scriptures is part-and-parcel with the weekly gathering at which we worship the King together and are further bound together by a common, distinctive mission. It is also inseparable from the elements of the Lord’s Supper in which we remember his sacrifice and celebrate our salvation. And the study of God’s word is supercharged in the context of a person who delights in God during times of rest rather than filling those times with Netflix, television, and hours of surfing social media – activities that, whether or not we want to admit, harden us to fellowship with the Spirit.
So when we talk about reading the bible to get something out of it, we’re not just talking about reading the bible to get something out of it. We are talking about holistic participation in the Spirit. We are talking about the cultivation of the devotional rhythms of prayer, fellowship, congregational worship, the Lord’s Supper, and Sabbath rest.
If you want to go a little further down the rabbit hole, meet me here next week