A Pastor’s Plea to Take Up and Read

What did you read from the Scriptures today?

I ask this question of people a lot. As a Pastor, my greatest hope is that more and more people will be spending time daily in the Word of God. In this means of grace, we hear God speak to us, we immerse ourselves in truth, and we learn God’s will for our lives. We see God, and our own lives, most clearly only through the lens of Scripture.

Sadly, too many of us are haphazard in our reading of God’s word. We read randomly, with no purpose or plan to our study. We read occasionally, and often go for long periods without drawing near to the Lord in His Word. We read casually, without prayer, without devotion, and without any intention to be transformed by what we have read.

As we approach a new year, I want to encourage each of you to commit to reading God’s Word. Each day I use the M’Cheyne Bible Reading plan, and I recently came across his appeal to his own congregation to do the same. I thought I’d share that with you here, and provide a link for a download of the plan to print and tuck in the cover of your Bible.

What the coming year is to bring forth, who can tell? There is plainly a weight lying on the spirits of all good men, and a looking for some strange work of judgment coming upon this land. There is need now to ask that solemn question: “If in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan” (Jer. 12:5)?

Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures, but upon the Lord our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are to stand in the evil day. Then we shall be able to say, like David, “The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law” (Psalm 119:51).  “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words” (Psalm 119:161).

It has long been in my mind to prepare a plan of Scripture reading, in which as many as were made willing by God might agree, so that the whole Bible might be read once by you in the year, and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.

I am quite aware that such a plan is accompanied with many Dangers :

  1. Formality. We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form. The tendency of reading the word by a fixed rule may, in same minds, be to create this skeleton religion. This is to be the peculiar sin of the last days: “Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Guard against this. Let the calendar perish rather than this rust eat up your souls.
  2. Self-righteousness. Some, when they have devoted their set time to reading the word, and accomplished their prescribed portion, may be tempted to look at themselves with self-complacency. Many, I am persuaded, are living without any divine work on their soul—unpardoned and unsanctified, and ready to perish—who spend their appointed times in secret and family devotion. This is going to hell with a lie in the right hand.
  3. Careless reading. Few tremble at the word of God. Few, in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, saying, “Our soul loathes this light bread!” and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Take heed lest that word be true of you: “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
  4. A yoke too heavy to bear.—Some may engage in reading with alacrity for a time, and afterwards feel it a burden, grievous to be borne. They may find conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food. If this be the case with any, throw aside the fetter, and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God. My desire is not to cast a snare upon you, but to be a helper of your joy.

If there be so many dangers, why propose such a plan at all? To this I answer, that the best things are accompanied with danger, as the fairest flowers are often gathered in the clefts of some dangerous precipice. Let us weigh the advantages

  1. The whole Bible will be read through in an orderly manner in the course of a year.  The Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice. I fear many of you never read the whole Bible; and yet it is all equally divine: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect.” If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians.
  2. Time will not be wasted in choosing what portions to read. Often believers are at a loss to determine towards which part of the mountains of spices they should bend their steps. Here the question will be solved at once in a very simple manner.
  3. Parents will have a regular subject upon which to examine their children and servants. It is much to be desired that family worship were made more instructive than it generally is. The mere reading of the chapter is often too like water spilt on the ground. Let it be read by every member of the family beforehand, and then the meaning and application drawn out by simple question and answer. The calendar will be helpful in this. Friends, also, when they meet, will have a subject for profitable conversation in the portions read that day. The meaning of difficult passages may be inquired from the more judicious and ripe Christians, and the fragrance of simpler scriptures spread abroad.
  4. The pastor will know in what part of the pasture the flock are feeding. He will thus be enabled to speak more suitably to them on the Sabbath; and both pastor and elders will be able to drop a word of light and comfort in visiting from house to house, which will be more readily responded to.
  5. The sweet bond of Christian love and unity will be strengthened.  We shall be often led to think of those dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, here and elsewhere, who agree to join with us in reading these portions. We shall more often be led to agree on earth, touching something we shall ask of God. We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the some words of eternal life.

 McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.

Click here to download a copy of the reading plan:

What an indocile…

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control,
lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV)

I haven’t been running since February. I have a list of excuses, but that’s all they are. The simple fact is, I’m not disciplined enough right now. This is evident in my lack of exercise, and in every other area of my life.

It seems that when I’m not running, not disciplining myself in that one area, all other discipline goes out the window too. I’m not very careful about what I eat, nor when. I get lazy with my time, time and work and home. I don’t floss as regularly as I should.

But the lack of physical conditioning carries over into the spiritual, too. When the physical discipline is gone, I notice that my prayer life is anemic, my daily reading and personal study dwindles, and my general disposition towards ministry is grim. I find myself relying on my own strength, running on my own steam, and finding that I’m full of a lot of hot air.

I don’t think this is exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote about disciplining the body so as not to disqualify his preaching. Read in context, we see that Paul is making a powerful argument about what true freedom in Christ looks like. In Corinthians chapter 6, Paul addresses sexual immorality, in chapter 7, the principles of marriage and singleness, in chapter 8, what to do with food sacrificed to idols. Chapter 9, however, Paul emphasizes the fact that, for the sake of others, he surrendered his rights for the sake of the gospel. He did not claim his rights to receive payment for his work, He did not throw his authority around so that others would serve him. Instead, Paul became all things to all people, and a servant to all that he might win more of them. He kept himself from that which was rightfully his, and did not take his freedom in Christ as license for indulgence, so that he would not disqualify himself and his preaching.

Still, without discipline, I run the risk of disqualifying myself and my preaching. If the well runs dry, the people will turn elsewhere to find water. If, by lack of discipline and self-control, I lead myself into the barren wilderness of spiritual neglect, how can I ever hope to serve as your pastor? My sermons will become just that, my sermons, rather than a faithful, and prayerful proclamation of the Word of God.

If, by never taking time to delight myself in the presence of God through pray and the study of His word, how can I ever hope to share in your joy in the Lord?

There is an old hymn that you all know:

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey

As an evangelical Christian, I’ve got the trust down. I trust in Jesus for my salvation. I know that I am secure in Him, that my sin has been forgiven, that my guilt is taken away, and that, by God’s grace, I now live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. I love Him, and so I trust Him entirely with my life.

I guess my trouble is with the obey part. If I love Him, won’t I obey Him? Won’t I be listening and watching for the guidance of His Spirit as I attend to His word and kneel in prayer? If I love Him, won’t I want to live my life in a way that shows my love and my gratitude for His tender mercy and lavish grace?

I know that there is in me a desire to walk closely with the Lord, to be found faithful in His eyes, and to live for His glory. In that knowledge, I know that God’s Spirit is working in me, for if I was content in my lack of discipline, then I would be worried. Still, I hear the words of Paul, encouraging me to compete for the crown, to exercise self-control that I might receive the imperishable crown of glory. I know I must be renewed in discipline.

And I find myself in good company. Jonathon Edwards, while known for many things, is also famous for his list of resolutions. I wanted to share just a couple with you here:

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done.

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.

And so I resolve to be more disciplined in my life, physically and spiritually. And while I make this resolution, I also hear the words of another great Puritan, John Owen, who wrote, “To suppose that whatever God requires of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” I make my resolution, trusting solely in the grace of Christ to strengthen and support me, for I know apart from Him I can do nothing.