January 29, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Study

Study is the last of the spiritual disciplines that Richard Foster categorizes under 'Inward Disciplines'.  If one may have a favorite spiritual discipline, this is mine.

I believe all of the disciplines are of equal importance, each contributing to our intimacy with our God and our growth as His children.  Study is the place where we get to know the God who has revealed Himself by His Word.  Knowing the Word fuels our prayer and meditation with right thinking about the God.  Studying the Scripture forces us to grapple with Truth and our misconceptions.  Time spent in study is never wasted time; the same can be said of all the disciplines.

The discipline of study is different from simply picking up your Bible and reading a few verses each day.  You should read your Bible every day, yes indeed!  Study goes deeper.  It is setting aside more time to learn more about a passage or a book, bringing in commentaries and other resources to aid understanding.  Sometimes we read and think we understand, but after reading a few more times, considering the context, and making connections, we find a wealth of truth that we would have missed without extra study.

The Bible says we are transformed by the renewal of our minds and that we should think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, etc.  Where do we find the fuel?  Scripture.  New ways of thinking come from engaging our minds in thinking about the right things!  Did you know the Word of God is alive?  Did you know it is the source of hope?  Did you know it is useful for keeping us in line and showing us God's way, that we might be ready for every good work?  The Bible is more than just another book on the shelf!  We must take time to know it.

And now I must take time to issue a warning.  If you are like me and really enjoy study, there is danger in making the study and end in itself (a danger with any spiritual discipline).  Of course, as we study, we are gathering more knowledge about God.  Knowledge should fuel our worship, not our pride.  May God protect us and meet us as we learn from and about His Word.

My experience with study has been fruitful.  A handful of years back I began to consider working toward being speaker, the Bible-teaching kind.  In the process I realized that I needed to know the Bible to teach it, so I became more diligent and regular in my study.  I confess that I gravitate to this kind of thing, so it was not difficult to convince myself to do it.  But I did have to make the time.  I get up before my family pretty much every day, to have the space to read, pray, and think.  I love my family, but that time definitely is in the running for my favorite time of day.  In fact, I'm enjoying it now as I write!  What I have found to be the most wonderful effect of intentional, regular study of the Word is seeing how Scripture connects to itself and how consistent the God of creation and history is.  I love when the Spirit tickles my brain during a sermon, connecting something I've studied with what is being said from the pulpit.  The more I learn, the more connections "just happen."  Ta-da!  Study enables us to know God as He has revealed Himself.  As we get to know Him, He starts to change us, transforming us more into Christ's likeness.

Study changes our minds, which changes our hearts, which changes us.

I love these words from R.C. Sproul in his commentary on John 5.
"[Jesus's words] will take us into deep theological waters, but those deep theological waters are at the very heart of the faith of the Christian church, and it's because of these things that we come together to worship Him and to honor Him."

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100

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