When I Don't Desire God - chapters 7 & 8 - weapon 2: the Bible

I love the Bible. It's the honey on my tongue and the fire in my belly and the sword in my hand and the joy in my step.

I love reading it on those dull days when I'd rather pick up a novel, and watching it works its magic in spite of me. I love memorising passages, and seeing God's Spirit bring them to mind exactly when they're needed. I love nutting out difficult verses, and realising they're nutting out me.

Of course, there are mornings when the newspaper wins the reading contest. There are days - sometimes months! - that pass by without much Bible. There are plenty of moments when the words drift through my eyes and spiral straight out the top of my head. There are times when the words on the page don't touch the way I'm feeling.

But God's Word changes me even when I'm not noticing. It nourishes me even when I don't feel it. It gives me what I need even when I'm hoping for something else. It helps me see the glory of Christ and transforms me by the seeing until he is, at last, my highest joy:

God has chosen in this age to reveal himself to the world mainly through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, by means of the written Word, the Bible ... It may take the Word of God to show us what we really need, and then to give us the power to get it. In the end what we really need is Christ. (pp.96, 100)

So how do we read the Bible? How do we keep reading the Bible? The best advice I've ever received is Piper's: plan how, plan when, plan where. If this sounds like legalism to you, Piper's The joy of duty will set you right - and The Quiet Time Performance will remind you to stay in God's grace. Use Jennie Baddeley's practical theology for women to assess how your Bible reading is going. On Friday I'll talk about praying before you read, and how to structure a "quiet time".

Here's some ideas for engaging with the Bible. There's a whole heap of stuff here - browse at your leisure, and share your own suggestions in the comments! I pray that these suggestions won't burden you, but will free you to try new things.

Reading the Bible

Don't aim too high and pack a basket. When you're struggling, forget the one hour quiet time. Get all your stuff - Bible, Bible reading notes, memorisation cards, book, journal, prayer diary - into a bag or onto a shelf so that, if you have 5 minutes, you can grab one thing and spend some time with God. If you're doing it tough, read When reading the Bible feels impossible and Cathy's excellent series Growing with a newborn.

Plan how. In Bible reading aids for mums and other busy people I share lots of Bible reading methods, including some you can do in 5-15 minutes. See also Wendy's How do you read the Bible?, Cathy's Bible reading for different learning styles and Justin's Bible reading plans.

Plan when. I agree with Piper that morning is best - "Entering the day without a serious meeting with God, over his Word and in prayer, is like entering the battle without tending to your weapons" (p.116) - but this will be impossible for many and difficult for some. A discipline I've found useful at times is no Bible no breakfast.

Plan where. Private is best (I like waking early or going for a walk) but you may be able to read the Bible and pray with people around if you're good at shutting out the noise! If you're married with kids read Nicole's Shutting the door.

Memorising the Bible

I've got the worst memory in the world (just ask my friends) but I love memorising the Bible. If my 6 year old can remember whole chapters, so can you! This is a vital spiritual discipline which we've forgotten. "I am jealous for you, my readers, that you would 'let the word of Christ dwell in you richly' (Col. 3:16)." (p.123)

What to memorise. I've memorised verses, chapters, and books (and forgotten most of the latter!) but I've found passages (5-20 verses) far and away the easiest to remember and the best fuel for meditation and prayer. If you want a place to start, my favourites are Ephesians 1:3-10, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Romans 8:28-39, Philippians 4:4-9 and Psalms 103 and 139. If you want to begin with single verses. learn ones related to important doctrines or your particular temptations, or try the NavPress Topical Memory System or Piper's Fighter Verses.

How to memorise. Find a method which works for you: read the passage out loud once a day until you know it; write out the passage again and again; print out the passage and carry it with you; use a card to cover each verse as you recite it; or stick up verses around the house. Piper recommends Andrew Davis's An approach to extended memorisation of scripture, and you'll find Memorizing scripture inspiring and informative. If you're a mum, it's often easier and more productive to memorise with your kids: see Bible and breakfast, teaching Psalms to our children, memorising scripture, extended scripture memory for kids and parents, and beatitudes and values.

Why memorise. "I spend this much time on Bible memory because I believe in the power of the indwelling Word of God to solve a thousand problems before they happen, and to heal a thousand wounds after they happen, and to kill a thousand sins in the moment of temptation, and to sweeten a thousand days with the 'drippings of the honeycomb.' ... This is the path to solid joy." (p.123) See also 10 reasons why you should memorise scripture and 10 reasons why you should not memorise scripture.

Meditating on the Bible

Read less and think more - or, if you're going to read more (which is a great idea!) choose one of the Bible passages you've read to think and pray about. Meditation is the bridge between Bible reading and prayer: it draws meaning from one and gives it to the other. Meditating means "to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it - to mull it over ... and to ponder its implications" (p. 125). Memorisation fuels meditation – if you’ve remembered it, you can take it anywhere! When I'm walking, I often think through a Bible passage I've memorised and turn each verse into prayer and praise.

Here's some tried and tested methods:
  • Take a Bible passage and reflect on it verse by verse. Say each verse out loud if it helps you concentrate. Turn each verse into prayer and praise.
  • Ask questions of a passage - try The Swedish Method.
  • Write out a Bible passage. Write down your reflections on it. Write down a prayer in response to it.
  • Print out a Bible passage or a book of the Bible and scribble all over it - underline repeated words, draw arrows from idea to idea, circle key verses.
  • Choose a single Bible verse and repeat it over and over. Each time emphasise a different word, starting with the first. Reflect on their meaning.
  • Using a concordance, choose a word and look up the verses where it's used. Write down and pray about what you learned.
  • Read a Bible with cross-references and chase them through its pages.
  • Think about a doctrine – the atonement, God’s sovereignty, heaven – and unpack it slowly in your mind, turning it into prayer and praise.
Now it's over to you. What are your favourite methods, times and places for engaging with the Bible? Encourage us by sharing your ideas!

Questions for discussion and reflection:
How does the Bible help your joy? Have you planned how, when and where to read the Bible? Are memorising and meditating on the Bible new ideas for you? What new ideas would you like to try (pick one or two!) from the above suggestions? Plan how to do this.

images are from Tigerlily, REL Waldman, and rachel_titiriga at flickr