Many years ago, when I was still young in the faith, Christmas admonitions to “keep Christ in Christmas” made me feel guilty. I’ve always been sharply aware of hypocrisy in my own life as well as in others. So after a bit of wallowing in self-condemnation, I’d buck up and resolve to do better: I would read my Bible and pray more often. I would give more faithfully. I would try to be less selfish.
Trouble was, my resolutions usually fell by the wayside in about the third week of February. I knew that for thousands of years people have died rather than give up, renounce or deny their Bibles (whatever portion of it they may have had.) So I was particularly skilled at laying on the blame when I lapsed. And the more self-recrimination I did, the less “worthy” I somehow felt to begin again. Silly, really. We don’t come to God because we’re worthy. We come exactly because we’re unworthy and in desperate need of his goodness.
It’s been interesting to see, over the years, that though the messages at Christmas may not have changed, I don’t experience that guilt/resolve cycle anymore. This is not because I’ve arrived at some kind of spiritual perfection! I haven’t. Or that I never feel discouraged at the recurring sin in my life. I most definitely do.
What’s made all the difference is the very real fact of walking with Jesus by developing a habit of daily Bible study and prayer. In 1990, sick to death of my predictable cycle of failing to spend time in God’s word, I made a resolution that worked for me.
It was this: Today I will read the Bible.
I told myself that if I failed to do it for a day, three days, three weeks, three months (and there was a period of about three months in which I left off), I would not berate myself for my lack of faithfulness and give up. I would simply pick up again with: Today I will read the Bible. For me, somehow that mindset was a recognition that I would fail but that the solution was to pick up and read again. No wallowing in guilt allowed.
Over these 25 years, my time with God has taken many varied forms, from straight reading through the Bible, to in-depth study or memorizing whole books of the Bible, to following along and looking up the scriptures in a book about the Bible. Sometimes it’s inductive, sometimes topical. Always it’s about soaking in the truth.
God’s Word has been milk to me as a baby Christian, learning how to raise my own babies, and meat to me as an adult, wrestling with serious questions about life and death.
It’s been a bitter pill to swallow — essential and corrective — when it showed me the truth about some area of my life that was not pleasing to God.
It has been oatmeal — bland, boring and just-the-facts-nutritious — at times when I wasn’t really “into it” or had been up at night with a crying infant.
It has been bread when I was starving for truth, a lifeline when I was drowning in fear and worry, an anchor when I was tempted, a hug when I’ve felt alone and unloved.
It has been peaches and cream when I’ve been overwhelmed by awe and overpowered by God’s love for me.
You understand, of course, that when I speak this way, I mean that God has been all those things to me. That the Bible is his very word, exactly reflecting what he intends to communicate. And that though I personalize it, yet it is for all humankind.
So when Newsweek printed a scornful, provocative article about the Bible at Christmas, derogatory of Christians, and riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations of history, I can’t say I’m not offended. But more than anything I’m sad. Sad that such a piece can pass as journalism, yes. Yet most sad that it might result in some reader “stopping before they start” at investigating the Bible. They would be missing exactly what they’re looking for in the most essential sense.
The best I can wish you for this 2015, is that you would let God’s truth through the Bible seep into your mind and heart every day. It will comfort your soul, answer your deepest questions, assure you that you’re loved. But beware — it has a cumulative effect. It will transform you.
Here’s a helpful piece on how to read the Bible for all it’s worth: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/bible-reading-is-an-art
Happy New Year!