As Christians, we're familiar with verses such as: "The word of God is alive and active" (Hebrews 4:12) and "The decrees of the Lord are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10). But do we live them out, day in, day out?
I know I don’t.
But does it really matter? I think it does. Let's look at some of the undesirable things that I’ve noticed start happening to me when Bible reading falls by the wayside. Perhaps they’re true for you too?
1. I develop tunnel vision
I see only my own priorities - which might well have started out as God’s priorities once upon a time but somewhere along the way have become a little reworked - and find it harder to be open to God bringing in new things to my day. All I can see is what’s already in front of me.
2. I get a bit driven
My own priorities subtly take over. They become so important in my sight, I can’t contemplate not delivering on them. Ever-so worthy they may be, but when - if - I stop to think about it, I’m not convinced God’s necessarily as bothered about the progress of my to-do list as I am.
3. And then it all becomes rather desperate
My identity is wrapped up in what I’m trying to achieve. I worry about not getting the job done, or not getting it done well; about disappointing people or letting them down.
4. There’s a constant niggle of dissatisfaction too...
I wish things would be done better, or that somehow, nebulously, life would just be better, if only I had more time and energy.
5. Oh, and did I mention that I start to detach?
No time for meaningful interactions or relationships when there’s so much that needs doing.
6. Dryness follows
I’m thirsty, but not drinking the living water. Little spiritual refreshment, few moments of connection with God, a lack of fresh, holy perspective on situations or challenges. And by the way, as an editor at BRF I read the Bible for a living. I have high levels of exposure to Bible content every single day. But seriously engaging with it is a very different matter. I deceive myself if I think otherwise.
7. What then? Usually serious tiredness
I know reading the Bible can restore my strength, but bizarrely it seems too much trouble even to open it.
8. Demotivation may follow...
...Along with doubt that the task I’ve set before me is really worth doing after all, or that I’m the right person to do it.
9. Left unchecked, holding it all together may get too much and I begin to fray at the edges
Relationships deteriorate, emotions are out of control, and one thing after another starts going wrong.
10. Which is pretty depressing
If I get to this point, I’m feeling low and anxious and maybe, just maybe, it’s even becoming obvious to other people that all is not well. Because it’s amazing how good we are most of the time at keeping up appearances.
Does all this sound a bit over the top, overstated, exaggerated? I really don’t think so. It’s just what happens when we move God from the centre, and by calling it out we can be clearer about the need for a remedy, and more inclined to seek it.
Let’s go back to that verse from Hebrews to see how it continues. "The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Yes, indeed: the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God was there before us, as he so often is, in identifying the real issue.
Psalm 19 is right on the money too. Many years before Hebrews, the writer is all too aware that the thoughts and attitudes of the heart can be treacherous: "Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (v12). But we can be encouraged by the confidence of the next words: "Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression" (v13).
Our loving, forgiving God speaks to us through the pages of the Bible - and in so many other ways - to remake us in his image daily. What a delightful prospect!
Olivia Warburton is head of content creation at The Bible Reading Fellowship, and is into all things editorial, design, production, web and media. To see this slightly dry and driven editor at work, follow her on Twitter @OliviaWBRF.