Hearing God’s Voice

By Julian Wells

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:1-6 NIV)

My one-word resolution for 2018 is mindful. Previous posts have explored my intent to be more mindful of my time and more mindful of others this year. The third area I intend to be more mindful this year is in hearing God’s voice, especially when it comes to daily Bible reading.

I have always been a fast eater – a tendency which studies suggest leads to higher caloric intake but less satisfaction. Similar problems can ensue in a spiritual sense when we follow aggressive Bible reading plans as I have for a number of years.

As I covered in a post titled Bible Reading Plans last year, such plans can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While we may increase our intake of God’s Word, the spiritual nourishment we so greatly need from it often suffers.

Take another look at the passage from Proverbs above. To apply our ear to understanding, to call out for insight, and to search for the hidden treasure contained within the pages of God’s Word requires a slower-paced reading than most Bible reading plans allow.

That is why I have scrapped my annual Bible reading plan this year for a daily reading focus. I will continue to be systematic in my approach to insure that no portion of Scripture gets neglected over time. But rather than maintaining the pace necessary to cover a certain amount of material in a year, I have slowed down my reading to insure that I hear God’s voice and truly grasp his message for me each day.

I am quickly finding this approach more beneficial in so many ways. My awareness of God’s presence and my sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the day has been enhanced. Bible study has become more like God designed it to be – God speaking and me listening and responding.

“As the rain and snow comes down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)

My prayer for you is not that you read more Bible in 2018, but that you make better use of your time in God’s Word, reading it more prayerfully and responding obediently. Until the day he returns or calls us home, it will remain our best way of hearing his voice.

“To understand the Scripture is not simply to get information about God. If attended to with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to actually hear God speaking and also to meet God himself.” – Tim Keller, Prayer

 

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Bible Reading Plans

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. … I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. … Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:11,15,105 NIV)

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. Fittingly, it is focused on the blessings of knowing and applying the commands and principles of God’s Word. 

Perhaps some of you resolved to read your Bible cover-to cover in 2017. Countless reading plans are available to keep you on pace toward accomplishing that goal.

Through the years, my personal Bible reading plan has grown increasingly ambitious until it now looks like this:

  • One Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) each month
  • Remainder of New Testament: Every six months
  • Psalms and Proverbs: Every six months
  • Remainder of Old Testament: Once each year

Bible reading plans designed to cover the entirety of God’s Word in a year are not without benefits, especially if you’ve never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Following them will certainly help ingrain the discipline of reading God’s Word into your daily routine.

But annual Bible reading plans are not without their pitfalls either. They can lead to reading hurriedly and mindlessly in order to cover the required material for that day without sufficiently digesting, meditating upon, and applying its content. While you might accomplish your reading goal, God’s greater goal of molding you into the image of his Son often suffers.

Recently, I downloaded a devotional Bible to my iPad. Described as a “cover-to-cover journey through the Bible”, it is organized into chapter readings covering six days a week for a full year, with each reading followed by a devotion. One of those daily readings covers chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, which detail the events and the compelling teachings of our Lord as he gathered with the disciples in Upper Room on the night before his crucifixion.

Given their importance, I spent two months on those five chapters when I taught the Gospel of John several years ago. While I can certainly read John’s account of the Upper Room Discourse in one sitting, I can’t imagine adequately grasping its content and application for my life in one morning Bible study. A 500-word devotion cannot scratch the surface of the important lessons Christ conveys to his disciples that night.

The written Word is God’s primary means of communication with us. It is too important to rush through in order to accomplish a New Year’s resolution while ignoring its application for our lives. I encourage you to read your Bible daily, but do so prayerfully, patiently, attentively, and systematically. 

Like the psalmist, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you might see and comprehend the wonderful things contained within the Scriptures. (Psalm 119:18) Read with the expectation that God will answer that prayer and respond appropriately when he does. Highlight or underline those passages that particularly pierce your heart. Make notes in the margins or in a separate journal. A marked-up Bible, like the one shown above, is one that has been digested rather than merely read.

As for that Upper Room Discourse in John 13-17, I can’t think of a better place to spend some quality time over the next couple of weeks as we prepare our hearts for Easter, reflecting on the final teachings of our Lord before he went to the cross. I hope you will join me on that journey.

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. … Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.” (Psalm 119:130,133 NIV)

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