Fear & Trembling

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This is an updated version of my last post, Beholding the Glory of the Gospel. Essentially this is a step by step guide for what to do when reading your Bible. I have updated this post to better reflect what most helps me get into the presence of God and to experience him. This is something to go through once you have your Bible in front of you and have a Bible reading plan to start. If you’re more of a neat-nic like me, you might find this helpful (if not, you may just be overwhelmed). I find that if I don’t have a plan for how to read, I simply read my Bible and just go on my way without it having any affect on me.

This plan is something I’ve gathered together from a few different sources over a few years. It really helps my Bible reading affect my soul, and work change in me, rather than just being something I glance over. Before starting you may want to grab a coffee, get out a journal, maybe light a candle, or turn on some quiet music that helps you get into God’s presence. To go through everything here will probably take a few sittings, so some people may find it better to pick and choose some things that are most helpful for them. My hope is that this will help you to more deeply enjoy, know, and be swallowed up in the glorious majesty of Jesus our king!

 

Luke 8:18

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

2 Corinthians 2:16

to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

 

 

APPROACHING GOD

 

  1. Remove other cares from my thoughts. If necessary list them out for dealing with later.
  1. Get my heart impressed with an awful sense of the majesty and holiness of God into who’s presence I am going, and who’s word I am about to hear. See Psa. 89:5-14; Isa. 6:1-5; Psa. 46:1-11.
  1. Apply Christ’s suffering, death, and his imputed righteous life in my place, to myself and my sin and even my self made righteousness that stands between my soul and God.
  1. Examine myself and stir up in my heart great spiritual desires for my own soul’s needs and deficiencies.
  1. Pray that God would give me assistance in seeing, feeling, and hearing what he has for me in his word. Pray that he would direct the word to me as I need it, and that he would press it home on my heart with his blessing in order that I may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as my case requires according to Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  1. Ask that God would pour out his Spirit on me through the reading of his word, knowing that none of these actions procure God’s action toward me, but that he acts according to his own will, and pours out his Spirit on whom he wills. Ask this according to the promise in Proverbs 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”

 

 

HEARING GOD

 

LISTENING
  1. Treat the reading with great respect and read without many distractions or breaks which show contempt for God who is speaking to me by his word.
  1. Read each verse as if it is to me. See Thomas Watson here: “Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.” (See Watson’s great little book on spiritual disciplines, Heaven Taken by Storm.) Donald Whitney says of this quote: “Watson was right when he said, “Take every word as spoken to yourselves.” But we cannot do that until we understand how it was intended for those who heard it first. If you take every word of God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12:1-7 as spoken to yourself, you’ll soon be moving to Israel. But if you understand that particular call as unique to Abram, you can still discover the timeless truths within it and apply every word to yourself. Have you followed the call of God to come to Christ? Are you willing to obey the voice of God wherever He might call you—to a new job, a new location, the mission field, etc.?” (See Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life).
  1. Consider each section of Scripture prayerfully, diligently, and slowly, not carelessly passing by anything so as to miss anything God would have for me.
  1. Prayerfully consider how each verse makes me feel, and also how the author (both the Biblical, and ultimate author, God the Holy Spirit) feels in this writing. Think on the emotion that rises and send it up to prayer to God for every sentence or so. This is the gateway to real interaction with God.
  1. Do this until a word from God stands out in my heart by the Power of the Holy Spirit. This can be a word specifically to my spiritual need, situation, fear; or a word that frightens me or gives me deep concern.

 

TILLING THE SOIL

If nothing in God’s word seems to be jumping out and speaking to me directly:

  1. Then make a list of everything it says about God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
  2. List anything that it tells you about yourself.
  3. List any examples to be followed (or things that need to be avoided).
  4. List any commands to be obeyed.
  5. Finally, list any promises to claim.
  6. When this is all done, choose the verse and truth that is most striking and helpful to you (sometimes nothing in particular will really stand out, if this happens just choose the one that most strikes you, even if it doesn’t seem that great – often God will surprise you with these).
  7. Paraphrase the thought or verse in your own words.

 

MEDITATION

 

Write down answers to the following questions:

  1. What does this text show me about God for which I should praise or thank him? Adore, praise, and thank him for this.
  1. What does the text show me about my sin that I should confess and repent of? What false attitudes, behavior, emotions, or idols come alive in me whenever I forget this truth? Confess and repent of this in prayer to God.
  1. What does the text show me about a need that I have? What do I need to do or become in light of this? How shall I petition God for it? Petition and plead with God for this in prayer.
  1. How is Jesus Christ or the grace that I have in him crucial to helping me overcome the sin I have confessed or to answering the need I have? Pour out your thanks to God for Jesus and his salvation.
  1. How would this change my life if I took it seriously— if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being? Also, why might God be showing this to me now? What is going on in my life that he would be bringing this to my attention today?
  1. Pray for all of your needs and pressing concerns.
  1. Pray for others on the truth that God has revealed to you. If you have a prayer list, use it here.
  1. Take a final moment just to enjoy God and his presence. Do this however you would like. I personally prefer enjoying God’s presence as I read a devotion on the Bible text I just read. Good devotions I’ve found that follow a Bible reading plan are:

Older Devotions (Dead Guys)

Philip Doddridge’s Family Expositor (Usually 2-6 volumes depending on the edition; contains a devotion for every section in the New Testament (about every 4-10 verses), and by far, my very favorite) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (very devotional throughout, goes through the entire Bible by sections (usually 2-5 pages for every 10-15 verses give or take) Single Volume | Six Volume Edition

Joseph Hall’s Contemplations (contains a 2 or 3 page devotion for every narrative section (typically a chapter) of the Bible) Kindle Edition V1 V2 V3 | Hardcover

Robert Hawker’s Poor Man Commentaries (contains a devotion (about a page long) for every chapter of the Bible) Kindle Edition | New Testament Hardcover | Old Testament Hardcover | Abridged New Testament & Psalms Hardcover

Isaac Watts’ Psalms & Hymns (the Psalms; typically one to three hymns for each Psalm) Paperback | Hardcover

Thomas Chalmers’ Sabbath Scripture Readings Volumes I & II (I haven’t spent much time in these, but they contain devotions for every chapter of the New Testament in volume I and Gen. 1 – 2 Kings 11 in volume II) Paperback V1 V2

Modern Devotions

D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Volumes I & II (this follows the McCheyne Bible reading plan and pretty much covers the whole Bible, (although there are some chapters that don’t get a devotion); the devotions typically correspond to a single Bible chapter) Paperback V1 V2 | Hardcover V1 V2

Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Guide (entire Bible) (I haven’t looked at this yet, but it is likely very good) Hardcover | Leather

ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible (entire Bible) (I haven’t seen much of this one either, but it’s supposed to be great) Many Editions

There are many other good devotionals that I didn’t list because they aren’t really arranged chronologically in order to be a companion to reading through the Bible, but rather as something to be read on their own. I’m also sure that there are other devotions that are arranged to be read chronologically with Bible reading that I haven’t heard of yet. If you know of any, feel free to post them in the comments!

 

 

I’ve gleaned these directions from several authors. The Approaching God and Hearing God sections are mostly adaptations from a sermon (which I can no longer find) of the puritan Thomas Boston. Some of the content in the Hearing God section is from Donald Whitney’s excellent Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The Tilling the Soil and Meditation sections are taken directly from Tim Keller’s great book Prayer. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

May God provoke you to more awe, delight, and satisfaction in him through his word in the coming year!

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Beholding the Glory of the Gospel

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I‘ve been trying to hone in on my Bible reading and prayer and actually have it be genuine time with God, leading to genuine change in my heart. I’ve found that without some kind of organization, I typically gloss through my morning Bible text, and my reading basically just becomes a meaningless means of works righteousness; a box I can check off that does me no good. In the last few years I’ve looked at several suggestions of Bible reading methods and prayer models, and the following is my attempt to converge many useful suggestions into one system. The following is a way to go about meeting with God once you’ve sat down and have your Bible open. If you’re an OCD neat-nick like me, you may find this helpful. Note that this is for people who already have a reading plan they intend to use for their daily Bible reading. I don’t intend, or suggest anyone else go through everything here in one sitting. But instead I plan to choose some things from this every morning as I think they’ll help me. I owe much here to Tim Keller, and some to the puritans Thomas Boston & Thomas Manton. This will likely remain a work in progress as I learn what is most beneficial to my soul. Here’s what I have so far. I hope it may help you on your journey to walk closer, and to more deeply enjoy the beauty of our God.

 

Quiet myself

Quiet my heart and mind and enjoy stillness before God. Light a candle. Silence… Simple Prayer… Quiet Music or Hymn…. Deep Breathing… Take a few minutes to focus on God and to shut out distractions. Experiment. Vary this. Try one or two of the following each time before I begin reading:

  • Invitation: Read a verse inviting me into the presence of God. Examples: P 130:5 Ps. 100:1-2 Titus 2:11-13 Ps. 145:8 1Pet. 1:3 Ezek. 36:26-27 Rom. 5:5
  • Fear of God: Get my heart deeply impressed with an awe filled sense of the majesty and holiness of God into who’s presence I am seeking to go, and who’s voice I am seeking to hear. Delight in the greatness of God and in my smallness in light of his immensity. Delight that he commands all things, and that all things are for his greatness and are at his sole disposal. See Lk. 8:18, 2 Cor. 2:16, Ps. 89:5-14, Isa. 6:1-5, Psalm 46:1-11.
  • Love of God: Apply Christ’s suffering and death for my inherited sinful nature, for my evil heart toward him in actual sin, and even my evil self-made righteousness that stands between my soul and him. Apply his righteous life infused to me, and counted as mine because of his amazing divine mercy. Consider God’s eternal decree to save me before the foundation of the world, and the fact that he loves me dearly enough both to die for me, and to send his only Son to do so. Consider that God the Father constantly feels great, deep, unrelenting love, gladness, and joy toward me because of his pure mercy and what his Son has done in my stead, and the righteousness he has clothed me with. See 2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 3:21, Rom. 5:6-11, Zeph. 3:17-18, John 10:27-30.
  • Stir my affections: Examine myself and stir up in my heart great spiritual desires for my majestic God and Father and for knowing him more and for my becoming like him. See 1 Tim. 4:16 & John 15:5.
  • Gospel Song: Read or sing a song or hymn from a psalm or hymn book. The one I’m experimenting with now is The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts by Soli Deo Gloria.
  • Prayer Book: Read and pray a prayer from a prayer book. The Valley of Vision is an excellent option.
  • Pray for eyes to see: Pray that God would give me assistance in seeing, feeling, and hearing what he has for me in his word. Pray that he would direct the word to me as I need it, and that he would press it home on my heart with his blessing in order that I may be enlightened, sanctified, strengthened, humbled, or raised up by it, as my case requires according to Psalm 119:18.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit: Pray that God would pour out his Spirit on me through the reading of his word according to the promise in Pr. 1:23, knowing that none of these actions procure God’s action toward me, but that he acts according to his own will, and pours out his Spirit on whom he wills.

 

Bible Reading

Slowly read the scripture passage 2-3 times, inviting the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth to me. Read it as God’s word to me at this moment in life. Read for understanding. Write down answers to the following (or just a few that stand out):

  • What does this text tell me about God or Christ? (e.g. His names, attributes, desires, pleasures, promises to claim, commands to obey, a comfort to be savored)
  • What does it tell me about mankind? (e.g. nature of man, examples to avoid or follow)

 

Meditation/Dwelling

Become aware of God’s loving presence and read the passage again, perhaps out loud. Notice how He might be speaking to me through His Word. Dwell on a word or a phrase that jumps out at me. Record answers to the following:

  • What truth has caught the attention of my heart or mind?
    (e.g. a command to be obeyed, a comfort to be savored, a characteristic of God to be grasped)
  • Think about this truth. What is it really saying? Put it into my own words.
  • Why is God showing me this today? What is going on in my life right now? As thoughts become clear or convicting, write them down.
  • Talk to myself in the presence of God (Soliloquy as demonstrated by the psalmist). Ask myself: If this truth were explosively alive in my inner most being, how would I be different? If I really believed this at the bottom of my being would I be different? How? How does God want to transform my heart, thinking, habits, relationships?

 

Response

Respond to God for what he has just revealed to me in prayer. The following ways are very helpful. Ask:

  • Where in the scripture I just read is it prompting prayer? What type of prayer responses does this text ask me?
  • In light of my meditation, in what areas should I pray?
  • Pray freely about these, and also anything else that is on my heart or mind.
  • Also pray for others about these things. Incorporate my daily prayer list. The Bible is not just my story — it is first and foremost God’s story, then our story, and finally my story. What does this truth and the passage reveal about God’s heart for the people and world around me? (e.g. family, extended family, neighbors, workplace, church, city, nation, world) Who or what has God put on your heart today? Pray this truth for them.
  • Use the ACTS model of prayer if you would like:
  • Adore God/Christ/Holy Spirit for who He is in this passage (e.g. His attributes revealed in this passage).
  • Confess the sinful emotions, attitudes, and behavior that result in me when I forget who he is in this truth I have read.
  • Thank God for what He has done (e.g. his grace to forgive and heal me). And ask, “How is the grace that I have in Jesus Christ the key to help me overcome the sin that I have just confessed?”
  • Supplicate (ask), “What do I need to become in light of this truth?” Make a plan. Ask for God’s comfort, wisdom, and strength in applying this truth today.
  • End by beholding, adoring, and appreciating some aspect of the excellence and beauty of Christ.

 

Devotion

Read a devotion on the text I just read (especially if after meditation and prayer I still feel dry and lifeless). As I read the devotion pray through each sentence of it, and ask God what he has for me in it, and ask for help in feeling the weight of his word through it. Best biblical devotions to use:

 

Blessing

Close my scripture reading with a blessing or promise or view of the beauty of God in his word ideally from the reading for the day. Dwell on this throughout the day. Try and think how it fits into biblical/systematic theology, delight in it and think on it. Throughout the day ask questions of this truth to God in prayer, and ask God to give me understanding, and a proper emotional response to it, and to bless me through it. Delight in, and praise God throughout the day through this revelation given to me.