Saturday, August 25, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (21)

I will say this, and I will say it again: there is no substitute for the prayerful, meditative, daily reading of scripture. None. You cannot be the functioning, useful, growing, joyful, discerning Christian that God means you to be without it.

Sure, in every generation there are plenty of Christians around the world who can’t read, and there have been plenty throughout history who have had much smaller portions of God’s word to mull over and put into practice than are available to us today. But none of that matters to you or me, does it, because we CAN read.

And of everyone to whom much is given, much will be required. That’s our problem in a nutshell.

Sure, we can try to get by on the few stray spiritual crumbs that tumble into our craniums on a Sunday morning between thoughts of the report we have to write for Tuesday and the NFL game we hope to catch this afternoon, but the daily Bible readers around us will soon leave us eating their spiritual dust, assuming they haven’t done so already.

Three thousand years ago, Solomon said much the same thing.

9. Wisdom’s Call [Part 2] (Proverbs 8:32-36)

Daily at My Gates

Wisdom is summing up her call to men:
“Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.”
I’m going to shock you here: I do not get something earth-shakingly wonderful out of my Bible reading every day of my life. Sometimes I can’t put into words even a single new thing I have learned. Sometimes my heart feels dull and callused, and sometimes my head is inattentive or preoccupied. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m getting anywhere at all.

It’s a little like my backyard, which used to be nothing but moss because of the dense foliage overhead. It was completely reseeded and heavily fertilized three weeks ago. Despite all the dutiful daily watering I did, for almost ten days nothing happened. Not a thing. Well, okay, there were new flocks of little birds congregating at the far end of the yard pecking up the seedlings, but other than that, nada. In fact, if you take into account the seeds stolen by the birds, the process of growing a new lawn actually appeared to be moving in reverse.

But three weeks in, bright new blades of green grass are everywhere. Keep checking long enough, and the cumulative effect of all those faithful waterings becomes apparent.

Wisdom Coming and Going

Wisdom is like that. If you wait beside her doors long enough, you’ll catch her coming or going. The problem is that she doesn’t appear on a predictable schedule. If she did, nobody would bother waiting on her. She’s kind of like the myth about the angel of the Lord at the pool of Bethesda who would come down “at certain seasons” and stir the waters. The prize was said to go to the guy who stepped into the pool first. Except of course that Wisdom has a near-infinitude of good things to share, and there’s no competition to learn them. Everybody’s welcome to jump in the pool at the same time, though too few seize the opportunity.

The only real competition is internal, and the only way to lose at Wisdom’s game is to refuse to show up and wait for her because you’ve got better things to do, or because you think you don’t really need her. Then you lose, and big time.

Growth in Increments

The Christians I know who accomplish the most have a lifetime of tiny, incremental, almost-invisible spiritual gains behind them. Their increasing knowledge of Christ and personal enjoyment of him is the product of small, faithful obedient gestures repeated thousands of times. Unsurprisingly, they have found something like what Elijah found: that God is present not in the wind, earthquake or fire of grand, dramatic spiritual experiences, but in the low whisper of persistent personal fellowship.

The rather effective trick played on modern Christians is this: Satan has convinced thousands, maybe millions of us to wait at the wrong door, to watch daily at the wrong gate; or, to change the metaphor, to drink from Wisdom miles downstream from its pure source, where the current is full of pollutants and toxins. So I talk to young men who can’t be bothered to read their Bibles every day, but have watched hundreds of Christian YouTube videos and listened to hundreds of podcasts of people’s opinions about what the Bible teaches. In the absence of anything else to drink, muddied water may temporarily drive away thirst, but the person who climbs the hill to tap the same stream at its source will be healthier and live longer.

Knowing about what’s in the Bible is not the same as knowing the Bible, and even knowing the Bible is not the same as knowing God.

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