Maybe your new year Bible resolutions have already started to fade? What we really need this year is not a renewed habit. What we really need is to unleash God’s Word into our lives and experience all that God wants to do in us.
If our experience of interacting with God in our Bible times is going to really count for anything, then it has to be in the context of real-life struggles that the Bible has something to offer us.
Psalm 143 is a great passage to ponder as we think about our Bible experience this year. It starts where life is at its toughest, then goes on to describe David’s experience in such an illuminating way for us. Actually, Psalm 143 is not one of those passages that speaks directly about the Scriptures. What it does is speak of David’s experience, which can also be our experience as we engage with God through the Scriptures.
In the first four verses David is crying out for God to answer his prayer, but to do so in faithfulness and mercy. He doesn’t want God to be acting as judge, otherwise he, like all of us, would be in real trouble. David is troubled by his own sin, and also by opposition from the enemy (see v3). Verse 4 describes a wiped out David – a man with nothing left to give. Sometimes that is where we find ourselves: either through our own sin, or the opposition of the enemy, we feel like we have had the stuffing knocked out of us and our spirit faints within. David writes that his heart is devastated, or laid bare. He feels like he has nothing left to give.
And so what do we do when life hits us like that? Where do we turn? Do we look within, or turn to a philosophy, or throw ourselves into a career or hobby, or perhaps just numb the pain with a substance? The world really has nothing to offer us. Of course, as we all know, we should turn to God. And so from verse 5 David’s experience is described in such a way that it can reflect what our experience could be as we engage with God through the Bible.
I want to share five things that unleashing God’s Word into our lives might bring this year. Before I do, a comment about Bible character envy. Perhaps you struggle with this envy at times. It goes like this: if I had David’s experience of defeating Goliath, or heard God’s voice on the mountain as Moses did, or met with the LORD as Abram did, then I would not struggle in my spiritual life today. Really?
Perhaps we could reverse the situation. Imagine we could travel through time and organise a conference for all the Bible characters to attend. Imagine we could tell them that after their time, in the future the Messiah would come, and then his followers would write more books, and then all the books from the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, and the apostles, would all be gathered together and freely available in many languages. I suspect that would be a room full of Patriarchs and Kings and Prophets who would be jealous of us!
So what does unleashing the Bible into our lives offer us?
1. We are rooted in the reality of God’s greater story. In verse 5, David speaks of memory, meditation and musing on God’s past activity. He had his own story, and he had the stories passed down from his ancestors. And as we read our Bibles we will be lifted out of the one square metre of our own experience and struggles. We will be reminded that we are part of a much bigger story that stretches across all centuries and all continents, from eternity past to eternity future, a story that is being written by God himself. We need that because life has a habit of sucking us into the vortex of our own struggles.
2. We are reminded that our greatest need is God. In verse 6, David describes his awareness of his own great need. His soul was like a parched land desperately thirsty for God. Even in our greatest struggles, we have an innate ability to assume we are just being unlucky. If God would just give us that promotion, or a lucky lottery ticket, or a perfect spouse, or a new spouse, or a new job, or whatever … if we could just get a fair set of circumstances then we would be able to succeed in life. Really? When we spend time in God’s Word we are reminded that actually what we need is not financial or circumstantial, it is profoundly spiritual. We need God. Desperately.
3. Our responsiveness to God is stirred by His steadfast love. In the beginning of verse 8 David refers to God’s steadfast love – perhaps the key theme of the Old Testament. You can find references to this proactive, selfless, loyal love on page after page of the Psalms. And as we read the Bible we are stirred to respond to that love as we see God’s faithfulness to his people, God’s self-giving for those he loves. We cannot work up faith within ourselves, but as we glimpse God’s steadfast love, then a response of trust is stirred within us.
4. We are redirected to live our lives by God’s good Spirit. The second half of verse 8 speaks of being shown the way to go. In verse 10 David asks for God to teach him to do God’s will, and for God’s good Spirit to lead him on level ground. When we are convinced of God’s favour toward us then the next step is not only trust, but also obedience. It may be that unleashing God’s Word in your life this year will mean God takes you to levels of obedience you never thought possible. Maybe areas of your life that you have tried and failed to fix, and now are ingrained in your rhythms of life, and you feel defeated and resigned to living with the secret shame…maybe that is where the light of God’s Word might shine in the coming days! Trust Him, and be willing to obey.
5. We are revived by our encounter with God. In the final two verses, David is clearly concerned about his life. So the request is translated as “preserve my life” in verse 11. Essentially the “preserve” is supplied by the context, but what he asks for is life. Whether asking for preserved life or revived life, God is the right person to be asking. As we engage with God in His Word, the deep cry of our parched souls for life can be answered because God is a God of steadfast love toward us.
Don’t make this another year of Bible reading as an attempted habit. Make it a year in which you unleash God’s Word into your life and you encounter God in the Bible as never before!