If you desire to be closer to God in 2013 than you were in 2012 , the most important thing you can do in 2013 is cultivate a lifestyle that fosters abiding in Christ. To “abide” is to remain with Jesus with regularity – to hear his voice and hear it again, and again in such a way that it leads you to the place where you can’t help but to say “yes” to what HE says. But abiding in Christ doesn’t just happen. You will not accidentally stay, walk & rest in Christ. Abiding in Christ happens in personal relationship with JESUS’S WORD (John 8:31, 15:7, 17:17)
Since I’ve moved to Chicago, I’ve talked to many who believe in JESUS but spend little time in the intimate nearness of the Father. Out of these conversations, I wanted to give encouragement for others to surrender their schedules as a way to give margin for abiding in Christ. Here are some things I have been thinking about for the upcoming year:
CONSISTENT TIME & PLACE: If I do not schedule intentional time with God, everything visible in my life will schedule out the Invisible. Have a time and place and treat it as a meeting with the most important person in the world. I prefer the mornings or nights…Pick a time that you can devote to God without interruption. And believe me, putting it on the calendar isn’t a bad thing, but you won’t start reading and praying just because you get a reminder or email about it.
CREATIVE PLAN: What will you do during your intentional time with God? Obviously, this involves some Bible reading and prayer. But what will you read when you’ve ran out of ideas? What will you pray when you don’t know what to pray? There is no right or wrong option out there but you need to find something creative enough that gets you excited and keeps you engaged.Here are some options:
The Park Forum: The Park Forum seeks to promote Bible engagement for urbanites. Their Bible reading plan follows a modified version of the reading plan created by Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), which has been recommended by Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, and John Stott to name a few. The Park Forum version cuts his plan in half so that busy city folks can keep up! Read two chapters per day and cover the entire NT and Psalms as well as half the OT. They also have devotions from various NYC pastors that follow the chapters. You can subscribe to the RSS feed and have it delivered to your google reader, email, or phone.
The Crowded House Sheffield Bible Reading Plan: This plan is helpful for those who do not like to be told what to read each day, but want a general plan to keep you reading week to week. Following this plan, you read the OT in three years and the NT twice in three years so it is realistic and you are not rushing through what you are reading to “get it done.’ It seeks to balance your readings in various genres of the Scriptures.
The Book of Common Prayer: For those of us from a less liturgical church setting, this can feel foreign at first but I have found the BCP a great resource in my life along with The Valley of Vision. Every day, the BCP gives you a morning and evening Psalm, an OT reading, a Gospel reading and an NT reading. Christians all over the world read the BCP so it is neat to know you are reading with the universal church. You won’t read through the entire bible in the two year cycle it offers, but you will get a regular diet intaking the Word. You can subscribe to the RSS feed and have Scriptures sent to you everyday.
Select Books of the Bible. I often like sticking to a book of the Bible and go deep with it until I’m done. This is nice because you can pick what intrigues you. I always think it is important to have a plan you are excited about. For new believers, you might want to spend a month going through the Gospel of John or First John. I like to alternate between the Old Testament and New Testament. Don’t get stuck trying to decide what to read.
At Missio Dei, we want to sit and hear the Spirit in the Scriptures. We use an acronym called S.O.A.P as a simple model to help in discovering what Scriptures is saying and how to apply its teachings. So you can best hear the Spirit of God, start off your time with prayer and confession. Confess your sins to Jesus, asking him to clean your heart and open your eyes to the beautiful truths and treasures in HIS Word.
Scripture - We should read the Bible patiently, prayerfully, and repeatedly. During this time, you are underlying key words that stand out to you, circling phrases that appear significant, and absorbing what you see. Reading aloud helps. Seriously. We are a distracted people.
Observe - Ask, “What does this text say?” Learn to look and ask questions that begin with who,what, when, where, why, and how. If you ask, “What do I think this passage says?”you will be tempted to speculate and guess, but if you are aiming to interpret the passage, you will begin to desire to see what the passage meant to it’s original audience. The more time we spend in observation, the better our interpretation, and the more accurately we can obey. Remember, however, no one comes to the Bible without presuppositions and agendas. Our prior experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge shape the way we perceive and how we understand. We need obedience and willingness to put ourselves“under” the Scriptures and to submit our will to hear them speak to us. This is why observing what the Scriptures say is essential. During this time, seek to understand what the author originally meant and how the original audience would have understood it. Also, observe patterns that point to Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ life and work is the story of the Scriptures.
Apply - Without application, we only have information – which our generation has plenty. The ultimate two questions to ask are: 1) How do I relate? 2) What do I need to do? Sometimes the application is action oriented. Sometimes it is more inward. Stay out of ambiguity. Be specific with what needs to change. Go deeper than just surface behavioral changes.
Pray - Now it is time to depend on the Holy Spirit to apply what you have learned. Do not depend on your strength and will power to change. Depend on God’s power living in you. This last step is a step of praying without ceasing. It is asking God to transform your life according to the specific area of your life the Scriptures brought conviction. Spend time giving thanks to God.
Don’t pack in or pack up. Even when you miss days, don’t pack up the Scriptures and quit spending time ABIDING. Also, ABIDING isn’t packing as much information as you can get, although there are seasons where gathering information is enjoyable (like eating Thanksgiving & Christmas meals). You are going to have days where you flounder – commonly it will be several days. Do not gaze at your neglect in disappointment. Turn to God and say with Paul, “I want to know Christ!” (Phil. 3:10). Keep the gospel central to your heart. You are not upheld by your commitment to a devotional life but we are upheld by Jesus’ commitment to never leave us nor forsake us.
Your joys in 2013 will not depend on national crisis, or personal circumstances but on ABIDING and meeting your MAKER. As much as you want to know HIM, you will know.