The Apostle Paul spent his last days in a cold Roman prison convicted to die as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. In that dungeon he wrote his final thoughts to his “son” Timothy to remind him of what was truly important and encourage him in his faith. He describes a society which is remarkably like our own– “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s last written words to Timothy, and also to every believer living in the ‘last days’ (the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return). As we enter the holiday season, it is good to rest and renew our strength. But Paul warns us not to be lulled into a false sense of security, but to understand the times and wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11; Eph 5:14-18). Paul urges us to be “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). Satan does not go on holiday when we pack our bags! When life slows down and we let our hair down, we have a God-given opportunity to taste the sweetness of His inspired Word and equip ourselves to live courageously for Him in 2019! Our text this week is 2 Timothy 3:14-17:
“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Hunger for God
The prospect of reading the Bible during the holidays may fill you with mixed feelings—perhaps reluctance at the thought of study after a year of hard work; perhaps guilt or dread at the idea of imposing duty and structure on lazy days; perhaps excitement at the thought of diving into a new book of the Bible. Guilt and duty are hopeless motivators for Bible reading and will definitely not sustain us during the holiday season. A neutral or complacent attitude towards God’s Word will be useless to combat “holiday rot!” Only awe and hunger for God himself can motivate us day after day to open our hearts to the Bible—to be receptive to its teaching, correction and training in righteousness. If we understand the miracle of God’s Word, the Logos, we will not see reading the Bible as medicine to swallow or a chore to tick off. It is pure pleasure, an experience of communion with God that is as sweet as honey (Ps 119:103; Ps 19:10). That is how David saw it a millennium ago even though he only had the first five books to read—mere shadows of what was to come. He longed for greater intimacy with God and saw the law as a vital conduit to this relationship. Timothy’s “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) were also limited to the Old Testament. But we are far more privileged than David or Timothy. What a gift the holidays provide to us to get a taste of the Bible’s 66 God-breathed books, written by around 40 different human authors, spanning over 1600 years! Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Word –“the Word made flesh” and when we are guided by the Holy Spirit, we see Jesus and everything he has done for believers in the Old and New Testament. It is awe inspiring that we have free access to these sacred texts which tell the greatest story the world has ever heard! How strange that we should plan endless entertainment, distractions, meals and celebrations, but not give a thought to nurturing our souls on holiday? Let’s remember that the Word is essential to our Walk with God. Let’s commit ourselves to a plan of how we will spend time listening and talking to God in prayer over the holiday season. Let us approach his Word with anticipation, like opening a beautifully wrapped gift every day, full of messages that are trustworthy, true and satisfying (Ps 119:14-16).
“Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin was right. We remember nothing when we are just told things. The same goes for reading the Bible. Although the Bible is full of life changing power and can cut into our hearts like a surgeon’s scalpel (Hebrews 4:12; 13), its words are not magic bullets that automatically transform us. We need to do more than just read Scripture. We need to first open our hearts and pray, “God, show me the meaning of this text. Help me to understand your truth, not my own.” Then read the text carefully, following clues in the margins and notes of your Bible so that you understand what the text is saying to its original readers and against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible. See this as a treasure hunt rather than hard work!
Then whisper the simple prayer, “God, teach me what you want me to learn. ” Be still and quiet as you observe details in the text that stand out for you. Think and chew on it as a cow chews on the cud. Meditate on the words as if you are warming your hands at a fire. No word is wasted or arbitrary. When God the Holy Spirit teaches us, He doesn’t do it all at once. He peels away thoughts like an onion, layer by layer, leading us deeper and deeper into the truth of his Word. In a whole lifetime of reading Scripture, we will always be struck by new truths and will never plumb the depths of God’s Word.
But the Bible is useless to us if it remains in our head and does not seep into our heart and emotions, our will, thoughts and actions. Our final prayer as we read Scripture is a commitment to action and a simple request: “Lord, I surrender my will to you. Please change me.” It is a prayer of yielding our whole hearts to God like the good, receptive soil in the parable of the sower. The rebuking, correcting and training function of the Bible can only take place when the veil is removed from our eyes and we finally see the attitudes, behaviours and thought patterns that need to be changed. Each day we need to turn away from ourselves and towards God—a daily recalibration as we wrestle actively and honestly with God’s Word. “Faith without works is dead,” says James (James 2:17). Jesus is looking for doers of the word, not just hearers or talkers (James 1:22; 23; 24; 25). “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron 16:9). Jesus accused the Pharisees of being ‘blind guides’ because their knowledge of Scripture led to information, but not transformation. Paul warns Timothy of people who are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Scribble down what the Holy Spirit is showing you as he confronts, comforts and convicts you with the inspired text of Scripture. Be specific and hold yourself accountable to your commitments.
Live it out!
- ROMA is a useful acronym to help you wrestle with your Bible this holiday.
M- Meditate / meaning
- Plan to read a book of the Bible this holiday and download the Explore Bible Devotional app (The Good Book Company) on your phone to guide you through it in bite-sized daily readings. The App is simple to use (even for the technologically challenged), the devotions are brilliantly written by some of the world’s best Bible teachers, and are very practical. I use the Explore Bible Devotional app as a vital companion to my quiet time as it helps me to interpret the text in front of me against the backdrop of the whole Bible, instead of through the lens of my own personal hobbyhorses. Start a new journal to jot down your thoughts and prayers. As you look back on your journal this time next year, you will be amazed at what God has done and how many of your prayers He has answered.
A river of grace for 2019
Imagine filling your mind every day with heaven’s pure river of wisdom, intimacy and guidance. The Bible is a flowing stream of grace that God himself has provided to enable you to be fruitful in season and not to wither (Ps 1:3)– To remain nourished and restored through every season of life. See this holiday as a gap to reflect on eternal things, to see the beauty of Jesus on every page of Scripture, to spend time taking pleasure in God’s beautiful world and renewing your awe and love for the One who created you and has numbered all your days. Make up your mind today not to succumb to holiday rot! Allow God’s Word to transform you into a man or woman who is mature and complete, equipped for every good work in the coming year 2 Tim 3:17
Lord, thank you for getting us through this year and never leaving our side. Help us to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees at this time. Make straight paths for our feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb 12:12-13). Please restore us this holiday season and remind us that Christmas is all about you and your gift of Jesus.
Jesus, help us to sit at your feet like Mary, instead of being distracted by many lesser things, as Martha was. Help us to choose what is better this holiday, instead of trying to do everything (Luke 10:38-41). Jesus, you are the living Word, and we pray that you will help us to connect to you through the written Word of Scripture in the coming weeks (John 1:14; 18). Please equip us for every good work in 2019.
In Jesus’ name
Thank God for speaking to you through his Word as you listen to this classic hymn by Amy Grant. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path is based on Psalm 119:105 (click here).