People grow in relation to what they eat. At my stage in life (I like to think I’m at the lower end of mid-life) that growth happens entirely in an outward direction. But in the younger years of life, a child sprouts upwards as they eat.
The equation is as simple as it is double-edged. A child who feeds well, grows well. The child who eats little doesn’t.
The same holds true in the spiritual realm. If we want to ‘stretch’ in our likeness to Jesus then the Scriptures must become our regular diet.
It is helpful to remind ourselves that the Bible is no ordinary book. The 66 books which comprise it are nothing less than God’s words. These words are personal and powerful, they are life giving and life sustaining.
You can easily last a week without reading a newspaper. But you cannot so easily neglect the Bible. Poor eating habits will eventually lead to spiritual malnourishment.
Yet even once we establish our need for Scripture a practical question arises: How do we best feed upon God’s Word? What is our dietary plan?
Speaking at a recent conference, Rico Tice talked about reading the Bible on four different levels.¹ I am going to borrow his framework and develop it in my own way. So here are five Bible inputs that will help you grow upwards in Christ.
Level One: Preaching
There is more to Christian living than sermons but there certainly isn’t less. According to the New Testament preaching matters. Paul’s dying charge to Timothy was to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). I have always found it striking that out of all the things Paul could have said, he chose to emphasise preaching.
God’s people, it seems, are in desperately in need of preaching. They may not even know it but the Word regularly explained and applied is the means of equipping them for doing works of service (Ephesians 4 v 11-12).
It is possible that I may have heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. Most of them I cannot remember, but I know those sermons have shaped me in a thousand different ways. Without those sermons I would be much the poorer in my walk with Christ.
So, find yourself a church where the Bible is faithfully preached and go to that church every Sunday. Do it – your soul will thank you for it!
Level Two: Group
Whether you call them small groups, life groups, community groups or cell groups, a smaller meeting of Christians can bring many benefits. In our church, we meet fortnightly in groups of 10 to 20 people.
Small groups have a number of important priorities² but one of them is to discuss and apply the Bible. Unlike a sermon a small group is interactive. You have the opportunity to ask questions. You also have the benefit of hearing insights from a wider range of people.
So if you’re not part of a community group, consider joining one this year.
Level Three: One to One
In the last few decades the Church has woken up to the benefits of one to one discipleship. Whether it’s with an older Christian, a younger Christian or a non-Christian, opening the Bible one to one has meant benefits . It allows for an authenticity that is not possible even in a small group.
So why not consider meeting up someone weekly or fortnightly with the sole purpose of meeting to study the Bible.
Is there an older Christian who you feel could help disciple you? Is there a new believer who might benefit from your encouragement? Is there an unbelieving friend who you could lead through a gospel?
The Word one to one is a great plug-and-play resource for evangelistic one to one’s. Another useful book is David Helm’s One to One Bible Reading – A Simple Guide To Every Christian.
Level Four: Personal
This is the one we all know about: the ironically quiet time’ (which properly done is anything but quiet!). How can we make the most of this time of hearing from God and responding in prayer?
Follow a plan
There are dozens of good Bible reading plans . The beauty of it is that you can choose the one that fits you best. Depending on the time you have available , here are just some of the possibilities:
- One chapter a day plan. Alternatives between Old and New Testaments.
- McCheyne’s 4 chapters a day (1 year to complete). Covers the Old Testament once per year and the New Testament and Psalms twice. Some people do it over 2 years at a pace of 2 chapters a day, rather than 4.
- Professor Grant Horner’s plan (90 days to complete). This is for the slightly crazy people – or at least those who have more time on their hands! It is 10 chapters a day (yes 10!) and you need about 45 minutes per day to complete it. Needless to say, it doesn’t lend itself to in depth study. However, many people have actually found this plan helpful in short doses. It will give you a sweeping overview of the whole Bible.
- Read at your own pace plan. Exactly what it says on the tin!
I would also strongly recommend the Olive Tree Bible App (android/ ipad). Many of the plans above are already installed on the App. I find it an easier way than paper to keep track of where I am.
What if I struggle to read?
A lot of people find reading difficult. This emphasises why the likes of sermons, small groups and one to one’s are so important. However all is not lost if you really struggle to read.
Consider listening to the Bible. None less than David Suchet will read the Bible to you on BibleGateway! There are also similar Apps that can be downloaded for this sort of thing.
Level Five: Family
This final one is for mums and dads. If you have kids, you will want to establish some sort of bible input in the context of home . I know it isn’t easy to do and in my earlier years as a parent I struggled to maintain consistency with leading family devotions .
Nail down a time
We do daily devotions on Monday’s through Fridays. On Saturday we take a rest, and on Sunday we have church. Over the last few years the weekday mornings have worked best for us. We sit down at 5 past 8, at the tail end of breakfast, and spend about 10-15 minutes reading a bible passage, discussing it together (usually me asking the children questions) and then praying for the day ahead.
Other families say that mornings don’t work for them at all. Our children’s ages and stages come into it, as does the working pattern of the parents – so one size will never fit all.
It may be that after dinner in the evening is more appropriate. Or before bed. And for some families, daily devotions may not be a reasonable target (I know some families who do it once or twice a week). The key thing is to schedule something in and make it part of your routine.
Lots of good resources
Obviously, you could just open a bible passage and have a chat with your kids about it. But many parents feel inadequate in doing this. It is therefore a great boon to have so many great resources available to help us.
In our home we have used The Big Picture Story Bible, the Jesus Story Book Bible, and are currently quite far through the double volume set “Long Story Short” and “Old Story New.” The Good Book Company also have a raft of resources.
A Year For Growth?
2017 is almost upon us. I wonder by the end of the year, how much you and I will have grown? The answer will be no doubt dependent on how much you eat.
¹ West of Scotland Gospel Partnership meeting, 3rd September 2016.
² We talk about SPACE. Scriptural focus. Prayer. Accountability. Community. Evangelism.Tweet
Great post, Colin! Thank you for it. May many take advantage of it. My wife and I were graciously saved by Christ just before we started having children. And by the grace of God we received right away similar advice about how to grow at that time, 25 years ago. Our boys are now married and on their own, walking in the truth, strong in Christ and His Word, and still growing, as are we. All by the grace of God, who uses means – the kind you mention here. Thanks again! Pastor John Snyder, Pueblo, Colorado
That is truly a great plan and so beneficial for spiritual growth. A daily devotion at whatever time works keeps us close to God allowing him to speak his word to each one of us. It is certainly nescessary for spiritual growth.