In a study sponsored by Holman Bibles, adults were asked to name their main difficulty in reading the Bible. Their answer was “applying Scripture to concrete situations.” Despite our occasional struggles to understand parts of Scripture, understanding it isn’t our chief problem. Most of Scripture is abundantly clear. Much more often our difficulty lies in knowing how to apply the clearly understood parts of God’s Word to everyday living. What does it say about raising my children? How should Scripture influence my decisions and relationships at work? What is the biblical perspective on the upcoming choice I must make? How can I know God better? These are the kinds of questions Bible readers ask frequently; they prove the urgency of learning the Discipline of applying God’s Word.
The Value of Applying God’s Word
The Bible promises the blessing of God on those who apply the Word of God to their lives. The classic New Covenant statement on the value of integrating the spiritual with the concrete is James 1:22–25: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” Pithy and powerful is Jesus’ similar statement, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).
These verses tell us there can be a delusion in hearing God’s Word. Without minimizing the sufficiency of Scripture nor the power of the Holy Spirit to work through even the most casual brush with the Bible, we can frequently be deluded about the Scripture’s impact on our lives. According to James, we can experience God’s truth so powerfully that what the Lord wants us to do becomes as plain as our face in the morning mirror. But if we do not apply the truth as we meet it, we delude ourselves by thinking we have gained practical value, regardless of how wonderful the experience of discovering the truth has been. The one who “will be blessed in what he does” is the one who does what Scripture says.
For someone to “be blessed in what he does” is the equivalent of the promises of blessing, success, and prosperity given in Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:1–3 to those who meditate on God’s Word. That’s because meditation should ultimately lead to application. When God instructed Joshua to meditate on His Word day and night, He told him the purpose for meditating was “so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” The promise “then you will be prosperous and successful” would be fulfilled, not as the result of meditation only, but as God’s blessing upon meditation-forged application.
Expect to Discover an Application
Because God wills for you to be a doer of His Word, you may be confident that He wants you to find an application whenever you come to the Scriptures. For the same reason you may believe that the Holy Spirit is willing to help you discern how to flesh out your insights. Therefore, open the Book expectantly. Anticipate the discovery of a practical response to the truth of God. It makes a big difference to come to the Bible with the faith that you will find an application for it as opposed to believing you won’t.
The Puritan minister and writer, Thomas Watson, whose influence was so great he was called “the nursing mother of gigantic evangelical divines,” encouraged anticipation about application when he said,
Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied.
Because of God’s inspiration of Scripture, believe that what you are reading was meant for you as well as for the first recipients of the message. Without that attitude you’ll rarely perceive the application of a passage of Scripture to your personal situation.
Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 29–31.
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