In August of 1989 I had the privilege of participating in a mission trip to the bush country of East Africa. Four of us from the church I pastor lived in tents in front of a tiny, unfinished, mud-and-sticks church building six miles from the nearest settlement.
I’ve been overseas enough to know that many customs I have come to identify with Christianity will clash at some points with the culture of our hosts. My experiences have taught me to anticipate swallowing with difficulty some of my American expectations (not to mention a few other things!) about how Christians should live. But I was unprepared for some of my encounters with many of the professing Christians in this equatorial setting. Lying, stealing, and immorality were common and generally accepted, even among the leadership of the church. Theological understanding was as scarce as water, the disease of doctrinal error as common as malaria.
Soon I discovered one of the main reasons this church looked as though it had been started by Corinthian missionaries. No one had a Bible—not the pastor, not a deacon, no one. The pastor had only half-a-dozen sermons, all half-baked over the coals of a few Bible-story recollections. Every sixth week came the same sermon. The only real contact with Scripture happened with the occasional visit of a missionary (the nearest one was one hundred miles away) or when an area denominational worker would preach. For almost everyone in the church, these infrequent, vicarious brushes with the Bible were all they’d ever known. Only one man had any measure of spiritual maturity, and that was because he had lived most of his life elsewhere and attended a Bible-teaching church.
The four of us pooled our resources and bought inexpensive Bibles for many of the church members. After evangelistic visitation each day we led Bible studies for the church in the afternoon and again at night by flashlight. We left with prayers that the Holy Spirit would cause the Word of God to take deep root in this dry, bush-country assembly.
Most of us shake our heads in pity at such sad conditions. It’s hard to imagine that many of us have more Bibles in our homes than entire churches have in some Third-World situations. But it’s one thing to be unfamiliar with Scripture when you don’t own a Bible; it’s another thing when you have a bookshelf full.
No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God—intimately.
However, many who yawn with familiarity and nod in agreement to these statements spend no more time with God’s Word in an average day than do those with no Bible at all. My pastoral experience bears witness to the validity of surveys that frequently reveal that great numbers of professing Christians know little more about the Bible than Third-World Christians who possess not even a shred of Scripture.
Some wag remarked that the worst dust storm in history would happen if all church members who were neglecting their Bibles dusted them off simultaneously.
So even though we honor God’s Word with our lips, we must confess that our hearts—as well as our hands, ears, eyes, and minds—are often far from it. Regardless of how busy we become with all things Christian, we must remember that the most transforming practice available to us is the disciplined intake of Scripture.
Bible intake is not only the most important Spiritual Discipline, it is also the most broad. It actually consists of several subdisciplines. It’s much like a university comprised of many colleges, each specializing in a different discipline, yet all united under the general name of the university.
Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 27–29.
We have just released a new Bible study the first half of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life that covers many of the chapters in Donald Whitney’s book.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.