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 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 feeds poorly doesn’t.
Of course the same is true in the spiritual realm. Do we want to stretch in our likeness to Jesus? Then the Bible must be my regular diet.
The Bible, we should remind ourselves, is no ordinary book. The 66 books which comprise it are nothing less than God’s words to us. These words are personal and powerful, life giving and life sustaining.
You can easily last a week without reading a newspaper; but you cannot so easily neglect the Bible. Paltry Bible input will eventually lead to spiritual malnourishment.
Yet even once we establish our need for the Bible, a practical question arises. How do we best feed upon God’s Word? What is our strategy – our dietary plan, if you like?
At a recent conference, Rico Tice spoke about reading the Bible on four levels.¹ Permit me, please, to borrow his framework, but I’ll develop it in my own way.
Here, then, are five levels of Bible-input to help you grow upwards in Christ.
Level One: Preaching
There is more to the Christian life than listening to sermons; but the growing Christian demands no less. Preaching matters, according to the New Testament at least.
In his last charge to Timothy, Paul exhorted his protege 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 desperately in need of preaching. They neither know it or much appreciate it, but God Word regularly preached to them is a divine means of equipping them for service (Ephesians 4 v 11-12).
I have probably heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. Most of them, if I’m honest, I cannot remember, yet I know they have shaped me in a thousand different ways. Without those sermons I would be much the poorer as a Christian.
So find yourself a church where the Bible is faithfully preached, then 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 several important functions² but one of the key goals is to discuss and apply the Bible. Unlike a sermon a small group is interactive. You have the opportunity to ask questions and you have the benefit of hearing insights from a wide range of people. If you’re not part of a community group, why not consider joining one this year?
Level Three: One to One
In the last couple of decades the Church has woken up to the benefits of one to one discipleship. Whether meeting with an older Christian, a younger Christian, or a non-Christian, opening the Bible in such a way is productive. One to one 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 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 named daily ‘quiet time’ (which should be anything but quiet!). How can we make the most of this time?
Follow a plan
There are dozens of good Bible reading plans . The beauty of it is that you can choose one that fits you best. Depending on time available and reading capability, here are just some possibilities:
- Five Day Bible Reading Plan.
- One chapter a day plan (3 years to complete). Alternatives between the Old and New Testament.
- 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!
What if I struggle to read?
A lot of people find reading difficult. This emphasises again 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. No 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 the mums and dads. If you have kids, you will want to establish some sort of family bible input. I know it isn’t easy to do (we have 4 children, aged 13 down to 6!), 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 morning’s have worked best for us. We sit down at 5 past 8, at the tail end of breakfast, to have our Bible time. We 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.
So it may be that after dinner in the evening is more appropriate. Or before bed. And, it may be for some families that daily devotions isn’t 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.