The Discipline of Study
In God's Word, we are told to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, mind, and strength. How have you differentiated between the heart, soul, and mind over your Christian walk?
For me, the mind is vital to my walk. For to be like God, I must think like God. Of course, His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. But the "new man" can think more like God than could the "old man" that was nailed to the Cross.
But in order for that to happen, we must apply ourselves. That is where the disciplines of study and meditation come in. I talked about meditation earlier, so let’s consider the importance of the Christian discipline of study.
What it is
I like how Richard Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline:
Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in certain direction. Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates.
What’s he saying here? Simply this: you will begin to resemble the things you spend your time and attention on. This is why Paul exhorts us to think on those things that are true, just, honourable, lovely, and pure. Today we might say, “Garbage in, garbage out” to reflect this idea (and to be clear, we want to minimize the garbage).
The Scriptures repeat the importance of purposefully directing our minds, even to the point where it’s a mark of who we are. We see this a few times in Romans 8, and elsewhere.
For those walk according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who walk according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
Paul also expresses this idea well in 1 Cor. In chapter 1, he contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom that comes from God. In chapter 2, he builds on this by comparing the natural man with the spiritual man (very similar to his point in Romans 8). This is summed up in 1 Cor 2:12:
Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God.
God has a purpose for his children and he equips us to be able to fulfill this purpose. And one part of our purpose is to join him in battle against the spiritual forces of darkness that currently rule this world. Paul covers this in Eph 6 when listing the armour of God. And what is the Christian’s only weapon in this battle?
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
His word is the weapon we use. But how can we fight this battle, both in the world and within ourselves, if we are not armed? Kent Hughes sums this up so very well in his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man:
You can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly because you cannot be profoundly influenced by that which you do not know.
As I mentioned last month, we cannot meditate on His word if we do not know it. Similarly, if we do not make regular study of the word a part of our everyday lives, we are essentially unarmed. Ineffective Christians. And we will think like the world and follow its patterns.
How can we think more like God?
We will have a worldly mindset if we do not study God’s word. We will think like the natural man, not the spiritual man. We will be conformed to the thinking of the world.
The church will look just like the rest of the world. And so we must come to the feet of Christ regularly and spend time in his word, learning all that he has revealed about himself to us.
Here are a few tips that have been helpful in my study over the years.
- Listening to sermons and reading Christian authors are good uses of our time. But they cannot replace our own personal study of the Word.
- Avail yourself to the entirety of Scripture. The gospels and epistles are lovely, but so to is the historical, poetical, and prophetic books of the OT.
- Be consistent. Personal study is a habit.
- Be systematic: this will make it easier to achieve both #2 and #3. A system of study, or following a reading plan, will ensure that you read all of the Bible and make it a habit.
- Be spontaneous. In contrast to the last point, allow yourself to simply read as you're led from time to time. It's wonderful to have certain passages jump out at you.
As for how to go about studying the word, there are many options. Our own personal devotion time is one. I prefer to read through the Bible using a reading plan every second year. Every other year, I pick one book in the Bible and read through it 20 times in a row. Then move on to the next book.
Between those two options, my familiarity with Scripture has increased steadily in the 15+ years since I submitted to Christ.
But while those are a great start, an intimate and life changing relationship with God requires a little more effort. This is where times of purposeful study have helped me greatly.
As Cal Newport calls it, my times of “deliberate practice” have taken my understanding of the word to far greater levels than reading through a plan each day. How easy it is to just coast through our routines! I need to purposefully stretch myself at times.
For me, that has usually come through a small group Bible study or teaching adult Sunday school. Periods where my surface awareness & knowledge gained through daily reading was stretched and expanded as I dug deeper into a specific passage or Biblical concept.
And I so love those times!
And that is because the result is I'm better able to enjoy God for what he is. The deeper study results in a better view of him, a pulling back of the veil. As the old hymn puts it, "I in my saviour am happy and blest!&