In September 2017 I had the privilege to give a talk to launch the first round of the Bible Reading Challenge with the ladies from our church. Today I went back to it and I am so grateful to see how far the Lord has brought us. All is grace! And He is good! My dear friend, Rachel Jankovic had this idea of changing the methods to do women’s ministry and suggested that we should encouraging one another to “just be on the Word.” She said, “What could go wrong if we make this big and invite more and more women to join us?” We know the answer. Nothing can go wrong when God’s people get into the Word, read it daily, love it, and pursue to obey it. Surely the Lord loved this idea too and now thousands of Christians around the world have joined us too, the feast is huge and infinite, and all are welcome to come! Join us here. This summer we will be reading all the New Testament starting on June 3.
Here are my notes from that talk I gave, and here you can find the recording -in case you are curious about my Mexican accent.
Father in Heaven, our Maker and Redeemer, we come to you in the name of Jesus asking you to please bless our time together this morning. We need your blessing, Lord, because without your blessing nothing we do can prosper or be a blessing to others. Our God, you have revealed yourself in your Word, please, please Oh Lord, draw us to your Word and bless us with the gift of eyes that see, ears that hear and feet and hands that are prone to obey you. Let your Words be our light and our salvation, our joy and our song, our very life. In the name of Jesus, Immanuel with us, we pray today. Amen.
I am going to ask you to imagine a woman with access to the best food in the whole world but starving -and thinking deceiving herself, at the same time, that she is well fed and strong. That was me for years. Since I was 11 years old I had access to a Bible. I grew up in church, I went to all the Bible studies I could, and even went to Bible college! But I was starving and the saddest part is that I didn’t know it. Weird right? I read the Bible with some regularity but only through my own lenses, my own experiences, my own interpretation of it; so even though I wanted to change (teenage years were a mess) and be a better Christian by trying harder, I could not because I was not letting the Word do the work the Word does. “I” the 1st person singular pronoun in my own conjugation was always on the way. But God had mercy on me and one day, around 15 years ago, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see my own weary soul and God’s amazing grace. The random and isolated (and out of context) verses I knew were all floating around my mind and they could not sustain me or hold me or give me peace -or life, and I had littles that needed a mom in the Word, especially if I wanted them to be children of the Word. These isolated verses were not sustaining many of the friends I had from my youth either and they started leaving the faith because, in their own words, “it didn’t have a backbone. It didn’t have answers to the hard questions of life.” We were all dying, starving with the Bread of Life in our hands -or on our shelves.
We are God’s daughters and yet how many times we see some of our sisters eating crumbs and facing the trials of life and sins in their own lives with no true strength whatsoever. Many women in this room have been feeding themselves for years now with the “Verse of the day” on their phone app or that Pinterest quote, or the verses that show up on their FB or Twitter feed. Having access to the Word of Life many choose to eat crumbs. Sisters, let us not forget that ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and All is good for us to eat. All of it! (2Tim 3:16)
And I don’t want you to take me wrong here. Choosing to eat crumbs each day for years instead of choosing not to pursue time in the Word is the problem. If you are very sick, or if you have your husband in the hospital and your fourth child is only 7 months old, or if you have your lost a dear one recently, please, know that reading, and I mean, you deliberately opening the Word, to eat and meditate a verse or two from your Bible a day is indeed a great mercy. God will multiply your strength through it. Be encouraged and Eat with faith.
And here, with hungry hearts at the starting line of this challenge that God willing, will not end in May. And the challenge is real and the fear to fail- again- is real too. But here we are, ready. With the Bible in our hands and the Grace of God leading the way. The first obstacle that we face is not physical, is not lack of time, is not even a lack of desire but one word we dread: HABIT.
When we talk about reading the Bible the word “habit” invariably shows up, so I want you to learn to love that word by pointing out something super interesting about this word. Habit also means the garment which a priest or nun or monk use to tell the rest of us who they are. They wear that habit daily and they don’t think about it. A huge part of who they are and what they do is tied up to that habit. I love this because it helps us see what we really want to pursue when we talk about the necessity of having the habit of reading the Word of God and praying. We want to wear that habit daily, without even thinking about it (like your underwear!), we want to own it, to have it (can you see how to have and habit share the same Latin root -from the verb habere? Don’t you love it?) So every time I use the word habit today, I want you to picture in your mind a garment that we own, that we have, that we wear daily.
A habit then, is not only something we do daily, but something we own daily, something we have and embrace and put on every day -and people see when we are wearing it well (especially our family). Now that we have this understanding, and feel comfortable using the word habit, we might still feel paralyzed.
Where do we start? Not on which book or chapter, but where in our heart?
Friends, the life of every Christian starts with grace meeting us in our sinfulness, in our not-wanting-to-know, not-wanting-to-obey, not wanting to change, in our sins. So yes, All is a gift. Passing from dead to life is a gift. All grace. And in grace, in this depending on God’s grace, we must grow every day. So for us to read the Word and understand it and believe it and trust it, and to live according to it, we need to receive God’s gift of opening our eyes. Yes, just like we received eternal life as a gift, we all desperately need -every day- the gift of seeing and the gift of savoring.
I want us to see something in this prayer that Paul made for the Ephesians (1:16-23): I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 having the eyes of your understanding[a] being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling [think about this, fully knowing what is the hope of His calling] , knowing what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints [WOW! ], 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe [to fully know this treasure that belongs to us!] , according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.
This is a prayer Paul made for the Saints, not for the unbelievers. Many times we pray that God would open the eyes of those who are yet not walking in the Lord, and that is what we ought to do, but we must also be praying this prayer for us, for our children, for our weaker brothers and sisters, as well as for our Pastor and the elders and deacons in our church. Our sanctification involves having more light to see, to understand more and know Him more. And this can only happen when we take The Book and open it and start reading it trusting that God, because of His great mercy toward His children, will give us eyes to see. Friends, we cannot grow apart from God’s Word. That is just impossible. When we turn -by grace!- to the Lord, He opens our minds to understand how the Word of God, All of it is the Gospel that saves us and that we preach. This happened to the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection (and you can read it in Luke 24:44-49) “…Then He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures”
When He opens our minds and give us eyes to see, the veil is removed and we can start beholding the glory of the Lord on the words we read (2 Cor 3:14-4:1 and 4:6). (I am going to read these verses but, later, I recommend you read the whole chapters 3 and 4)
3:14- 4:1 14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.
“But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless —listen to this: when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.Therefore, since we have this ministry , as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart for it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. ”
And what is His glory but all that He is, all His attributes, all that is encompassed in His Name being revealed and magnified as with a telescope, so that we may be amazed about the Awesome God we have! By reading the Word and seeing we are being transformed (2Cor 3:14-15 ). And because of this promise, because of this gift, we do not lose heart.
Sisters. Did you hear me saying that? We don’t lose heart when we see all the areas that still need to be changed in our lives because we read in the Bible that we have been given all that we need for our sanctification in Christ. We do not lose heart in our pursuing of Christ either because He has pursued us first with His great mercy.
So we keep coming and we keep knocking, and He keeps welcoming us and opening the door for us. Oh, come and see, and taste and savour these truths. Open your hands and receive Him and His wonderful gifts. Our God and all He does is awesome indeed (Psalm 66:3)!
Once we understand that seeing Jesus in the Scriptures is a gift that gives us life, we are ready to wear our habit of reading the Bible daily and in such a way that we will not be putting the pronoun “I” in the first place. We will no longer be looking for isolated verses to accommodate to our own personal views, and we won’t be trying to ground our faith on random verses disconnected from the whole counsel of God. We will open the Word and read every day with a profound desire to see Jesus, the one who has given us eternal life and eyes to see! We will read one page after another, and one chapter after another, and one word after another, because we want to know Him and the Father who sent Him. We will read the Bible every day trusting that the Spirit will breath in these words into our hearts and transform us into the image of Jesus. And He will do it.
If we talk about the necessity of having the habit of eating the Word of God, we might ask ourselves, Now what about the gift of “savouring”? What about our feelings and emotions? Piper rightly says, “We should aim in all our seeing to savour his excellence above all things… we read, he says, in order to see in order to savour. We seek insight in order to enjoy. We seek knowledge in order to love. We seek doctrine for the sake of delight. The eyes of the heart serve the affections of the heart.” Remember all is a gift. All is grace. And in grace, not in our own will power, we persevere in our pursuing of knowing Him more in the Scriptures, in order that we may love Him more and worship Him more.
We will be reading our Bibles daily, and some days we will savour Christ more than others. Seeing Him will be easy when we read words of comfort; other times, however, our spirit will feel heavy, our bodies will be aching and our minds will be exhausted, but even in those days we can still take a verse or two from our reading, meditate on them, and pray over them through the day and savour Christ.
As we read and think about what we read, we´ll find out that not all the passages will be sweet to our mouth. No, Sisters. And it is better for us to understand that. We should be expecting passages that will make us uncomfortable, passages that will expose our sinful desires, thoughts, motives, and actions. Words that will demand we respond with repentance. Words that will demand we respond with obedience in hard ways. Words that will demand we respond with actions that many times other will take wrongly. We will see many examples of these as we open the Bible and read it. There are Words in this book that will be hard to swallow, like the medicine we give to our kids, like the chemo many of our friends have agreed to administer to their sons. The taste is bitter, the prescription is painful, but once it is administered, the fruit it bears in our own lives and in the life of our church is sweet, so incredibly full of life. David knew this and that is why we have Psalm 51.
To be able to persevere wearing this habit, we also need something that many times, when we talk about our time reading the Bible, we put aside, as if it were a totally different thing, and that is prayer.
Yes, prayer should be connected to our Bible reading as much as all our veins and arteries are connected to our heart. Praying the Word is one of the sweetest, surest, and most comforting things I have learned to do -to wear as my daily habit- through the years. Friends, let’s start every day of this his challenge called life praying to the Father. Pray and ask Him to give you a desire to open His Word, ask Him to make it sweet to you, ask Him to incline your heart to it. Ask your Heavenly Father to forgive you for not loving His Word, for not treasuring it and ask Him to make it your delight. This is the kind of prayer that He loves to answer and we never pray! He will not turn His face from us when we pray asking Him to bless our opening of the Word in His presence! He will not give us stones or serpents. He knows, He hears us, and He delights in answering us when we ask these things.
We read and we pray. And we pray and we read. And our love for the Lord increases and His grace in us increases too. And you know what? We will be saying our “Amens” with more vigour, because we will know that we are praying according to God’s will and for His glory -as Paul says in 2 Cor. 3451:20-21 In our Webinars we will talk more about this and learn how to pray the Scriptures.
Many of us are excited about this project because often times we find it hard to be motivated to read the Scriptures or to persevere in our wearing of this habit. The good news is that God designed for our sanctification to be a community project lived within the context of the church (so don’t feel bad because you still “need someone to help you at this point with your Bible reading”). It is important for us to see the true need there is to encourage one another and to build one another up in the Lord (I Thess 5:11), we truly need to exhort one another with the Word to actually be in the Word every day, even today! that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13). Let us consider, Sisters, how to stir up one another to love and good works which flow from our relationship with the Father (Heb 10:24). “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…” (Hebrews 10:23-24) We are in this together!
So yes, we need the body of Christ to help us persevere walking in the light, so let’s be obedient here. I have always said that a true Christian friend will always ask you (for real!), “What are you reading in your Bible?” “What has God been teaching you in His Word?” So, take advantage of this opportunity, don’t let the momentum go by. Start talking with your friends, your family, on your coffee dates about the Word!
Sisters, even though this project is not equal to a Bible study – An in depth-Bible study (Bible studies are super important -I love, love, love to study the Word!- and they have its place in the life of a Believer, but this project is not a bible study), we will learn to read attentively, to see the connections that are plainly there for us to see. We will become students of the Word just by applying ourselves to it. John Calvin said, “Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit” And Surgeon said, “Prayer is your best means of study.”
So, if we have a Bible, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and a heart willing to pray we are ready to enroll in this school, in this challenge.
My aim in every webinar, then, will not be to exhaustively teach or explain every passage we read (we give thanks to God for our Pastors who faithfully do that every Sunday), but to help you see that there is one storyline in the Bible, and One main character, which I guess you already know is not you nor I, but Christ. We will not be reading only (and I am emphasising the word “only”) to get moral lessons for us, as some do. Remember first Christ. Always. And then us. The moral lessons do not come first, just like God’s moral law didn’t come first. First we know God as our Redeemer. We see Jesus, the Promised One on the pages of His Book, and we see the Triune God gathering a people for Himself and setting them free, and then we see what He requires from us, what moral expectations are imposed on us. When did God give the Ten Commandments? Before of after He delivered the Israelites from Egypt? Yes, after. We see this in Ephesians also, three chapters of indicatives, what God has already done, what is our status in Christ before the Father and then three chapters of imperatives, on how to live in the light of what God our Redeemer has already done. Moral conduct in the life of the believers always flows as a response to a Savior who redeems His people because of His great mercy and not because of something inherently “good” in them. First Jesus. Always.
We will in the next months, by God’s grace, learn how to live our life in constant dependency of God through coming to Him in the Scriptures and in prayer. We will learn to love our habit. And by the grace of God we will walk together through this trail helping each other arrive at the destination and be awed at the amazing view: The whole counsel of God laid opened in front of us! What a sight! To see the Redemptive plan of the Triune God unveiled before us! What a gift! Come! Come! How can we not come? Let’s wear our habits with joy and start going! This is a good day to start!
So, in the name of our Lord, by the grace of God the Father, and the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s set our hearts, Sisters, to read All the Word of God, to believe it all, and to obey it all. God is the one who has started this good work in us, and He is the one who will perform it (Phil 1:6). The good news is that He is at work in us to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil.2:13) In the name of our good and faithful God we will take His Book and read it. Amen!