21 Day Challenge

Many experts agree that it takes 21 days or 3 weeks to form a new habit. Now of course there are some other factors that go into this. The complexity of the habit, whether it fits into our normal routine or not, and how often we do it, all come into play as well.

But as Christians, reading the Bible should be a habit that all of us need. We have been learning more and more about character traits and values that are important for us as Christians. These values come from God and were lived out by Jesus. And through them, Jesus showed us how to love and how to live a truly fulfilled life.

Not only that, but each of us have the Holy Spirit in our lives who is teaching and reminding us of Jesus’ words constantly, but if we aren’t reading his words, were missing out on the Spirit’s movements and call on our lives. Were not allowing him to change us from the inside out.

In the technological age that we live in there are many ways that we can take time during the day to read the Bible or hear the Bible. There are phone apps, videos, soundtracks, devotionals, and a plethora (I love that word) of Bibles, from Study Bibles to One Year Bibles to Chronological Bibles that can help to get us into reading the Bible.

So, we are challenging you to set aside a time each day starting September 8th, to read the Bible. It could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even more. If you are saying, “But Pastor Fran, I’m already doing that.” Then I challenge you to increase the amount of time you are doing it. If you read for 10 minutes, make it 15. If you read for 30, make it 45. Any way that you can increase the amount of reading and studying of God’s Word in your life.

The goal of this, of course, is not just to read for three weeks and be done, but to make it a habit that you do each day for the rest of your life. And there is no right or wrong way to do it.

You can read a chapter of the Bible a day. You can read the same chapter of the Bible for a week, reading it over and over again. You can read from the New Testament or the Old Testament. If you are just beginning your Bible reading, start in the New Testament. Give 1 John a try or the Gospel of John. Both of these are a good place to start in your Bible reading for beginners.

Remember, it will be easier to read the Bible and make it a habit, if you start small and also fit it into your routine in a spot that is easiest. Maybe it’s listening to the Bible on CD or on an app while you head to work or come home from work. Maybe it’s the first thing you do in the morning while lying in bed. Maybe it’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep (though you don’t want to fall asleep, Bible reading doesn’t work through osmosis). Maybe it’s on your lunch hour or during breakfast. I’d encourage you to even find a special spot where you read the Bible and every time you sit there, that is what you do.

Below, I’ve included several articles on spiritual reading meditation, and journaling and how we can approach Bible reading. Take some time to read these articles and apply them to your time with God.

Let’s grow as a whole church and begin this new habit together!

Spiritual Reading

Mulholland, M. Robert . Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Transforming Resources) (pp. 127-129). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

The classical spiritual discipline of spiritual reading brings us into conflict with the informational priorities of our culture. Our age has been called the Information Age, and the advent of personal computers coupled with the Internet has served to expand almost infinitely the amount of information available to us and required for effective performance in the world. Information has become power. The person or group possessing the best information is in a position to control their world of activity and interest.

But this controlling aspect of our approach to information becomes a debilitating bondage when we approach spiritual reading. Spiritual reading is the discipline of openness to encounter God through the writings of the mothers and fathers of the church, beginning with the Scriptures. In spiritual reading the text becomes a means of grace through which we encounter the God who has spoken us forth into being and who continues to speak to us to shape us in the image of Christ for others. In brief, the text opens us to God’s control of our lives for God’s purposes. This is a radical reversal of the dynamics of an informational culture in which our possession and use of information enables us to impose our purposes on the world of our activities.

Unfortunately, we have been trained to be informational readers, not spiritual readers. When we do informational reading, we exercise almost total and complete control over the text. We usually select the material we are going to read. We read the text with our own agenda already in place, knowing in advance what we expect to receive, what problems we want the text to solve for us. We read the text analytically, viewing it as an object over which we as subject exercise our control, to ensure that it conforms more or less comfortably to our desires and purposes. We read the text as rapidly as possible, to amass as much information as we can in as little time as possible. (Have you ever caught yourself marking your place and looking ahead to see how much was left?) The final goal of informational reading is our mastery of the text for the fulfillment of our purposes.

Spiritual or formational reading is the exact opposite of informational reading. Spiritual reading is entered into best, perhaps, when the text is chosen for us—for instance, by the use of a lectionary. This way we begin by yielding control to someone or something outside of our agenda. This facilitates one of the primary purposes of spiritual reading—to allow the text to have control over us and become a place of encounter with God. Instead of the text being an object controlled by us, the text becomes the subject; we, in turn, become the object addressed by God through the text.

Instead of coming to the text with our agenda, we come in a posture of openness to God’s agenda. We read attentively, seeking not to cover as much as possible as quickly as possible but to plumb the depths of the text so that the text may plumb the depths of our being and doing. Rather than an analytical approach, we take a contemplative posture that is open to ambiguity and mystery. The final goal of spiritual reading is to be mastered by God for the fulfillment of God’s purposes in us and through us.

By this contrast I do not intend to suggest that informational reading is bad and formational reading is good. Each has its proper place. The difficulty arises from the fact that we are so deeply conditioned by informational reading that it tends to be the mode by which we approach all reading. The deeply ingrained habits of informational reading tend to take over whenever we open a book. We do not naturally engage in formational reading. We need to be alert to this fact if we are going to engage in spiritual reading.

Meditating on Scripture

Ortberg, John. The Life You’ve Always Wanted (pp. 182-192). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Meditation is kind of a taboo word in the Church. It brings up pictures of monks sitting on top of a mountain with legs crossed and hands resting on their knees and some kind of humming, but that’s not what we are talking about here. Meditation is something that Christians have done and many before Christ have done to keep their focus on God. It’s purpose is to keep our minds focused on God throughout the day. I’ve included below some excerpts from John Ortberg in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, that I think can help bring some clarity to meditation and memorization of Scripture.

“We need to develop the practice of meditating on the Scriptures. This is not quite the same thing as Bible study, although that is critically important, too. The purpose of meditation is to have our minds “washed by the Word.” Here are some suggestions for the practice of meditating on Scripture.

1. Ask God to Meet You in Scripture

Before you begin reading, take a moment to ask God to speak to you. Then as you read, anticipate that he will do so.

Through the centuries Christians have told many stories of how they met God through the Bible. Augustine, in the best-known passage of his Confessions, tells of sitting under a fig tree and hearing a voice repeat, “Take it and read, take it and read.” It seemed clear to him that this was the voice of God calling him to pick up the Bible. And when he had read a brief section from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Augustine wrote, “I had no wish to read further; there was no need to…. it was as though my heart was filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of my doubt were swept away.”

God still meets people in such ways. A friend of our family named Eileen was upset when her daughter told her that someone had been talking to her about God. Although she was disappointed with her life—trapped on her own suburban island—Eileen wanted nothing to do with God. That night Eileen couldn’t sleep. At midnight she went downstairs and picked up a Bible. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been to a church; nor had she ever opened a Bible on her own. When she opened it now, she noticed it was divided into an “old” part and a “new” part. She decided to start with the “new” part, figuring the book may have been updated.

So in the still of the night she sat on her living room floor and began to read the gospel of Matthew. By 3 a.m. she was in the middle of John’s gospel and found, as she puts it, that she had fallen in love with the character of Jesus. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she prayed to God, “but I know you are what I want.”

It is uniquely in the Bible that we encounter Jesus. The message of the Bible is not just that help is coming—it has arrived: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus said. So before you begin to read, acknowledge that Jesus is present with you. Ask him to begin to wash your mind, your thoughts—even if the cleanser stings a bit.

As you read, certain ideas may strike you. You may be moved in reading about God’s love, or feel convicted about some sin, or be prompted to take some course of action. Be open to the possibility that God really is speaking to you through his Word.

2. Read the Bible in a Repentant Spirit

Read the Bible with a readiness to surrender everything. Read it with a vulnerable heart. Read it wisely, but understand that reading for transformation is different from reading to find information or to prove a point. Resolve that you will be obedient to the Scriptures.

People who read the Bible in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, can actually be damaged by their reading. To be filled with knowledge about the Bible but to be unwashed by it is worse than not knowing it at all. The religious leaders thought their great knowledge of Scripture was proof of their spiritual greatness. But they never allowed the Bible’s teachings on humility to cleanse their mind of pride, never allowed its teachings on love to purge their judgmentalism, so they did not recognize the truth of Jesus’ teaching.

3. Meditate on a Fairly Brief Passage or Narrative

It is important to be familiar with all of the Bible. In times of study we will need to read broadly and cover a great deal of material. But in reading for transformation we have to go slowly.

Madame Guyon wrote, If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.

So immerse yourself in a short passage of Scripture—perhaps a few verses. Read it slowly. Read it the way you would read a love letter at the height of romance. Certain words may stand out to you; allow them to sink into your heart. Ask if perhaps God wants to speak to you through these words. The question that always lies behind such reading is, “God, what do you want to say to me in this moment?”

If you are reading a story in Scripture, you may want to use your imagination to try to recapture the setting and what was happening in the text. What do the arms of the aging father feel like as they wrap around his prodigal son? How do the fish and bread taste that Jesus multiplied to feed the five thousand?

4. Take One Thought or Verse with You Through the Day

The psalmist says that fruitful living comes to the person who meditates on the law “day and night.” That appears to cover every part of the day. We can’t meditate fast. The idea of meditation comes from an era less frenzied than ours.

Meditation is as slow as the process by which the roots draw moisture from the flowing river to bring nurture and fruitfulness to a great tree. Meditation is important enough to be mentioned more than fifty times in the Old Testament. It means not only to think about God’s Word, but also to read it aloud. Reading the Scriptures out loud gives the reader focused attention and the advantage of learning by both eye and ear. Meditation is likened in Scripture to a young lion growling over its prey, or the low murmur of a dove, or a cow chewing its cud.

Meditation is not meant to be esoteric or spooky or reserved for gurus reciting mantras in the lotus position. It merely implies sustained attention. It is built around this simple principle: “What the mind repeats, it retains.”

To begin, choose a single piece of Scripture—one “thought” of God’s—that you will live with for one day. Select this verse or phrase before you go to sleep at night or as soon as you wake up in the morning. Take, for example, this thought from Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God!”

For one day, live with these words. Let your mind continually return to them in secret: “Today, as best I can, I am going to be still. I am not going to chatter thoughtlessly. I will remember that I don’t have to defend myself or make sure people think of me the way I want them to. Today I don’t have to get my way. Today, before I make decisions, I will try to listen for God’s voice. Today I am not going to be tossed around by anxiety or anger—I will take those feelings as prompts from the Spirit to listen first. In each of these situations I will ask God, ‘How would you like me to respond?’ I will live in stillness.”

Do you know what it is like to be still? Do you know how others in your life might love it if you were still, just for a day?

As you do this, a wonderful thing will happen. You will discover that you really do want to be still. You will really want to know that the Lord is God.

5. Allow This Thought to Become Part of Your Memory

Memorizing Scripture is one of the most powerful means of transforming our minds. “I have hidden your word in my heart,” the psalmist wrote, “that I might not sin against you.”

Memorize statements from Scripture that will help you in matters in which you need it most. For instance, if you wrestle with fear, you may want to memorize Psalm 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” If pride is a problem, try Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

And if you are concerned that you have a memory like a steel sieve, don’t be. What matters is not how many words we memorize, but what happens to our minds as we immerse them in Scripture. As with any other “spiritual discipline,” memorization is only a means to an end.

Let us not forget that “the secret of life is pursuing one thing.” And as Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” The words that bombard us all day long from billboards and tabloids and talk shows pull us in a thousand directions. But the word God speaks to us from his Word can renew our minds. As he said to Augustine, so God says still: “Take it and read. Take it and read.”

Journaling

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Kindle Locations 696-717). Kindle Edition

Maybe you’ve never thought about journaling your thoughts. There was a time in my life when I thought the same thing. Who has time to journal, or I’m not really that good of a writer to journal my thoughts. What do I really know? But journaling does not have to be about what we know or don’t know. Journaling can simply be writing a thought you had, writing down some questions about the text you just read, writing about the struggles in your own life. It can start with writing a letter to God about your life. The important part of journaling is that you are taking time to think about the Scripture, to think about God in your life, to think about your own self and role.

Below is a chapter from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s  book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, that shares some about journaling and how you can start a journal yourself.

“In a consumer society it’s easy to accumulate experiences, believing the more we have the better! Yet experiences don’t necessarily bring wisdom, nor do they automatically transform its. We need to listen and reflect on our experiences in the presence of the Holy Spirit to learn from them. Journaling is a way of paying attention to our lives-a way of knitting the vast ball of our experiences into something with shape that attests to the state of our soul. Fredrick Buechner reminds us in Listening to YourLife that “there is no chance thing through which God cannot speak.” On the pages of a journal, in the privacy of a moment, we can take tentative steps into truth and scour our feelings, hurts, ideas and struggles before God. Over time repetitious themes, sins, compulsions, hopes and concerns cerns emerge. We begin to recognize our besetting sins, limitations and desires. During times of transition, travel, loss, joy, illness and decision making, journaling can provide a way of processing the hopes, fears, longings, angers and prayers of our heart. It can be the place we sound off before God so we don’t sound off in an inappropriate way to others.

The ongoing nature of a journal catalogs the journey of a soul into God. It reveals how we hammer out our identity as a Christ-follower through the ups and downs of daily routines tines as well as in times of crisis. There is no right way to journal. You don’t need to journal every day or even every week. Find the rhythm of journaling that suits your phase and stage of life. If writing isn’t your thing, make a journal of photos or drawings or articles. Assign key words or thoughts or themes to the entries. If you don’t write well, remember that you don’t need to write beautifully or use complete sentences. Journaling is a way for you to be with God and your thoughts, not an exercise in language arts. Tell the truth to God and yourself as best you can. Review what you write on a regular basis. As you do, you will begin to recognize recurring life themes, desires, frustrations and patterns of interaction. These insights become matters for dialogue with God.

1. As you read magazines and newspapers, cut out articles or photos that touch your heart. Paste them in your journal. Use these clippings to help you pray and join in God’s care for the world.

2. Develop a journal for quotes, poetry and Scripture that have touched you. Reflect on these words and their significance to you.

3. If you enjoy art, create a collage journal. Express your thoughts and feelings to God through pictures, textures and colors.

4. Keep a prayer journal: record requests, prayers, answered prayers.

5. Make a journal for a child, a parent or a friend, recording some significant event and your prayers for them.

6. Use your journal as a place for your unedited thoughts, feelings and reactions.

  • Out of this overflow ask the Holy Spirit to form a godly response in you. Write the response you hear from God.
  • Ask for grace to live out of this graced place.

7. It can be helpful to divide your journal into particular sections that reflect

  • your journey with God
  • events of the day
  • prayers for the world
  • prayers for those you love
  • desires of your heart