There is no question that the church of Jesus Christ in Australia (and in much of the Western world) is not exactly in great shape. The church is very far away from where it is supposed to be. And it is certainly not having the impact that it should be having.
There are of course many reasons for this. But one clear reason has to do with our lack of devotion to the word of God. This fact was even picked up in the secular press not long ago. It involved a large study of Australian Christians and their Bible reading habits. It turns out there is not much of a habit at all. Regular reading of God’s word seems to be on the decline. Here is how one press account explains the situation:
“Of those Australians who go to church, 21 per cent read their Bible daily, 14 per cent open it a few times a week and 6 per cent once a week. But 24 per cent said they read their Bibles only occasionally, 18 per cent hardly ever and 17 per cent said they never read the Bible on their own as a private devotional activity, according to the research, which is based on the 2006 National Church Life Survey of 500,000 people who attended church from 22 denominations.”
It continues, “The most diligent Bible readers are Pentecostals, with 72 per cent saying they read the holy book daily or a few times a week, followed by Baptists (62 per cent), Anglicans (46 per cent), Lutherans (41 per cent) and Uniting (43 per cent). Dragging down the other denominations are Catholics, of whom 59 per cent confess they rarely consult their Bibles.”
Well that explains a lot. If we are not reading the word of God on a regular basis, then we will not be functioning the way we are meant to be. Indeed, we will be going backwards, spiritually speaking, if we neglect the Bible.
The Bible itself speaks much about the importance of regularly dining on God’s word. The old truism certainly applies here: we become what we feed on. And if Scripture is not the main source of our nourishment, then it will obviously be something else. One hates to think what is taking its place.
But one can imagine all the usual suspects: Christians, like non-Christians, probably consume huge amounts of time on brainless entertainment, especially television, movies, DVDs, music, video games, and so on. Of course there is a place for that. But one suspects that most believers are spending far more time on such pursuits than they are on God’s word.
And what will be the effect of such habits? If we are spending say 10, or 20, or 30 times more attention to soap operas, music videos and computer games than we are to God’s word, then that will have an impact. Instead of displaying biblical values, beliefs, ideas and worldviews, we will just be reflecting those of the surrounding secular culture.
Soaking up all that secularism has to offer us, while ignoring the very source of spiritual nourishment, is a recipe for disaster. And that is just what we are getting. Even secular commentators have pointed this out. Back in 1985 Neil Postman penned a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it he bemoaned the fact that we are dumbing ourselves down and destroying our souls by living on TV and other entertainment junk foods.
But this is really nothing new, unfortunately. The Romans promised ‘bread and circuses’ to the masses to keep them complacent and manageable. Our spiritual enemy today is quite happy to employ the same tactics. Give us our daily bread, and heaps of brainless entertainment, and we believers will be rendered absolutely useless in terms of extending the Kingdom of God and showing a lost and needy world the beauty of Christ our Saviour.
The importance of the Word
As I mentioned, Scripture speaks much about the importance of keeping close to God through his revealed word. A few passages – out of many – come to mind here. Psalm 119 is the longest of the 150 Psalms, and it is also the one most devoted to the importance of God’s word. Here are just a few of its many verses which speak to this theme:
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (v. 9)
“I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (v. 16).
“Your statutes are my delight; they are my counsellors” (v, 24).
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (v. 32).
“Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge” (v. 54).
“The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” (v. 72).
“Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (v. 92).
“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (v. 97).
“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes” (v. 99).
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (v. 105).
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (v. 130).
“All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (v. 160).
“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (v. 165).
Finally, verse 37 is most appropriate, given what I said above: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” All the worthless things we devote our attention to certainly do not preserve our lives, but destroy them.
As CS Lewis says in his Reflections on the Psalms, “The Order of the divine mind, embodied in the divine Law, is beautiful. What should a man do but try to reproduce it, so far as possible, in his daily life? His ‘delight’ is in those statutes (verse 16); to study them is like finding treasure (verse 14); they affect him like music, are his ‘songs’ (verse 54); they taste like honey (verse 103); they are better than silver and gold (verse 72). As one’s eyes are more and more opened, one sees more and more in them, and it excites wonder (verse 18). This is not priggery, nor even scrupulosity; it is the language of a man ravished by a moral beauty. If we cannot at all share his experience, we shall be the losers.”
The New Testament is equally clear on the overwhelming value of being immersed in God’s word. Jesus told us that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). He also said, “If you abide in My word then are you truly My disciples” (John 15:7).
And with so much falsehood, deception and lies scattered throughout our world, we need the solid rock of truth to be able to navigate our way through it all. Jesus assured us that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). It is not just deception from without that the word helps to guard us against, but self-deception as well. In Heb. 4:12 we are told that the word of God is “living and active … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”.
We need the Word to equip us for the jobs we are meant to do for Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Spiritual maturity is based on a solid understanding of God’s word. New believers certainly need it, as Peter reminds us: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Peter 2:2). And we need solid doctrinal teaching from the word to keep our faith intact. As Paul says, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).
We are told that the Bereans were more noble than those at Thessalonica because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Indeed, we are to study to show ourselves approved, properly handling the word of God (2 Tim. 2:15).
The armour of God which we all need includes the “sword of the spirit, the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Faith itself is dependent on the word of God. Says Paul, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Much more can be said about what Scripture itself says concerning the importance of the daily study of, and meditation on, the word of God. There is no way a believer can grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ without regular, disciplined reading and study of Scripture.
The church is in a rather dreadful state today, and much of that must be put down to our aversion to, and avoidance of, Holy Scripture. We have become spiritually blind, so that we do not see how vital the word is for our very spiritual sustenance. We do not see that we are withering away spiritually when we do not regularly commune with God and his word. We are slowly but surely killing ourselves, because we have allowed the cares and entertainments of this world to block our love relationship with God as we come to know him by means of reading, studying and praying through his Word.
It is hoped that the next time a major survey is undertaken concerning the Bible reading habits of believers, that there is a trend, but an upward trend, not a downward trend. The word of God is one of the most precious and vital elements of the Christian faith, and we ignore it at our own great peril.