“It Starts in a Chair”
June 28, 2015
A disciple is one whose life is shaped by his Master’s words.
I. What His word can do (Psalm 19:7-9)
II. How valuable that is (Psalm 19:10-11)
III. And how we respond (Psalm 19:12-14)
When I began to think about this series on discipleship, I immediately felt we had to have at least one segment on growing as a result of time in the Word. My own spiritual life is founded principally on this simple discipline, and almost all of the mature or growing believers that I know would say the same.
Last week we saw how Peter was called to be with Jesus. One of his great moments is John 6. Jesus has been saying hard things and many who had been following him left. So Jesus says to his disciples ‘Do you want to go away as well?” Peter responds. John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Because Jesus still has the words of eternal life, Gail and I want to say this week that a disciple is one whose life is shaped by his Master’s words. Peter knew that nothing except the words of life would satisfy. And in this present age, that started with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and will end in His return, there is only one place we can go for the words that bring life. It’s the Bible. We might want to be more mystical, we might want to say we hear Jesus speaking in nature, or through others or in our hearts, and he can do those things. But he doesn’t, primarily. He speaks through his word. If you want to hear Jesus speaking, you have to listen to His word.
And respond to it. A disciple is one whose life is shaped by his Master’s words. Gail has found this to be true in very practical ways throughout her spiritual journey, and I wanted her to be here today to share that. But we decided to also physically illustrate what we consider the most important setting in our lives for hearing Jesus speak - a chair. These chairs are the ones where Gail and I sit as many mornings as possible to listen to the Master’s words.
(Gail) In the early days of my walk with Christ I struggled so to spend time in His Word and I struggled to find anything of value when I did I open its pages. Thinking back, I realized that in some ways I was opening God’s Word in order to find myself – not to meet with God and get to know Him. I was at cross purposes with God’s intention for His Word, and so it seemed very dry and cumbersome. I like this quote from A.W. Tozer: The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence.
I remember a particular day when I sat in a chair at the kitchen table, trying to find anything meaningful on the pages of God’s word. I knew I need Gods help with the struggles in my heart, but I was unable to find anything of value in God’s word.
I was distracted by the voice of my neighbor floating through my open window. Our neighbor was a wonderful guy, devoted to his wife, his kids and his work as an astronaut, but he didn’t know the Lord, and he just wasn’t interested. He was happy though, busy about living, and his life seemed good. That morning as I sat more listening to him than to God, I thought, “He gets to spend time reading to his daughters, but I have to sit here having my quiet time….” In a flash, God spoke, words that flashed through my mind and went straight to my heart. “You GET to sit here in my presence – and he can’t - and perhaps he never will.” That thought changed my life forever. I began to see what an outrageous opportunity I had - to sit in God’s presence and learn of Him from the pages of His Word. Tozer says, “…it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself.” What a difference he’s made in my life. From that day on I have come to my quiet time eager to be fed by the maker of my soul.
Listen to Psalm 19:7-14: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. 14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
(Bob) Psalm 19 begins with a beautiful recognition that God has revealed himself in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Romans 1 says “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Creation is a revelation: God is seen in his works. Romans 1 says that he is also revealed through the human conscience, knowledge of right and wrong. But these two things while enough to convince us of God’s greatness and our sinfulness, are not enough to rescue us. For that we need God’s special revelation of himself in words.
The Bible tells the story of creation, of the beauty and the fall and then the long story of redemption. It depicts and interprets God’s mighty acts of salvation, so that we can truly know God. So Psalm 19 moves from general revelation, as seen in creation, to special revelation, God’s own words, and wonderfully pictures what God’s Word can do in the heart, soul and life of one who receives it.
Verse 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” This law isn’t just the first five books of Scripture, the Pentateuch. Rather, this words law, statutes, precepts, commands, ordinances, are intended to encompass the whole Bible. For David, the probable author of this Psalm, the whole might have been Genesis to Deuteronomy. But for us it is the whole Old and New Testaments.
This whole book is perfect - sound, wholesome, unimpaired, complete. This means first that the Bible is without error. There are no mistakes, no misstatements. Everything in the original documents is the truth God intended. And nothing is missing. More than any pop psychology book or self-help podcast, more than any theology or commentary, the Word itself is enough to satisfy our souls. This word has the power to turn a person’s soul, to return it to a living relationship with God. The Hebrew is ‘shuv,’ and as I’ve often joked, this means God’s Word comes in and shoves your soul around. His word refreshes your spirit, changes your attitude, impacts your behavior, revives your soul.
This word can make you wise: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. God’s Word is sure. Every command is for our good, every promise is kept, every example is instructive. A simple man, in Hebrew, isn’t ignorant or foolish. He is open, willing to be instructed. God’s word gives a willing person wisdom, the ability to evaluate life from God’s point of view and do life His way. So if this Word is going to change our lives, we need to cultivate simple openness to its instruction: a willingness to receive and act on its commands, promises and teachings. Do you want to know how to live your life? Then turn to this trustworthy word. But you have to be open to it.
Verse 8: the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. When we encounter the Word, its commands, its precepts, its narratives, we invariably find them to be just and righteous, and this rightness gives joy. Just this week I was texting with Tina on the subject of rest, and I found Ecclesiastes 4:6, which says, in the ESV “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.” That simple truth made me laugh. It brought joy.
Next, ‘the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The word pure is sometimes translated ‘radiant,’ like the gleam from pure metal. So the commands of the Lord reflect His light to us. By that light we see where to go and what to do. It’s a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. But even more, by that light we see God himself and his truth. The word shows us something of the glory and radiance of God Himself.
Verse 9: the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever, the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. Fear, or reverential awe, is not a synonym for the Word of God, but it is a key expression of a right attitude toward God.
The fear of the Lord, David says, is clean or pure - it has a purifying effect on our lives, and allows us to embrace God’s righteous ways. And this reverential fear endures forever. It will still characterize us in eternity. In the same way, the rules of the Lord are true, steadfast, trustworthy, and they are completely righteous. In these rules we see God in his righteous and pure character.
So what can God’s Word do, if we pay attention? Revive our souls; make us wise, give us joy and light to see a holy God. It can change our lives. But how do we pay attention? The core answer is time on task, and it starts in a chair. Gail and I and many others have found that that daily time in the word is crucial.
(Gail) It wasn’t long after that fateful morning in the chair at my kitchen table that I was invited to join a Bible Study Fellowship class. Through BSF I learned the discipline and structure of daily time in God’s Word. I needed to be fed, and BSF provided a table at which I could sit and feast. The lessons gave structure that I needed. The homework gave discipline. I learned that accountability to others is a blessing. I got to know God better, and got to know myself better.
I wasn’t able to stay in BSF more than a couple of years, but in that time I developed some great habits. The best was personal preparation. From that time it’s been rare for me not to be involved in a Bible Study group that requires preparation. It really doesn’t matter what style of study or topic we’re considering. When I open the pages of God’s word with an intent to learn, God speaks. Over the years I have done so many different studies. I’ve enjoyed Lifechange Bible studies, Beth Moore studies, Precept studies, materials by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. . . the list goes on. Each study was a door into God’s Word and into my own soul. I have been able to see myself more clearly and allow God to speak into my life – to “shuv” me around and point me in new directions.
But there were some years when getting to a group study was challenging. I had four small children. Bob was in seminary and I had no access to a car. But I didn’t want to neglect personal study. My quiet time moved to the living room couch where I often nursed the baby as I spent time with the Lord. This is when I turned to Bible reading plans and journaling for my spiritual food. It wasn’t a season of in-depth study, but I could still cling to God’s word with a sense of expectation and desperation. “Speak, Lord, or I may not make it!” I read my Bible book by book, with a pen in my hand, requiring myself to underline a thought each day. Knowing that God intends to use His word to reveal Himself and to speak into my life, I kept reading until I found at least a nugget of truth I could write down. At times I simply used my journal to record the Scripture verse I’d underlined. At times I wrote more, thinking and praying on paper about the passage, the nature of God, the needs of life.
I never had a day that there was nothing to record, even in the genealogies. God has sprinkled nuggets of truth throughout His word, and often used small thoughts to reveal Himself in new ways. He fed my soul, guided my thinking and my feelings. What a delight it was to find that the words I’d read and underlined in the morning, were just what I needed to know or apply later that day. These were the years I gained a “broad stroke” understanding of Scripture as I read through the whole Bible slowly several times. The Lord worked in amazing ways, counseling me, correcting me, and faithfully drawing me to himself.
(Bob) So the Word can work awesome things in us. The second thing the Psalmist shows is that this is really valuable. Verses 10-11: More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” David helps us to rightly treasure this Word, by comparing it to wonderful things. Do we find the Word of God more valuable than gold? As I said in children’s corner I wouldn’t pay gold for a physical Bible if I could cheaply replace it. But what if I could only get a Bible on the black market? How much would I pay? Would I risk my life to own it? Even more to the point, do I value the Bible as much as people and relationships, so that no amount of gold could make me give them up? And what about time? Time is money, right? How much time, in practice, are you willing to give for the treasures in this book? Would you pay an hour a day for this treasure? Ten minutes? More or less time than you spend on Facebook or Instagram?
When Gail and I did volunteer interviews this spring for the GUM trip, we noticed about a 100 percent correlation between how much a person values their time in the Word and how vibrant and stable their spiritual life is. Sometimes we think that ‘spending time every day in Scripture’ is somehow optional or nice if you can get it, or suited for some and not others. Those are lies. The Enemy wants you to believe them. Friends, if you want a vibrant and stable walk with God that helps you know Him and changes your heart, you’ve got to commit to daily time in the Word. We value the Word by spending time in it.
We also show that we value the Word by obeying it. Verse 11: Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. The purpose of Scripture is to lead us to glorify God by trust and obedience. Scripture is kind of like the rope used in rappelling. When I was in Boy Scouts we sometimes rappelled down cliffs. But first you had to lug a ton of rope up and around to the cliff top. It would’ve been easier not to lug the rope. But when you lean back over the edge the rope becomes essential. And the Word of God becomes essential when we begin to trust it in obedience, depend on God's promises. We truly value the word when we trust what God says with our lives.
Gail is going to do most of the sharing today of how time in the Word works for her. But I do want to share that my time works a bit differently. Partially this is because I preach every week. I get so caught up trying to figure out what God wants to say to us on Sunday that I spend less time reading and meditating on Scripture for its own sake than I should. On the other hand I get to dig deeply into a text, and then share not only what God has said, but what God has said to my heart. Every week I ask God to speak to me about me first.
But we’re all unique in some way. Everyone needs time in the Word, but it doesn’t look the same for any of us. A lot of what Gail and I do is similar: looking at words, at big ideas, finding related Scriptures. But some of what we do is different. I rarely use a Bible Study guide, but I spend lots of time on the web. I enjoy finding nuggets and comments and illustrations. And God often speaks directly to my soul through the joy of discovering these well said truths.
The other thing I do, that Gail doesn’t do as often, is rabbit trailing into worship. A Scripture reminds me of a song, and I find it on YouTube. Then that reminds me of another song, or has a link to one, and eventually I’m four songs away from where I started, listening to a new artist saying something in a new way and receiving spiritual truth at a heart level. For me this is key to my delight in Scripture, and to a vibrant and stabilizing relationship with the Scriptures.
(Gail) My approach to Scripture and to personal quiet time has changed over the years. After I survived the season when life was counted in moments between cries for “Mommy”, I was able to add more in-depth study of God’s Word to my quiet time. I often shifted to a chair at the dining room table. Here I was able to spread out resources and work through a Bible study, digging a little deeper with the guidance of those that had been through the passage before. I learned to appreciate Strong’s Dictionary, and the chance to find the broader Hebrew and Greek usage of the words. Exploring words brought me to new passages to consider and new understanding and appreciation of God.
During this time I began to use Precept Bible studies, which take a thorough and in-depth approach to each passage. Gradually I gained the confidence and skills to study the Bible on my own. I remember one day I decided to pursue some thoughts related to the study guide in front of me. I looked up references and checked out interesting words, and found a few treasures on my own. When I turned the page to continue the study, I saw that it was about to take me down the path I had just completed. Like a three year old, I suddenly realized, “I can do it myself!” I still use study guides as the starting point for my personal time in God’s Word, but I’m not confined by them. I know I can explore Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me into truth about God and myself.
Sometime God uses His word for immediate life change, but mostly the truths we find in our personal time with God are “nuggets” that we tuck into our “bank account” of spiritual truths, which grows day by day. When a truly hard day, or season, comes, we make withdrawals that meet our needs in a time of crisis.
(Bob) The last section of the Psalm gives one more insight into our use of Scripture. It teaches us to respond to Scripture by crying out to God for insight and application Verses 12-14: Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
You have to imagine David sitting with a scroll open in front of him, crying out to God as a result of time in God’s word. He knows, from the Word and from experience, that his sin is deeper than his eyes can see, that he has these errors he can’t discern, these hidden faults. One of the things the Holy Spirit does through the written Word is to cause us to see our sins, groan over them, and seek forgiveness. David also cries out for help in fighting his obvious sins, the ones where he knows he’s shaken his fist in God’s face. He may be thinking of his sin with Bathsheba or in the death of Uriah. He says: “Keep me from these willful sins; don’t let them rule over me. Only then can I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” I can’t do it myself: I can’t stop my sin. Often I can’t see it. I need you to restrain me and break sin’s dominion over me.
Finally, in verse 14, he says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight.” Again, you have to picture him sitting with his scroll open, praying this prayer in response to what he has read, the word of God enlightens his eyes. He says bless my thoughts and meditations as I consider your word, so that my understanding leads to acceptable life change, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. He knows God is his rescuer and he knows that a right application of Scripture comes from God. It is a gift of grace.
(Gail) With the advent of computer tools my quiet time moved from the dining room table to my easy chair. With a copy of Word Search open on my computer, or a web-site in my browser, I can have several translations of the Bible, a couple of Bible Dictionaries, a study Bible, and a collection of commentaries all available close at hand. I love being able to read the passage in different versions, to check out word meanings and interesting cross references. When I still have questions, I can consult the commentaries to see what insights more experienced students of God’s Word offer. My main tools are still my Bible, a study guide, and my notebook, but my computer is a great working partner.
Over the years I have also learned that my devotional life does not, and cannot, be restricted to a chair. It is important to set aside time to sit, study, think and pray, but life doesn’t let us sit still long, so I have found many ways to take my quiet time “on the road.” Scripture memory is a huge part of that. When I take the passages that have spoken to my heart and set them to memory, they have been used of the Lord to reform my life in very practical ways. But I don’t have time to sit and memorize. I have to do it “on the go.” I use flip notebooks, audio recordings, cards taped over my kitchen sink, and more recently an app on my phone to help me make passages of Scripture my own.
Scripture meditation is also something that is easy to do on the go and in the niches of life. Bob is a reader, so he reads books and blogs. I am a listener, so I use audio resources to fill my thoughts with treasures from God’s word instead of allowing them to wander down dark paths. I try to keep up with the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who often walks her listeners through the Scriptures in an encouraging yet challenging way. I also listen to audio books or other messages that point me to Christ and help me make deposits into my spiritual bank account.
(Bob) So what have we seen? A disciple is one whose life is shaped by his Master’s words. Gail has shown, and I have to a lesser extent, how that is true in our lives. The Psalmist has shown what the perfect law of the Lord does, reviving us, making us wise, giving joy, enlightening our eyes, warning us, rewarding us. He has shown how valuable this word should be to us, and he has shown that we have to respond to it with humble heartfelt pleas for life change.
So the application is simple. Are you, in fact, a disciple whose life is being changed by the word of God? It’s never too late to start. God is waiting to work change in you through His word, to give your spiritual life vitality and stability. He will give you obedience, and substantial victory over sin. But you need to go home today and cry out for that life change, and sit in a chair for a while tomorrow, and open your Bible. You get to do that. That hasn’t always been the case around the world. It may not always be the case here. Enjoy it. Take God’s word seriously.