Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life: Biblical Intake
By Matthew Castro
At Redeemer, we are doing our summer growth group on the subject of spiritual disciplines. We are using Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Whitney throughout his book highlights the main purpose of spiritual disciplines. The purpose of spiritual disciplines is godliness. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4;7, “Train yourself for godliness.” As a Christian, you train yourself for godliness by the spiritual disciplines.
One of the main spiritual disciplines is Biblical intake. No healthy Christian life can exist apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. You can not grow in godliness apart from the Bible. You must have a daily regiment of the Bible in your life. Only in the Bible will read grow in knowledge about God, Jesus, your sin, the atonement, the ways and will of God, how God wants us to live, and the joy and satisfaction in life. These are the essential ingredients to spiritual transformation.
Whitney includes six different ways to intake the Bible. First, you can intake the Bible by hearing God’s Word. This is most likely practiced on Sunday morning, when you hear a sermon from a passage of Scripture. The second way to intake the Bible is reading God’s Word. This is probably the most common way people practice Biblical intake. However, many Christians do not read God’s Word. 23% of American Christians said in a study that they never read the Bible. Many others rarely read the Bible. Jesus said to John in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of his prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Blessed is the person, who reads the Bible.
If you ask the question, how often should you read the Bible? You can answer that question by answering the question, “How often do you face problems in your life?” The answer is everyday. "How often do you need encouragement and guidance in your life?” The answer is everyday. You need to read the Bible everyday. You need to hear from God everyday in your life.
The third way to intake the Bible is studying God’s Word. Ezra model studying the Bible in Ezra 7:10, “For Erza had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Ezra study the Word of God, so that he would obey it. By studying it and obeying it, he taught it to the people. Christians should rely less on their pastors to study the Bible for them, and they should examine the Scriptures for themselves. By studying them, they should look to teach others the Word of God. This allows all Christians to encourage their co-workers, friends, and neighbors by teaching them what they have studied on their own.
The fourth way to intake the Bible is memorizing God’s Word. Memorization can strengthen your faith. It can also prepare you for witnessing and counseling. It is also the means of God’s guidance in your life as it stimulates meditation. David wrote, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”A Christian stores up God’s Word in their heart through memorization. When you are in a certain situations or contexts, you will be able to use those verses like Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert to fight temptation or impact someone with God’s Word.
The fifth way to intake the Bible is mediate on God’s Word. Mediation is thinking deeply on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture or upon life from a spiritual perspective for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer. We meditate to absorb the Scripture, so that we may experience God and be transformative by the Word of God. James wrote, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who act, he will be blessed in his doing.” A Christian mediates on the Word of God, so he may be a doer of the Word and then prosper in all that he does. If the goal is godliness, we can be certain that we will reach godliness, when we are doers of the Word by meditating on it.
Whitney provides a few different methods for meditation. You can take a verse from what you read that day. You can then focus on the different words and consider their meaning. You can also ask how the passage connects with Christ. You can pray through the texts. Another method is provided by Joseph Hall in his book The Art of Divine Meditation. He gives a series of questions you can ask to help you mediate on the passage. Here are the questions:
What is the subject that you are meditating upon?
What are the divisions or parts?
What causes it"?
What does it cause? What are the fruits and effects?
What is its place, location, or use?
What are the qualities and attachments?
What is contrary to it?
What compares to it?
What are its titles or names?
What are some testimonies or examples of Scripture about it?
Another meditation method you can try is mind mapping.
The last way to intake the Bible is applying God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word to you, and you should respond to it with obedience. Thomas Watson wrote, “Take every word as spoken to yourselves.” When the Bible speaks of sin, God means your sins. Applying God’s Word is asking how God intends the affect me in this. You ask a series of questions when applying God’s Word to your life.
What should I believe about God?
What should I praise or thank or trust God for?
What should I pray about for myself or others?
What should I make a decision about?
What should I do for the sake of Christ, others, or myself?
When we apply God’s Word to our lives, we should respond specifically. We should look for one action we can do in response to what we read, studied, memorized, heard, or meditated on in God’s Word. The goal of the spiritual discipline of Biblical intake is not to grow only in knowledge.
The goal is godliness. You will not grow in godliness by simply reading or studying the Bible more. You must apply what you are learning. When we like Ezra, study the Word of God and do it. We are applying the Bible to our lives and putting action points to what we are reading. This will lead to Christlikeness.