Sitting out on the patio on another beautiful Kenyan morning, it’s hard to take in all the events that have brought me here. In fact, my whole life has led up to this point. Now, that may seem overstated, but rest assured, wherever you are right now, your whole life has led up to this point, too. That’s the way life works. It takes us forward, with each moment adding to our experience.
For me, though, I’m particularly aware of how little of my life has gone according to my plan, but how it has nonetheless worked out the way God designed. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes:
…we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
It’s interesting to me that the onus is completely on God. He is the one who makes us worthy. His power brings to fruition our goodness and our deeds. And, implied, is that not only does he bring these things to fruition, but that he plants those desires in us in the first place. So he is the one planting, the one tending and the one harvesting. We’re just the dirt.
As I sit here on the leading edge of what is certain to be a wild ride for me and my family, I’m reminded that I didn’t get myself here and I won’t get myself through. The onus is completely on God. Sure, I have responsibilities, but in the end, those responsibilities just amount to me being good dirt and receiving what God is planting in me. Then he can do the tending and harvesting. I’ll just be the dirt.
They say that inner peace is illusive – that we are destined to wrestle with our demons and to be anxious in our thoughts. But God says differently. In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul encourages his readers:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It’s a familiar passage, but one I read afresh this morning in the midst of thinking about all the logistics of our move to Kenya, all the money to be raised and plans to be made. “Do not be anxious about anything…”
That’s a pretty tall order. Thankfully, Paul gives us the key to this lack of anxiousness. Prayer and petition, infused with thanksgiving, leads to the peace we seek. And when I think about those words, it makes sense. Bringing a request to God, while recognizing the many times and ways he has been faithful to me in the past, is a way of tying the past, present and future together. He has been faithful. He is faithful. Thus, he will be faithful.
Suddenly, the things that might beg for anxiety shrink in the light of God’s faithfulness. The overwhelming concerns of this world dissipate in the presence of the one who created the world and who has overcome it.
The key to peace, then, is found in this thanksgiving-laden prayer – bringing our requests before God while simultaneously thanking him for his faithfulness. The outcome of these prayers, Paul says, is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” and that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I’m in. Let’s do this thing!
There is really nothing for me to add to the words of Joshua Prager. Take 18.5 minutes to listen to the words of this man and his incredible journey of self and others.
Fascinating research from Keith Chen regarding language and economics. As a notoriously bad saver, it’s comforting to know that my native language is at least partially to blame! However, what is more fascinating to me is the idea that the way we speak about things – the syntax that we use – has such a strong effect on how we think about things.
The Bible, of course, speaks to the power of the tongue and some have taken this idea of “speaking things into existence” to an extreme level. But while some believe they can speak things into reality through the cosmos, what we are learning scientifically is that we can at least speak things into existence in our own minds.
The basic underpinnings of ideas like self-esteem and personal motivation rely on this idea that the things we speak to ourselves and the way that we see ourselves can have a dramatic effect on how we live our lives. What if it’s even more complex than we would like to imagine? What if Chen’s findings carry over into every part of our lives? What if, beyond that, the words we speak and the way we speak them combine with our perception of those words to have an even more powerful influence over our lives than we can fathom?
I have long pondered these ideas as they relate to identity. If I’m going to give myself a label and I have certain perceptions of what that label is, do I then adjust myself to fit that label? In other words, if I believe that the label “suburban” carries with it a list of associations – minivans, coaching soccer, 3 kids and a dog – once I move to the suburbs and decide that I am now “suburban”, do I begin to make alterations to myself to adjust to that label?
Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Maybe it can be attributed to other factors like wanting to have a sense of belonging. But Chen’s research makes me wonder. I wonder how the way we speak and think affects our actions. I wonder if our mental “software” – acquired throughout our lives – has us programmed in certain directions.
This talk truly fascinates me. To be honest, I would love to just hang around with this guy and let him talk for a while. I’m certain I would discover much about myself in the process.
For Lack of Discipline
I’m not a very disciplined person. I don’t exercise regularly (though I have a desire to). I don’t eat nutritionally unless my wife forces me to. I’ve never been one of those early-riser people who can “get so much accomplished” before the rest of the world wakes up. Nope, that’s not me and, to a certain extent, I’ve learned to be OK with that.
A few years back, as I was beating myself up for not being disciplined enough, some words from a friend, coupled with what I believe were words from God, helped to change my perspective and get me on a track to being a fruitful human being again. You see, what I realized was that my definition of discipline was one that I had adopted from “disciplined” people. In other words, people who were not wired like I am had developed a system that worked for them and I thought that was the only way it could be done.
That’s where I was with the whole idea of daily Bible reading. Now, let me say that I don’t think that following Jesus means that you are required to read the Bible every day. Let me also say that I highly recommend it! But for a guy who sleeps as late as possible each morning and is typically pretty brain-dead by the end of the day, when was I supposed to have my “quiet time?”
Enter YouVersion.com – or more specifically, their Bible App for mobile phones. At first glance, the Bible App is nothing special. It’s a Bible on your phone. But this app enabled me to take my desire for daily Bible reading from fantasy to reality. How? By allowing me to insert my “quiet time” into my spare time.
Suddenly, any time I was waiting for someone before a meeting, standing in line, or taking a…um…break, I could break out my trusty Bible and read. For a guy like me, this was an incredible gift! No longer did I have to dedicate a certain time of day for study. I could read the Bible any time I wanted, anywhere I wanted.
What About the “Want To?”
I can guess what you’re thinking. “Any time I wanted,” indicates that I actually wanted to read the Bible. I know that’s a big hurdle for a lot of people. However, if you are in any way a competitive person, have I got great news for you. The Bible App brings out the competitive nature in us crazy human beings. In this case, I was competing with myself (a worthy competitor), nd I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to go all-in. My very first Bible reading plan on the Bible App was Bible in 90 Days. Yes, that’s right, the whole Bible – all 1,189 chapters of it – in 90 days. It was the P90X of Scripture reading. I chose this plan because I reasoned that I could do anything for 90 days, even if I hated it.
Funny thing is, I didn’t hate it, even though it was incredibly hard. The thing that kept me going – that brought out that competitive nature in me and encouraged me to read 10-15 chapters a day – was the progress tracker that YouVersion has created. In a glance, you can see where you are in your reading plan and, if you get behind, where you should be. Additionally, if you get too far behind, you’ll get an email from the nice YouVersion system encouraging you to get back on track. It’s like having a personal trainer for your daily devotions.
That encouragement, combined with my competitive drive provided the spark for my “want to.” The richness of Scripture provided the fuel. Reading the Bible so quickly reminded me how it all really ties together. Suddenly, the arc of the grand narrative – a story about God and his people – was illuminated for me like never before. I began to thirst for the Bible.
The Next Steps
After completing my Bible in 90 Days reading, I decided that I might as well keep up the pace. I didn’t want to go all the way back to Genesis, so instead, I jumped into New Thru 30, my second reading plan, which took me through the entire New Testament in 30 days on about the same pace as its 90 day, whole Bible cousin.
After completing New Thru 30, I decided to slow down my reading, so as to absorb a little more of the micro, rather than just the macro. My next reading plan was the Canonical plan, which takes you through the Bible in a year. After doing the Bible in 90 Days and New Thru 30, reading 3 or 4 chapters a day seemed like a piece of cake. So, naturally, I decided to challenge myself again. That’s how the Bible in a Year Blog got started. Each day, having read the reading for the day from the Canonical reading plan, I would write several hundred words about that day’s reading.
A year later, I was finished. Over 180,000 words written about the roughly 775,000 words of Scripture. Needless to say, my words pack a lot less punch than those in the Bible. But it was a great exercise – this time fueled by the fact that I knew every day that I had people reading along with me. These same people would come to my blog to see what I had to say about that we read that day. I couldn’t let them down! And so I read and I wrote.
As 2012 became 2013, the Bible in a Year Blog got mothballed. It’s still there if you want to read it, but I had reached the end of yet another journey. So, what to do? I decided once again to slow down – to take in the words I was reading more deeply. For me, this meant slowing to a snail’s pace. I am now on the Read Through The New Testament plan, which takes me on a thoughtful journey through the New Testament over the course of a year.
I am supplementing my daily reading with additional reading from N.T. Wright’s wonderful “…for Everyone” series. [Amazon]. The series is available on Kindle, which works for me for the above-mentioned reasons, and serves as a great thought-provoking, but not too in-depth daily devotional. A month in and I’m still in Matthew, but I’m loving every minute of it.
A New Reality
Having reached this point in my journey, with daily Bible reading as a reality for me, I look back on myself just a couple of years ago. I was depressed about the fact that I wasn’t reading the Bible regularly. To do so seemed like an impossible task – a fantasy. If I had tried to get up early and read even one chapter a day, I would have probably given up after a couple of weeks. But through the use of a tool that was made for people wired like me, combined with a 90 day, intense personal challenge that kick-started my journey, I was able to take the idea of daily Bible reading from fantasy to reality.
I am thankful every day for the words I read in the Bible. Through my reading, I am encouraged, challenged, educated and healed. No other book could do that. No other discipline could do that. I’ve learned to see the Bible not as an instruction book or a text book, but as a true gift of life – Jesus, the Word of God, captured in print. It is my sincere prayer that you will be encouraged to embark on a similar journey. It may look different for you (remember, my greatest mistake was thinking I had to do it like others had done it), but I know you can make daily Bible reading a reality for you, too.