Do you look more like Jesus than you did last year? What if there were a roadmap for Spiritual Formation? All of us long to be more like Jesus – acting, thinking, feeling, and responding like Jesus. The question is HOW can I look more like Jesus? Now, a road map is only as helpful as the destination. If there was a road map to Disneyland or to an Atlanta Braves game, I’d be much more excited than say, a road map to the dentist.
So where are we going? We’re going back to love . . . the most powerful experiences and expressions of God imaginable.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (CSB)
13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s open the book of Revelation and listen to the instructions to a Church that had been doing pretty well, but had drifted away from the first things.
Revelation 2:2–5 (NKJV)
2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
I think if we were to receive the first half of this letter we would be pretty excited. Woohoo! God sees our labor – our patience – we hate the right people and things. We have discernment over teachers – we have good endurance – A+! But then comes the rebuke . . . “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works. . ..”
Remember your first love. Our first love isn’t even our love to begin with.
1 John 4:19 (NKJV)
19 We love Him because He first loved us.
In turn we are called to love others with the love that God has given us. Remember back when you were first saved and things seemed to be so much more simple? I remember waking up and reading my Bible and experiencing God’s grace through the Gospels. I remember hearing these stories of a miraculous God who had come to dwell with His people and just being in awe. I’d walk outside my door to school and then to work and feel like I was on an adventure. I remember the first few times that I talked about Jesus and how emotional I was. I remember praying for people and things I had no business having that much faith. I read in the Bible that God healed. So I prayed for healing. I want you to notice something. John the Revelator connects “first love” with action, saying repent and do the first works.
Jesus articulates this as well in John 15 describing the action of “abiding” or staying close, or clinging to:
John 15:10 (NKJV)
10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
How do we keep his commandments? How do we “abide” in God’s love? What are the “first works” that John the Revelator is calling us back towards. Traditionally the understanding of abiding has been around the Spiritual Disciplines. Think of a river. A river has a destination. The action of jumping into the river has a consequence of moving towards a destination down river somewhere. Without any effort, past the first action, we are carried to a place downstream where we would want to go. The Disciplines or Christian Rhythms have the same ability: by implementing or reimplementing Christian rhythms into our lives we get to jump into the river of God’s grace taking us to maturity and Christian fruit. Do you want to be a better spouse and/or parent? Spiritual Rhythms. Do you want to be able to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit? Spiritual Rhythms. Do you want to be able to tell people about Jesus? Spiritual Rhythms. While information is important, information alone can’t transform us. We need rhythms. So, what are the rhythms we will focus on this year?
To be clear, none of these rhythms change us all by themselves; these are merely the postures that position us near God’s grace. Think of it like a shower head. If I want to take a shower I need to eventually . . . get in the water. I could buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and a loopha, but if I never get under the water then I will never really experience a real shower. By committing to the Rhythms of Jesus, we are uniquely positioned for the Holy Spirit to do a powerful work in our lives. Without further adieu, let’s dive into the rhythms.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (CSB)
16 All Scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
All Scripture – cover to cover – is helpful for our lives. I’d go further and say that it is essential for our lives. It can teach us, train us. It makes us complete. It equips us. When God found you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and when you responded to that call, this book became the most important book that you will ever read. The hard part is that we are tempted to use the Bible like we would another book. Some of us read it like a textbook – we look for it to answer any and every question that might arise in our brain. While the Bible is chocked full of information and truth, you can’t divorce truth from Story. The Bible is primarily a story that is helpful for us to see ourselves, our world, our neighbor, and God correctly. Some of us are tempted to see the Bible as merely a story, not looking at it as authoritative. We can read the Gospels like we would read “The Shack” and be moved or even inspired and not brought into obedience. So how do we get Back to Basics with Scripture?
1. We read it.
In 2021, 50% of American Christians read their Bible at least 3-4 times per week. In 2022 26 million Americans stopped reading their Bibles even casually. Only 10% of Americans read their Bible everyday. That same research tells us that you are far more likely to be fulfilled, happy, walking in forgiveness, generous, and satisfied with your relationship with God if you engage with Scripture – Click Here for a link to that study. Here’s what all of this information tells us – we need to be reading God’s Word on a regular basis. How? I’m glad you asked!
Have a plan.
The most engaged and consistent Bible Readers have a plan for how they are reading the Bible. At first I would just grab my Bible and open to a random spot and start reading. It was confusing, it was frustrating, and always felt like I wasn’t getting anything out of it. Here’s a few suggestions. If you are brand new to reading the Bible, start in the Book of Matthew and read at least 1 chapter per day. If you have a smartphone or tablet, the Bible App is a wonderful resource. They have numerous Bible Reading plans that will take you systematically through Scripture as you begin to see the bigger story of God. In addition I’d encourage you to pick a specific time of day to read. Whether that be mornings or evening, even on your lunch break. Rhythms require a schedule. Set a time and let the habits begin to develop.
Choose a translation.
Don’t feel pressure to use a particular version of the Bible if it’s tough for you to understand. My advice is to pick a major translation, that was translated by a group of people, and read it. KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, CSB, NASB, NRSV are all wonderful translations of the Bible. Don’t make your reading time harder than it needs to be. All Scripture requires the translation of the Holy Spirit for us to understand and apply it to our lives. I’ve heard some people call the NIV the “nearly inspired version”. My first Bible was an NIV bible that I almost read the cover off of – it changed every aspect of my life – let’s stop being “only-ists” and encouraging people to get their noses into a Bible (and take our noses out of the air).
Do it . . .
I know that seems like it should be a given – but ideas don’t change anything, it is action that changes us. I can be prone to making sure I have the best plan, or the best material in order to begin something. Start tomorrow morning and if you need to make an adjustment – make it while you’re already on the journey.
2. We memorize it.
Scripture memorization is a lost art of discipleship. Yet it is one of the most life transforming tools in our Christian Tool belt towards a renewed mind and life.
Proverbs 7:2–3 (NKJV)
2 Keep my commands and live,
And my law as the apple of your eye.
3 Bind them on your fingers;
Write them on the tablet of your heart.
I love music. In Home Group or Sunday School people will hear me regularly hear a phrase and start singing the corresponding song out loud. What if we had God’s Word on our heart like that. When we hear someone else talking about an issue, what if Scripture popped right into our brain? What if we were trying to solve a problem at work and a particular Scripture was the first thing that we thought of?
There are several tools you can use to begin memorizing Scripture. I have an app on my phone that is called “Scripture Memory” that helps me work from learning, to memorizing, to remembering in a short amount of time. In addition, this year we are going to start something called “Heart Tabs”. Throughout the year we will have Scriptures that we will memorize together (including our kids). These will be printed on a Card and placed in the bulletin. They are designed to carry with you in your pocket. Pull it out instead of your phone when you’re bored, in line, eating lunch. Our goal this year is to have 20 verses memorized so that our brains will be quick to go to the Scriptures as opposed to our opinions or the latest Taylor Swift song.
3. Apply it
James 1:22 (NKJV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
All of the Bible Reading in the world won’t transform you if you are not willing to put it into practice. This is one of the many ways that we read the Bible differently than we do other books. I love a good spy thriller novel. But I don’t read one of those with any inclination that I will be applying any of it (for legal, moral, and fitness reasons). Every time we come to the Scriptures we should already be coming with a “Yes” in our Spirits. We should be committed from the very start to put into practice whatever instruction we receive from the Scriptures, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.
For me, this looks like Life Journaling or SOAP. SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. I’ve gone back and forth in doing this on my computer or in a physical notebook, but as I read I’m asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to me a particular verse or verses. When He does I write it down and make some observations. What is being said? Who does this apply to? How does this relate to my life? Then I write an application, “Today, in light of what I read, I will . . .”. I then write out a short prayer asking God for help. This can take 20 minutes total.
There are other ways to practice obedience to what we read, but the point is that we are setting our heart to apply Scripture into the nitty-gritty of our everyday lives.
We are for you. Below are some helpful links to some resources that will be helpful for reading, memorizing, and applying God’s Word.