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The Habit of God's Word

As I think back and reflect on my childhood, I’m deeply grateful to my parents who instilled in me some core life habits that have remained with me to this day. One of those is eating food. I don’t even remember when my parents taught me about eating, but this habit is still with me. Remarkably, I rarely if ever go through a day and forget to eat food.

Another core life habit my parents taught me is brushing my teeth. Amazingly, this habit is still part of my life after all these years. Most days, I do it multiple times without thinking about. Brushing my teeth has become part of my daily routine.

A third core life habit so engrained that I do it subconsciously is putting on pants (that’s underwear for those of you from across the pond). I can’t remember the last time I forgot to put on pants.

Eating, brushing our teeth, putting on pants – when was the last time you went a day or a week without doing one of these? Though very basic, these actions have become habits – actions that have been relocated out of the zone of the will to the zone of the subconscious: we do them habitually.

But what about reading the Bible? Have you left this in the zone of the will where you must actively choose to do this daily? If so, you expose this decision to time pressure, distraction pressure, and alternative pressure. We might run out of time, or we might get distracted, or we might prefer alternative uses of time.

Here’s the big idea: consistently reading the Bible is so important for you spiritual health you need to relocate it from the zone of your will to the zone of habit.

Jesus and God's Word

In Matthew 4.1-11, Jesus, who is God’s Word in living form (John 1.1) models for us the fruit of consistent reading and reflection in God’s Word. He does this in two ways – through principle and process.

The Process
This passage is famous for the Satanic onslaught of temptation that comes against Jesus. In three different situations (verses 4, 7, and 10), Jesus defeats temptation by affirming it is written. Now, there’s a big lesson to be learned about how to win over temptation. Jesus defeated Satanic attack by speaking the word of God. But the point I want you to see is this:
God’s Word only comes out of you in combat if you’ve stored it in your heart through the habit of reading. You can only fight by God’s word in conflict if you’re fuelled by God’s word in contemplation. By building the habit of reading the Bible you are positioning yourself for spiritual victory.

The Principle
In addition to learning how to win, we also see the content of what Jesus taught in verse 4: Jesus answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’.

Like bread for the body, God’s Word is the spiritual food that strengthens and sustains us. Here’s the truth: You will never be spiritually stronger than your habit of feeding on God’s Word. Trying to follow Jesus well while having an irregular habit of God’s word is like trying to run a marathon after a 40-day fast. It doesn’t work.

Early 20th century missionaries used to have a mantra that went, ‘No Bible, no Breakfast’. They built their Bible reading into their morning routine before they ate physical food. Not only is that a great reminder about the priority of spiritual food, it’s also a good way of ensuring that we actually read the Bible, because we’re not going to forget to eat.

The Benefits of God's Word

So Jesus is inviting us to build the habit of inhabiting God’s word. Before I explain how to do this, let’s have a quick reminder of why. The Bible talks about itself quite a bit, and this is not a full, extensive teaching on scripture. Rather, I want to highlight ten benefits of God’s word that are all taught in just one chapter.

  1. PURITY: How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalm 119.9).
  2. PROTECTION: I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119.11).
  3. COUNSEL: Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counsellors. (Psalm 119.24)
  4. KNOWING GOD’S LOVE: Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise. (Psalm 119.41).
  5. CONFIDENCE IN GOD: For ever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast (Psalm 119.89-90).
  6. DIRECTION: Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119.105).
  7. PROTECTION: You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word (Psalm 119.114).
  8. ILLUMINATION: The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple (Psalm 119.130).
  9. SIGNIFICANCE: I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts (Psalm 119.141).
  10. TRUTH: The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures for ever (Psalm 119.160).
10B: FREEDOM: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8.31-32).

Each one of these points merits its own reflection; the benefits of God’s word are immense. But this is what I want you to see: most of us know – cognitively – that God’s word is beneficial, just like we know that eating healthy and exercising is good for us. But cognitive knowing does not lead to actual doing. Otherwise, we’d all eat healthier and exercise more.

The issue is that we need to build the habit of Bible reading. More than just reading the Bible, we need to become Bible readers. That’s an identity statement that transcends the action. Lots of people run, but a runner is someone who runs consistently as a core part of their lives.

15 Minutes

In this contemporary age most of us live highly distracted lives. And not only the usual suspects of social media and smart phone; our work lives and family lives can be very hectic.

But I am convinced that everyone has at least 15 minutes a day to read the Bible. Now, if you ask me, ‘Is 15 minutes a day enough?’. My answer would be ‘No. You need more than that’. But 15 minutes is a good place to start.

One of the obstacles that keeps us from building habits is that the goal seems too big. We hear about spiritual giants like my childhood best friend’s father who read 40 pages of the Bible every day, and read through the entire Bible every six weeks. That’s intense. And we think, ‘I’ll never get there!’. And that bumps us off even trying.

The best way to build a habit is to start really really small. Like deciding to read the Bible for 15 minutes a day. The second key to building a habit is to link the desired new behaviour (reading the Bible) with a habitual behaviour you’re already doing. Like brushing your teeth. Either build a new morning routine, or find something you easily and habitually do (e.g., fixing a cup of coffee), and link Bible reading to that action. If you can habitually put on your pants, you can habitually read the Bible.

Why 15 minutes? Because in 15 minutes you can easily read two chapters of the Bible. You can read, for example, a Psalm, and a New Testament chapter out of the Gospels, Acts, or Epistles. Read through Psalms, then read through a gospel, then an epistle, then Acts, then an epistle, then a gospel, then an epistle.

By starting small with only two chapters, you are setting yourself up for success. But the other benefit of starting small is that you can expand your moment. Once you’ve mastered 15 minutes and this is a core habit in your life, you can expand it to 20 minutes. Before long you’ll find yourself reading through chapters (e.g., a Psalm, a gospel/Acts chapter, and an epistle chapter).

God wants you to win. And you will position yourself for victory in life and in God through the habit of consistent Bible reading.




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