From Closet to Coastlands: Bible Reading and Prayer in 2013

'Tis now the season to get strategic. With the New Year on the horizon, many of us are beginning to consider the logistics of our devotional lives for 2013. Bible-reading plans, book lists, prayer guides — these are tactical means of grace that we strive to set in order. It is like we look across the foggy battlefield of the coming year and pencil down our plan, our steps. Remember faith is a fight. And reading and praying are essentials, not trends.

But for all this planning, let us remember the battle isn't only in our hearts. Bible reading and prayer aren't merely about personal piety. There is a world out there — a real world full of real people in need of real hope. We must not let our efforts in sanctification shrivel down into some kind of camouflaged cocoon. Holiness doesn't look like that.

John Piper explains:

There is a hunger for God that goes beyond the desire for private experience. It longs for the public display of his glory in the world. It longs for the great dishonors against our God to be set right. It is not content to hope for private revelations of his saving help, as precious as they are. It yearns for the open triumph of his hand in the establishment of God-exalting truth and righteousness — in universities and courts of law and advertising agencies and political debates and all the media of television and radio and newspapers and magazines and movies and the Internet. It is driven by a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. (A Hunger for God, 165)

Like Jesus Taught Us

Our first and central prayer is “hallowed be your name.” And it isn't just for our behavior at work or how our families interact, it is for the tribe who has never heard the name of Jesus, for the single girl who is contemplating another abortion, the corporate tycoon who steals, the kid who says he loves Jesus but won't stop sleeping with his girlfriend, the embittered post-Christian government that sabotages their children, the panhandler off 26th street who can't keep a job. A passion for God's glory goes deeper than our closets, if it's really about God's glory.

This is because the glory of God is public by definition. It is an expression, a shining forth. It is something that is seen, his “enacted identity” — the revelatory action of God who proclaims his own name to a world that must know him.

The Word Incarnate

That's what the Lord does: he speaks . . . and in the most dramatic fashion: the Word became flesh.

God is so public that he became like us in the person of Jesus. He is so public that he became tangible — the unapproachable light took on a body like ours. He was openly portrayed as crucified. He shamed demonic powers by the sound of nails driven through his hands. He rocked the universe when the stone was rolled away. There was no hush about it. Privatized religion just won't do. It isn't Christian.

What Asaph Said

Psalm 73 gives us this same logic. It is one of our favorites. Asaph's earnest prayer in verses 25–26 reflects the deepest, most life-changing truth: God is our portion.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

This is the aim of our faith (of our personal Bible reading and prayer) — we want to know God in Christ as our all. But notice where this faith lands just a couple verses down, in Psalm 73:28:

But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all yours works.

God is our all-sufficient treasure. He our strength and our portion and our refuge — so that we may tell of all his works. God is our everything so that something will be said about him to the world.

Way Beyond Ourselves

As we plan our devotional strategy for 2013, would we dare to keep all this in mind? Would we dare to remember that the scope of our spiritual disciplines is world-transforming impact?

The easiest place to start is to be serious about intercession. We can simply be intentional about taking our reading and praying beyond ourselves and those we know. Perhaps walk through Operation World or incorporate current events. It could mean that we go no holds barred on our knees against an injustice in our city, or for our neighbors a few houses down, for people groups and publishing houses, government leaders and local high schools, Christian scholars and convicted felons.

The point is pray big. Let us dream beyond our quiet time to God's name being hallowed in all the world — from our closets to all coastlands.

“We are not able in ourselves to win this battle. We are not able to change hearts or minds. We are not able to change worldviews and transform culture and save 1.6 million children. We are not able to reform the judiciary or embolden the legislature or mobilize the slumbering population. We are not able to heal the endless wounds of godless ideologies and their bloody deeds. But, O God, you are able! And we turn from reliance on ourselves to you. And we cry out to you and plead that for the sake of your name, and for the sake of your glory, and for the advancement of your saving purpose in the world, and for the demonstration of your wisdom and your power and your authority over all things, and for the sway of your Truth and the relief of the poor and the helpless, act, O God. This much we hunger for the revelation of your power. With all our thinking and all our writing and all our doing, we pray and we fast. Come. Manifest your glory.” (Prayer from John Piper, A Hunger for God, 171)