Welcome back. We are joined again by Dr. Don Whitney, Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Don is known for his classic book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, and he’s the author of the new book from Crossway titled Praying the Bible. We are talking about the spiritual disciplines. And Don, I know you hear this question all the time, because it’s an important one: In the Christian life, what are the two most important personal spiritual disciplines? What is your answer?
The answer to that is very clear. The two most important personal spiritual disciplines are the intake of the word of God and prayer — and in that order. For it is much more important for us to hear from God through his word than for God to hear from us in prayer. So it is essential that those two have priority.
Furthermore, all the other biblical, spiritual disciplines grow out of those — particularly out of the word of God. For example, fasting — we find that in the word of God. It is shaped by the word of God. Our instruction for doing that is found in the word of God.
Word and Prayer
What I have discovered, though, is that people want to say, “I go to a good Bible-believing church, and every time I come to church, it seems, in one way or another, I hear about the intake of the Bible and prayer. Give me something else. Give me something more ‘exotic.’ Talk about some of the more ‘exotic’ spiritual disciplines like fasting or solitude or keeping a journal — something like that.”
If someone is not founded or grounded well into the word of God and prayer, forget fasting, forget journaling. The foundation is the word of God and prayer. And I say that as a note to pastors and teachers, people who are teaching all those spiritual disciplines. If your teaching of the spiritual disciplines does not result in people, at the very least, becoming more consistent in the word and in prayer, forget all the other ones.
People are more interested in them, perhaps, because they have heard less about them, and we do want to teach what the Bible teaches about them. And they are in the Scripture, and we want to teach them. But don’t let an interest in the more obscure disciplines keep people from being inconsistent in terms of the word of God and prayer.
Read Less, Remember More
Now with those two most important, personal spiritual disciplines, I have found there is an almost universal problem. With the intake of the word of God it looks like this: Even our most devoted daily Bible readers will read a chapter, read three chapters — however much it is — and once they are finished, they close their Bible, and most days, if pressed, as soon as they close their Bible they would have to admit: I don’t remember a thing I read. In fact, many days I can’t even tell you where I have read.
I believe the simple, permanent, biblical solution to that is to meditate on Scripture — not merely to read, but to meditate. People say, “I just can’t remember what I read though.” But let’s say if it takes a person two seconds to read verse 1 of a chapter, then two seconds to read verse 2, then two seconds to read verse 3, you can have a thousand two-second encounters with the word of God and not remember a thing you have read. What do you ever remember that you look at for two seconds? Occasionally something, but not very often. So the problem is not your memory. It is not your IQ. It is not your education. It is your method.
If you are listening to this, you might say, “You don’t get it. I only have a very few minutes every day, and I am doing the best I can. Now you are telling me to add to that. I don’t have time to add to that.” Okay, let’s say you only have ten minutes for the word of God. Don’t read for ten minutes. Read for five minutes. Meditate for five minutes. It is far better to read less, if necessary, and remember something, than to read more and remember nothing.
Pray the Bible
And with prayer, I find that the almost universal problem is this: people tend to say the same old things about the same old things in prayer. And sooner or later, that is boring. When prayer is boring, you don’t feel like praying. When you don’t feel like praying, it is hard to make yourself pray. It is just duty prayer. It is just obligatory prayer. It is joyless. It is bloodless. It is heartless. Now to pray about the same old things is normal. Our lives tend to consist of the same old things from one day to the next. Our lives don’t change dramatically from one day to the next very often.
So here’s a simple, permanent, biblical solution to that almost universal problem: when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a Psalm. If you do that, you will pray about the same old things every day, but you will never again say the same old things about the same old things. You won’t run out of anything to say. You don’t need any other notes. You don’t need anything else. Just open your Bible. Talk to God about what comes to mind from the Word of God, and you will never again say the same old things.