Why do you emphasize Bible reading and prayer so much?
I don't think there is anything more basic to knowing the supremacy of Christ, loving him, and obeying him—and being the church for each other and for the sake of the world—than to hear God speak to us in his word and then to speak back to him with the praises and the longings of our hearts.
The reason for that is because it is so plain that today God reveals himself to us by the word. The living Christ in his bodily form is not here. He has ascended and taken his place at the right hand of God. Neither are his inspired prophets and apostles here. God has ordained for himself to be known primarily by the word that was recorded from those prophets and apostles—especially those who knew the Lord himself in his physical form—and preserved in a book.
Now, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are enabled to read that book with illumination and let our hearts cry back to him what we see in it. It becomes a kind of rhythm.
It is absolutely crucial for me that my prayer be saturated with the word and that my Bible reading be saturated with prayer, because this is how we commune with God. And this communion of hearing and speaking is what leads to our transformation, which is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
As a pastor, how do you deal with the fact that most people hardly spend any time in the word and prayer each day?
I have to battle discouragement, anger, and desires to just leave and find a little group of people who are totally sold out for the Lord. But the Lord enables me—at least he has over the years I've been at Bethlehem—to see that Jesus dealt with the same issues. He had 12 guys who all forsook him at the end. My people haven't all forsaken me. One of Jesus' closest friends denied him three times. I've never been denied like that in any crisis. Judas betrayed him utterly and handed him over to death. I've never been handed over to death.
My little battles with the sins of my people, which is an echo of my own sinfulness, is nowhere near as painful as what Jesus dealt with. Therefore I think it is a rebuke to me that I have to struggle as much as I do to be merciful and patient and kind.
The Bible is filled with exhortations to us shepherds that we love the sheep and recognize that they have to be led to green pastures and still waters, and that they're going to get lost and break their legs and dirty their wool. It's our job not to get uppity or angry with our people. Instead, we are to get down with them and do everything we can over the longhaul to keep lifting them up.
We're always going to be dealing with a defiled and imperfect and immature church. I don't think it will ever change. Right up until the day people die or Jesus comes the church will always be a gathering place for sinners, and some will be soaring and some will be stumbling, crawling, or leaving. Shepherds who have to have a perfect church are just not going to survive.
In other words, I preach the gospel to myself: that I have been loved with a patience so extraordinary that for me to turn around and show patience to my people and take them wherever they are and bring them along isn't that big of a sacrifice.
It is so important that we treasure God in his word and in prayer. Would you pray for God to make this happen for us?
I'd love to.
O Father in heaven, I pray for those who are listening [or reading] right now, and for me and Bob here, that we would love your word. We must have our hearts attuned to what is truly precious, and the Scripture says your word is like "gold, much fine gold...and honey, like drippings from the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).
I pray that you would tune our hearts so that we might taste what is really sweet and treasure what is really valuable. And with that new tasting and treasuring, would you incline us and discipline us to take up the Bible and to read it, and meditate on it, and memorize it? Incline us to drink in its living water and to eat its heavenly bread, so that we are made strong in the inner man by knowing God at a level that we have yet known.
So Lord, work in our hearts to incline us to your word; and open it to us and grant us to embrace it. May we extend the benefits, beauty, and preciousness of this word to those around us who have very little contact with the Scriptures, the church, and the Christ that we love so much. Make us a blessing to the world, I pray, because of our encounter with you in your word.
In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.