Here’s a good, honest question from a podcast listener named Seth. “Hello, Pastor John! I believe intellectually that learning about God can provide greater joy than whatever temporary pleasure I may get from the many distractions that this world has to offer, and have experienced times in my life where it has. However, these times are generally short lived and expire very quickly. Could you give me some tips as to how to be more satisfied in the things of the Lord than the things of the world — and in a way that endures? I know that spending hours watching television or playing games throughout the day is a waste of my time, yet I struggle to stop doing these things.”
Let me begin by congratulating Seth with the simple and glorious fact that he believes there are such things as things of the Lord. That very phrase causes some younger Christians to just gag, because they are on a crusade to demonstrate that all things are the things of the Lord, so why are you talking about being more happy in things of the Lord?
“When you read your Bible every day, pray that God would make himself real.”
Well, it is true that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (see Psalm 24:1). And in that sense, all things are things of God.
But we all know that there is a difference between balancing your checkbook and pondering a sweet promise of God. We know there is a difference between the rising of the stock market and the saving of a soul through the gospel.
We know that our joys ought to be greater in a promise than in a balanced checkbook. And we know that our joy ought to be greater in the salvation of a soul than the rising of the stock market.
Seth is on to something, and he is on to something because he is on to the Bible. For example, Colossians 3:1–2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
There is a difference. And he is asking: How can I delight in more things that are above, not the things that are on the earth?
Look at Matthew 16:23, where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” So Jesus made that distinction.
Or 1 Corinthians 2:11, where Paul says, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
So, congratulation Seth for asking an important question in biblical categories that are incredibly important. You asked: Could you give me some tips as to how to be more satisfied in the things of the Lord than the things of the world? I think maybe the most helpful thing I could do is to bring you into a lesson God is teaching me afresh at age 70 that I should not have to be taught again after 60 years as a Christian.
I have one tip for you — sorry, just one. We can do this again another time for more tips. But this is the one that is just so front burner for me right now, and I am going to give you one tip and then six reasons for why it really matters.
Pray Before You Read
Here is the tip: When you read your Bible every day, pause before you read and earnestly, with as much heartfelt longing as you can muster, pray to God that he would come and meet you in the reading of Scripture and open the eyes of your heart and show you what is really there and make himself real and bring about amazing changes in your life.
“God creates a supernatural atmosphere when we pray over his word.”
Or to put it very simply: Pray earnestly about the reading of Scripture just before you read the Scripture. It is amazing after all these years how many times I simply start reading without praying. And I can tell the difference, profoundly. So here is what I believe you can expect if you do this:
1.Hearing His Voice
In answer to this prayer about the word of God as you begin to read, with a sheer act of prayer, God creates a supernatural atmosphere.
He opens you to the fact that this moment is not just about you and a book. It is about you and the living God. By his Spirit, you encounter his very voice, experiencing his supernatural presence in a manifest way. Many Christians long for supernatural experiences and this is one that you can ask for and expect.
2. Eyes of the Heart
In answer to this prayer as you begin to read the Bible, God will open the eyes of your heart to see things in the word that you would not otherwise see. You have not because you ask not applies to Bible reading (see James 4:2).
You have because you ask applies to the very words of the Bible. The very words of the Bible will take on new dimensions. They will signify things, point to things, awaken you to the reality of things that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Most of us are blind to the glories embedded by God in the very words that he has given us. We read them so casually.
Reading the word Spirit, the word glory, the word cross, the word sin without praying is one experience. Reading those words after praying may be cataclysmically different, a different kind of seeing in those same words.
3. Feel the Weight
If you pray, God will open your heart to feel the preciousness of glorious things and the horror of evil things that you would not otherwise feel. Most of us do not feel emotions that accord with the realities we are thinking about. This is a work of the Spirit, and he does it in answer to prayer.
4. Heart Change
In answer to this prayer over the Bible before we read it, God will work changes in you that you would not otherwise experience.
“Feeling emotions that accord with reality is a work of the Spirit, and he does it in answer to prayer.”
I mean changes in your warfare with sin, changes in your desires for holiness, changes in your habits that need conquering, changes in your capacities for relationships, and changes in your experience of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Where do these come from? They come from the work of the Spirit in and through the word, and I am arguing that if you ask him, he will do this.
5. Real-Time Guidance
If you pray this prayer at the beginning of your Bible reading, God will from time to time provide the very guidance and leading that you have been longing for in regard to big decisions in your life.
God delights to bring fresh vision and guidance into the life of his children while they are spending time with him in his word, and he does it if we ask him to help us as we read.
6. Fresh Sense of Reality
Finally, in answer to that prayer over our reading, before we read, God will give you a fresh sense of his reality.
I know this because it happens to me. It happened to me this morning in a wonderful way. I was reading Psalm 122, and I read the phrase: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (verse 6). And my thought turned — I totally was not expecting or planning this — my thought turned not to the political situation in the Middle East, but to the desperate lostness of millions and millions of Jewish people right here in my city and around America, as well as around the world — the millions of Jewish people who reject Jesus as their Messiah.
Jesus made it so clear during his lifetime that if people, including Jewish people, reject him, they reject life. And the reality of God, the God of Israel, the God of salvation, the God of heaven and hell, the God who will one day lift the veil off of Israel and take away the hardness of heart, became so real to me. And I prayed earnestly that God would open the eyes of Jewish people and show me how I can be better used in this way.
I was totally unready for this experience at that moment when I read that phrase. And I hope and I pray it will have an ongoing effect on me — and I think God did that because I had paused and prayed that God would speak to me during this psalm through his inspired word.
Seth, that is my one tip. I will say it again:
When you read your Bible every day, pause before you read and earnestly, with as much heartfelt longing as you can muster, pray to God that he would come and meet you in the reading of Scripture and open the eyes of your heart and show you what is really there and make himself real and bring about amazing changes in your life.