If the CROSS conference had existed twenty years ago, when I was a college student, I would have been here. So it feels relatively easy to put myself in your shoes. I’ve asked myself, What was it that I needed to hear as a young adult about how to meet God each day?
If it were just one thing, I think it would be this: gather a day’s portion. You might call it “faithful realism” in daily Bible intake. In short, not trying to do too much. Not trying to acquire a lifetime’s worth of Bible knowledge in a few short months, or weeks! (And not falling off the wagon and doing nothing when you get discouraged.) Rather, adopting a modest, realistic approach in seeking to meet with God, in his word, and seeking to be faithful over time. And coming to God, through his word, to be fed, to be nourished — to receive, not achieve.
So, gather a day’s portion. I’ll flesh out this vision in five brief aspects, but first let me set the scene for where the phrase “gather a day’s portion” comes from in Exodus 16.
Bread from Heaven
In Exodus 14, God’s people have just been freed from slavery in Egypt and passed through the Red Sea. Moses and the people erupt in a song of praise in the first half of chapter 15 (vv. 1–21), but in barely three days, the people already are grumbling (Exodus 15:22–24). God responds with grace — he “heals” the bitter water, and brings them to a place of plenty, an oasis with “twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees” (Exodus 15:27).
Once they set out from the oasis, soon they are grumbling again (Exodus 16:2), now to the point of delusion (Exodus 16:3). Again, God responds with grace. He says in Exodus 16:4, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day.”
This bread from heaven they call “manna,” and Moses gives the further instruction in verse Exodus 16:16, “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.”
Gathering Every Day
Now, Exodus 16 is not first and foremost about Christian Bible reading today and how to meet God each day. But it does give us a glimpse into who our God is, and what it means to have him as our God and for us to be his people. He is the kind of God who provides for our needs on an everyday basis. He is the God who is with his people every step of the way, to give us, by his own hand, daily provision in the wilderness — any place in the world — to get us safely to his promised land. And he loves to feed his people a day at a time.
“God loves to feed his people a day at a time.”
Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), and he warns us not to adopt the build-bigger-barns mindset of the rich fool, who put his hope for the future in his own store rather than in the Father’s daily, active care (Luke 12:13–21).
God wants our sitting down with his Book, to meet with him each day, to be more like coming to dinner than going to the grocery store. Come to eat and drink, here and now, for today, not mainly to store up for someday in the future. God doesn’t mean for us to focus on developing our own stash and personal pantry, but to feed straight from his warehouse.
So, coming to God’s word to gather a day’s portion has come to have at least these five brief aspects for me.
First is a plan, which includes time and place. It was no accident that Jesus rose early, and the united testimony of centuries of faithful saints has been that the quiet of first thing in the morning is far and away the best time for far and away the most Christians. One way I think about it is that I want God’s voice, in his word, to be the first voice I hear each day. Most will find out over time that it is worth it to get off your screen the night before, and get to bed on time, and get up early — before all the people who stayed up too late on their screens — and meet with the living God, in his word, in those quietest and least-distracting moments of the day.
Plan also includes place, which I mean in two senses: in the world and in the word. In the world means the physical location in which you’ll open your Bible. For me, I want an uncluttered desk or table. In the word means a planned place in the Bible to open to. I would not recommend opening at random, or just bouncing around each day with whatever feels interesting on the spur of the moment. This is where a reading plan can help for balance in the long term and clarity about where to go today. Find a time-tested reading plan, and take each day’s assigned readings as God’s gift to you that morning for his feeding of your soul.
Second is pace. This is so important. I suspect so many seasons of Bible reading are ruined by rushing and impatience. Modern life can be so hurried. There are so many options and still just 24 hours in the day. So, we hurry. We hurry through meals. Hurry on the roads. Hurry to scroll through our feeds. Hurry when we read articles and books, often just skimming, because we feel like we’re always running out of time. But hurry ruins Bible reading. I think it hampers most reading, but Bible reading all the more.
In a life of hurry, let your daily season in God’s word be your first stance against the tides. Slow down when you open the Bible. Find the pace that accords with nourishing your soul for the day. God’s word is not fast food. For me, this means I need enough time to lose track of time. I need to find the pace that frees me to follow rabbit trails and check cross-references that come into my own head, or check the ones in the margin — that I have space to try to understand Scripture in the world of Scripture. What previous and later scriptures sound like this one, or use the same categories and language and terms and images?
Third is pause. What I want to highlight here is the importance of meditation. Not just reading. As you read, and slowly, find some place to pause, to linger and ponder some striking truth, some unexpected ray of God’s goodness, some glimpse of his beauty.
In meditation, you pause and ponder some truth, roll it around on the tongue of your soul, seeking to not only understand it but enjoy it, or feel the weight of it. Which leads, then, to addressing God (in prayer) as his word has addressed us and gone deep in us in meditation.
So, fourth is prayer. Meditation is a bridge between Bible reading and prayer. Instead of doing your Bible readings over here, and then pivoting to prayer lists over here, let your Bible reading lead to meditation, and meditation then lead to prayer.
Here’s my little arc for what I’m seeking to do each morning with my Bible open:
- Begin with Bible.
- Move to meditation.
- Polish with prayer.
To meet with God is not only to hear his words in the Bible, but also to speak back to him, in response to his word, in prayer. It’s a relationship. First, God speaks in his word, and we listen deeply and take it all the way in through meditation. Then, amazingly, God wants to hear back from us. In Christ, we have his ear. He means for us now, in light of what he says in his word, to address him in praise, thanks, confession, and supplication.
Fifth and finally is the person, whose name is Jesus. Meeting with God, in his word, is no mere activity. It’s not mainly an exercise in learning. It is meeting with a person, who is not only God but also man like us. To see Jesus — by the Spirit, through the word — is to see the Father. To know him is to know God. To enjoy him is to enjoy God. To feed your soul on him is to have true life.
“Our most pressing need is not to master the Bible but to be mastered by God in Christ, through his word.”
Bible reading and meditation and prayer are means to an end. They are God’s means of grace to the great end of knowing and enjoying Jesus as the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45–46), as the great Treasure hidden in a field and found in joy (Matthew 13:44), as the Surpassing Value worth counting all as loss to have (Philippians 3:8).
So, gather a day’s portion is my reminder not to try to do too much in morning devotions, and not to miss the main thing. Our most pressing need is not to master the Bible but to be mastered by God in Christ, through his word, in a day’s portion, for a lifetime.