Reading For The Head And The Heart

Over the summer break we’re exploring some of the Psalms in our Sunday gatherings. I was able to kick off the series this past weekend by preaching through Psalm 1. It was an apt Psalm to end 2018 and look toward a new year. Like much of the Psalms there is a call for a response. One aspect to this is the assessment, or re-assessment, of our delight and meditation in the instruction of the Lord.

The start of the year is often a time of assessment. New Year’s resolutions aside; the sun, warm weather, and most people being on of holiday helps conjure up an environment for reflection. Continuing on from my last post, particularly point six of my 10 Tips For Reading In 2019, Psalm 1 challenges us to re-assess our affections and reading habits of God’s Word. Psalm 1 encourages people to delight and meditate on the Lord’s instruction because this is the way to happiness.

Reading For The Head And The Heart

The first three verses of the Psalm read:

1 How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

The central verse for the whole Psalm is verse two. The way of happiness – which is a contentment, a peace, a satisfaction – is through the delight and meditation on the ‘law of the Lord’, the Lord’s instruction, the Scriptures.

And here we find two characteristics of the way of happiness:

First, there is the aspect of the heart. The delighting in the Lord’s instruction.

Here is our emotional response to God.

We are to have affection for him and his instruction. We know God through his Word, through his instruction, and our heart response is to be delight. We are to be moved in feeling and fondness toward God because of his instruction. As Psalm 37:4 says,

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Our heart, our desires, our delight is to be in the Lord and his instruction. This leads to the way of happiness.

John Piper, in his book, Desiring God, puts it this way,

“Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”

Second, there is the aspect of the head. The meditating on the Lord’s instruction.

Here we read of our knowledge and understanding of God that affects our thinking.

Day and night, we are to chew over the Word of God in our minds. Like a never ending piece of gum, we’re to chew over the Lord’s instruction in our heads. Our minds are created to understand the things of God through our thoughts, this in turn is to influence the way we live. This is why Paul, in Romans 12:2 says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” 

In its proper vision, we find the knowledge of God is to touch our hearts and inform our heads.

Theology, which is simply the study of God, is not just head knowledge. It is something that affects our heads and our thinking, but it should also move us and affect our hearts and affections for God.

As we start off a new year I always find it helpful to re-assess my devotional life. The habits of reading Scripture and prayer. The start of the new year is great for starting a new bible reading plan, creating a new prayer list, beginning a new devotional work. It’s essentially a good time to re-assess a lot of things, so why not be intentional about it for your faith?

This year I’m seeking to read through the Bible using this plan. Other plans worth looking at are the one from The Bible Project (which I wrote about last year) or simply reading through four chapters of the Bible per day. In reality, if you’ve got a Bible and you’re using it then that’s a great thing. 

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

I suspect, every year, thousands of people give up on their attempted bible reading plan because they’ve fallen so far behind they don’t believe they’ll ever catch up, and they feel guilty about it.

You know the situation, I’m sure. You start off the new year with a plan to follow. You’re aiming to achieve what seems like the impossible–finish the whole bible in one year. But by the time the third week of January comes to a close you find yourself three days behind, the equivalent of 12-15 chapters to catch up on. The doubt about actually doing this in the first place creeps in. The guilt of not doing what you said you’d do piles up. And suddenly you find yourself questioning whether your relationship with God is actually where you thought it was.

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading_

From a young age, in church or in a Christian home, we are taught that reading the bible and praying are simply parts of the Christian identity and rhythm. I’m not going to disagree with that. I think the bible itself speaks of the need to read God’s words and be active in prayer with him. This is vital to any relationship with God.

When God gives Moses his words in Exodus 24 there is the understanding that his people are to respond and obey it. Then as part of the words God gives Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, there is the command to have them on repeat.

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

A bible reading habit is about having God’s words on repeat.

Yet, while this is vital, helpful, and beneficial for us as believers we often feel guilty if we skip a day or fall too far back on a bible reading plan.

The point of a bible reading plan is not to make us feel guilty.

It’s to help us in our worship of God. It is to help us hear from him.

It is to help us understand the story we are part of.

It is to help us know more of our identity as the people of God.

When we do fall behind in our bible reading our response doesn’t need to be guilt. We aren’t saved or made right with God because of our bible reading. We are made right with God because of what Jesus has done. The Good News. Instead, when we do fall behind, we just continue reading where we were up to.

You see, there are no explicit rules around reading the bible. No one is restricting or demanding or making it a law to read a certain part or certain amount of the bible. The important thing is to read it. If you read a verse or read a whole book, whatever it is, the aim is to read it.

I was talking with someone a month or two ago who had a 100-day streak in their bible reading. Things then came up and they didn’t do it for about a week. Instead of just picking it up from where they left off, they gave up. They felt they were too far behind that they couldn’t catch up. Therefore, they didn’t see much of a point to continue reading.

But that’s not the point!

It’s an awesome achievement to read 100 days in a row, but the point isn’t how many days in a row you can read your bible. There’s no competition going on (unless it’s self-imposed, and that’ll probably raise questions around ‘heart’). It’s about connecting and engaging with God through his words. The point is that reading the bible is helpful for our relationship and understanding and worship of God. It’s vital.

I like bible reading plans because they actual help me work through scripture systematically. They help me have a goal and show me where I’m going. But at the end of the day they are just that, a plan. If I didn’t have a plan then I reckon I’d be flip-flopping through the bible and never really achieve anything in my reading. Instead, a plan gives structure in my bible reading and shows me what I have actually read.

I’d always encourage a bible reading plan to anyone (this one is a good one). What I wouldn’t encourage is feeling guilty about not meeting someone else’s bible reading requirements. Read what you can, work through a plan at your own pace, and worship God in the process.

God Hears Our Prayers

“The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)

Isn’t great that we can be safe in the knowledge that the Lord hears our prayers?

While reading Psalm 6 this morning this verse stood out to me. It gives me assurance of a God who listens to me, who hears me, and who accepts me.

Prayer can be a difficult and weary task at times. Our relationship with him may be rather dry, or it is difficult to speak to God when we are conscious of our own sin. However, the Lord is good and he hears our prayers and cries for help.

David, the writer of this Psalm, is troubled and knows he has done wrong. It seems he is conscious of his sin and is guilt-ridden because of it. He is crying out to God, desperate for his help.

It can be easy to resonate with David here.

How often are we in sin? How often have we done things we don’t want to do? How often have we gone against God and chosen the wrong path, the wrong words, the wrong actions toward others? Sometimes this leads to regret, to a knowledge of guilt, a knowledge of sin.

There is no worse feeling, I believe, than knowing you have sinned against the Almighty. He is an all-powerful, glorious, and magnificent God who knows all and is in all and is through all.

Here David rests in the knowledge that the Lord has heard his pleading, his cry for help, and his cry for mercy. What great assurance! To know the Lord has heard our pleas and heard our cries brings an assurance from above.

Yet, he not only hears them, he also accepts them! He is willing to accept what we say to him, hearing our anguished cry for forgiveness and for help. Through our Mediator, Jesus Christ, our cries are heard and accepted and we are made new once more.

Through the work of Jesus Christ upon that beautiful cross the Lord hears and accepts our prayers. But even more, he hears and accepts us! Us! With all our sin, foibles, and quirks he takes us into his loving arms and holds us in our time of need.

O what assurance, O what loving grace!