Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

Before I wrap up this mini-series on Appreciating the Bible, let me say a final word about Bible study (in case you missed a post, read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible?).

The temptation when reading or thinking about Bible study is to think of it as a chore or just another list of things you should be doing.

But Bible study doesn’t have to be a chore.

Rick Warren has said,

“Reading the Bible generates life, it produces change, it heals hurts, it builds character, it transforms circumstances, it imparts joy, it overcomes adversity, it defeats temptation, it infuses hope, it releases power, it cleanses the mind.”

When you’re Bible-reading is like that, it’s no longer a chore.

Once you have the tools to really read the Bible for yourself and you start to read it regularly, you’ll find this to be a reality in your life. You’ll find that you’re delighting in the Bible more and more, and it’s starting to taste sweeter than honey in your mouth.

That’s my prayer for you. That reading the Bible wouldn’t be a chore but a life-giving practice, so that you would be able to say for yourself, like the great reformer Martin Luther,

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold [of] me.”

This is part 5 in the Appreciating the Bible series. Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible?

Why Study the Bible?

OK, so God wrote the Bible. That makes it important. But why do we need to study it?

Often we come out of study groups saying, “That was a good Bible study.” But what do we actually mean by that?

Does it mean that we learned something or felt convicted at points? Or do we say this because our lives actually changed?

The Point of Bible Study

Good Bible study leads to transformation. It may not happen all at once, but we should be noticeably different because of our time with Scripture.

We’ve already looked briefly at Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The Bible isn’t merely an inanimate object that we study and pull information from. It has a life of its own. It acts. It reads us; it pierces to the deepest parts of our being and discerns our motivations.

Since our God is a living God, his Word is alive, and he works through his Word to actively transform every part of our being.

Study the Word to Do the Word

James used striking imagery to highlight our need to be transformed by the Bible:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.  

– James 1:22–25

James compared the process of studying the Bible to a man looking into a mirror. That’s because, just like a mirror, the Bible has the ability to reveal to you the truth about your condition.

First, he described a man who looks into the mirror, clearly sees the reflection, and then walks away without doing anything. This person is clearly foolish, but he also perfectly represents the way most Christians study the Bible. They read their Bibles, see the truth that demands transformation, then walk away as if nothing ever happened.

James contrasted this fool with the person who looks into the mirror and does something about what he sees. This person reads the Word of God, takes what he sees at face value, and then acts on it. James is clear that this person is the one who will be blessed in what he does.

Here’s why this matters: There is no reward for merely hearing the truth. That means Bible study is incomplete and illegitimate until it turns into obedience and transforms us.

The Key to Spiritual Growth

I remember the first time I was devastated by that reality. It was when I read James 1:18-19: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.”

By the grace of God, the Bible has that power, which is why reading the Bible is key to spiritual transformation.

Every study I’ve ever read on spiritual growth has the same takeaway: reading the Bible is the number one catalyst for spiritual growth. Trying to grow in the Christian life without reading the Bible is like trying to drive a car without gas. You won’t get very far, and at some point, you just won’t go any farther.

Now, understanding why the Bible is crucial to spiritual growth may actually increase your hunger for it. I found this to be helpful for me.

Why the Bible is Key to Spiritual Growth

Let me explain by looking at the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones in Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel writes,

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.”

– Ezekiel 37:1-4

Ezekiel knows he’s helpless to bring this bunch of skeletons to life. He says, “God, I don’t know, but you do.” Good answer!

God tells Ezekiel what it takes to bring the bones to life — his words.

Ezekiel then speaks the Word of God over those dry bones and the unthinkable happens:

And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them … So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

– Ezekiel 37:8,10

God spoke and enfleshed those piles of bones, then breathed into them the breath of life — all through the power of his Word.

Hope for Spiritual Sacks of Bones

The Word of God is the only thing powerful enough to transform your heart.

That might not mean much to you right now, but one day you’re going to come to a place where you realize you’re not enough to change your life, your heart, your emotions, your children.

If you want to change, if you want to grow, if you want to become more like Christ, you have to read the Bible.

If you want to be transformed from a spiritual sack of bones into a tree that is planted by a stream and prospers in all that you do, you have to read the Bible.

This is part 4 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

The Mind-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Tidying Up is one of the newest bingeable Netflix series featuring a calming host who visits people’s homes to help them “spark joy in the world through cleaning.”

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill home improvement show, though. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air in the home and garden space. There’s no race against a clock, silly competition, or mention of home values (though there is plenty of clever editing to heighten the dramatic tension between guests). Just minutes into the show, you realize it’s not really a renovation show at all. It’s a show about the humans behind their stuff, something we could use more of in a world increasingly filled with Amazon Prime boxes.

But what’s most different about Tidying Up is its host, Marie Kondo, who radiates empathy and wields enormous influence. Kondo is a big deal. So big a deal, in fact, that her name is now a verb. With millions of book sales and untold millions watching her new show on Netflix, she has an outsized power to persuade hearts and minds.

In many ways, that influence isn’t a bad thing. But despite the good in Kondo’s show and books, her philosophy should give Christians pause.

The Mind-Blowing Success of Tidying Up

Kondo became famous following the release of her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book sold 2 million copies and landed on the New York Times Bestseller list. In it, she details her tidying philosophy—”Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.”—which she calls the KonMari method. In 2016, she released a follow up titled Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Altogether, her books have now sold 11 million copies.

Her success seems due in large part to her approach. That’s certainly true with Tidying Up, where “the ostensible makeover at the heart of every episode simply involves regular people becoming happier and more at ease in their own homes. Kondo doesn’t scold, shame, or criticize” her clients, writes Sarah Archer for The Atlantic. And that’s true. Kondo never suggests remodeling a space or adding new paint. She simply moves from room to room, helping each area bring less stress and more joy to her clients.

Her tactics are genius. To help clients visualize how many clothes they own, for instance, she has them pile every article of clothing onto their beds. The mountain of threads confronts them with just how much stuff they own, and perhaps just how much their stuff owns them. Kondo’s unstated belief that most of us own far too much stuff resonates in a world where we’re all accumulating mountains of things.

But the KonMari method, for all its positive influences, has a major flaw.

When the Joy Doesn’t Spark

Central to Kondo’s method is the idea that we should only keep those things that “spark joy” in our hearts and minds. “Joy,” as she employs it, is more akin to happiness (a feeling) than true joy (a conscious choice). How do you decide which shirts to keep or which heirlooms to hold on to? According to Kondo, you consider them one at a time and ask yourself if the object sparks joy inside you. If so, keep it. If not, discard it. Simple.

But things get complicated when this philosophy is applied to non-material objects, like relationships. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up opens with testimonials from Kondo’s former clients. The first quote is from someone who (after pairing down, we assume) decided to quit their job and open their own business doing something they had dreamed of since being a child. That’s simple and inspirational enough. But things took a turn in the next testimonial:

“Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”

This person’s marriage wasn’t sparking joy, so they discarded it like an old pair of jeans. And why not, if your driving philosophy is based on what brings you happiness? The problem with making decisions based on what “sparks joy” is that this is a terrible way to live and is, in fact, an obstacle to a happy life for yourself and others.

How Not to Be Happy

The person that makes decisions and measures their self-worth based on happiness is destined to be unhappy. Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are, by definition, fleeting. To experience a feeling—happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, excitement—is to be in that emotional state for a finite period of time. Your feelings start and stop. They change as often as your circumstances. The search for happiness is a terrible guide to happiness because happiness itself is a moving target.

Your circumstances are largely out of your control, no matter how much control you think you have. We can never control our circumstances enough to ensure our happiness. Jobs are lost, loved ones die, people age, buses are late, coffee spills. The things that made us happy yesterday don’t make us happy today. The things we think will make us happy seldom do. And if they do, the happiness never lasts as long as we’d like.

Pursuing happiness above all else is not only unhelpful in the search for happiness, it’s also harmful to others. The person who makes decisions based solely on what “sparks joy” is a person who doesn’t consider others’ feelings or needs—a far cry from the call to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). This is evident in the person who left their marriage because it no longer made them happy. Basing our life on what brings us happiness crowds out the voices of those around us and makes personal pleasure our end game. But as we’ve seen, to search for happiness by only doing that which makes you happy simply won’t work.

Organization Won’t Lead to Transformation

If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves nodding to the idea of pairing down and cleaning up without realizing we’re saying yes to Kondo’s broader philosophy. Christians should approach Kondo’s books and show with a healthy amount of skepticism, just as they should when consuming any information or entertainment.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world,” wrote the Apostle John (1 John 4:1). Christians must test the spirits they see on TV, in books, and in conversation. Take the good and leave the bad. This mentality is critical for being in the world but not of it.

So go ahead and take some organizational tips from Tidying Up, but don’t fall for the belief that cleaning is life-changing. Don’t mistake the organization of your stuff with the transformation of your heart. No amount of discarding, organizing, and folding can change the human heart. Only God’s Word can do that.

Who Wrote the Bible?

In my last post, we saw that the words in the Bible are living and active because they are God’s words.

But wait a minute, you might be thinking. Didn’t Paul and Peter and John and Moses and David and many others write the Bible? If that’s true, then how can we claim it was written by God too?

I’m glad you asked 🙂

Dual Authorship

Historically, if you asked someone in the church who wrote the Bible — God or man — the answer would be “yes.” Through the centuries, the church has understood the Bible to have a dual authorship.

This means that “While the authors of the Bible wrote as thinking, feeling human beings, God so mysteriously superintended the process that every word written was also the exact word he wanted to be written — free from all error” (Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).

This is called the Verbal Plenary view of the doctrine of inspiration, in case you want the technical jargon.

What the Bible Says About its Authorship

Biblically, this notion comes from places like 2 Peter 1:21, which says,

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

So yes, men authored the Bible, but the words they produced were from God through the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says,

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

How much of Scripture is breathed out by God? All of it.

That means every word that God intended to be in the Bible has been breathed out by God himself. And the way those words made their way to us is through the written records of what we now call the Bible.

The Word of God

If the Bible is the “Word of God,” then what we’re actually talking about is a book of words that the all-powerful, all-knowing, transcendent God decided to write to us! What could be more important than reading and studying this book?

If we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then it should be much more than a book that we are familiar with. It ought to shape every aspect of our existence. It should guide the decisions we make in life.

If God is the designer and creator of this world, if he made us and placed us on this earth, and if he has taken the time to tell us who he is, who we are, and how this world operates, then what could be more important to us than the Bible?

The Bible isn’t merely an inanimate object that we study and pull information from. It has a life of its own. It acts. It reads us; it pierces to the deepest parts of our being and discerns our motivations.

—Francis Chan, Multiply

Since our God is a living God, his Word is alive, and he works through his Word to actively transform every part of our being.

This is part 3 in the Appreciating the Bible series.  Read part 1: Does Your Bible Look Like Brussels Sprouts or Dessert? | Part 2: What is the Bible? | Part 3: Who Wrote the Bible? | Part 4: Why Study the Bible? | Part 5: Bible Study Doesn’t Have to Be a Chore

A Look Inside One of My Prison Visits

As a writer and editor for Prison Fellowship, I have the opportunity to go into prisons all over the country to see the work God is doing in incarcerated men’s and women’s lives. During my last visit to a Virginia prison, our (top-notch) photography and video team was on site to capture the day. It’s hard to describe a prison visit, especially when it’s for a joyous occasion, but hopefully what we pulled together gives you a sense of what one event was like.

You can see the photos and read my recap of the day here.