Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines “Study”
By Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
If followers of Jesus Christ are to grow into the likeness of Christ, a deep commitment to grow spiritually and practice spiritual disciplines is essential. I am sharing twelve biblically based Spiritual Disciplines throughout this year’s BRCN monthly publications. These “Habits of the Heart” are drawn from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. [Note: You can look back at previous publications to catch up. You may also go to the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church website (www.pleasanthillbc.church) to watch a more in-depth presentation of each of these studies]. So far in this series, I have shared about the first three of four “Internal” disciplines: meditation, prayer, and fasting. Today, look with me at the spiritual discipline of “study.”
Paul wrote this powerful instruction to young Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
There is, perhaps, no more important or essential spiritual discipline than the study of and intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for constant and disciplined Bible study. For us to strengthen ourselves for the daily spiritual battles that we face and for us to bulk up and tone our spiritual muscles—we must seek to hear God speak to us through His Word. And we must practice the daily exercise of studying what God is saying to us. What is so powerful about hearing from God through His Word is that we experience and understand that: (1) God does want to and will communicate with us; (2) we do take in and receive a “pure breath” of truth (e.g., taking in oxygen); and (3) we are set free from our debilitating thoughts and habits.
Unfortunately, a large portion of Christians, for various reasons, neglect daily hearing from God’s Word. Why? Perhaps the answer is found in two things—busyness and laziness. John Grezlak says, “Reading the Bible is work and studying it even more so. Yet it is a labor with the sweetest of payment.” Take a look at a 2019 graph from Barna and the American Bible Society which defines and depicts five different segments of Bible engagement which measure Frequency (how often people interact with the Bible), Centrality (how the Bible shapes their choices) and Impact (how the Bible transforms their relationships).
N.T. Wright asks some probing questions concerning the Bible, “How do we understand the narrative, the real-life story of God in the New Testament? How should we view the story which reached its ultimate climax in Jesus of Nazareth and which then flows out, in the power of the Spirit, to transform the world with his love and justice? How do we let the poetry of the early Christians, whether it’s the short and dense poems we find in Paul or the complex imagery of the book of Revelation, transform our imaginations so we can start to think in new ways about God and the world, about the powers that still threaten darkness and death, and about our role in implementing the victory of Jesus? How do we make the New Testament matter? How do we study the New Testament for all its worth?”
The answer is—we study this living Word of God! We study it intending to make it matter in our lives, our churches, and our communities. We study it to hear God speak. We study it to see and understand the character of God. We study it to learn!
There are many different models and techniques that have guided sojourners into and through the powerful words that God has used throughout the centuries to speak and guide His people into right relationship with Him. Study can take on several forms: individual Bible reading, group Bible study, preaching, and/or teaching.
Richard Foster argues that the spiritual discipline of Bible study includes the study of verbal (books and lectures) and nonverbal messages (nature, events, actions, etc.) in God’s world. He outlines four steps in acquiring wisdom through study:
- Repetition—a way of channeling the mind in a specific direction, thus ingraining habit of thought.
- Concentration—the second step in a study that requires that the person focus or concentrate on what is being studied.
- Comprehension—the third step leads to insight and discernment. It “provides the basis for a true perception of reality,” argues Foster.
- Reflection—as we understand and comprehend what we are reading and studying, the final step involves reflection. Reflection brings us to see things from God’s perspective. We see both God for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are. That, of course, is God’s ultimate design and desire for communicating with His creation—so that we will: (1) know Him (He is Almighty God, Creator, Sovereign and powerful in all things; He is Love, Grace, Mercy; He is redemptive, forgiving; He is long-suffering and patience, etc.); and (2) know who we are (His wonderful creation built for an eternal relationship; made in His image—so we have the capacity to love, forgive, create, and be in an intimate relationship with Him and others).
If we haven’t completed these four steps, we haven’t really done the discipline of study. It is time to sink into God’s Word and meet our glorious Savior in and through every page of scripture. God is serious about meeting you there—so if you are serious about meeting Him there, then get ready and prepare yourselves for Bible study. It doesn’t just happen! Satan will try every trick to keep you from going deeper into knowing and experiencing God in Christ. But when we practice the spiritual discipline of the study of God’s Word, we can join Grezlak in proclaiming that it is a “labor of the sweetest payment.”
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor and an International Mission Board missionary.