: Legalism

How I Started Reading the Bible Every Day: Encouragement for Parents & Children

I literally don’t remember not reading the Bible every day. Here’s how it happened.

I’m told I started reading fairly early, reading Dick and Jane books sometime before my fifth birthday. But while I remember reading the books, I have no recollection of starting to read them.

I do remember learning words and phrases by watching TV commercials that consisted of nothing more than an announcer reading exactly what was on the black-and-white screen. In particular I recall a long-running commercial for a Memphis-area car dealer. It was just black words on a white background, like broadcasting a 60-second video of a poster, advertising a Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually I realized that the voice-over corresponded exactly to what I was seeing, and I learned to read along. On small-market stations—such as the four channels we could receive from Memphis television in the late 1950s—local advertising was a very low-budget enterprise.

So by sometime early in elementary school—though I don’t remember exactly when—I was able to start reading the narrative passages of Scripture.

The Influence of the Home

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the greatest blessings in my life was not just learning to read at an early age, but being trained at that age to read the Bible every day. My dad modeled daily Bible reading, and lovingly encouraged me in the practice. My mother made sure I had adequate lighting above my bed, the place where I did most of my childhood reading.

The Influence of the Church

We attended a church where my Sunday School teachers asked every week if each of us boys had read the Bible every day. In fact, this was a churchwide practice. Each Sunday School class, from the school-age children on up, kept records of how many in each class brought a Bible that morning, had read it every day the previous week, had read the printed Sunday School lesson, were staying for the worship service, and more. Each class reported its results to the church Sunday School superintendent who compiled them as a weekly snapshot of some measurable aspects of the church’s discipleship. In those days, this was done in virtually all of the thousands of churches in the denomination.

For most of my boyhood and teenage years, two men—first one, then later the other—taught my Sunday School class. Both were deacons in the church, and I respected them. I never thought of either of them as particularly holy men, at least not in the sense that I did of a couple of the elderly men in the church. Yet Sunday after Sunday, at the beginning of class my teacher would ask each boy in the class who had read his Bible every day that week to raise his hand. There was no pressure or shame. It’s just what we did. Everyone who came to church was expected as a normal part of life to read his or her Bible every day. It was in the air we breathed.

The Influence of a Plan

But this was more than a mere expectation, for the church provided practical, if simple, help for daily Bible reading. Every person who attended Sunday School was given an age-graded publication called a “quarterly.” This was a booklet of about fifty pages which contained the “lesson” for each Sunday in a quarter of a year, thus the term “quarterly.” This was published by the denomination, purchased by the church, and distributed with the hope that each person who attended Sunday School would read the week’s lesson before it was discussed in class on Sunday morning,

But the quarterly also served another purpose. Inside the back cover was a list of the suggested Bible readings for each day in the quarter. I don’t recall the scheme of the schedule used in my childhood. I seem to remember that most of the time the readings were not sequential in terms of reading through complete books of the Bible. But eventually, I think that at least for older readers, the plan was modified to one that took you through the entire Bible in a three-year cycle.

Legalism?

Legalistic? Well, any sort of structure in the Christian life can contribute to legalism if one is inclined that way. And any who thought (and I’m sure some did) that reading the Bible every day (or doing any other good deed) would earn them a ticket to Heaven were gravely mistaken. In my church, Ephesians 2:8-9 (we’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works) was a constant theme.

But I was a child, and we all—but especially children—need some structure when beginning to learn something as big and important as the Bible. Without guidance and a plan, children will flounder when trying to read and understand the Bible on their own.

So I was encouraged at home and at church to read the Bible every day, and I was given a simple plan for doing so. And it worked. It served me well. It helped me begin a practice that became second nature and has continued for a lifetime. Every day, for almost sixty years, I’ve not had to stop and think about whether I’m going to read the Bible, at least not think about it any more than I’ve had to decide whether to put on clothes or to eat that day. And by grace, the Word of God has done it’s work in my soul. My earthly and eternal life are immeasurably different because of the simple practice of reading the Bible every day and what has resulted from it.

Well, that’s my story. I believe the same simple factors, that is, Godly influences and reading plan, with the specifics adjusted for your own context, can work for you and your family, too.

P.S. I was prompted to write this story as a result of being asked to consider writing an endorsement for a forthcoming Crossway book by David Murray called Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids (Crossway, 2017). Writing the endorsement reminded me of the beginnings of my own Bible reading. That expanded the endorsement into a foreword for the book. The foreword expanded into this blog post.

Simple resources like David Murray’s book are so important. I don’t even want to imagine what my Christian life and my ministry would have been without the encouragement and structure for daily Bible reading I received as a child. But if I’d had something like Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. I think my scriptural foundations would have been even stronger. Blessed beyond their knowing is the boy or girl who receives a workbook like Murray’s and the loving help to complete it.

P.P.S — A few years ago, Justin Taylor did the church a great service when he complied a long list of links to various Bible reading plans.

 

Photo from Inquisitr.

Part 2–Trevin Wax interviews Don Whitney about spiritual discipline, legalism, & laziness

On the occasion of the release of the Revised & Updated edition of my Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Trevin Wax interviewed me about spiritual discipline, legalism, and laziness.

Part one of this interview is here.

Trevin Wax: 3. The second concern deals with specific spiritual disciplines, primarily those concerned with meditation on God’s Word or spending time in silence and solitude. How do you respond to those who believe time in silence is a misinterpretation of Psalm 46:10, an extrabiblical innovation that can lead us to place personal experience over God’s revealed truth?

Don: First, I trust that no Bible-believer has an issue with the responsibility, privilege, and value of meditation on God’s Word. Passages such as Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:3, 2 Timothy 2:7 and others should settle that. How could anyone who loves God and His Word discount the importance and benefits of meditation on Scripture? And the fact that meditation would frequently be most fruitful when done in privacy stands to reason.

But to unite the two (solitude and meditation on Scripture) on the basis of Psalm 46:10 is an error. Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God”–is indeed frequently misinterpreted. In fact, I would say that when it’s used in the context of the devotional life it’s always misinterpreted. While I do think it represents a biblical principle, namely that it’s always beneficial to stop and be reminded of the sovereignty of God in the midst of all circumstances, that’s not what Psalm 46:10 is about. Rather the context there is international, not personal. It’s about God’s exaltation above the nations, not about an individual’s personal piety.

Meditation on Scripture, done rightly, leads to the richest “personal experience” (with God), but never at the expense of God’s revealed truth. Rather I would contend that the richest experiences with God come most consistently by means of meditation on His Word. Why is it that so many Christians, people who read the Bible every day, cannot remember the last time their daily time in the Word of God changed their day, much less changed their life? Why is it that most days, if pressed, as soon as they close their Bible would have to admit, “I don’t remember a thing I read”? I would argue that the reason is a lack of meditation.

While reading the Bible is the exposure to Scripture–and that’s essential; that’s the starting place–meditation is the absorption of Scripture. And it’s the absorption of Scripture that leads to the experience with God and the transformation of life that we long for when we come to Scripture. My contention is that people just don’t do that, even people who read the Bible every day. It’s not that people can’t meditate on Scripture; they just don’t. Often it’s because they’ve not been taught about meditation, and/or they just don’t know how to meditate on a verse of Scripture. That’s why in the section of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life where I write about meditation I conclude with seventeen different ways to meditate on Scripture, ways that are doable by any Christian (for any devotional practice–like meditation–expected of all God’s children has to be fundamentally simple).

Trevin Wax: 4. One of the reasons why worship attendance is down in some denominations is that the faithful Christian who is active in church is attending less often. In your opinion, does it help us to see the public worship gathering as a “discipline,” or is conceiving of worship as an “obligation” one of the reasons of why Christians are attending church less often?

Don: In my opinion, the reason the “faithful Christian” you mention attends church less often has nothing to do with the intentional rejection of an “obligation” imposed by the church. Having no interest in gathering when God’s people gather for the purpose of publicly honoring and enjoying God, finding no delight in the incarnational (not merely recorded) proclamation of God’ Word, and having no appetite for the grace of the Lord’s table comes from a deeper root than an avoidance of legalism. In the New Testament, the concepts of “faithful Christian” and avoidance of church life never characterize the same people.

Because of the internal war of the Spirit against our flesh and our flesh against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17), there remains within us while in this world a gravitational pull of our hearts away from the things of God (such as public worship) as well as a Spirit-produced gravitational pull toward them. To be one who intentionally fights against the flesh and who “sows to the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) it’s right and biblical to speak of participation in congregational worship as a discipline. As I mentioned earlier, the blessings experienced in the worship of God with His people will often be forfeited if we attend only when we feel like it when we awake on Sunday morning (if indeed we even awake on time without discipline).

Trevin Wax: 5. In this newest edition of your book, you have added more than 10,000 words of new material, adding more Bible references and a more cross-centered focus. What led you to make these adjustments in the new edition?

Don: The single biggest addition to the book was the expansion of the section on methods of meditation from six to seventeen. Some of the book’s enlargement came simply from including things I’ve learned about the disciplines in the twenty-three years since the original edition was published. I also took the opportunity to delete a few lines and quotations that could be construed as inclining toward mysticism. Most importantly, I added more of the gospel in every chapter. In 2011 I did a year-long series on “The Gospel and the Spiritual Disciplines” for Tabletalk magazine. Much of that material found its way, chapter-by-chapter, into the Revised & Updated edition of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I wanted to do my best to ensure that no one separated the gospel from the disciplines or became tempted to think that by the diligent practice of the disciplines they could earn God’s favor.

I’d also like to mention that the terminology of the book has been updated, and I believe it’s now a better-written book. I reviewed every line, and I hope I’ve learned a few things about writing in the last twenty-three years. Overall, I think this edition is a big advance for the book in style, but especially in content, and I hope your readers find it to be so.

This interview originally appeared on August 12, 2014, on Trevin Wax’s blog on The Gospel Coalition website.

Trevin Wax interviews Don Whitney about spiritual discipline, legalism, & laziness

On the occasion of the release of the Revised & Updated edition of my Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Trevin Wax interviewed me about spiritual discipline, legalism, and laziness. (more…)