Romans 12: 2
As my Lenten series on spiritual disciplines continues, I turn now to the discipline of study. In my view, this means both Bible study and the study of Christian literature, such as I produce: Books, videos, blogs, podcasts, etc.
Study develops and freshens our minds. As Paul writes in Romans 12: 2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We need to continue expanding and developing our minds. One of the benefits of study, in my experience, is that the words and messages can be taken differently by us at various points in our lives. For example, my personal interpretation and experience of the famous passage in Jeremiah 29: 11 ("For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord...") has evolved and given me perhaps four different meanings over the course of my life. So, we can deepen our knowledge of God by returning to scripture and also by gathering insights from Christian writers, giving us new angles to see how to believe and live as Christ's disciples.
Richard J. Foster, a champion of spiritual disciplines, teamed up with other writers to edit and create the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible nearly 20 years ago. This Bible includes supplemental writings that map spiritual disciplines to Bible verses. Within it is a definition of Study that is fairly academic but contains useful thoughts:
STUDY: The intentional process of engaging the mind with the written and spoken Word of God and the world God has created in such a way that the mind takes on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates.
I think this definition brilliantly aligns with Romans 12: 2. Combining these two thoughts, we can see that our minds conform to what we focus upon. If we focus upon political views, for example, our minds will operate in a political way. If we focus upon true crime mysteries, we begin to see the world as full of crime and full of mystery.
But if we focus on scripture, interpretation of scripture, and the living out of scripture in our lives, and we make such study our fuel, then we find our minds conforming more and more to God's commandments, ways and values.
How do we study? There are many ways we can study scripture and Christian literature. A few ideas:
Adopt a daily Bible reading plan, such as read-the-Bible-in-a-year. A Bible app can help with such planning.
Drill down deeply into a particular book or section of the Bible, using a study guide.
Determine to read a Christian literature book in each month of the year.
Up your reading game during Lent. As I mentioned last week in my Fasting blog, I'm repurposing my Lenten Wednesday lunch time to studying a Christian book that I bought a couple of years ago but never got around to reading.
Make Christian podcasts part of your daily commute. I know several people with the habit of turning drive time into study time.
If you're not in a Sunday School class, small group, or study group, join one and study with fellow Christians.
If these seem like large tasks, then simply try to read some verses out of the Bible every day.
This is a good place to remind you that disciplines like Study are intended as tools, not rules. They are ways to learn more about God, to draw closer to God, and to be reshaped in order to live as a disciple in the world. Don't treat disciplines as checkboxes, but as toolboxes.
I hope and pray that you will find Study to be a meaningful discipline for conforming your mind to the pattern of a Christian equipped to live in a daily world.
May I recommend an excellent book for study? I happen to have written it! My latest book (and small group video study) is "Live Like You're Loved." Each section begins by diving into scripture to show that you are loved by God, forgiven by God, sent by God, and an eternal creature invited to live with God. Then I share a formula, called the SAIL steps, for conforming your life to God's love, embedding it into your heart and soul so that you can live it in the world. I've also written a Participant's Guide, a workbook where you can go deeper into applying the principles in your life. Please visit CecilTaylorMinistries.com/live-like-you-re-loved for a wealth of information to familiarize you with the material and to purchase it.