In my life of faith I have come to realize that nothing replaces the experience of the Divine. To unpack that a bit, what I mean is that no amount of intellectual work or assent can compare with the the visceral experience of the presence of God (in my case this tends to be an awareness of Jesus and more often the Holy Spirit). God can, and does, break into the lives of his people any way God chooses. Still, in my experience, a student of Jesus can embrace certain practices that bring them closer to God and help foster the relationship. A gym coach can affect trainees’ behaviours anywhere (when they decide what to eat or whether they really need to do a certain work out) but they are most immediately able to influence the trainee when they are together. It is when we are together that our influence on each other is most potent, the same is true of God.
It is incumbent upon us Christians, then, to learn which methods of being together with God work best. This can only be done on the individual level, as in, only you an explore, discover, and identify the practices that work best for you. Sometimes this is in corporate worship, sometimes in quiet and stillness, sometimes in fasting, prayer, bible reading, etc. There are as many tried and true options as there are ways to stay fit, don’t make the mistake of thinking just because you don’t like running means you must be unhealthy, try cycling, Zumba, or whatever else might float your boat.
For me regular bible reading matters. In fact, my mood and patience noticeably change if I ignore this element of my faith life for too long. I am human after all and that means I go through seasons and spells and sometimes I read the bible in well under a year, and other times I am slower, I get comfortable with where I am and the next thing I know I have gone a week without the practices that give me life, and anyone close to me will notice something is wrong, even if they can’t imagine what.
The purpose of this little post is to encourage you to find what works and stick to it. There does not need to be a right and wrong way, except to say if the way isn’t working for you or is too cumbersome and can’t reasonably be sustained over time then that is not the right way for you. Not that you really need my permission to go about your faith (of course you don’t really) but if it is liberating and life-giving to you to hear it then yes: do it your way.
My way involves a lot of bible reading. I sometimes beat myself up because I do not memorize passages well, other times I am frustrated because I realize that what I take to be the obvious reading of a passage is heretical, or I feel like someone is watching (policing?) my mental life. Ugh. Anyways, my experience is that regular reading matters to me. I love to write out little bits of scripture, little thoughts and prayers that spring from them, I love to experience the Holy Spirit opening my heart and mind to issues in my life and characteristics of God and God’s story that I didn’t notice before. This happens in the presence of God, even as I know that I only see snippets of the story and even less of the totality of the divine.
I read recently about J.I. Packer’s life and here is something he said once, “Most importantly, get the big picture. Don’t worry too much at first about specific sentences you don’t quite understand. The details fit when you’ve got the big picture. That is my first and fundamental exhortation with regard to Bible reading and study.” I love this. It is freeing. I get the big picture and sometimes my specific daily reading of a sentence seems out of joint and yet terribly useful and Holy Spirit inspired for me for that day…that’s ok!
And it is ok for you too.
So find the practices that work for you, invite the Holy Spirit into them. Notice what happens next.