Sometimes I put off or just forget to drink water. I get to lunch time after a few cups of tea and a coffee or two, and I have a headache. ‘Why?’ I ask myself. And then I remember: ‘Water, that’s it, I need water!’ Unlike anything else that I might grab in a weak or distracted moment—another coffee, a coke or a coffee frappe through the Golden Arches drive-through (true confessions here)—water never disappoints. Nothing replenishes and refreshes like water. Water is good, it always works; it never fails. From the womb to the tomb: I need water, to survive and to thrive.
Sometimes I put off or just don’t think to read the Bible … Praying becomes perfunctory and even just getting to church each week seems like a great mountain to climb. But worst of all is the feeling of being distant from God.
Sometimes I put off or just don’t think to read the Bible. I ‘get busy’ and the worries of the world creep in. The daily challenges of ‘getting things done’ loom larger than they should do, and the everyday sacrifices involved in loving people close to me, and neighbors I meet along the way, begin to weigh me down. Sometimes I will try to distract myself, spending too much time discovering that there is nothing I want to watch on the entire inter-web. Paralysed by choice, of course, I cannot choose—which can take an hour of lost time to work out. Sometimes not even a Bob Dylan record brings solace. Niggling doubts about God’s love and goodness, or his power and desire to transform my hard heart creep in. I worry about my kids, I worry about money; I worry about ‘the future’. I start to care too much about what other people think of me; I think about me too much full stop. Then rumblings of uncertainty, discontent, covetousness, cynicism, annoyance and thanklessness start to move to the foreground. Praying becomes perfunctory and even just getting to church each week seems like a great mountain to climb (more true confessions!) But worst of all is the feeling of being distant from God.
And then, I remember Jesus, and that I need him like water! From the womb to the tomb and on into eternity, I need Jesus! So I open the Bible and I hear His voice. The good Shepherd calls his sheep to himself; gathering and feeding us by His word (John 6:63; 10:1-10; 16:12-15). Once again, it becomes clear: Reading the Bible is not what I should do; it’s what I need to do. I need time in God’s word like I need that tall glass of water or a decent breakfast. Jesus said:
People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4 cf. Deuteronomy 8:3)
Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house upon the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation upon the rock. (Matt 7:24-25)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy; and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)
Like a child needs to hear their parent say every day ‘I love you,’ we need to hear God speak to us; to be reminded that his grip on us is stronger than our grip on him. He does not turn us away but welcomes into his family helpless little ones who have nothing to offer him but their sin. We need to hear that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and that, because of his death in our place on the cross, we have complete forgiveness. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life! The same Spirit who speaks by His word, lives in us enabling us to receive God’s word and to trust in his Son. He assures us that we are God’s children now; that we belong to Christ and we will share in his inheritance together with all God’s people forever.
We need to hear God speak to us; to be reminded that his grip on us is stronger than our grip on him … that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and that, because of his death in our place on the cross.
And in response to his word, the Holy Spirit enables us to pray big Bible prayers in Jesus’ name—that God’s Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He reminds us to ask for, and give thanks for, our daily bread; that we are called to forgive others and to love our enemies, even as He has loved and forgiven us.
Daily ‘quiet time’ is not a magical shot in the arm always delivering immediate observable results; or at least a special ‘word for today.’ I am not arguing for pride-inciting or guilt-inducing legalism. Nowhere does God promise us regular mystical or ecstatic encounters. The word of God is full of mundane earthy moments, and reading the Bible should be part of (so-called) ‘normal everyday life.’ But Jesus meant it when he said, ‘people cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ We certainly need to eat food and drink water on a daily basis; that’s the way God made us. But even more, we need a regular daily diet of God’s Spirit-breathed word, through which we receive Jesus. This is the very heart of true Christian spirituality.
God’s Spirit-breathed Bible and gospel word creates and sustains faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 4:10-28; 2Cor 2:12-17; 4:1-15; John 17:17; 1Thess 1:4-5; 2:13; Romans 1:16; 10:14-17; 2Timothy 3:16-17; 1Peter 1:22-25; James 1:18, Hebrews 4:12-13 etc). Over the course of a lifetime, the living word transforms us and enables us to persevere in our lives lived daily for him as we patiently wait the day of Christ. Just like drinking that glass of water, the immediate effects may be imperceptible, but every day, over a life time, you know that water is doing you good: you know that you need it.
1. Dr Morris goes to church
As a young college student I served as a catechist at the church to which one of my heroes Leon Morris and his wife Mildred belonged. Leon Morris wrote over 50 books in his life-time, including perhaps the most significant work on the Atonement of the twentieth century. I had been asked to preach from John 11, and had of course used Morris’ commentary in my preparation. Knowing that Leon would be in the congregation and feeling not a little intimidated I spoke to a friend who had had a similar experience. He shared with me that he had spoken to the good Doctor about his own nervousness in the same situation, to which Leon replied, with a glint in his eye: ‘When I come to church with God’s family, I know that God will speak to us by his word and that he will speak through you this morning as you open up the Scriptures to us. I’m looking forward to church today!’ Sure enough when I spoke to Leon before the service he asked me what I was preaching from:‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ‘Excellent,’ he said, ‘just what I need to hear!’
At the age of 80, Leon Morris’ was not thinking, ‘what could I possibly learn from this whipper-snapper, I’ve heard it all before.’ No, he was still hungry, and eagerly expecting that God would speak to his people and about his Son in the power of the Spirit that very morning. What a wonderful example for us to follow!
2. Professor Frank Andersen reads his Bible
Another hero I have had the privilege of meeting and being mentored by is Professor Frank Andersen. Frank was one of the last PhD students of the great William Foxbridge Albright; an international giant in biblical archaeology. A world-renowned Hebraist, linguistic specialist and teacher of the Old Testament, Frank has written numerous technical Old Testament commentaries, contributed to Lexicons, written grammars and penned what was arguably the most helpful commentary on Job to emerge in the twentieth century. For fun in his spare time he reads Russian novels; in Russian.
But what Frank regularly shares with me, is his thankfulness for his days in the Melbourne University EU group of the 1940’s, in which he was taught the daily practice of Bible reading and prayer. It is a discipline that he has persisted in, and that continues each morning and evening now into his 93rd year. Frank is ‘a professional Bible scholar.’ But the Bible never just stayed in his study: it is his daily bread which sustains him. I want to be like Frank when I grow up!
3. Mum and Dad have their daily quiet time
The final testimony concerns my parents. Every day of their married life they have read the Bible and prayed together. One of my earliest memories is walking to the bathroom past their bedroom door in the early morning and hearing my Dad reading the Bible and praying with Mum over a cup of tea. Every other night until I became a teenager, Dad would read the Bible with me using Scripture Union notes and pray with me. Seeds were planted that took deep root and grew up later at University. God’s word shaped their marriage, parenting, daily work, ministries and friendships, and has kept them following Jesus. It continues to do so fifty years on.
One Final Confession
Just over a century ago one London preacher wrote,
The greatest element in life is not what occupies most of its time; else sleep would stand high in the scale. Nor is it even what engrosses most of its thought; else money would be very high. It is what exerts most intrinsically the most power over life. The two or three hours of worship and preaching weekly has perhaps the greatest single influence on English life. Half an hour of Bible reading and prayer, morning or evening, every day, may be a greater element in shaping our course than all our conduct and all our thought; for it guides them both.
In the 4th century, Jerome wrote,
Read the Divine Scriptures constantly, in fact never let the sacred volume out of your hand. Learn what you have to teach. (Epistle 52)
Each one of God’s children is unique, and he is our perfectly loving Heavenly Father. God doesn’t play us off against one other. He knows us by name, he loves us and he is not keeping a Bible-reading score-card. Some people listen to David Suchet reading the Bible in the car and pray (with eyes open) on the way to work. Others read it as they munch their cereal in the morning. Sometimes our struggles mean that we cannot get out of bed let alone open the Bible. But God will provide people in our lives who will faithfully speak God’s word to us and pray for us; and nothing including our mental health can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.
Sometimes our struggles mean that we cannot get out of bed let alone open the Bible. But God will provide people in our lives … and nothing including our mental health can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.
Most of the time, my wife Ness and I read the Bible and pray on our own. We do pray together but not every day. We’ve had varying success at different points of our children’s lives reading the Bible with each of them and as a family, but again not every day (or every week)! I don’t always get to read the Bible first thing in the morning and last thing every evening. But what I have discovered is that something is always better than nothing. One verse stuck on the back of the toilet door for a week can go a long way for everyone in the house. While most days I get the chance to read my Bible, it’s still too easy to put off. But I never regret my time in God’s word.
Simply put, it’s just unwise for me to go too long without hearing from the Bible. Because I really need to receive God’s word every day; like I need water. And so do you.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth.
It will not return to me empty, but accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose
for which I sent it.
 For a book length exposition and application of this theme, see Peter Adam, Hearing God’s words: Exploring biblical spirituality, (NSBT 16; Leicester: IVP/Apollos;2004).
 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, (London: The Tyndale Press; 1955).
 P.T. Forsyth, God Our Father, (SA: New Creation; 1985 ), 124.