The following entry has been reposted and edited, and is part of a four part series called “Elemental: The Elements of Spiritual Life.” It is a reflection of what I have learned over time as necessary components to a growing Christian life. It is not an all inclusive formula of three steps that when followed will lead to a measurable and intended result. It is simply an observation of three elements told in four abridged segments that are always present in the lives of Christians that are growing closer to the Lord, and always absent from those who describe their lives as “not growing” spiritually. The intended audience is clearly people who identify themselves as Christian people, though not limited to them.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never have loved at all.” Stop and think to yourself: how true is that? Is it really better to develop a close and intimate relationship with someone and then suffer the loss of that relationship, than to walk around smiling in complete ignorance? Any woman who has suffered through the searing pain of a divorce will tell you it is. Any guy who has been handed back the diamond ring he emptied his savings account to buy will tell you he wish he could go back and have a do-over. If you ask anyone who has experienced the loss of a relationship on a scale like these they will almost all tell you that they wish they’d never experienced the pain they had to endure, and struggle with the memories that tug at their hearts as they lie in bed alone under the covers at night.
Our experiences determine much about how we see the world around us. Our culture and background influences how we perceive everything, whether we think of ourselves as neutral observers or not. Therein lurks the danger. While it is entirely reasonable to wish you’d never met that person who hurt you, it is altogether dangerous to determine that to lack something in ignorance is better than to gain something needed because of the possibility of a painful experience.
If you missed it, I’m saying that it is better to have what is necessary in my life and foul it up, than to never have it and walk around blindly without it.
I think this sheds a spotlight on a lot of what we’d define as the Christian culture around us today. We have in our possession the complete Scriptures that outline God’s relationship with humanity and our hope for today and eternity. In fact, many of us personally own several translations of these Scriptures we call the Bible. For Christians, Jesus is the source of our purpose, redemption, and guidance. This Bible is really all Christians have that is tangible and material in defining and understanding God and His purposes. All we have to go on is contained within the 66 books we’ve accepted as the full Scriptures that make up the Bible. Just as ancient ship captains needed their navigational tools to get from one port to another, the Bible is our point of reference; our map, compass, and North Star wrapped up into one.
Sadly most Christians I meet never read their Bible. They can quote some of what they’ve picked up from their pastor or a popular Christian podcast. But reading the Bible, meditating on the wisdom it provides and the God it points us to is becoming lost upon most of the Christian people I meet. On Sunday morning, many pastors across America will have used the Bible in their sermons as nothing more than footnotes to promote their own philosophy and agenda to keep the room full, the bills paid, and the people happy. One minister I know here on staff calls this practice a “well rehearsed big ball of nothing.”
Is it better to play proverbial catch with a “big ball of nothing” than it is to dare looking into the depths of Scripture and seeing what it says about God, His opinion of you, and your life? If Christians are to be a reflection of Jesus Christ and to bring His Gospel throughout their neighborhood, nation, continent, and planet, should they not then go regularly to the Bible? Should we not read the Bible and let it define our purposes if we say that we believe in a risen Jesus? How can we possibly be qualified to tell anyone about Jesus Christ if we’re going entirely on hearsay?
A few months ago I had an opportunity to drive another man’s Corvette. Prior to putting that car in gear, I could tell you all about what I had seen other people do and what I read about Corvettes in a magazine. I could accurately tell you the color of the car and the even color of the interior! However, after hitting that gas pedal on the highway and feeling my body shoved back into my seat (like my father would do to me if I tried to leave the dinner table without finishing my dinner in 3rd grade) I can tell you what it is like to drive a Corvette. They go fast. They turn easy. They are comfortable. And, I am glad most people don’t have them because the temptation is to drive fast and cruise around at about 140 miles per hour! I’ve seen some of you drive and I am glad that you’re limited to lower speeds.
I am now more qualified to tell you about driving a Corvette because I did it one time. The owner of the vehicle can tell you much more. Let’s transition: Are you very interested in a Christian’s opinion on who God is and His plan if you know they never read their Bible? Are you qualified to give a very good assessment right now on that very topic? Are you more comfortable giving authority to your experiences to tell you (and others) who God is? I think we run into problems when we let our ability to reason and theorize supersede our ability to take direction from what God has already said about himself. Here are some of the problems I’ve experienced personally when we look to ourselves and not the Bible for Answers:
Without Scripture, we may focus on how great our problems are instead of how great Jesus is. If all we see is the world around us and how it all affects us day in and day out, then our life will dominated by our experiences. Our problems will be entirely up to us with no hope of God to be sovereign above His creation and in control of His plan. In essence, by not looking to God, we look to ourselves in His place.
Without Scripture, we tell people solely what we think rather than what God says. We can learn so much from what Jesus said and how He responded to suffering and how He lived His life. This is all contained in the pages of Scripture.
Without Scripture, we strive for what we see in this world instead of in the world to come. You will clearly need more stuff, newer stuff, and cooler friends. Did you ever meet someone who liked their church because of what they get out of it rather than how God uses them there? If you want to avoid becoming a total consumer, read the Bible more. You’ll probably live your life striving to find and fulfill your place in God’s plan rather than taking all you can get. It is great to thirst for God and to be in a faith community where you can drink deeply from His Word. It is altogether pathetic to sit like a baby in a theoretical high chair and eat the food you want, spit out what you don’t, and wait for someone else to clean up your dirty diapers.
Without Scripture, we develop religious beliefs outside the scope of Christianity based on what seems right to us rather than what we’ve received from the written Bible. Do you see danger in that?
So back again to my inspiration for this series from Scripture:
Scripture is our one concrete, tangible, physical gift that we can go to at any time to learn about and imitate Jesus Christ.
• We tend to see great problems and not a great God
• We say what we think and not what God says
• We strive for what we see in this world rather than the world to come
• Our beliefs are based on what we think is right rather than what God says is true.
Because of Scripture:
• We can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13)
• We know God not only gave us our faith, but will complete our growth (Hebrews 12:2)
• We know a proclamation is coming that starts a new eternal era under the authority of Jesus Christ, and death and sin don’t get to join us (Revelation 11:15).
• We know we have a purpose in this world in and this life, as short as it may be (Matthew 28:18-20).
• We have God’s words, and not just our own.
Next Element: WE PRAY