Monday, August 11, 2014

Always Reading but Still Failing?

     I have asked myself the following question many times:
     “Why, when I spend so much time in Bible study, or read so many Christian books, listen to legitimate Christian radio and even spend time in Scripture, do I fail to incorporate what I have learned into my life? Why do I read about patience in the morning but then act impatiently in the afternoon? Why do I hear a sermon on long-suffering on the radio and then lambast someone an hour later? Peter Furler, previously of the Newsboys, sings about this very thing in the song, Your Love Is Better Than Life:

I don't know how I can end a prayer, then turn on a friend
I don't know what I was thinking when I just pressed 'Send'

     Warren Wiersbe, in his autobiography Be Myself, explains the cause of our failure:

     “I fear that Christian radio can make people ‘codependent’ if they aren’t careful. Listeners think that because they’ve listened to a ‘great preacher,’ they’ve learned something, but that isn’t necessarily true. A woman wrote and told me how many Christian broadcasters she listened to in the course of a day, and then she added, ‘But I’m not a successful Christian and don’t know what’s wrong.’ I wrote and told her what was wrong: she was listening to too many voices and not taking time to digest what she heard (if it was wroth digesting) and put it into practice.
     ‘Pick out one or two speakers who really get through to you,’ I wrote, ‘and listen to them, but be sure to practice what they teach from the Word. Also, spend time alone with the Lord each day, reading the Bible and praying. God doesn’t need the radio on to talk to you.’
     Weeks later, she wrote back and told me how her Christian life had changed for the better because she followed my counsel...Now she was listening to the Lord and doing what He was telling her to do.” Warren Wiersbe, Be Myself

     This is so true. I spent years every morning, when my kids were still living at home, in my quiet time with God, reading Scripture and journaling. I would listen to Christian radio—both preaching and music—in the car as I ran my errands, and devoured books by what I like to call “the old dead guys”: those great theologians and preachers of old. Why then did I struggle year after year with some of the same sins? I did progress, but I wasn’t where I might have been and in fact could have been.

     It was because I was inundating myself with information and the reading became almost a way to spend my leisure time. I could immerse myself in the poetic prose of Spurgeon but lose sight of the fact that what he was saying was supposed to actually be applied. And then I would read something else, maybe written by a more current Christian. And then I would hear preaching in church and on the radio and it was all great in an “in-the-moment" way! But I didn’t take it seriously enough to apply. It became almost like a hobby! I’m not saying it’s bad. It's better to immerse oneself in Christian media (if it is doctrinally sound) than the junk on television or a trashy novel or nasty political commentary. 

     But the problem was that, as I look back, I think most of my consumption of Christian media was primarily for the purpose of enjoyment (with perhaps an element of commiseration thrown in. What Christian hasn’t, as they hear a great truth proclaimed, gratefully exclaimed inside, “They get it! They get it! They get it!) But it’s no good to just leave it there. It’s no good to walk away fed and fat only to go right back to living in our old reactions and worldview because our “devotion” has become a pastime activity. No. Devotion must lead to action. It must impact, long term and permanently, our heart, thoughts, attitudes, actions and reactions.

     When I went through a spiritual crisis 3 years ago this summer, I walked through it with God and the Psalms. Nothing else. No radio. No books about Christianity or written by Christians. No books or radio/internet sermons on how a Christian can overcome suffering. 

     That experience taught me the power of the Word, the same power I knew from having been saved through the Word. How quickly we forget! One voice walked me through the dessert, and it changed me. He changed me. I listened only to Him. And I prayed, hard. I prayed all the time. It became a state of being to pray during that time. I had no other recourse, but more importantly, I desired no other recourse. I desired God the Father, Jesus the Son and His Holy Spirit.
     “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

     Permanent changes came about in my person after that 2 ½ year trial. It was the worst thing I ever went through but the best thing, because I am not the person today that I was. I finally achieved victory over some of the sins that I struggled with over and over and over again when I wasn’t seriously asking God in prayer to change me, but instead treating God like a novel pastime. Changed hearts do not just “happen” by listening to Christian radio, reading Christian books, or going to a charismatic or modern-day preacher. Ultimately we have to do what Wiersbe also counsels in his book, and that is to obey God’s four commandments in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
     “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:5

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

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