Have you ever opened up a Christian blog (like this one!), skimmed it through, closed it, and had no idea what point the blog just made? Have you ever woken up on Tuesday morning and been totally unable to recount the message of the sermon you heard on Sunday?
In short, have you ever felt as though you have had so many encounters with God’s Word, but wondered if any of it is sinking in?
In early pastoral ministry, I’ve found this tension present for many within the church. For the faithful Christian, encounters with the Word are frequent, varied, and continual. In a normal week, one might …
- Open their Bible 7 times (or perhaps 5 or 6) for personal devotions
- Listen to one (or two) Sunday sermons
- Attend a Sunday school class
- Visit a midweek Bible study
- Listen to a Christian podcast, click on a few Christian blogs, or find a sermon posted online
- Try to read a few chapters of a good Christian book
Some of you reading may engage more than that; some less. But quite simply, this is a lot to absorb! Add the mental strain required by career or school or parenting and a hobby or two and the task gets even harder. Throw in your personal battle with the flesh, and suddenly saturation of information leading to meditation and application seems impossible!
How do we combat this feeling of over-saturation and under-appreciation of the Word? 6 quick thoughts come to mind:
1. Recognize that this is a Spiritual battle and not simply a tactical one. In the parable of the sower, Jesus reminds us that the devil himself fights again Word-retention (Matt. 13:19). On top of that, persecution and cares of the world confront us as we hear the Word (Matt. 13:19-22).
How desperately we need the Spirit! The disciples needed the Spirit to remember what Jesus spoke to them (John 14:26). We need the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph. 1:17-18).
Pray, pray, pray. Pray for the victory of the Spirit over the flesh in your encounters with the Word.
2. Engage the Word to absorb it – not just so you can access it. “I don’t need to absorb the information now, I just need to know where I can get that info when I need it.” That seems to be the mantra of our information age. No need to learn how the GPS took me there if I can just plug the directions into my GPS next time I go there!
But do you handle the Word this way? Perhaps instead of reading good Christian literature, we skim blogs or book ideas to observe what could be read "if we had time". Perhaps we listen to sermons with only a casual interest, knowing we can always go back to SermonAudio if we missed something.
That style of learning may work for navigating in your car. But heart-transformation by the Word doesn’t quite work this way. Moses says, “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deut. 11:18, see also Prov. 3:3, 6:21, 7:3). Let that be your target! And see how that changes your intentional approach to coming to God's Word.
3. Review both understanding and application of the Word. What’s the first question you should ask when reviewing a sermon or another form of engaging the Word? For many, it’s something like “What’s my application?” But if that’s all you ask, perhaps you’ll remember a task or two that fit with the sermon. But will you remember the Word itself?
Instead, after a sermon, try this question for your spouse or kids or even yourself: “What was the main idea of the text? How was that presented to us?” Start there, and then move toward application. Trust God will use that to cause your retention of the Word to grow.
4. React to daily challenges by returning to your recent Word-engagement. When crises big or small come up, we must turn to truth. Consider making a habit when challenges come to ask this question: “How does the sermon I just heard or the passage I just read or the Christian book I’m reading speak to this issue?” If you are encountering the gospel in reading or sermons or Bible study, you should expect fresh, Biblical, transformative answers.
And, as a bonus, this will help you retain the Word.
5. Seek worship in the moment as the faithful response to engaging the Word. Paul so often moves from explaining the gospel to immediate praise to God for the gospel (see Eph. 3:20-21, Rom. 1:16-25, 11:33-36).
When you hear and study the Word, let the moment/experience itself lead you to worship. Praise Him in prayer or a Psalm in response. Even if you forget information taught, that response is a true fruit of study.
6. Trust the Word’s cleansing work even when you don't remember it. We are not omniscient, and therefore, there is no way to remember it all. But I’ve heard it described that at times we are like a dirty funnel with water constantly pouring into us. The water pours and goes through and goes out the other side, at least in terms of our memory. But as it moves, the dirt rubs off and we are made to shine more beautifully. This is simply the vision of Ephesians 5:26, in which we learn of Christ cleansing His bride with the Word.
May we indeed all be cleansed through our continual engagement with God’s Word.