A Red Flag

September 17, 2014

Going back to my original list of “why I haven’t been blogging,” today I shall address the last one enumerated there:

I have not been “in the Word” as a daily or even regular spiritual discipline. I realize just how much the Scriptures are food for thought, and I haven’t been eating.

So, this is really a confession of sorts, but not a self-indulgent one, I hope. My aim is simply to articulate an experience that you may have had, too, and to respond to it.

My personal, spiritual disciplines of the traditional kind, especially Bible reading and study, have been shot to heck in the last few months. Maybe it started with the recliner-bound stupor, which made watching Netflix episodes of Foyle’s War (PBS) and West Wing (NBC) just about my speed. Then in April, on my just-deceased mother’s bedside, I found a J. A. Jance detective novel. I’ve now read ten of them! This is not high literature, even of the P. D. James caliber, but just fluff, fun fluff.

I was sharing this admission with a friend on Sunday, and he said, “You’ve taken a sabbatical!” That’s the positive spin on it, but I have to say, even on my sabbaticals in years past, Bible reading has always been a mainstay.

During this period, I have attended worship faithfully. I have prayed, if not systematically, at least regularly. I have even preached a few times and thoroughly enjoyed temporary immersion in God’s Word. I have counseled many, and brought Scripture into the discussion when appropriate. The Bible knowledge is all right there, ready to be accessed in vending machine fashion. And I certainly have continued to live the life shaped by an orthodox understanding of Scripture; I’m not falling off a wagon or anything. God’s presence has been encouraging throughout, though I have to admit a little more distant than what I was experiencing during my cancer treatment.

My appreciation for total depravity and the human propensity to self-deception (like Eve in Genesis 3) raise the red flag. This can’t go on too long, or I will miss something important or starve.

I love the title of Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book, in reference to the Scripture and taken from the Revelation to John:

So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. (Revelation 10:9f)

And of course, at a time of great temptation, Jesus relied on the ancient reminder:

One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew and Luke 4:4)

To read the Scriptures, to meditate upon them, brings life and clarity and direction. The Psalmist opens Psalm 1 with this joyful claim:

1          Happy are those
                        who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
            or take the path that sinners tread,
                        or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2          but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
                        and on his law they meditate day and night.
3          They are like trees
                        planted by streams of water,
            which yield their fruit in its season,
                        and their leaves do not wither.
            In all that they do, they prosper.

Even as I write this post with my Bible open to the Revelation 10 passage, I am again reminded that while the Word of God is sweet on my tongue, in the pit of my stomach I know that it calls me to teaching and prophetic ministry during a difficult time in the church’s history. Maybe my sabbatical has been a break not just from the Word but from the more unpleasant aspects of ministry, especially when the Word one preaches is not finding a hearing among one’s Presbytery colleagues.

The task before me now is to ingest and digest God’s Word as a steady diet. If I were half as attentive to spiritual eating as I am to physical eating, I would be well-fed and nourished for the work God calls me to do. But how does one get back to the table and feast once more? Some steps:

  • Confessional Prayer: Lord, work your will and way in me and make me hungry for your Word.

  • Discipline: Lord, I know I am going to need your prodding and your reminders. Bother me until daily reading becomes a habit once again.

  • Intention: Okay, Lord, I own this. I will not just “try” but with your help I intend to act.

  • Method: Lord, again with your help and the power of your Holy Spirit, I will pick a reading plan to get me in the habit, and trust that you will woo me with the wisdom, power, truth, and life of your Word.

As to “reading plans,” I’ve never been a fan of the Lectionary (too chopped up), preferring to read whole books at a time to keep the context and get the flow of history and theology. In the short term, I shall read Deuteronomy—a random choice, for now—since last week’s sermon came from this fifth book of the Pentateuch. Tomorrow, before leaving the subject of devouring God’s Word, I’ll share some of the various reading plans that are easy to remember and use. Are you with me?


5 Responses to “A Red Flag”

  1. Debbie Berkley Says:

    My Bible reading plan, that I’ve had for probably 30-35 years, has been simple. When I began, I started with Genesis 1 and Matthew 1, and I read a small bit of each per day. Really just a small bit, a chapter of OT and less than that of NT, enough to ponder on and digest. When I finished the NT I started again at Matthew 1 even though I wasn’t done with the OT. And that’s how I’ve proceeded ever since. Finish one of them, start over with it. It makes for some interesting juxtapositions of passages at times. But it has ended up meaning that I’ve grown to know the entire Bible very well (the NT better, of course, since it’s shorter). And I keep being surprised by it! I may have read it many times, but I always find something new. And–it all hangs together very well. God does not contradict himself.

  2. houstonhodges Says:

    Reading avidly, supporting, empathizing. I think I know the cause of much of my lethargy, though it may be more excuse than reason: being 84. Didn’t count with Anna in Luke 2, I rediscovered last evening at Wednesday Bible Time, but it seems to bother me. But I’m with you and for you.

    • revmary Says:

      Houston—isn’t there a song, “When I’m 84”? 😀 The Word is there when you need it, probably a LOT of it buried in your heart and memory. No matter our age, though, human beings are so prone to drift into a “been there, done that” mode. I suspect this is a particular peril for pastors. Much love to you, and a prayer that today, again, would offer a moment of rediscovery!

  3. Plain and true – but not simple: Yes! I have been slowly starting on this commitment in reason weeks. No turning away now!


    Mary, your return to blogging is a real blessing to me. This summer I had a total knee replacement — a 2 on the scale on which your ordeal is a 10+. But in small measure I experienced the exhaustion, the leave from ministry, and from my systematic Bible reading. This year I had decided to re-read the whole Bible. And though I am not doing some of it twice, I am now make on track … just reading straight, now in Isaiah. My guilty pleasure had been meant to be reading about the English kings and queens … but I confess it became re-reading the Harry Potter series. I read series of novels/mysteries and so now I am ready to move on–back to ministry. And I sympathize with your anguish about the PCUSA … that’s why I left in 2012 for ECO … but am thankful you are still answering God’s call to be the voice in the wilderness. And there are bright spots still within denomination. anyway, I am glad you are back!

    Gwen Brown

    Sent from Windows Mail​

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