(Once again, Michael Porto brings the content of this post)
As we saw last time, it is so important that we not only eat the word, but that we also digest it so that we profit from it. We want to be doing so because the care we provide to others needs to be gospel informed. We also want to be doing so because it is God who meets us where we are, knows our needs, and shows us His all-satisfying goodness. This time around we are going to be looking at how this is done, biblically and practically.
The Biblical Process of Change
Romans 12:1 tells us that the offering of our bodies (the why and the how and the what of our daily living) is our spiritual worship. It isn’t our piousness, the obligations we keep, or the standing or position we have in the church. Our worship is to live each part of our day in light of who God is and to use each moment as an opportunity to worship – “so whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. Paul then likens this form of worship, with the sacrificial language he uses in 12:1, to the worship of the OT saints who offered animal bodies on the altar. This means that the answer to the big question in life “why am I here and what is my purpose?” is the same in Romans 12:1 as it is in the Westminster Catechism – “man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” We are here to find greatest satisfaction in God.
Paul then clarifies how this is done – by “being transformed by the renewal of” our minds. Or, to put it differently, to allow the truths of the Scriptures to inform and change our patterns of thinking, which will then change our motives and actions. We think corruptly because we have been corrupted by sin. But God helps us see His goodness as we allow His thoughts to become our thoughts. This is the point of Bible reading. It isn’t to check a box, impress others, or merely give us information about a holy dude that lived a few thousand years ago. Bible reading allows us to see God through the appropriate lens and to see His goodness in our daily living so we can worship Him and be satisfied in Him.
Many people think that this process of being transformed is rather mystical. I wonder if in part this is because it is easy, when change doesn’t come, to place the blame on some outside force. “God hasn’t moved in me yet”, or something like that. But the Bible is very clear that, while God is the source of power for change, we are very much involved in the process of changing. It is our worship, afterall. And when change doesn’t happen, it most often comes down to our refusal to pursue the path that leads to change.
Let’s look at a passage that help us understand the process of change. Galatians 6:7 shows that change is a normal process that involves everyday choices. Paul states that “whatever one sows, that will he also reap”. Paul goes on to say that those who “sow to [their] own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption”. The point Paul is trying to make is that ultimately we bear responsibility for our choices. The subject matter here is eternal life, but the principal is applicable beyond the context – where we put our energies is where we will see growth. If we work hard on golf, we will get better at golf. If we spend our time learning how to play chess, we will get better at chess. We are involved in the change process more than we may care to admit.
The Practical Process of Change
You and I are active participants in changing, in finding more value and worth in the person of God and being deeply satisfied with Him. This comes through routinely looking to Him as the satisfier of our souls. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says that “when we behold the glory of the Lord” we “are being transformed” into the image of Jesus (the man who successfully saw God as good and satisfying in all of life). And this happens bit by bit – “from one degree of glory to another.”
If someone was going to go on a diet and lose 100lbs over 3 weeks, we would say they were crazy. But that’s what some of us do mentally when we think about how to change. We see the need for change (all of us need it) and overestimate the timeline. What if that same person decided that they would incrementally change how they ate and how frequently they exercised, so that their goal of 100lbs was tapered over several months? Much more realistic.
We have a tendency to overcomplicate engaging the Word. We make huge plans, and are then overcome with guilt, shame, and frustration when we fail after only a few days or weeks in. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We can make a plan, adjust accordingly as issues arise, and allow God to change us bit by bit. Consider this quote from Charles Bridges, where he talks about the significance of meditating on the Word:
Valuable books are turned over, and the most striking and instructive passages noted down: but without the digested analytical study of the subject matter; and consequently without conveying substantial food to the mind…The sudden flash of light (merely reading the Word and not meditating on it) leaves no influence. There is no movement from the heart, till the truth is clearly exhibited to the mind, set strongly and constantly in view, deeply pondered, and closely applied. This reflective habit often supplies the deficiency of extrinsical help; constant excitement increases intellectual fertility; the mind is brought to know the extent of its capabilities: and being strengthened and supported by frequent exercise, suggests more, much more, then all our commentators united. A mind thus invigorated, stamps its own character on all its exercises. It instinctively turns over and over again the matter presented to it; apprehends its connection and dependencies with other trains of thought and principles of action, and dust successfully adapts to present circumstances.Charles Bridges in The Christian Ministry
In other words, don’t think that we are like a film strip in a camera – exposure to the Word in shorts bursts does not leave an impression on us. Unless you have a photographic memory, you will forget what you have read and it will most likely not affect you in any substantial way. Instead, think over what you have read a number of times. Tackle short bits at a time so you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Like the quote above (which will take most of us a few read throughs to properly and completely understand, myself included), we have to think through what we read in order for it to take root in our hearts.
I would like to recommend a resource that I have found immensely helpful. It is a conference talk that I came across sometime in 2012 that helped me rethink my efforts in this arena. It is on the longer side and requires focus and attention, so please listen to it when you have time and are free from distractions.
Before sharing it though, I would like to insert a quote from Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury at the end of the 17th century. In 1692 he wrote that,
“A little study, well digested in a good, serious mind, will go a great way, and will lay in materials for a whole life.”
God wants our heart and devotion. We don’t have to start big and fancy to begin the process, or to find success in it. Start small, and grow from there. May we find joy in Christ this week.
Here is the recording.