Daily time with God is critical to the Christian life.
“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Matthew 4:4
We need God's word like we need food. We simply can't live without it. What happens when you don't eat? You're starved, lacking in energy, irritable, distracted, prone to temptation, tired.
Christianity is about a relationship with God. God speaks to us in different ways, but primarily through His word. Scarily, in recent research, when Christians were asked “How does God speak to you?” the number one response was: “Through my pastor”. Perhaps this is because this is the only time of the week when people spend time in God's word. Perhaps even more scarily, the Bible came in at number 7.
More and more research is empirically proving what God has told us (and what Christians say they believe) – namely, the Bible is essential for Christian growth.
- The Center for Bible Engagement discovered that the number one thing you can do for yourself spiritually is read the Bible 4 times a week or more. Read is this frequently, and your life looks completely different to those who don't read the Bible, or read it less than that.
- A survey of 1,000 churches came up with this conclusion (via an ice-cream illustration): “If your local ice cream parlor could sell only one flavor, it would sell vanilla. This isn’t just because vanilla ice cream is the most popular flavor, although that is true. It’s because vanilla ice cream is hugely popular; in fact, it’s twice as popular as the second favorite flavor, which is chocolate. In turn, chocolate is twice as popular as any other ice cream flavor available. So your ice cream parlor would choose vanilla. Hands down. No contest.
Here's the core discovery from the survey:
“Church pastors have an equally compelling option. If they could do only one thing to help people at all levels of spiritual maturity grow in their relationship with Christ, their choice would be equally clear. They would inspire, encourage, and equip their people to read the Bible—specifically, to reflect on Scripture for meaning in their lives…Reflection on Scripture is the spiritual equivalent of vanilla ice cream because its influence on spiritual growth far exceeds the potential impact of other catalysts.”
I am convicted that there is nothing more valuable for my life, and the lives of other Christians than spending time with God, in His word each day.
However, we're not doing this. According to the Bible Society, 2 out of 10 Australian Christians are engaging with God on a daily basis. This isn't 2 out of 10 Australians. This is 20% of Australian Christians!
I feel convicted that increasing the number of Christians who spend time with God each day is the single most beneficial pursuit for our churches. More than more small groups. Or better music. Or outreach programs. It is essential to the spiritual growth of our church members (perhaps the key means, with prayer, of “presenting them mature in Christ”) and the health of our church.
This living relationship with God is the source from which the fountain of Christian fruit (to mix analogies) flows:
- Giving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
- Serving is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
- Evangelism is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
- Loving others is a response to knowing God and getting the gospel.
It all flows from knowing God and loving Him. If there isn't an abundant source, there isn't a fountain. Sure, you might get dribbles or the odd spurt, but these aren't reliable or sustainable. Worse, without an abundant source, there is a real danger that ‘fruit' is manufactured through other means – guilt, tradition, etc. The only catalyst we want for fruit-bearing is a daily connection to the source (or, to use the language of John 15 – the vine).
For example, we want people to give because they know God and have understood that God has been exceedingly generous to them, that God will supply all their needs (and more) and it's their joy to use all they have to make Him know. God wants cheerful, not reluctant givers.
We can encourage people to invite their friends to church or evangelistic events, but if they aren't fostering a personal relationship with God:
- They won't be convicted of the glory of God (God is worthy of people following him).
- They won't be convicted of the urgency and sufficiency of the gospel (there is only one way, and people need to repent – urgently).
- They won't be empowered to boldly speak about their faith.
But more than an inner conviction:
- Their lives won't be transformed and look any different to those around them. This ordinary life won't commend the gospel to their friends and colleagues. It won't prompt questions about the hope that they have.
Put simply, unless people are walking closely with God each day, they won't want to share the gospel with their friends, and their friends won't be interested in hearing about it from them.
Contrast this with Peter and John in Acts 4. They were ordinary, unschooled men, but their time with Jesus spoke for itself:
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note
that these men had been with Jesus.”