You’ve Got to Hear It!

An often overlooked aspect of Bible study is hearing God’s Word. How often do we hear it? We know Romans 10:17 tells us “so faith cometh by hearing…” The prophets in the Old Testament often prefaced their message with the instructions, “Hear the Word of the Lord.” It was hearing the Word of the Lord that brought life back to the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. There is definitely something significant about the hearing of God’s Word.

hearingIn the Gospels, the people pressed upon Jesus to “Hear the Word of God.“(Luke 5)  Jesus told parables about “Hearing the Word” (Mark 4, Luke 8) During Paul’s missionary journeys it was not uncommon for crowds of people to come out of the city to where he was to “Hear the Word of God.” (Acts 13)

We understand in this context, to hear the Word of God means literally hearing the Gospel message as someone audibly preaches, teaches or shares it. Romans 10 indicates that we would never have been saved unless we had heard that Word preached to us! We also know after becoming a Christian how important it is to hear our pastor and others teach us the Word of God so we can grow in our faith. But could hearing the Word also mean something more?

I believe most of the time when people read or study their Bible they read to themselves. What I mean by that is they read it quietly in their mind – they don’t read aloud. Obviously, it may not always be practical to read aloud, but there is value in doing so from time to time. When we read to ourselves, our eyes are the primary avenue through which we take in the Word. If we would read aloud, then we would receive the Word through the eyes and ears! Because there is so much in the scripture about the importance of “hearing” the Word, I must conclude there is value in not only seeing it with our eyes, but also hearing God’s Word as we read it aloud! I believe our retention of God’s Word is greater when it comes to us through multiple senses.

Because there is so much in the scripture about the importance of “hearing” the Word, I must conclude there is value in not only seeing it with our eyes, but also hearing God’s Word as we read it aloud! 

Blogger Keith Ferrin (www.keithferrin.com) pointed out in recent article  another overlooked benefit to reading God’s Word aloud. Think about this: when we read in our mind, we can hear ourselves speaking in our head, but it’s usually in a monotone voice with very little variation. But if you were to hear Paul, for example, speaking his epistle aloud to the church, there would be a great deal of variation in the sound of his voice depending on the message. Imagine how Paul would sound if he were audibly speaking this passage to the Philippians:

  • Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now…So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart…God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8 NLT)

Don’t you think that would sound different than the sound of this message of Paul to the Corinthians:

  • 17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. (1 Cor. 11:17-22 KJV)

If we only read to ourselves in our head, in a dull, monotone voice, we will miss some of the impact of the message. By reading the Word of God aloud, we are more likely to speak it as the author intended. Reading the Word aloud can really bring the message alive and help us to fully grasp the emotions and heart of the author.

Let me make a few suggestions:

  1. Incorporate reading the Word of God aloud into your Bible Study regimen.  Not only will it help with retention, but it will bring the message alive.
  2. Imagine what the author would sound like if he were speaking that word to his intended audience.  Read the Word aloud with the same heart and emotion of the writer.
  3. Make a habit of listening to the Word of God on mp3 or some other digital form on your iPod, CD player or computer.  Instead of always turing music on, play the Word of God as you are driving, working out, doing household chores or just relaxing before bed.
  4. Be faithful to your local church.  It’s important to hear the Word of God preached and taught by the spiritual leaders that God has put into your life.

I hope you’ll implement this practice of reading the Word aloud.  I feel certain it will enhance your study and  will increase your retention of God’s Word!

~Matthew Ball

I’d love for you to share your experiences, thoughts or comments on reading God’s Word aloud!

Developing a Love for God’s Word

psalms 119Psalm 119 is a chapter about the beauty, majesty and infallibility of God’s Word. It’s clear that its author, David, loved the Word of God! Of all David’s writings, none describe that profound love more emphatically than this Psalm. His feelings for God’s Word are not conspicuous. Look at some of the words he uses to describe God’s Word:

  • Delight (used in 9 verses) – 16 I will delight myself in thy statutes…
  • Love (used in 11 verses) – 97 O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.
  • Obey or Keep (used in 2- verses) – 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; And I shall keep it unto the end.
  • Meditate or Meditation (used in 8 verses) – 97 … It is my meditation all the day.
  • Rejoice (used in 3 verses) – 162 I rejoice at thy word, As one that findeth great spoil.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would probably admit that how David felt about the Word of God is not necessarily how we feel about it. We all struggle at times with being consistent in our bible study. As Christians we know we are supposed to read and study our Bible. We’ve been taught that spending time in daily devotions is what all good Christians do. Our pastor encourages us to be students of the Word and we’ve heard plenty of sermons that tell us why bible study is so important. If we know it’s important and a good thing to do, why do we struggle with this spiritual discipline?

Most people who struggle with being consistent in daily Bible study have not developed a deep, passionate love for the Word of God. 

I think most people who struggle with being consistent in daily Bible study have not developed a deep, passionate love for the Word of God. Without a love for the Word, our Bible reading tends to be a spiritual discipline we fulfill simply out of guilt or obligation. Without a love for God’s Word, our daily Bible study, if done at all, is half-hearted, has little impact and is usually done just so we can check it off our “List of things Good Christian’s Do Daily.”

When someone has a true love for the Word, then daily devotion becomes a joy not statutesa chore. When we really love the Word, Bible Study is something we look forward to, not something we procrastinate. When we possess a deep love for God’s Word then we can share in David’s exclamation: “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”

Reading Psalm 119 and feeling David’s love for God’s Word inspires me to develop a deeper love and appreciation for the Word of God. How can we grow in our love for the Word of God? I want to share a few suggestions that have helped me:

  1. Ask God For a Love for His Word. We are taught, “You have not because you ask not!” James said that if any men lack wisdom to ask God for it and He would grant it liberally. Pray specifically, “God, give me a great love for your Word.”
  1. Remember that God Speaks to us through His Word! Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “When you read the Bible, you must think, ‘Here and now God is speaking with me!’” The Bible is not like any other book on your shelf – it is divine and holy. It contains the very Words of God.
  1. Learn How to Effectively Study the Word. It’s frustrating to want to study God’s Word but not really know how. There are plenty of good books about how to effectively study the Bible. The more know how to study the Bible, the more the Word will come to life and our love for it will grow.
  1. Just Do It. Just jump in with both feet and make a commitment to daily studying God’s Word. The more you read, study and meditate upon it, the more your love for God’s Word grows.
  1. Join a Bible Study Group. I have personally seen many people in our church develop a profound love for the Word of God as a result of participating in a small group Bible study. Typically people who are a part of Bible study groups are those who love the Word and a love for God’s Word is contagious. Just getting around others who love the Word will help your love to grow.

David said, “97 O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” I pray we all develop that kind of love God’s Word. When we get that love in our hearts, Bible study becomes our lifestyle not just a spiritual obligation we fulfill.

~Matthew Ball

What has helped you grow in your love for God’s Word?  Please leave a comment…

Grief, Comfort and God’s Soothing Word

I stood with the family on a hill nestled way back in the “holler” and watched as First_Burial_Ground,_Woburn_MAthey lowered the casket into the ground. The setting was picturesque. The rolling hills just outside of Gate City, Virginia were eclipsed in beauty only by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. We buried him that day on the farm that had been a part of the Oliver family for generations.

Parents aren’t supposed to bury their child – especially a young Marine in his thirties. Dalton had been a specimen of health and strength until the cancer took its toll. We prayed for a miracle often throughout his illness, knowing that God is a healer. We don’t always understand God’s ways and why the answer is sometimes, “no.”

As a pastor who has stood with grieving families more times than I care to count, I was once again at a loss for words. What do you say? What words can possibly comfort a grieving parent? Or spouse? Or child? Or friend?

I know all the clichés: I’m so sorry. May God comfort you. He’s in a better place. He’s not suffering anymore. Time heals all wounds.

I remember all the kind words offered by family and friends when I was the one sitting at the funeral in shock and sorrow on that dreaded front row. But those well-worn platitudes, while much appreciated, seemed to have little effect. Surely there is something that can bring real, palpable comfort.

Reading-Gods-Word-in-2013In times of sorrow and loss, what has brought me great comfort is the Word of God!   In Romans 15, Paul spoke of the “comfort of the scriptures.” Words from a friend in times of grief and tragedy are appreciated and give some measure of comfort. But there are no words that bring comfort like the very Words of God spoken to us through the scriptures.

The Psalms can be like salve for the soul that’s hurting. The poetic prose of the prophets is like balm for the broken. Is it possible to read the blessings of the beatitudes and it not soothe the sorrow and ease the grief? The Parables of our Lord point to our purpose beyond the pain. The epistles remind us of the beauty of our salvation and give validation to our hope-filled grief.

When there are no words, there is always The Word

Comfort. It’s not only when death or tragedy strikes that we need comfort. Our day-to-day lives are often mixed with trials and tribulation. Disappointment and sorrow come in many sizes and shapes. But, whether it’s a devastating loss of a loved one or a disappointment along life’s journey, I encourage you to look to the Word of God to find comfort for soul. When there are no words, there is always The Word.

Let me give you some practical suggestions on finding comfort in the scriptures:

  1. Before you read, pray and ask God to speak comfort to you from His Word. Pray that He will lead you to just the right passages of scripture.
  2. As you open your Bible, open your heart and emotions. For God’s Word to bring comfort we cannot read it with a closed spirit. Don’t worry if tears fall on the pages. Tear-stained Bibles are the best kind!
  3. He will talk to you through His Word. Hear Him speaking directly to your sorrow and grief. Listen! He is speaking words of hope and comfort.
  4. There are many themes that bring comfort. I suggest starting with Psalms, the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes 3, and the letters of Paul, James and Peter.

Open your heart as you open your Bible and God’s Word will bring you comfort and peace!

~Matthew Ball

Less is More

less-is-moreAs a young teenager I made a promise to God that I would never go to bed at night before I had read a least one chapter in my Bible. I was pretty diligent in fulfilling my commitment, but honestly, I didn’t usually glean much from my reading.

It usually went down like this:

I would dart through the door with one second to spare before curfew, run upstairs, turn off the lights and collapse in bed exhausted after a long day and full-throttle night out with the young people from the church. Just before drifting off to sleep I would suddenly remember my commitment to read my Bible. I would sit up, turn the light back on and blitz through a chapter in Psalms before falling back asleep. My commitment was admirable, but my retention and absorption of God’s Word was minimal.

Open-Bible-with-PenOur Goal for Bible study should not be how much we read at a setting, but how much we retain. Our objective is not to check off a spiritual to-do list, but rather to be transformed by the Word. That comes through diligent study. Bible reading is not the same as Bible study. It’s easy to read 5 or 10 chapters of a novel at one setting, but real Bible study is different. I’ve learned that less is more.

Our Goal for Bible study should not be how much we read at a setting, but how much we retain.

I’ve learned through experience that the best way to study is to slow down, study fewer verses at one setting and really dig deep into the message that God is speaking. When we speed-read through a large portion of scripture, we are missing out on the true impact of God’s Word.

Here are some suggestions for adopting a “less-is-more” approach:

  1. Don’t allow yourself to feel bad for only studying a few verses at a setting. We are not in competition with others. Studying less at a time doesn’t make us less of a student of God’s Word.
  2. Focus on 5-10 verses in your daily study time, especially if you are studying the New Testament. You may be able to tackle a few more verses at a time if you are studying a story in the Old Testament.
  3. Slowly read over the entire selection a few times. Get a feel for the overall theme. Then go back and read each verse, slowly and several times.
  4. Focus what each verse is saying. Utilize other Bible versions, commentaries or cross-references to further shed light on the message of each verse.
  5. Ask probing questions of each verse that you are studying. Employ the “W” questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  6. God will speak to you as you study. Make sure to write down your thoughts so you don’t forget what God is revealing to you.

By slowing down and doing a more in-depth study of a smaller portion of scripture at a time, you will greatly increase what you are retaining from God’s Word. When it comes to effective Bible study, less is more!

~Matthew Ball