“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” ~ Psalm 10:7-8
Ours is not the first generation to find itself struggling for sexual purity in a world that’s inundated with impurity. Once while talking to God about my sin, I heard his Spirit speak to my heart, “Child, I’ve watched my sons struggle with this since the beginning.” The words fell on my heart not as a rebuke, but an encouragement. He understood.
Read your church history and you discover that the third century church father named Origen castrated himself. I don’t think he was struggling with over-eating. The fourth century giant of faith, Augustine, in his classic book The Confessions spends more than half the book detailing his immense inner battle to contain his sexual desires. “I boiled over in my fornications,” he wrote.
We’re going to walk alongside Augustine in week five in our readings as he writes of how God brought him to freedom. One thing we’ll learn is that his immersion in Scripture played a huge part. His final breakthrough, after years of struggle, happened as he sat in the garden of a house he was renting with a friend. The tug of war inside his heart that day was immense.
“I was sick and in torture,” he writes. “I reproached myself much more bitterly than ever, and I turned and twisted in my chains.” By this time, he had studied Christianity and familiarized himself with the Bible. He knew in his mind it was true, but just couldn’t give his heart to it. All at once, he heard a child’s voice call out across the garden in a sing-song voice, “Take and read, take and read.” He had left a Bible nearby, so he retrieved it and opened it. The first verse his eyes landed on was Romans 13:13-14. “Let us walk…not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.”
In that moment, heaven set him free. He writes, “I had no wish to read further. There was no need to. For immediately I had reached the end of the sentence it was as though my heart was filled with the light of confidence and all the shadows of my doubt were swept away.”
I know exactly what Augustine experienced, because similarly for me, it was the healing salve of God’s Word applied continuously to my sin-crusted heart that eventually won the day in my struggle to break free of my porn habit.
It’s important to understand why the Bible has this sort of power. It’s not magic. This isn’t Harry Potter. Spouting verses is not like saying Expecto Patronum. There are two primary reasons why the daily reading and study of God’s Word is the foundational discipline for spiritual life-transformation. Why is God’s Word so powerful?
First, because it is the primary way that God communicates truth to your heart.
Jesus was right when he said that truth sets us free. This applies to all things across the board. God has set up laws that govern every area of life – spiritual, physical, relational, mathematical, financial, musical, sexual – you name it. Ultimately, all truth is God’s truth, because he is the Architect of it all. Ignore God’s truth to your own harm – whether you’re building a bridge, managing a budget, parenting a child, or trying to understand your sexual desires.
The Bible is not the only textbook we need for life (I want my bridge-builders holding degrees in engineering, not theology). But when it comes to life-management, there’s no better instruction manual. Endless examples can be given of how people, thinking themselves wiser than God, headed down a path contrary to the Bible’s wisdom and ended up in ruin. (Our culture’s insistence on overthrowing Biblical sexual ethics is not only bone-headed but tragic, because it is leading countless people – especially the young – into choices and lifestyles that will ultimately leave them empty, or far worse.)
Similarly, countless examples can be given of people who discover principles that work wonders in making their lives better, and lo and behold, the principles can usually trace their lineage back to the Bible. (Gratitude journals, mindfulness training, forgiveness, Sabbath keeping, generosity – and on and on it goes.)
Have no doubt about it: biblical illiteracy is damaging to your well-being, as well as to your family and your community. The sooner you master the habit of regular, daily Bible reading, becoming familiar with the truths that it teaches, then striving to bring your life into conformity with those truths, the closer to real freedom you will come.
Secondly, because it is the primary way that God will speak directly to your heart.
Augustine had set himself to reading the Bible regularly several years before his conversion. Over time, he came to recognize that the Bible’s philosophy and ethical teachings were superior to the best that the Greek and Roman world of the fourth century had to offer. But he still would not yield. Until that day in the garden when he “randomly” read a passage that pierced like an arrow to his heart. God had spoken to him. And Augustine was transformed.
The Bible is truly “living and active”. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I began reading it daily as a young Christian back in college, keeping a journal as I went, and with rare exceptions, I have maintained this daily ‘coffee with Jesus’ to this day, more than 30 years later (and have the notebooks to prove it.) I began to notice very early on how invariably something in what I was reading seemed to mesh perfectly with what was happening in my life.
Additionally, there were occasions – rare but unmistakable – when I felt “led” in Augustinian fashion to ‘take and read’, to open the Bible at random and alight on a verse, and I can now testify to hundreds of occasions where the verse I read connected like a laser to the mood or moment I was in.
Once in a very dark season where I was angry at God, I got in the habit of literally yelling at God in prayer day after day for several weeks. Until the day I threw the Bible in disgust at my bed. It flopped open like a dead bird. “Look down at the Bible!” I heard in my heart. I looked and my eyes went straight to 2 Kings:19:27 – “But I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me.” The verse broke my heart. I repented and the anger evaporated.
In the thick of my porn struggle, one day my finger randomly fell on Psalm 50:18 and I felt the urge to read it. “You keep company with adulterers,” was where my finger had landed. It was as if Jesus was sitting across from me, saying the very words aloud.
I understand the brain’s capacity to look for meaning and patterns in what we experience in life. A person can read a horoscope or Chinese fortune and convince themselves of its profound meaning. I could be on a 40-year-long yellow brick road to nowhere. But I know better. You could no more convince me that this was not God than you could convince me that I never had a mother.
It’s for these reasons that life-long Christians who know the Bible backwards and forwards never stop putting their nose in the book. We need his truth. And just when you think you know a truth, God takes you deeper.
Then sometimes the power of the reading comes not in any deep truth you learn, but simply in the reminder of a truth you’ve neglected. Verses will ‘jump off the page at you’. No doubt, they’ll be verses you’ve read before. But in seeing the verse that particular day in that particular moment you’ll sense that God is near, speaking to you.
But none of this will happen if you do not open the book. God could be speaking to you all day long in your thoughts, but you have no ability to sort out his thoughts from the others. But when you open his Word, now there’s no doubt about it – here are his thoughts in black and white, unfettered and undiluted.
In the white-hot heat of my struggle, because I was meeting with Jesus virtually every day, he was able to speak to me early and often about the weakness and failings of my heart. Like a father, he taught me truth I needed to hear. And gave me frequent and timely reminders that he was with me. Like a father, his voice sometimes broke like thunder. And sometimes fell as gentle rain. A stone must yield to a hammer that beats relentlessly upon it. So most sin before continual blows from God’s Word.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
Why is God’s Word powerful?
Have you ever had God speak to you through his Word?
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “Ancient Words” (Lynn DeShazo)
This Week’s Memory Verses
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-11
“Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:22