Every now and then I come across a book where the title alone is enough for me. In fact, when I read it, I discover that the rest of the book is really just helping me understand what the title means.
Eugene Peterson’s book on discipleship is called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s a perfect description for a life of following Jesus.
Gordon Fee’s book on the Holy Spirit is called God’s Empowering Presence. Again, perfect. The Spirit is God himself present in us, empowering us to be his people in his world.
Then there is Catholic theologian Simon Tugwell’s book Prayer: Living With God. I read the book during what felt like a fairly prayerless time in my life. After years of disciplined quiet times of Bible reading, praying, and journaling, I didn’t have all that many words to say when it came to these devotional times. And then I read Tugwell’s book.
Tugwell doesn’t play down the importance of speaking to God in our prayers — that is always important, as it offers our inner being to God. What he does is expand the territory of prayer so that it becomes a much larger country, instead of a cramped closet.
Prayer includes our words to God, but is so much larger — it is living with God.
Another spiritual writer, the bottle washer Brother Lawrence, wrote another book which has a practically perfect title: The Practice of the Presence of God. Like Tugwell, Lawrence suggests that prayer has less to do with the words we speak before meals, in church, or in other places (again, these are still extremely important) and more to do with the basic orientation of our lives. Are we living with God? Do we consciously live in (practice) his presence? Every effort we make to draw near to God (who is never far away) is prayer. But doing so requires practice, an intentional effort.
All of this to say, prayer is keeping company with God. It turns us toward him, intentionally engaging with him.
That’s why Bible reading is so important. There’s nothing magical about the book or about reading it. There’s nothing magical about the ink or the pages the words of Scripture are printed on. And it’s very possible to read these words and be infinitely far from God as we do so.
Regardless of the defenses we put up, when we open our Bibles, we make ourselves vulnerable to God.
These words of God just might come off the page and enter us. They might draw us out of our small world of Self and into the large world of God. As God speaks his eternal Word to us in our reading, we just might discover ourselves in his Presence, we just might discover ourselves responding with words of prayer or simply with a wordless companionship with this God who speaks to us, to me.
As you consider what one or two things to add to your life in the new year, I want to lobby for a regular practice of Scripture-reading. It’s an excellent way to open up this prayerful life with God. Here’s a link to a daily reading guide that will get you through the whole Bible in a year. But don’t let cranking through it be your focus.
Bible-reading is not an obligation, but an invitation.
Remember, Abraham and Moses had no Bible to read and did quite well in their time spent with God. What’s important to remember is that God has invited us to live with him, to stay always in his presence. There is nothing better in this life. And there is no better way that through the gift of Scripture.