Put two old things together and you’ll get a new thing.
I have 1,300 evangelical books on shelves in my home, not counting Bibles (which have their own bookcase). That’s a lot of time spent interacting with ideas. While I don’t think of myself as anything close to a hard core academic, I still favor book smart theology the way I favor bread slathered in butter. But years ago I noticed after some sessions of being “educated up,” my knowledge had begun to feel like a trail circling the same flat pasture. I knew about the concept of theological height and depth, but neither my life nor my sentiment was going in either direction. Doctrine, which had been so exhilarating at first, seemed now to only recycle familiar themes.
At other times in my life, I had been harried by deadlines and on the fly—less inclined to root myself in a chair for scholarly pursuits. I spent a lot of time praying instead, especially about things bothering me. I prayed in my basement, behind the wheel of my car, and while walking. I prayed circles around particular temptations. Things I wanted, things I worried about. But I noticed as this became a lifestyle, I’d begin to feel isolated inside my private interests, obsessed with my hopes, disturbances, and disappointments. Prayerful conversations with God that should have broadened me, made me small and self-absorbed.
We often experience the Christian life in seasons—periods specially marked with a specific kind of learning. These are times of unbalance, because life, whether spiritual or physical, rarely runs in perfect symmetry. For short periods we explore, learn, and absorb lessons in this or that direction. Then we subconsciously incorporate things we’ve found helpful into our overall maturity.
The problem, as I discovered above, occurs when we default to “either-or” spiritual approaches for too long, where that thing, by itself, is assumed to be all one needs. We justify over-specialization based on the plea of personality types and interests—“This is how God made me!”
I’m sympathetic to such thoughts and there is certainly truth in them. God didn’t create me to be somebody else. And yet it is doubtful if we can fully become who we are in Christ without the inviting challenge of things outside our various comfort zones.
I’m still proving this principle, as I spend time pursuing community with other believers, engaging in works of kindness in my neighborhood, and other endeavors that don’t come natural to the guy who likes to read and write with a cup of black coffee in a quiet bookstore. While we all grow into particular gifting, we get there by integrating a number of apparently dissimilar approaches.
Take Scripture and prayer. One seems cerebral, in the domain of philosophy, the other mystical, belonging to the poet/romantic. But where they seem to be different, never were two things more complementary.
God’s word substantially describes the content of truth. It contains the potential for confessional moments, intercessory moments, revelatory moments, moments of challenge, moments of comfort, moments of rest, rapturous moments, and moments of direction.
These experiences especially become possible as prayer occurs with the Word. It is a combustion that will most certainly occur in the interaction between a human spirit enlivened by God, and the Bible, a document authored by God. Think of it like the dynamic between a lit match and gasoline.
Those unfamiliar with the approach of combining Scripture and prayer will find the effect of it on their Bible reading/prayer life revolutionary. That’s the reason I wrote a new short devotional guidebook with our executive pastor, Seth Evans, called Presence: Praying the Scriptures to Encounter the Glory of God.
This book helps the typical Christian to practice a new thing by putting together two old ones—the Bible and prayer. For about 15 years, we’ve used wide variations of this approach with believers who wanted to grow in the devotional dimension of their life. We’ve been gratified to see that happen.
During the writing process, we especially kept in mind those who aren’t particularly given to intense meditations, detailed journaling, or prolonged reflection. The initial line of attack is simple, encouraging the Bible reader to slow his or her reading down—hardly anything mystical. With each subsequent session (we’ve broken them into five), we advance into more spiritual territory, like how to identify where to pray in a verse, what to do with the possibility of personal conviction, and how to travel along in the flow of the text itself.
On a practical note, we’ve included exercises that especially work well in a micro group setting of two or three people. Discoveries are always best when they’re with others.
Check it out. Experience the revolution: