Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
Take a look at the Bible you have. Is it nearby? If asked to look up a passage, how easily could you find it? If someone asked you about a book of the Bible, say, Philippians, would you be able to explain what that book is about? If someone asked you to find a passage of the Bible that teaches about a certain subject, for example “disease,” could you?
What is your level of interest in the Bible? If someone would ask you if you read your Bible, how would you answer? Have you read your Bible today? Did you read it yesterday? Do you desire to read it? Do you look forward to a time of devotions? Is Bible reading part of your spiritual life? Is it part of the spiritual meat and drink you desire and need to live in fellowship with your God? Would you be able to say that your Bible is a close companion? Or is it more of a stranger?
These questions become especially important to you as young people. There are three reasons for this importance. The first reason is that you are becoming more and more mature. In that maturity you are building a system of thinking. You are not only learning what to think, but also how to think. You are also developing habits and patterns of thought that, once established, will be very hard to change or break. How important it is at this stage of your life to make sure that Scripture has its proper place of government in your mind.
The second reason is that in this time of your life you are developing habits and patterns of organization in your life. Making time now for Bible reading and study is easier than ever, and it establishes a good pattern to continue through your adulthood. Taking up this important work is also a proper exercise of responsibility for your own spiritual well-being. Earlier in your life your parents saw to your spiritual welfare, constantly leading you in devotions. If by now you have not taken up this work on your own, it is high time to begin. Bible reading and study equip you to be a faithful member of the church, to be a proper, godly husband or wife, father or mother, and, for you young men, to be a good deacon or elder or minister someday, Lord willing.
The third reason concerns authority. The devil knows that you as young people are especially open to different kinds of authority. He would impress you with the authority of university professors, of your college textbooks, of news and information (and entertainment) media. With their authority they challenge not only the teachings of Scripture, but also its very authority. Most of the church world has minimized that authority of Scripture too, as you well know. The Bible has some authority, they say, for religious matters. But to read the Bible is mainly a way to feel good about God.
What is going to be your authority? Where are you going to turn for answers? You know that the only authority for your beliefs is Scripture. You know that Scripture must be the only guide for your thinking. But you also know that to say what Scripture ought to be to you can be a world apart from what Scripture truly is to you. What you need to do is bring these two exactly together. Scripture is your authority. How do you think and live by that authority? By regular, frequent, close exposure to this authority. By daily time you devote to this guide, willingly putting yourself under its light and truth. And by developing a closer relationship with this companion, thus becoming more and more familiar and intimate with its contents.
Bible reading is a matter of dedication and commitment. The world in which you live vies for your attention and tugs at your heart in a multitude of ways: your social circles cry out for attention; education, job, and cyberspace take up time; entertainment beckons. On the other hand, you need to direct your attention to the Word, take it in hand, open it up, and read its pages. You need to give careful, meditative consideration to its words.
Required therefore is a discipline of time and place. Find a regular time when you can devote your attention to the Scriptures. You will need first to force the matter of time. You will have to throw out some activities in order to gain more time. Certainly you can throw out something to make room for God’s Word! Then you will need to be jealous about that time. Allow no interruptions and no distractions during that time. You can also select a time according to spiritual considerations. What time of the day do you feel most in need of the Word? What time of the day do you find most profitable to dedicate to spiritual things? When is your mind the sharpest to devote to a proper understanding of Scripture?
Place is also important. You need a place where you can devote your attention to the Word of God. Is your room in your home a good place to open up the Word of God and read it? Maybe your room is a place where you feel uncomfortable opening and reading the Bible. Then maybe you need to work on your room! You can also ask yourself where you are the most comfortable and the least distracted. A library is quiet and has few distractions. Or perhaps that proper place is outside. Make it part of your routine to be in that place at that certain time each day to read your Bible.
You might find help in reading your Bible through writing. First, keep track of what you have read from Scripture. Get into the habit of writing in a notebook the date and the passage or passages you have read. Also write down your thoughts on the passage or any questions that you might have. Consult a commentary, if not to answer any particular question you have, then only to increase your understanding of a passage. Make a note of what you understand better from the commentary. Refer back to your notes a day or two afterward. You might have new observations or questions that will increase your knowledge and understanding of the passage.
Not only is it important to know your Bible well, it is necessary to receive profit from the Word. In this matter of profit, the struggle is greater than you might think. The struggle happens because of a tendency to be hypocritical, to have two compartments in your life. The one compartment is church things and the fellowship of the church. In that compartment the Bible has full sway. There you study and there you find profit. Of course! But there is another compartment in which you have your friends, perhaps from the church, but also perhaps from the world. In this compartment the lines between the church and the world can be terribly blurred. In this compartment is much entertainment, social life (e.g., dating), leisure, and recreation. In this compartment the Bible’s authority is not exercised, for it encroaches on so-called freedoms.
You might therefore complain that you do not find much profit for your everyday life from reading and studying God’s Word. But the problem is that you do not want its profit because you know it will compress your worldly compartment and take away its freedoms. Surely at one point or another you came under conviction from the Word, but you found a dozen reasons to justify your contrary thinking or action anyway. In those cases, the Bible provided plenty of potential profit, but you rejected it.
Scripture is profitable! Scripture testifies of its own profit, I Timothy 3:16. This passage is fundamental. It declares the important doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture. But as soon as it testifies of that truth, it goes on to speak of Scripture’s profit. To believe in inspiration is also to believe in Scripture’s profit. The Holy Spirit Himself has seen to it that Scripture is profitable.
You are called to believe and practice that testimony of profit given by the Spirit. Practice that profitability in prayer as you go to the Word. Confess before the Lord your ignorance and your need for the knowledge and wisdom that He gives only through the Word. Ask Him to humble you before the Word, that you might receive its teachings, and that its teachings might shape and mold your mind and drive out your old ignorance and folly. Then ask Him to teach you through His Word. Ask that the Holy Spirit guide you into the truth, John 16:13. Ask Him to open the Scriptures to you, Luke 24:32. Then turn to Scripture to know the Lord’s gracious answer to your prayer.
You will find profit in your reading of Scripture. You will grow in your knowledge of God through your growth in the knowledge of His Word. You will grow richer in the knowledge of God’s gifts and blessings to you. You will find much direction for your heart and soul, mind and strength. You will find strength to live according to the antithesis.
Having that growth and strength you will never forsake their source: your Bible. To the Word you will return. Your reading and study will become more profitable. Your desire for the Scripture will grow. Your mind and heart will more and more conform to its truth and way. You have a blessed companion and guide: your Bible!