Last week I wrote about how to need to be growing spiritually, just as we need to grow physically to be healthy. If a child never grew after being born, we’d panic and try to find out what was wrong, but many spiritual infants never grown past the newborn stage and we don’t do anything. Sometimes the newborn is us and we don’t feel the need to move on and grow past the first part of Christianity. The truth is, discipleship is a process, not something that’s achieved at the moment of conversion. There are many steps along the way.
While there’s not exactly an order that these 4 aspects of spiritual growth have to occur, I like to place them in a certain order because of their comparison with physical growth. That being said, the first topic is eating. Just as a person needs to eat in order to grow, so must a Christ follower eat spiritually in order to achieve growth. So what does it mean to eat spiritually? Let’s look to God’s Word for answers.
When Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, His reply to the evil one’s challenge to turn the stones into bread was “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) We can see here that Jesus believes that God’s Word is nourishment to a believer. It’s more than words on a page, it’s life-giving. In Hebrews, the authors states that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) That’s powerful. The Apostle Paul tells his young protege Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Bible is much more than words on paper. It’s living and it’s the guide that every one of us needs in order to know God, to follow Him, and to do what He’s called us to do.
This is all kind of heavy, especially if you’re just beginning in your spiritual journey or just starting to read the Bible. God knows that. He doesn’t expect any of us to digest meat as infants. Just as a newborn can only handle their mother’s milk or a special formula, so too does a young Christian need to stick with the easily digestable parts of Scripture. Another Apostle, Peter, refers to how we long for this “spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2) and Paul speaks to the Corinthians about a time past when they were not yet ready for anything beyond the milk that he was offering. (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).
Another analogy I love to point out is in regards to the insatiable hunger a newborn has for milk. Newborns never stop eating. Even when they’re sleeping, they’re eating. They just eat and eat and as a result they grow and grown. They’re not little newborns for long, are they? A similar thing is seen with many spiritual newborns. I’ve known so many people, including myself, that just couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible in those first days as a believer. In many cases it leads to people who have been Christians for a while feeling guilty that they no longer take that much time to read The Word or even have the desire to do so. Don’t do that. Would you expect a preschooler or a teenager to eat without ceasing, like a newborn? Okay, maybe a bad example with the teenager, but it’s still different. The fact is that in the early days after you first believed, you have a strong desire to grow and that leads to a large appetite. Over time, and after some growth, it levels off. You work your way into a more routine manner of eating, just as in our physical bodies we learn to eat something more like 3 meals a day. The major problem I’ve noticed is that many who started out so strong in reading God’s Word just at some point stop altogether. Why? Did you stop eating food after your mother weaned you? Or some only read the Bible on Sundays in church services. Do you only eat one meal a week to sustain yourself? You would think that was crazy, so why is it okay to only eat spiritual food once a week?
So what is spiritual milk? What are the easily digestible parts of Scripture? First of all, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are a great place to start reading the Bible. I always suggest John’s Gospel first because his intent was to write so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. (John 20:31) There’s no better starting point than right there. The Gospels contain the stories of the life of Jesus Christ and His words. Begin there and move into the New Testament book of Acts, where the early church is shown as the effects of the gospel really begin to play out. The Apostle Paul’s teachings can be hard, Peter even said so (2 Peter 3:16), but they are very helpful in helping us to understand the applications of the gospel to our own lives. The Gospels show us the life of Jesus, Paul’s writings help us see how all of it matters. When I have the opportunity to guide someone that has read through the Gospels and Acts and wants to know where to go next, I point them to Romans (which comes right after Acts anyway) and then to Colossians. If Colossians doesn’t make you more in awe of Jesus and more in love with Him, I don’t know what possibly can. As far as dipping your feet in the Old Testament writings, I suggest starting with Proverbs and Psalms.
Don’t start reading the Bible with Genesis. You will likely give up quickly. Start with milk and then move on to the harder stuff.
Some go right for the meatier parts of the Bible right off the bat, and those people usually give up. When you’ve just become a new believer and you start trying to understand Revelation right away, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I’ve know enough people who have done this to know I’m right. Trust me, you can’t understand it yet. Many people who have been Christians for decades still don’t quite understand it.
I’m not going to go into what Bible translation to use, because that could be an entire book in itself. Find something that you can understand. I like the ESV and the NASB, but many use the NLT or NIV. I don’t recommend The Message translation for studying the Bible, but for daily reading it’s a very understandable text.
There are five major parts to “eating” God’s Word. Think of a hand and each of these is a finger.
- Hearing (sermons and other teaching)
- Reading (for the sake of reading, not necessarily study)
- Meditating (actually considering what you’ve read and thinking about it)
- Studying (taking the time to understand the Word through looking at the original language, reading commentaries, etc)
- Memorizing (hiding away God’s Word in your heart so that it’s more than just another book you’ve read)
If each of these is a finger, then memorization is the thumb, because it’s the strongest aspect of them all. No matter which you’re doing, it’s important to pray beforehand that God would reveal to you what He wants you to see. Ask for His guidance. No one can better explain a book than its author.
There’s so much more that can be said, and most of it has been said by greater men than me, but this is a start. If you’re not already doing these things, consider where you need to begin. If you are doing all of them, consider how you can help someone else get started.
Next week, I’ll be posting on learning to speak (pray).