Welcome to the New Year! Though we still have 51 Sunday’s ahead of us, I wanted to start out this year by teaching you the most important thing you can know and challenging you to do the most important thing you can do in your Christian life.
If you want to experience all that God has for you, if you want to see prayers answered, if you want to see God work in powerful ways in your life and in this church, if you want to understand your Bible more, and hear from God more, if you want to see God’s hand at work in current events more, then today’s message is for you.
This is why this is going to be my most important sermon of this year. Even if you come and hear every message I give during the next year, and even if you receive something from God in every single one of those sermons, that’s only hearing from God 52 times this year.
And that’s just simply not enough. As important as it is to hear God’s Word preached, let me be the first to say that sermons are just not enough. 52 sermons a year will not do for you what you need.
If all you hear is a sermon a week, you will not gain victory over that sin in your life, you will not see power and effectiveness in your prayers, you will not gain that insight and wisdom into the difficult decision you are facing, you will never be able to handle with love that troublesome person at work, you will rarely hear from God. You will constantly feel empty and dry, and like God doesn’t speak to you, and your prayers aren’t accomplishing anything.
Sermons just aren’t enough. If the only spiritual nourishment you receive every week is the Sunday sermon, then let me put it bluntly, you are spiritually malnourished.
Today, I want to tell you how to feed your soul and hear from God every single day. If you made a new year’s resolution this year, throw it out and make a resolution to do what we will be talking about today. Why? Because this one will help you in all other resolutions.
This one will help you in every resolution you have made. Every single one. If you have made a resolution to spend more time with your children, this one will help that time be more beneficial and will help you raise your children in a Godly way. If you have made a resolution to eat right or exercise more, this one will give you the motivation and encouragement to do so. If you have made a resolution to work differently at your job, this one will instruct you and teach you the best business practices around. If you have made new years resolutions, put the one we are going to talk about today on the top of your list. Maybe you could even throw out those others and focus on just this one. If you have not made any resolutions, then I have one for you today that I hope you will make.
This resolution is found in Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is just about smack dab in the middle of your Bible. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the whole Bible. It contains 176 verses. This Psalm is focused on praising God for the Bible. It is full of praise and adoration for Scripture. It is a beautiful Psalm. Full of wonder at God’s Word. There is so much here in the one Psalm that Charles Spurgeon spent about 350 pages discussing this one Psalm in his classic “The Treasury of David.” It is an acrostic Psalm, which means that the Psalm begins each section of 8 verses with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 sections in all. It is interesting to note as well, that just as each section as 8 verses, the Psalm uses 8 synonyms for Scripture. They are Law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, ordinances, word and promise. Only five verses out of all 176 do not have at least one of these synonyms in the verse. They are (if you are curious), 84, 90, 121, 122, 132.
Let me begin by telling you the resolution I want each of us to commit to this year. It is my desire, it is the desire of this church, it is the desire of God, that each and every one of you read the Bible and pray every single day. That is what I want you to commit to this year. Why? “If you don’t read the Bible daily, and don’t memorize the Bible in part, and don’t linger over the Bible, and don’t meditate on it and remember it, if you don’t steep your mind in it, the best you can hope for is a weak Christian life. Weak Christians are vulnerable to false teachings, and to all kinds of trendiness. They blow this way, they blow that way. Weak Christians are especially vulnerable to trouble. So that when trouble comes, [or sickness comes, or trials and tribulations], a weak Christian runs from God.
We don’t want to be a church full of weak Christians. We want to be firmly planted in the Word, like a tree by streams of living water, that bears fruit in season, it’s leaves don’t whither in the drought, it doesn’t blow over with all kinds of trends and false teachings, it is there through thick and thin, when the sun is shining and the rain is pouring, that is the kind of church we want to be.”
How many of you eat only once a week? If you ate only one time a weak, you would be sick and maybe even dead. Yet we think we can live a healthy spiritual life by feeding our soul only once a week on Sunday, and even then, we are being spoon fed by the pastor. If that is all the spiritual nourishment you get, you will always be weak and undernourished. You will be a weak Christian if you do not feed on the Word during the week. So this year, God wants you to get into His Word. Not just on Sunday, but on every day of the week, as families and as individuals. There are countless reasons on why you should, but the first and foremost is because it is how we learn about God and show our love for Him.
1. Scripture is How we Learn About and Love God
As we read through Psalm 119, behind every single verse is a passion for God. Behind every single verse of this chapter is a longing and a desire to know God and love God. Look at verse 7, 10, 12, 16. The whole chapter is like this. This Psalmist loves God, and this love is revealed in a love for God’s Word. If a person says they love God, but they do not also love His Word, and they do not long to get into His Word, they do not really love God.
Think of the person you love the most in this world. Let us say that for a period of time, they had to travel to the other side of the world. They get on the plane and fly away, and travel to a place where they cannot contact you. There’s no e-mail. No postal service. No cell phone towers. They are gone for quite a while, and you haven’t heard from them in a long time. Then one day, they are able to travel to a city where they can send you one letter. You didn’t know they were able to send it, but one day, to your surprise, it arrives in the mail.
You hastily pull it out of the mailbox, you look at the stamp – it’s a nice foreign stamp, postmarked Timbuktu. Dated six weeks ago. You look at the return address. That’s the handwriting of your loved one. Oh, how you miss that handwriting. You sniff the envelope. Does it smell like that person? No. Even if it did, it’s been six weeks in the mail. You are so excited to receive this letter! You run home, frantically open the door with your keys, shouting, “I got a letter! I got a letter!” You run into your bedroom, turn on the bedside lamp, open up your dresser drawer and toss in the unopened letter, all the while thinking, “It sure is nice to get a letter from a loved one.”
Is that what you do? No! You rip it open. You read every word. You read every word ten times. You read it and reread it. You read between the lines trying to understand everything they are saying and everything they don’t say. You read the whole in terms of the parts, and each part in terms of the whole. You get sensitive to context and sections that are confusing. You see that certain sections seem to imply or insinuate things that aren’t actually said. You perceive the color of words and the order of phrases. You weigh the order of the sections: “Did they place this at the beginning because it was the most important or because they were getting small talk out of the way before they got to the important stuff?” You read it over and over until you can think about it even when you are not reading it. You may memorize it. You share paragraphs that meant a lot to you with others who may want to hear them. You carry it around with you so you can read it any time you want.
That is what you do with a letter from a loved one. If you really love God, that is what you do with His Word. It is His letter to you. It tells you all about Himself, and all that He has done for you, what He has provided for you, how to get through life and what your future holds. It is the most amazing letter ever written. Not only because of the truths it contains, but because it was written by God! Yet you take that letter and stick it on a shelf or in a drawer or read little bits and pieces once or twice a week. This is not how you treat a love letter, and it is not how you should treat God’s love letter.
Do you love God? Read His Word. He loves you more than you can imagine, and He wrote His letter to show you how much He loves you. The writer of Psalm 119 loves God, and this whole chapter shows it. He loves God so much, and He is so excited to have received a letter from God, that he writes the longest chapter in the Bible all about this letter. It’s all about how he wants to read it, and think about it, and know it, and understand it, and apply it, and meditate upon it, and obey it, and live it, and remember it. If you love God, you will love His Word also. But beyond this, the amazing thing about this letter from God called the Bible, is that there are numerous benefits to reading it. If you have ever wondered why you should read the Bible, the first answer is that it reveals a love for God, but Psalm 119 lists several blessings as well.
2. God Will Bless You
This blessing might now come as you might expect. It won’t come in riches or perfect health. It will not instantly revolutionize your life.
Some seem to expect the Word of God to hit them like a bolt of lightening every time they read or study it. Although the bolt may hit periodically, the benefits of the Word of God act more like vitamins. People who regularly take vitamins do so because of their long-term benefits, not because every time they swallow one of the pills, they feel new strength surging through their bodies. They have developed a habit of consistently taking vitamins because they have been told that, in the long run, vitamin supplements are going to have a beneficial effect on their physical health, resistance to disease, and general well-being.
The same is true of reading the Bible. At times it will have a sudden and intense impact upon us. However, the real value lies in the cumulative effects that long-term exposure to God’s Word will bring in our lives. It is not just the blessing of reading the word that you will receive, or the blessing of a transformed life, you will also receive the blessings of a better life, of a more fulfilled life, of a joyful life. Psalm 119 gives several blessings that come from studying and meditating upon Scripture. Let me just go through six of the different blessings that can be ours when we study Scripture.
A. Victory over sin (Psalm 119:9)
The first blessing is victory over sin. This is found all over in this chapter. One place is Psalm 119:9.
Psalm 119:9. How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
The Psalmist mentions young men here, but it applies to all of us. Is there some sin in your life that you have struggled with for weeks or years? You know you should not be doing it, but you just can’t seem to help yourself? Scripture reading and prayer will help you gain victory over that besetting sin. Ephesians 5 speaks of the washing of water of the Word. As you read the Word of God, it cleanses and purifies you.
A lot of people don’t read the Bible because they have trouble understanding it, or have trouble remembering what they read. They say things like, “I read my Bible, and when I’m done I don’t remember anything I’ve read.” They make comments like, “I go to church, and hear a sermon, and then within five minutes, I can’t remember what the pastor preached on.” They complain, “My minds like a sieve. It doesn’t hold anything. Everything just goes in one ear and out the other. This Bible reading is pointless. It’s worthless. It doesn’t do anything. I’m going to give it up.”
But guess what? Scripture says that our minds are renewed by the Word. The word is like water, washing the mind. So you have a mind like a sieve. If you are in the Word daily, it will be a clean sieve. And it’s better to have a clean sieve than one that is all clogged up with the gunk that normally collects there.
Yet understand that even when your mind is not understanding what you read, your Spirit is still feeding on the Word. The Word is the spiritual food for you. A man once complained that he had heard over 1000 sermons in his live and couldn’t remember a single one of them, so he wasn’t going to go to church any more. Someone responded that they had eaten over 10,000 meals in his life, and couldn’t remember a single meal he had eaten, but he was still going to keep on eating. Why? Because food provides nourishment for the body. Similarly, Bible reading and Bible study provides nourishment for the spirit. Even when you don’t remember what you read or hear, the spirit has fed upon it and is stronger because of it. Read your Bible every single day. It will cleanse your mind and strengthen your spirit. It will, as verse 9 shows, give you victory over sin.
B. Preservation of Life (Psalm 119:25, 50, 88, 92-93, 107, 149, 154)
Psalm 119:92-93. Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget Your precepts,
For by them You have given me life.
Bible study helps you live longer and live better. This is one health tip you won’t find anywhere else. The greatest goal in America today is to live long and live healthy. We go to fitness centers and health food stores. We work out and eat right. Most of the New Year Resolutions we make revolve around living better, heating healthier and working out more. All of these are very good things to do. But as your Spiritual doctor, I recommend a daily dose of Bible Study and Prayer.
It changes how you view yourself so that you live a more joyful and fulfilled life. It activates your mind so that you become more alert and energetic. And the principles found within the Bible were written by God who made your body. Have you ever wondered why he has given the commands and laws and instructions that he has? It not just because he wanted to have a lot of rules. They are given for our own good and for out own health, both physical and spiritual health.
So get studying it. Get on a Bible work out routine, and you will have a more fulfilled life than ever before. I am not saying, as some do, that you will be free from sickness and always be healthy. What I am saying is that if you are sick, you will have joy through and despite this sickness. Charles Spurgeon has said, “A Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” Bible study helps your health.
C. Wisdom (Psalm 119:66, 98-100, 130)
Psalm 119:98-100. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
Who of you does not want to be more wise? Wisdom is what makes you successful in life, in marriage, in raising your family. Wisdom is what causes your business to be successful. Look at what these verses say! You will become wiser than your teachers. You will gain more wisdom than those who have lived their entire lives!
Proverbs says that wisdom is more valuable than gold or silver and we should do everything we can to get it. Well here is the main way: if you want wisdom, study Scripture. Are you trying to make some difficult decision? Study Scripture? Are you facing enemies who want to drag you down? Study Scripture, and you will become wiser than they. This actually brings us to the fourth blessing.
D. Stand up to your enemies (Psalm 119:22-23, 42, 85-87, 98)
Psalm 119:22-23. Remove from me reproach and contempt,
For I have kept Your testimonies.
Princes also sit and speak against me,
But Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
Are there people who oppose you? Are there people who are trying to make you fall? It doesn’t matter if they are as powerful as princes, God helps those who meditate on Scripture.
E. Comfort from life’s troubles (Psalm 119:50, 52, 76)
Psalm 119:50, 52. This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life.
I remembered Your judgments of old, O Lord,
And have comforted myself.
There is great comfort in reading the testimonies of Scripture. Seeing the troubles of those who have gone before you and how God delivered them. Seeing their faithfulness in trials and sickness and how God healed them or gave them joy to persevere. If you are depressed or saddened by life’s circumstances, turn to Scriptures and be renewed! Get comfort in reading the testimonies of Scripture.
F. Peace (Psalm 119:165)
Psalm 119:165. Great peace have those who love Your law,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
When you allow the light of the Word to shine onto your path, you no longer stumble around in the dark. Instead, you experience great peace.
These are just six blessings of studying Scripture. Psalm 119 has dozens more just like these. Such blessings are just waiting to be uncovered and experienced by the person who will read the Bible and pray every single day.
Some of you are saying “But Jeremy, my days are already filled up. I don’t have time to fit Bible reading and prayer into my day.” If that’s true for you, then sit down, and seriously look at your schedule and dump something else in order to make time for this. Seriously, what else that is currently in your schedule could possibly give you this much blessing?
If I were to stand up here and tell you the seven number that were guaranteed to win you the state lottery next month, I guarantee that most of you would write down those numbers and no matter how tight your budget was, you would go out and purchase a lottery ticket and put those seven numbers down. Well, I am telling you how to win the spiritual lottery. No matter how busy your schedule is, find time every day to read your Bible and pray.
As your pastor, I want to do more than just tell you to do this. I want to equip you and encourage you to do it. I want to give you the tools to do it. So I am going to do this in three ways. First, I have made available several Bible reading schedules. When you read the Bible, it is easy to get bogged down, and not know where to go. You protect yourself from that by having a Bible reading plan. I have used many different plans over the years. The best one I have ever found is the one by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He was a young Scottish pastor from the 19th Century who died when he was only 30 years old. I have made his plan available to you. There are some others you can browse through, but I highly recommend his.
The second thing I am going to do is spend tonight’s service talking about how to get the most out of your Bible reading. Although Bible reading by itself is beneficial, there are a few guidelines I have learned over the years which will make your time in the Word more profitable. I will be sharing as many of these as I can in the evening service tonight.
Most of you spend at least 15 minutes every day reading the newspaper. Did you know that you could easily read through the Bible in one year if you spent the same amount of time reading your Bible as you do your newspaper? Doesn’t sound too hard right? Well, let me tell you. Try it this year, and you will see how challenging it really it. You will find it not easy to start and you will find that the task will never be finished.
Augustine said: “Such is the depth of the Scriptures that if I were attempting to study them and nothing else from boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and talents greater than I have, I would still daily be making progress in discovering their treasures.”
The great evangelist, Billy Graham, says that one of his great regrets is that he has not studied Scripture enough. He says, “I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking when I should have been studying and preparing.”
Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching.
As your pastor, I would like to encourage you and support you in this, this year. If what I have been saying to you today has been tugging at your heart today, I would like you to fill you the commitment slip provided for you and drop it in box in back. Keep half for yourself and stick it in your Bible. Why do I want you to do this? Not so that I can call you every week to see how you are doing, but so that I can pray for you.
This is the third way I want to help you. I want to pray that God would bless your reading as He promised He would. I will pray that your time and your mind will be protected from the enemy forces which will do everything possible to keep you out of God’s Word. I want to pray that you would fall so deeply in love with Jesus that you want to read and learn and obey His Word more and more each day. Have you made a resolution? Throw them all out and make only one – read your Bible and pray, every single day.