40 Days of Prayer 2024: Day 17

Today, we are on Day 17, and we begin our time on the practice of Scripture.

(You can catch up on Day 1, Day 2 , Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, and Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 15 if you missed them)

Of all the practices we’ll cover in this challenge, for those of us here, this is likely the one we’re most familiar and comfortable with. I’m so grateful we have Jack’s work here to help us along in this. And I’m excited to dive into the practice of Scripture in our lives. I pray the Lord breathes His Spirit into our time on this practice and renews our passion for His Word.

Paul’s words in Romans 12 have been on my heart for this whole challenge:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

This week, we are on the altar, focusing on renewing our minds in Scripture—we read God’s word and allow God’s word to read us.

The Bible is full of wisdom and information we need in our walk with Christ. But it is not just information. When we open up Scripture, we encounter a powerful, living word. And we do so with the help of God’s Spirit, who will help us understand the things He has freely given us (1 Cor 2:12) So as we begin our time on the practice of Scripture, we start with humble hearts and a desire to strengthen our friendship with God.

Knowledge vs Relationship

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.1 Cor 8:1-2 NLT

Friendship with God and our growth in Christ requires a humble heart, and so a constant temptation in our lives will be spiritual pride. The enemy isn’t opposed to you reading your Bible, if your reading results in knowledge that puffs up/ makes us feel important.  Bible reading that results in feeding your ego, collecting facts, or to debate someone, or to prove yourself right is exactly what the enemy of your soul wants. We know from the wilderness temptation of Jesus that our enemy knows scripture. (Matthew 4:1-11) Our adversary, the deceiver, isn’t opposed to you knowing the words apart from the heart behind them, especially if it causes pride or division.

A good example of this is slavery in the US. Before the US Civil War (and after), there were believers both for and against slavery using the Bible as their support. Those who owned other people as slaves would cite Scripture (Eph 6:5 most obviously) to prove themselves correct.

Others looked at Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for all, who commanded us to love even our enemies, and whose disciples will be known by their love, contrasted with the rotten fruit of those who owned slaves, and saw a situation entirely against the heart of God.

There are many issues you can use the Bible, both to support and be against if you remove context, the whole council of Scripture, and the heart and character of God. That is because it is not meant to be basic instructions removed from a relationship with a loving God. It is a holy God-breathed text designed to be read with His Spirit, for our transformation. We grow and change to be more like Jesus the more time with spend in Scripture with God’s Spirit to guide us.

When we come to scripture, we are seeking God. We want to know Him and His ways, not solely knowledge:

In the NLT translation I posted above, in place of the translation puffing up, it says, knowledge makes us feel important. And that’s the trick of spiritual pride. The enemy wants us to feed our egos and make us feel important, elevating knowledge about God and His ways above our relationship with God and His people.  Paul tells us it is love that strengthens the church. Paul addresses freedom and faith in this same chapter, and shows that the same action may be ok for one and not ok for another. Scripture is written to require we read it with God’s Spirit, and we need to approach it with humble hearts full of love.

Here’s the same passage from the Message translation:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

Relationship > being right

A good example of this is of course, my own failing. Shortly after we came to Mexico, we began helping another ministry that set up breakfast and church in a retired dump. After a bit, a megachurch in the US was going to buy up the land nearby. They were going to build a big center to house visiting church groups and call it the Jeremiah 29:11 Center.

This passage, while beautiful, was one I saw taken out of context over and over. This is true. I had the facts on my side. And when I heard people, especially Christians in leadership, use it out of context, it bugged me. There are encouraging verses not meant for the Babylonian exile that can be used! I saw it as a guide to see who was actually reading the Bible and who was just taking verses to use for their own gain. (Great evil can be done by doing this, as we see with slavery!) I assumed God was just as irritated by people taking His word out of context as I was. It’s His word, after all.

But one day, in a voice so clear in my heart, I heard Him say, would you really deny someone my comfort and encouragement in favor of your pride? A rebuke filled with love but a rebuke for sure. And I felt it like a shock through my whole body. Before this moment, I had pictured God cheering me on while I defended the right dividing of His word. But He wasn’t. It turns out, God doesn’t need my defense. I needed to get on His side. It didn’t matter that the facts were on my side. We can have the right facts and the wrong heart, and end up just plain wrong. And I had the wrong heart in this.

Looking back, I can’t believe how I was focused on that verse being taken out of context back then. It seems so ridiculous and petty. There is zero harm done, and it’s only used for comfort and encouragement. There have always been so many more significant things to focus on. But I can remember being in it, and it seeming very “right.” And that is the trick of spiritual pride.  It seemed very important at the time, like a path outside the straight and narrow that must be avoided. I was convinced my position was right and that it was something I was doing for God. That pride, before I heard God, felt like being good, pragmatic, loyal, and right. But God’s work on earth doesn’t need me to be right, it needs me to be transformed into more like Him, doing what He would do if He lived my life.

Since then, I’ve told this story to dozens of people who immediately saw spiritual pride exposed in their hearts. And the Lord has used this to bring freedom and joy to each one in response! When God reveals your heart, He is always drawing you to His and bringing freedom and joy when you respond!

As we begin our time on Scripture, we draw near to God with humble hearts asking for us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in His love, and to eliminate the pride from knowledge that puffs up. We seek to be like Jesus, who is gentle and humble at heart. (Matthew 11:29)

Reflection for prayer and/or journaling:

You have the Spirit of God with you, ready to reveal just what you need right now, in His book that is powerful and alive. Ask for God to open His word to you and to open your heart to His word.

Ask the Lord to reveal any spiritual pride in your heart. Do you search the scriptures in order to try to convince someone your belief is right or win a debate?

Do you have the opposite tendency, are you intimidated by the Bible, or fear you won’t be able to understand God’s word like others do? We all have His Spirit with us. Trust Him to work in you as you spend time with Him in His word.

Instead of the goal of reading the Bible to increase your knowledge, begin by approaching it in relationship. The first goal is to sit with Jesus and read His word together.

Prayer together:

Father, we thank you for this gift of Scripture and your Spirit to guide us and teach us. We ask you to open your word to us, and open us to your word. Search us and reveal our hearts. Reveal anything that hinders our relationship with you. Open our hearts to your word and give us the desire to know you above all. Give us a passion for you and your word. Guide us in this focus on Scripture, and bring each person a fresh insight and excitement for your word. In the name of Jesus we pray together, amen.

♥ Samantha