We’re coming up to that time when we start to think of goals or resolutions for the new year to come. For the last several years, instead of specific goals, I have chosen a word for the year to focus on. Around this time last year, I started to pray and ask God what He wanted me to focus on for 2021, and I strongly felt God saying the word for this year was ‘Abide’. Little did I know that I would learn the importance of that very soon!
As many of you know, my husband Grant became very unwell with covid over Christmas and was hospitalised. It was a very tough time, and during the following month, I came to know the importance of abiding in God in a very real way. The boys and I were in isolation as well as the country being in lockdown, so it was strange going through that time without being able to be with family and friends physically. We are so thankful for our wonderful church family though, we felt so loved, and Josh, Sam and I were very well supported. Despite this, there were many anxious hours alone when I think I might have crumbled if it wasn’t for the strength I received from God. I knew His love and closeness in a special way, and I became acutely aware of the importance of abiding in God. I came out of that time determined to know Him more, love Him more and glorify Him more through my life.
A dictionary definition of abide is to remain, continue, stay, to have one’s abode, dwell, reside. Jesus tells us the importance of abiding in him when he says, ‘Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.’ (John 15:4). To abide with Christ, we need to accept and receive all that he is and has done for us. As John Piper puts it: ‘Believing is an attachment to — a coming to — Jesus, and a receiving from Jesus. It is trusting in Jesus, remaining in fellowship with Jesus, connecting to Jesus so that all that God is for us in him is flowing like a life-giving sap into our lives. That’s number one: abiding is believing, trusting, savouring, resting, receiving.’
It had been many years since I had read through the whole bible, and it was something I wanted to do but wasn’t achieving. This year as I started a year through the bible plan, I focused on abiding with God and knowing Him more deeply, and the words on the bible page became more alive to me than ever before. I’d often made the mistake of reading a bible passage in the morning and feeling disappointed that I didn’t feel spoken to or encouraged by it. It sounds obvious, but I think it is a mistake made by many Christians in thinking that the bible is primarily a book to read for guidance, comfort and help. It is, in fact, a book all about God!
In her book ‘Women of the Word’, Jen Wilkin describes how Moses, standing by the burning bush, questions God about his lack of ability and uncertainty, and God answers him by telling him what He has done, is doing and will do. She says, ‘We are like Moses. The bible is our burning bush – a faithful declaration of the presence and holiness of God. We ask it to tell us about ourselves, and all the while, it is telling us about “I am”. We think that if it would just tell us who we are and what we should do, then our insecurities, fears and doubts would vanish. But our insecurities, fear and doubts could never be banished by the knowledge of who we are. They can only be banished by the knowledge of “I am”. We must read and study the bible with our ears trained on hearing God’s declaration of himself.’ Of course, the bible does tell us who we are and guide us on what we should do but through the lens of who God is.
With this fresh in my mind and asking the Holy Spirit to give me a new understanding of the fullness of God, by the time I got to May, I felt like I couldn’t wait until Christmas to get to Revelation! I did a quick search on google to see if anyone had read the bible in a short time and came across a 30 day plan (‘30-day bible shred’ on the youversion app) and decided to go for it. I spent the next 30 days reading through the whole bible from beginning to end, and I absolutely loved the experience. It was like I was walking with God and hearing his voice throughout the day because of the amount of time I was spending in His word. I found it so helpful to get a broad overview of the bible and to see God’s redemptive plan and inexhaustible love for His (continually stubborn and rebellious!) people right from the creation of the world in Genesis all the way through to the end times in Revelation. It was easy to pick up repeated themes and recognise places and names throughout. Looking back in my journal, when I had reached the end of the Old Testament, I had written that ‘my heart is bursting for God and that’s even before I get to the New Testament!’ After finishing the 30 days, I found I missed the extra time in scripture, so I listened to the bible through again over the next five months alongside slow, meditative reading of the bible each day. It is essential to spend time digesting God’s word slowly and studying it, so reading through quickly isn’t something to be done all the time, however, I found it very helpful, and it definitely increased my appetite for His word.
I am going to do the 30 day plan again in January, and I would like to encourage you to join me. Of course, everyone has different schedules and demands, but it is very manageable with some effort and requires about 2.5-3 hours a day. This can be done through reading and/or listening to an audio bible. It is a worthwhile challenge to think about how much time we spend on our phones, on social media, watching Netflix, hobbies etc and to consider using that time instead. I found it helpful to get up early (which means going to bed a bit earlier) and spend time reading in the morning. It does require prioritising and means sacrificing other things. Still, I found that it was a sacrifice well worth making to deepen my relationship with God, creator of the universe! It is amazing that He so passionately desires a close relationship with us and is jealous for our devotion.
Who knows what 2022 will bring, but it seems that times are uncertain and anxiety is increasing, and the voices of the world are increasingly loud. The spiritual battle we are in is very real and the devil loves it when we become apathetic, distant from God and distracted by the many things fighting for our attention. I am determined that God’s voice will be the loudest in my life as we go into the next year. We need to spend time in His word, getting to know His voice and character more deeply and then we will be better able to discern what is of Him and what isn’t. The bible tells us in Psalm 1 that a person who delights in His word is like a tree planted by a stream, that is fruitful and its leaves do not wither. Let’s be people who are rooted firmly in God’s word, drawing on the living water that He offers and getting to know Him more deeply. Starting the year with a month saturated in God’s word will not be time wasted, and I am fairly certain you will feel your soul revived and enriched as you spend time with our wonderful Lord and Saviour, who absolutely delights in being in relationship with us and invites us to draw near to Him and He will, in turn, draw near to us (James 4:8).