“Neglect your Bible, forget to pray, and you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink!”
Did you ever sing this song as a child? Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow so high that you jump in the air with shouts of praise to Jesus! In reality, these practices are definitely essential to our spiritual growth. We sometimes turn it into a catch phrase, though, and forget the other side of the story. We easily forget how shriveled up we become when we don’t get continual sustenance and refreshment from God.
The valleys of suffering are especially hard places to study God’s word. These valleys are the exact time we need God’s Word to nourish our souls, but we usually find ourselves in difficult circumstances fighting hard battles against sin, physically depleted, or stuck in a never-ending pattern of neglecting to study the Bible. These times call for help. I have been in this spot several times. I had to build up my “spiritual muscles” in order to start healthy habits, restore my relationship with God, and help me fight the good fight of faith. God does have expectations for his children, as any good father would. But how God grows us is unique to each believer. Don’t deny these seemingly simple steps toward spiritual revitalization.
Communication with God is vital for every believer. Generally, hard times make us fall to our knees in desperate prayers to God. I am thankful that God doesn’t spurn us when this happens. He gladly welcomes our pleas. The problem is that when the clouds of suffering lift, usually our knees do too. We cannot gain a false sense of independence from God at any time. Our lips were made to praise and glorify God, and there is never a time that calls for ceasing prayer.
Our hearts need God’s word to open our eyes to who God is. We mistakenly believe that the Bible is meant to show us how to live, but the Bible is primarily about God. We can only know who we are rightly if we know God rightly. Nothing makes sense apart from its relationship to God. Neglecting the Bible is exactly what our flesh and Satan want us to do. In Ephesians 6, the one piece of equipment meant for our spiritual offense is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vs. 17). All of the other pieces of spiritual armor help us defend ourselves in spiritual warfare.
God means for us to be in community with our church family. We don’t go to church to make ourselves feel better about our spiritual health, as if there is a spiritual checklist to earn God’s favor and be a good Christian. When we are surrounded by our brothers and sisters we hear God’s word, sing praises to him, and get spiritual nourishment from encouragement and rebuke. If our days are difficult to conquer spiritually, what better way to fight temptation than with Christ within us and the saints around us? Then when Christ helps us conquer spiritual wars, we can tell our family what God has done, strengthening each other as we fight together.
If we want to seek a life of godly pursuits, we have an abundance of resources around us to support God’s work in us. Some simple things are listening to Christian music and podcasts, reading books, subscribing to blogs and websites, asking a mature believer to be a mentor, joining a Bible study, volunteering at church, and the list goes on. We must see these resources as supporting acts to our prayer, Bible study, and church attendance. Reading a book about prayer isn’t actually praying to God, but it can help you pray more. Listening to music is not the same as going to church and singing with your church family, but it is great for learning the songs and keeping your heart in tune with him throughout the week. Resources are not replacements. They are supporting artists, not the lead actors.
The majority of the time, getting into the pace of spiritual discipline takes a lot of effort. It takes time for our feelings to catch up, so taking these steps might seem like a sense of duty at first. Don’t lose heart. Ask God to give you his desires, because he delights to help you in that way.