A secret place
Last Friday, I found a secret place.
At the time I was going for a prayer walk around my neighbourhood when I noticed an alleyway.
It was on the other side of a busy road, and so I ran across Canterbury Road, puffing with my face mask on.
Curious, I started to walk down this alleyway. I was surprised to see greenery in the distance.
At the end of this lane there was a cute park with old-fashioned lamp posts, a small playground, and the highlight – a perfect park bench.
A wooden bench that was precisely placed under a tree with branches that never ended.
A bench where I could sit and feel hugged by the surrounding leaves.
I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as a Victorian who is living in a 5 km prison, as a father of three kids, and a pastor who is loving people during 2020, this park bench was everything.
A refuge for my wearied heart.
A recharge station for my exhausted mind.
A physical, mental, and spiritual sanctuary.
I had discovered a new place to inspire me to spend time with the Lord.
To pray to him, share my anxieties and fears with him.
To sit with him in silence and solitude.
To study and saviour God’s word.
A sanctuary for your soul
Christian, let me ask you…
Where do you go to have communion with God?
Where do you pour out your heart, your wounds and your worries?
Where do you go to experience God?
If you are longing for a sanctuary like mine.
Well, I have good news for you.
You don’t need a moleskin journal.
You don’t need the perfect park bench.
All you need is a Bible and a humble heart.
With your Bible in hand, anywhere, anyplace, any café, any park, any lounge, any piece of grass can become a sanctuary for your soul.
Now you’re probably confused – how did we get from the park bench to the Bible?
Well, what I didn’t tell you before, is the real reason why I loved this park bench.
And it all had to do with the tree.
The huge tree that gave me a vision for my life.
A beautiful tree
Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that kicks of the beautiful Psalter. And it’s one of my favourite psalms because it reminds me how the blessed man, the prosperous man, delights in the scriptures. Take a look at Psalm 1 verses 1-3:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The word “delight” here is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe a man delighting in a woman. And the word “law” here is Torah, which can refer to the law of Moses or the scriptures as a whole.
Whenever I read this psalm, I’m drawn to the image of the tree.
I want to be like this tree.
I want deep roots.
I want to bear fruit.
I want leaves that do not wither.
I want to be refreshed by living water.
I want to have a character that can endure the storms of life.
I want to be someone who is blessed, someone full of delight, someone who prospers.
And Psalm 1 says to me, that I can have this deep delight if I learn how to meditate on the instruction of the Lord.
I can have this deep delight if I practice the discipline of studying and savouring the Scriptures.
The problem of boredom
For the last two weeks my sons have been on school holidays, and like all kids when screen time finishes, my son Isaac says to me “Dad, I’m bored”. My response? The classic dad joke: “Hi Bored, nice to meet you”.
Can I be blunt with you?
I believe too many Christians these days are bored by the Bible.
The Bible, which is the most sold book in history.
The Bible, which is the greatest story that has ever been told – with the greatest villain in Satan, the greatest plot problem of sin, and the greatest hero in Jesus.
The Bible, which is the best teaching there is on theology, psychology and anthropology.
The Bible, from a literary perspective, is a work of art – containing 66 different books, written in different genres by different authors to unpack the same story.
The Bible, from a historical perspective, has shaped civilisations for thousands of years.
Countless lives have been changed by the Bible – get this – countless lives have been lost to read the Bible.
And yet today too many Christians are bored by the Bible.
They have forgotten Psalm 1’s promise of the tree.
They have forgotten that deep delight requires discipline.
They have forgotten that beautiful trees take time to grow and that fruit takes time to bear.
And when I say they, I mean me, and maybe … you.
As a pastor and preacher, I read the Bible frequently, but during this Coronavirus season, if I’m honest, I have found more nourishment in Sabbath and prayer, than I have in the word of God.
And I don’t want this to be the case.
I don’t want the sanctuary of my soul to be a bench (as wonderful as it is).
I want it to be the living and active word of God (Hebrew 4:12).
I want it to be the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).
I want it to be Scripture that is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
I want it to be the Bible, because Augustine was right when he said “When the bible speaks God speaks”.
And if you’re like me, then I invite you to join me, in recommitting to studying and savouring the Scriptures.
Study and Savour
I invite you to study, by picking up a pencil and making notes in your Bible.
Circle important words, take note of repetitions, think about the context, and don’t forget the literary devices of metaphors and imagery. And don’t worry about your precious Bible being ruined. As Charles Spurgeon said: “the bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone whose life is not”.
But as you read, do more than just study. The Bible doesn’t exist to make you a smart sinner.
Savour the Bible for the gift it is.
Savour the Bible because it’s how God reveals himself to you!
Leonard Ravenhill helpfully challenges us when he says:
“One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed. We have adopted the convenient theory that the Bible is a Book to be explained, whereas first and foremost it is a Book to be believed (and after that to be obeyed)…The fact beats ceaselessly into my brain these days that there is a world of difference between knowing the Word of God and knowing the God of the Word.”
Did you catch that last line? There is a world of difference between knowing the Word of God and knowing the God of the Word!
I invite you to saviour the Bible as you read it. And to do this, what I have found helpful is praying as you read the Bible.
Tim Chester explains this practice in his excellent book called Enjoying God:
“Turn God’s speech into a two-way conversation by worshipping over the word. Many prayers recorded in the Bible are actually Bible promises turned round and presented back to God as requests. One way of doing this is to read the passage as a whole and then reread it a verse or two at a time. After each section, turn what you’ve read into prayer. You might respond with praise or confession or thanksgiving or petition.”
Pray before you read, pray as you read, and pray after you read to soak it into your heart, mind and soul.
Christian, don’t be bored of the Bible. Study it and savour it.
Do it right now by prayerfully reading these words from Psalm 19.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Joel Deacon is the Lead Pastor of City on a Hill Wollongong. He is firmly convinced that we are designed for community, especially in a big and sometimes lonely city like Wollongong. Before becoming a pastor, Joel worked as a Civil Engineer and is always up for a chat about roads and bridges. But his greatest passion is talking to people about Jesus. Joel is married to Emma, and they have three kids Elijah, Isaac and Lily. An ideal day off for Joel would include coffee with his wife, smelling flowers with his daughter, wrestling with his boys, reading, and staying up late to watch EPL.