The temptation to self-righteousness is strong, and yet we know it should not keep us from actually sitting down and reading the Bible. So what steps can we take to confront our sin, harness our minds, and hear the Word?
1. Pray Piper’s IOUS. John Piper uses acronyms for a variety of purposes (e.g., APTAT for prayer, ANTHEM for fighting lust). But the one that has been most helpful for me is IOUS. This is a simple way to remember four biblical prayers as we approach the Word:
- Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain (Ps 119.36)
- Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your law (Ps 119.18)
- Unite my heart to fear your name (Ps 86.11)
- Satisfy me with your steadfast love that I may rejoice and be glad all my days (Ps 90.14)
I’ve found this to be a helpful series of prayers with which to begin a day. They remind me that I’ve awoken (a) inclined towards self-centeredness, (b) unable to see reality, (c) distracted and scatterbrained, and (d) empty–and that the answer to every longing in my heart is found in the gospel. These aren’t magical words, but they verbalize our dependence on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
2. Sing a song or two. Another favorite preacher of mine, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said that he would begin each day by singing a couple of hymns in order to “rouse his soul” to worship God. I’ve found this to be an extremely helpful practice, more helpful than simply listening to music while reading. There’s something about internalizing the words of a song and directing those songs heavenward that helps orient my heart with reality. My favorite hymnal for this purpose is Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship, from the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. My copy is text-only, but you can purchase one with tunes. Fred Coleman, who first commended this practice to me, plans to release a hymnal next year whose specific purpose is to assist the believer’s personal devotion to Christ.
3. Don’t expect every day to be spectacular. We’ve probably all experienced an unusual sense of God’s presence at particular moments. Those may become valuable memorials as we remember what the Lord was doing in our hearts at that time. For me there is a prayer room on campus of my alma mater where God graciously showed me his glory through the Word. I may never forget those times and that place; they are special to me.
But the reason those times were so memorable is that they are unusual. We expend a lot of energy trying to recreate past experiences, feelings, or impressions, attempting to generate another unusual occurrence, when those moments are God’s to give. And if our experience doesn’t match our expectations, we can quickly doubt everything, even God’s very existence. This whole line of thinking betrays the Neo-Orthodoxy that lies within: the Bible is not the Word of God, but becomes the Word of God when we feel that we experience God through it.
Isn’t it spectacular enough that the One True God condescends to speak and listen to us?