Trapping God in a Box
I’m an avid reader and now that school is out for the summer, I’ve been enjoying lots of fiction, some ministry books, non-fiction Christian books, and some magazines. In reading, I stumbled upon an article that said “72 percent of those in ministry read their Bibles only for prep work,” a statistic which the author called “troubling”.
For years, I’ve heard pastors, church workers, and even lay people implore me to begin every day with a Quiet Time in God’s Word, and to make this time separate from any time I spend in God’s Word preparing to give a talk or lead a Bible study. But I’ve never understood this. Why can’t my prep time also be my quiet time with God?
Some of my richest encounters with God have actually come as a result of preparing for something that I’m about to teach. Take Tuesday, when I spent about four hours preparing to lead a Bible study on the Woman at the Well. (John 4). Because I was preparing to “teach” this story, I explored it much more thoroughly than I would have had I simply been reading the story during a quiet time. I sat at my desk, prayerfully studying the Word using the Bible and two of my favorite commentaries. As I studied both God’s Word and how people far wiser than I had interpreted it, I found myself captivated by this story yet again; Drawn to the fact that Christ chooses to reveal his identity to this unlikely, scandalous Samaritan woman, thereby vividly demonstrating that his message, love, and grace are for ALL people.
Without a doubt, during my nearly nine years in ministry, it’s been during the times when I’ve been preparing to teach God’s Word to others that God has most challenged and deepened my own faith. God’s often used that preparation time as a catalyst for further spiritual growth, necessary to mold me into the woman He’s created me to be.
Because of this experience, I struggle with the idea that to be a good Christian or youth worker, I must also take an additional, separate 30 minutes in the morning to have a “quiet time” with God. To me, all this does is place God in a box, effectively limiting those times we expect him to work by saying, “OK God, THIS and only THIS is the time in which you can work in my own life.”
But isn’t God actually much bigger than that? Isn’t the God we worship big enough to minister to us throughout our day – anytime we open his Word, regardless of the reason why? Isn’t the God we worship big enough to speak to us not just through his Word, but also through nature, art, music, people (including the teens we serve), and other writers?
I believe He is.
Moreover, I believe that worship and that our study of God’s Word is, in actuality, meant to be much more far reaching than we tend to imagine; That it’s meant to be much less about compartmentalizing our lives into specific time slots – worship here, read God’s Word here, serve here, and live the rest of our lives over here – and much more about a holistic perspective.
As Romans 12:1-2 says, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
If God is, in fact, big enough to work in a variety of ways and if worship is really meant to be an outpouring of the rest of our lives, then perhaps we need to spend less time bemoaning the fact that 72% of those in ministry read their Bibles only for prep work and instead CELEBRATE how God is at work in and through those church workers – both as we prepare and as we teach and lead, doing all we can to connect to Christ ourselves and then teaching others to do the same.