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Prayer As A Source Of Spiritual Nourishment


Bible Reading As A Source Of Spiritual Nourishment

Human babies are born with a natural rooting and sucking reflex. "Rooting" means looking for something to eat. You can test this by touching the cheek of a newborn with your knuckle. He will turn his head and try to suck, seeking for food. She senses she has been separated from her mother and must seek food in her new environment.

Baby Christians are about the same. The emotional high you felt when you first accepted Christ wears off and you need to find a continuing source of spiritual nourishment. If you don't, you will starve to death. The two most accessible sources of this spiritual nourishment are prayer and Bible reading.

PRAYER AS A SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT

You have some experience with prayer or you wouldn't be a baby Christian. You have already prayed the prayer of confession and repentance. So, you know prayer is nothing more complicated than talking. Talking to God, in this case. In the early stages of your spiritual growth and development, this talking to God will serve two primary functions.

First, prayer will release the power of God in your life to help you do what is right and resist what is wrong. Second, prayer will give you the same kind of emotional release you get when talking to any understanding person about your problems. However, talking to God is superior to talking to your best friend because He already knows all about you and you can't shock Him by what you say during prayer.

You may have some concerns about the quality of your prayer. Perhaps you've heard someone deliver a public prayer in a worship service with great oratorical fervor. Forget that. Maybe some day you will pray like that and maybe you never will. Different people have different abilities. But no one who is capable of a conscious thought is unable to pray. In fact, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit will translate human stress into a prayer to God even when we are too upset to do more than groan.

In the beginning, your prayer conversations with God may center around requests for help. That's normal. The human baby's crying is usually a form of request for help. Feed me ... Hold me ... Change me. Your prayers will be about the same at first. Help me ... Guide me ... Strengthen me. That kind of praying will be the difference between spiritual life and death so indulge in it freely.

Later, as you become a little more spiritually mature, you will want to broaden the scope of your praying to include other kinds of communication with God. When you are having these personal talks with God, your praying should not be formal or structured in the sense of following an outline. However, you may want to make a mental note of including the following concepts in order to develop balance in your prayer life.

First, praise God for who and what He is. God is your creator and the chief executive officer of the entire universe. In addition, He has supreme authority over you and everything He has created. When you pray, praise Him for His greatness and accept His authority over all creation, including yourself.

Second, thank God for what He has done for you. Thank Him for the plan of salvation which permits you to escape the death penalty for your sins by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as your personal sin sacrifice. Praise Him for the material and physical blessings you enjoy. Each time you talk to God in prayer, you should include an element of thanks. Don't save it up for that special Thursday in November.

Third, pray for other people who need God's help. You may want to start with your family circle and close friends. Then branch out to people with whom you worship, work, or attend school. Some of these people may need to accept Jesus just as you did. Others may know Him already but need help with some problem of a spiritual, physical, economic, or emotional nature. You may pray for organizations as well as individuals. Include your church, your country, warring countries of the world, and missionaries in your prayers.

Finally, pray for yourself. Although this kind of prayer will be most common while you are a new-born baby Christian, you will never grow out of the need to include yourself when you are talking to God. Admit your dependence on Him for guidance, strength, and spiritual nourishment. This kind of prayer is especially important when you are being tempted by Satan to do something which you know is wrong.

If you accepted Jesus Christ in a public worship service, you may associate prayer with the altar. It's true that the altar is an excellent place for prayer but prayer is by no means limited to the altar. The Bible encourages us to "pray without ceasing". This means we should keep our finger on the transmit button all the time so we can talk to God whenever we feel the need.

Although prayer can be impromptu and on-the-spot, you should develop the habit of setting aside a specific time for daily prayer. This is a form of spiritual discipline which will require some effort on your part in the beginning. But, it will pay rich dividends later on. Satan would love to keep you in a spiritually-anemic condition so he can pounce on you with strong temptations when you are least able to defend yourself. A regular prayer schedule will keep you in strong spiritual shape, just as regular and balanced meals help keep you in good physical shape.

BIBLE READING AS A SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT

Prayer is your means of communicating with God and the Bible is God's means of communicating with you. God inspired 40 different authors to write in three different languages over a period of 1500 years to give us the collection of writings which we now call the Bible. In addition, He kept His hand of providence on the early church fathers as they authorized these sacred writings as the official canon of Holy Scripture. Furthermore, God has kept His hand of guidance and direction on the copyists and translators who have worked so diligently over the centuries to make it possible for you to hold the word of God in your hands in this century. Therefore, you can read the Bible with full confidence that it contains the exact information which God wanted you to know for the time in which you live.

The Bible may not tell you everything you want to know about this life and what lies in the future. But, it will tell you everything you need to know. God's primary objective in giving us the Bible is to reveal Himself to us and to explain His plan of salvation for us. Always keep this in mind as you read and study your Bible.

We call the Bible a book but it's really a collection of books divided into two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. In each case, the word "testament" means contract or covenant. In the Old Testament, the contract between God and the children of Israel was this:

IF you live according to the laws which were handed down to you through Moses,

THEN you will be My chosen people and I will take special care of you. Those laws emphasized worship of no other god but the one true God.

In the New Testament, the contract is this:

IF you will accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior,

THEN you will have eternal life.

The writings of the Old Testament still have inspirational and historical value but that contract is void. We are no longer saved by obedience to the laws of Moses, but through the blood of Jesus Christ. The contract of the New Testament has superseded the contract of the Old Testament. That's why the first is called "old" and the second is called "new".

SELECTING A VERSION

You may have tried to read the Bible in the past and found it to be very hard reading. The best known translation among believers and nonbelievers alike is the Authorized King James Version. This version was authorized by King James of England in 1611 and is a literary masterpiece as well as the inspired word of God. However, its Elizabethan style makes it rather difficult to read, especially out loud. A number of the newer translations are as true to the original manuscripts as the King James but are far easier to read, silently or aloud. On the other hand, many evangelical Christians prefer the King James and believe it is more doctrinally correct than the newer versions. Over the years, millions of Christians have been taught from it, preached to from it, married from it. They have studied it, memorized it, been blessed and convicted by it, and they have come to love it dearly. The newer translations just don't seem like scripture to these mature Christians.

But you are a baby Christian and probably have relatively little spiritual investment in the King James Version. Therefore, you should consider one of the modern language versions. All major new versions are faithful to the original manuscripts and are completely safe for study and instruction. In fact, archaeological discoveries since 1611 provide additional material for translators to consider in preparing the modern language versions. Since the primary purpose of the Bible is to provide a means for God to communicate with humans, it makes sense to have it in the form which is most conducive to communication.

A favorite among the newer translations is the "New International Version" published by Zondervan in 1978. This version, known to Bible students as the NIV (pronounced N-I-V), is very easy to read. In addition, it's translation is very accurate from a doctrinal viewpoint.

The "Living Bible" is a popular paraphrase published by Tyndale House and makes excellent reading for the baby Christian. Although this is not a scholarly translation like the NIV, it is proper nourishment for this stage of your spiritual growth and development. In fact, you may like it well enough to use it permanently.

If you're already familiar with the literary style of the King James, you may want to try the New King James published by Thomas Nelson. This version retains much of the flow and cadence of the traditional King James Bible but eliminates some of the more obscure and antiquated word meanings, word endings, and pronouns. For example, pronouns like thee, thine, and thou were not placed in the original King James to signify respect for God or the scriptures. Those pronouns were in common use in 1611 and it was natural for the King James translators to use them in their work. The New King James, along with all other modern language translations, uses conventional pronouns.

The antiquated pronouns of the King James have led Christians to believe that public prayer must include them. When you pray in public, or in private, feel free to use common, regular, everyday English. There is no special virtue in using the outdated language of 1611 just because it appears in the King James translation of the Bible. For example, it is not necessary to say, "Our Father, we thank THEE today because THOU DOST give us so many good things." Just say, "Our Father, we thank YOU today because YOU give us so many good things."

SHOPPING FOR A BIBLE

When you're looking for a new Bible, there are several things to consider. First, you'll want to find a store which specializes in religious books, music, and supplies. If you don't know of such a store, look in the yellow pages under "religious goods" or "religious supplies". Such stores are known in evangelical jargon as "book stores". A book store will give you a better selection of versions, bindings, and print sizes than you will find at a secular book store in a mall.

Several of the newer versions have inexpensive paperback editions of the New Testament or other subdivisions of the Bible. This type of purchase will give you a chance to see if you like a version before making an investment in a quality, full-size Bible.

When you are ready to buy a complete Bible and know which version you want, the next decision is the binding. Of course the King James comes in the largest variety of binding styles and colors. However, the NIV and some of the other versions offer a wide selection, also. The basic choice in most versions is between the regular library style stiff binding or the flexible leather binding. If you decide you like the flexible style, you should consider one which is lined in leather. This will cost more than a paper lined flexible binding but will last much longer. Remember that you are buying a book which you will read daily, study carefully, and carry to church with you regularly. The Bible is not a book to be read once and put on the shelf. Make your purchase accordingly.

All editions of a given version have the same contents but not all Bibles are the same size. The size depends on the size of the print and the thickness of the paper. A pocket-sized Bible will have fine print and very thin paper. While such paper is designed to wear well, the pages are difficult to turn one at a time, especially when you are looking for a particular verse of scripture during a church service.

Another issue to consider when buying your Bible is the amount of reference material you would like to have included. Many editions have cross-referencing notations which connect a given scripture verse with related scriptures in other parts of the Bible. Explanations of obscure King James words or alternate translations of a word or phrase may be included. You may also find maps, comments on doctrine and theology, and a concordance.

The concordance may turn out to be the most useful reference item of all and you should put it on your "must" list of things to consider when buying your Bible. A "complete" concordance is a book in its own right. It takes each word in the Bible and gives each place where that word appears in a verse. The concordance found in the back of a Bible covers major words only. This is still a big help when you are not familiar with the location of specific verses of scripture.

Shop around and look at several Bibles until you find the version, binding, print size, and paper which you feel will best meet your needs. This process may take several days or even a couple weeks. Of course, you won't want to go without reading a Bible while you are doing your comparison shopping. That would be like going without eating while you find a supermarket which gives the best food values.

COMPUTER BIBLES

The computer age has made a great impact on Bibles, as well as every other aspect of our lives. Computerized Bibles fall into three broad categories: handheld, desktop, and on line.

Franklin makes a nice handheld computer Bible. You can quickly locate any verse, either by using the chapter and verse reference, or by entering a key word.

The Bible on a CD for your home computer is available for both Macintosh and Windows machines. With such a Bible, you can do sophisticated searches, export major portions of text to your word processor for use in preparing printed material, and send text to your printer.

On line Bibles are available on the Internet in a variety of versions. Use your favorite search engine to locate a specific URL.

WHAT SHOULD I READ FIRST?

The starting point for your Bible reading is the next thing to be discussed. For most books, that is no problem. You start at the beginning and read to the end. However, the Bible teaches that baby Christians should start out on the "milk" of the word of God before trying to chew on the steak.

The first book you should read all the way through is the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the third book in the New Testament and contains the most complete account of the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John) include much information about Jesus but Luke has a more complete chronological narrative.

After Luke, read the Acts of the Apostles. This book is also known as the Book of Acts or just Acts. The primary purpose of Acts is to outline the development of the Christian movement after Christ went up into heaven. The major character is the Apostle Paul and he did more to spread Christianity among the gentiles than any other human being of his day. The second chapter of Acts documents the revelation of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead, together with God the Father and God the Son. In fact, some Bible scholars state that this book should be named the Acts of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit plays such a dominant role in what transpires.

Both Luke and Acts are credited to the pen of Luke, The Physician. Luke was a highly-educated Greek who possessed the analytical thinking process which is common to the profession of physician. For example, Luke contains more information about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ than Matthew. Mark and John don't mention it at all.

Read Luke and Acts as the first two books of your personal Bible study and you will have a history of the life of Christ and the work of the early Christian church.

FINDING BIBLE VERSES

Turn to the table of contents in the front of your Bible. You will find all 66 books listed with page numbers. When you first read your Bible, you can't hope to find specific verses quickly without using this table of contents. As you get more familiar with the books of the Bible and the order in which they appear, you will use the table of contents less and less.

As you look down over the books of the Bible in the table of contents, you will notice that several titles have two or more divisions. When a scripture reference is announced from the pulpit or in a Sunday school class, make sure you catch which book is being used and whether it is the second or third book in the series. You may be especially confused by the Gospel of John and the Epistles (letters) of John. There are three epistles of John but only one Gospel of John.

FAMILY WORSHIP

Your personal devotions are important but you need to develop a program of family worship as well. This does not mean you set aside a corner of the living room as a shrine at which you bow and worship as a family. Family worship, or the family altar as it is also called, is as simple as reading the Bible and praying together as a group.

Our kids still tease our baby girl about her reading the Bible aloud in family worship when she was still learning to sound out words. Jessi was born in 1971, and is now the wife of the Youth Pastor at Christ Church Nashville. The passage she was reading aloud that day included the word discipline. She sounded it out and decided the word was pronounced DISK-kuh-pline. Of course, her siblings thought this was hilarious. Not very Christian of them, was it?

I said all that to say that one stumble didn't keep Jessi from becoming a strong Christian, a careful student of God's word, and a tenacious prayer warrior. And it all started in family worship.

The biggest problem in meeting as a family for worship is scheduling. As children grow older, they have different bedtimes, different activities, and much more complicated lives. Regardless, each member of the family should have an opportunity to participate. One person may read while others take turns praying, or any combination which fits the needs of your family. Make a special point of including the smaller children in the prayers. The sweetest sound in the world is the voice of a three year old lifted in simple prayer to a God which many PhDs claim they can't see or understand.

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