Daily Devotions: The Soul-Secrets of Sacred
A Pocket Paper
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”—Matthew 4:1-4
Several years ago, there was a popular television show entitled “The Facts of Life,” and one of the stars was a woman named Lisa Whelchel who played the part of Blair. In “real life,” Lisa is a busy mother, a pastor’s wife, and a popular Christian writer and speaker. Several months ago, we cooperated in a little project, and I learned something from her.
One of Lisa’s specialties is teaching busy mothers how to take time for spiritual nourishment in the Word of God every day. On her bookshelf is a copy of Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, and one day she noticed something. In the Bible, the term “word” is sometimes translated from the Greek word “rhema.”
For example, here in Matthew 4:4, Jesus told the devil that human beings could not exist merely on physical nourishment, they needed spiritual nourishment as well. We don’t live by bread alone, but by every rhema that proceeds from the mouth of God.
The term “word” in this verse is the Greek word rhema, which means something that has been definitely stated, a pronouncement, a specific word uttered by a living voice. This term struck Lisa and she began thinking of specific Bible verses as “Rhema Rays.” She wrote, “When I sit down in my recliner, snuggle up with a cozy blanket, a hot cup of coffee, and my favorite comfy Bible every morning, there are some days, as I am reading the Word to know God personally, that He reveals Himself in an especially intimate way. It is as if the Lord shines a ray of light on a verse, even if I have read it a hundred times before but suddenly I understand how it specifically applies to me and my life. I call these moments ‘Rhema Rays.’”
It seems to me that this is what the ancient Christians and the desert fathers called lectio divina (pronounced lex’-ee-o / dih-vee-nah), which means, literally, sacred reading. This is one of the ancient disciplines that we need to rediscover in this day of blaring noises and non-stop sound. Lectio divina means that we find a time to be still and to open the Bible or some great devotional piece of literature, and we read it for our own soul’s nourishment, looking for that word or phrase or verse or chapter that will speak to us as though it had our names on it, as though we could hear the voice of Jesus Himself speaking to us personally and pointedly.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Word
Sometimes all it takes is a single word of Scripture. I believe that every word is inspired, and Jesus said that every dot and dash is given with authority. Look across the page at Matthew 5:17ff. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Some time ago, I was reading through the book of 2 Chronicles during my
morning devotional periods, and one day I came to the story of King Johoram in chapter 21. This was a very distressing
father had been the good King Jehoshaphat who had
worked tirelessly to bring about revival in his nation. Upon his death, Jehoram
ascended to the throne and he immediately undid his father’s twenty-five
years of work. To solidify his
power, Jehoram massacred all his siblings and
married the daughter of Queen Jezebel, the most wicked
woman in the Old Testament. He
descended into idol-worship, and the
But having described these multiple disasters, verse 7 (NIV) says, “Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.”
That one word—nevertheless—jumped out at me, and with my pencil I drew a box around it, and for days and days I was encouraged in my spirit because of that one word. Everything may be collapsing around us, but nevertheless the promises of God are secure. Nevertheless God is in control. Nevertheless He is faithful and His Word is sure. Nevertheless I can trust in Him.
It’s wonderful when a word in the Bible jumps out and assaults you, as it were.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Phrase
Sometimes God speaks to us in a phrase from the Bible. I’ve occasionally battled anxiety, but there’s one thing about that for which I can give thanks. My anxiety has so often driven me to the Bible to find a promise or a word of reassurance from the Lord. For example, one night a four-word phrase in Mark hit me like a load of bricks: “Have faith in God.” On another occasion, it was a two-word phrase in Psalm 37: “Fret not.”
On another occasion, I was reading through the book of Daniel, and it was a time of special concern for me. There were two words in chapter 4 that struck me like two bullets from a derringer. In this chapter, Daniel is interpreting the strange dream of Nebuchadnezzar. I’ll not give you the full context, but let me read this one verse for you—Daniel : “The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.”
I had never noticed those two words before: Heaven rules! It reminded me of the phrase we come across in the book of Psalms—the Lord reigns! But what a joy to go into the day with those two words written above our heads in the sky, as it were: Heaven rules. The Lord reigns.
This was one of the Bible study methods our Lord used. I’d like to show you a wonderful passage of Scripture. It’s Psalm 31, a song written by David and consisting of 24 verses. This is a favorite of mine, and in glancing back over it in my old, underlined Bible, I counted a dozen different circles and underlines and brackets and other marks that I’ve made through the years as I’ve underlined its verses. Let me show you how Psalm 31 begins: In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name, lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.
Our Lord Jesus evidently loved Psalm 31, and in the dying moments of
His life on
When you have a very rich dessert in your kitchen, maybe a rich chocolate concoction, sometimes all you need is a little bite of it. And some of the verses in the Bible are so rich that all you need is a little phrase. When God gives it to you, underline it or circle it, and then write it on your mind and in your heart.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Verse
This week I read about a woman in
The woman went home greatly troubled, but she picked up her devotional book and Romans 15:13 jumped off the page at her: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Somehow that verse gave her divine reassurance, and she said, in effect, “Lord, you knew all about my illness, my medications, and my pregnancy. You’ve given me new life, and I’m going to rejoice in it whether there are birth defects or not.”
She was so bolstered by that verse that she carried the baby to term. And as she wrote her story, she said, “Twenty-four years have passed since that time. Today our daughter, Rebecca, is a short-term missionary.” (Voices of the Faithful, with Beth Moore, Kim P. David Compiling Editor, Integrity Publishers, 2005), p. 67.)
I want to praise God today for two men—one was a Jewish Rabbi by the name of Nathan who divided the Old Testament into verses in AD 1448. The other is Robert Estienne, a Parisian printer, who was the first to divide the New Testament into verses in 1555. We owe them a debt of gratitude because they make these wonderful little segments of Scripture so accessible to us and so easy to find and learn. How often God speaks to us through a simple verse.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Paragraph
There are also times when God speaks to us in a paragraph of Scripture, which has the advantage of providing us a truth in its context. When I talk about preaching, I often advise ministerial students to consider the paragraph the most basic unit for the preaching text. The reason is that paragraphs are our shortest segments of contextualized truth. A chapter provides the context, but often it’s too long for a sermon. A verse presents truth, but not with an adequate context. But when we study a paragraph, we’re studying bite-sized, manageable, workable units of contextualized truth. And that makes them ideal for both personal study and biblical preaching.
Years ago, I heard my favorite professor in Bible college preach a
sermon from Isaiah 40:27-31, and from that day this has been one of my
favorite paragraphs of Scripture.
Let me read it for you: Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O
Those last verses are among the most beautiful of the entire Bible, but in studying the paragraph I realized that it’s the first verses that provide a sense of context. These verses were written to people who were so defeated in life that they thought God had forgotten all about them. They thought God wasn’t listening to their prayers. They thought their problems were beyond God’s concern or control. They were complaining, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God.”
Isaiah was addressing His majestic words to those who were cast down in their spirits, and he was asking them, “Do you not know? Have you forgotten? Don’t you remember? The everlasting God is the creator of the ends of the earth, and He knows all about it, and He hasn’t forgotten you, and He wants to give you renewed strength….” And in that context, he paints the beautiful picture of faith that we have in verse 31. What a powerful paragraph, especially in times of perplexity and discouragement.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Chapter
Sometimes God speaks to us in an entire chapter. I don’t have any better example
of this than my experience over the
I just love it when an entire chapter comes alive like that, and how wonderful some of these great chapters of Scripture are.
Sometimes God Speaks to us in a Book
And then sometimes God speaks to us through a whole book of the Bible. Every one of the 66 books in the Bible meets a different need in our lives; and there’s nothing richer than doing book studies of Scripture. You can begin by just reading through a book in one sitting.
I think a lot of us have gotten lazy in our reading habits, and it seems too hard for us to read a whole book in a sitting. We don’t mind to sit down for a half-hour situation comedy on television, or a one-hour drama, or a two-hour movie or ballgame; but to sit for more than three or four or five minutes for Bible reading seems like a chore. I can read an average chapter in the Bible in just over a minute, and I’ve made a little project of seeing how long it takes me to read through the various books of the Bible.
It took me just a little over an hour and a half to read through Genesis. Exactly one hour and a half to read through Isaiah, which is one of the longest books of the Bible. I read through the entire book of Proverbs in 42 minutes, and James in seven minutes. Every book of the Bible has its own purpose and theme; and sometimes as we read through a book in the Bible, the whole book just sinks into our hearts by spiritual osmosis, and we are blessed and strengthened by it. Recently I’ve been reading and re-reading the entire book of Job. I’m planning to preach a series of sermons this fall from Job, and nothing is richer than book-studies of the Bible
If, then, the Lord is eager to speak to us with the words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books of the Bible, how do we do we read the Bible for all its worth? How do we listen and learn and lean?
First, make Bible reading and Bible study a daily habit.
Second, ask God to speak to your heart and mind as you read.
Third, read methodically, picking up where you left off the day before.
Fourth, read contemplatively, thinking about what you’re reading and praying through it.
Fifth, read with a pen or pencil. One morning I came to my office for my morning devotions, and my reading that day was in Ezra, chapter 1. I sat down and read the entire chapter and did not get one thing out of it. My mind just wasn’t engaged. It was like when you have your car motor in neutral, and you can gun your engine all you want, but you’re not going to make any forward progress at all. I was having trouble focusing. So I said to myself, “I know there are some good lessons in this chapter. I’ll just start taking notes.” This time I didn’t get any further than verse 1, because suddenly as I began to outline the verse and jot down some notes, that verse came alive.
Sixth, take advantage of times of distress. Very often, it’d during difficult times that we’re most receptive to the wisdom and strength of the Bible.
And finally, as you find
those passages that speak to you, learn to lean on them with your whole
weight. I prepared this message while
traveling; I was in
“Mr. Morgan: I just finished reading the King James Bible. I just wanted to tell you how wrong you are about the historical accuracy of this Bible, or any other. In your introduction, you imply that the events in it, Old Testament and New, are well founded, verified historical facts. This is demonstrably not so….”
He went on to excoriate Christians for their hypocrisy and to blame them for just about every evil under the sun, and she ended by saying: “What a better world this would be if all this nonsense would just go away.”
On the very same morning, I received another e-mail from a woman who told me of how very often, in times of crisis, hurt, and disappointment, the Bible has spoken to her. She described a number of crushing blows that have come her way in the last few years, and she gave me specific occasions of how certain Bible verses have kept her going. For example, she described what she called the most painful day of her life when some things happened in the summer of 2004 that just devastated her life. But there was one verse that gave her courage and the strength to go on. It was Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
In her e-mail to me, she said, “I sensed God’s voice saying over and over again, ‘Trust me. Trust me.’ I knew (that whether or not I could ever trust another person), I knew I could trust God.”
She ended her letter saying: God’s Word is powerful enough for any crisis. The Word can speak to your need and give you direction. You can trust the God who is truth and who never changes.”
received those two letters within a few minutes of each other in a hotel room
One thing I know for sure. It’s impossible to really appreciate the Bible without knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Only when you give Him your heart and life can you fully grasp the Bible. It’s like the woman who read a book and didn’t get a thing out of it. To her, it was wasted time. Then shortly afterward, she met the author. They fell in love and married, and she read the book again; and this time it came alive to her. To really appreciate and love the Bible, you have to know and love its author, who died for you and rose again.
Today I want to point you to God and to Jesus Christ and to the wonder of the Word of God. I commit you to God and to the Word of His grace that can build you up and give you an inheritance among those who are sanctified. For we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
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