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I have a voracious appetite for listening to sermons, and in my 3 years as a Christian, I have grown spiritually quite a bit. The question is, can this substitute for actually reading the Bible by myself? (The problem I have with reading the Bible is that I simply have a hard time understanding it. There are so many nuances and so much background information to know, that most of what I read sail over my head). The downside of listening to sermons alone is that I cannot meditate on scriptures, as nothing comes to my mind. Also, I'm afraid I'm losing out on the Holy Spirit's speaking to me through the scriptures, because I cannot remember specific verses.

I suppose the problem I'm facing is unique to the Christian who lives in a developed country in the Information Age, equipped with easy access to sermons and multimedia resources. Am I losing out on something, or will my biblical knowledge eventually catch up to my spiritual maturity level?

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I believe this is a life-path question, rather than an academic Q&A one. I'd say if you are listening to sermon podcasts that increase your thirst for the Word, RELAX, rather than fret over completing the Good Work of so many chapters or fasts per week. –  pterandon Sep 28 '13 at 12:11
    
Matthew 6:21. Remember that the 1st century Christians did not have the Bible as we know it. They were converted by sermons and spiritually fed through communion with other believers. Your heart seems to treasure what is important, so I would not worry about your preference to hear God's words through other believers. And, yes, eventually, you will gain enough knowledge that will make reading the Scriptures easier. –  fredsbend Oct 1 '13 at 23:26

2 Answers 2

Good question. As with so many apparently perplexing questions, the answer is not an "either/or" but a "both/and." Let me explain.

Both listening to God through the preaching (and teaching) of the Word and listening to God in one's personal "quiet time" with God are vital to growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Frankly, there is no substitute for either. Why is this so?

In part because we become believers in a community of faith. Within that community God has placed gifted people, each of whom (yourself included!) has something to offer the body of Christ, which is His church. Whether the body is one local assembly or millions of people listening by radio, podcasts, televised programs, video streaming, or any medium for that matter, whether "live" or recorded, all believers worldwide are one body in Christ (Romans 12:5; Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:15,21).

Unless we are infirm or are temporarily cut off from our community of faith (for whatever reason), there is no substitute for the live preaching and teaching we receive in a local assembly. I encourage you, therefore, not to forsake assembling together with other believers, whether one or two others, or one or two thousand others; it matters not (see Hebrews 10:25). Again, there is no substitute for live preaching and teaching. After all, it was through the "foolishness" of preaching we were saved and experienced the "message of the cross" as both the power and wisdom of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:24).

Likewise, there is no substitute for meeting with God, one on one, in the quietness of our spirit with the Holy Spirit. There are things we can learn only in communion with our heavenly Father. We learn them by reading His holy Word--that's God speaking to us, and thereby listen to Him and then respond to Him. Prayer is always a two-way street. God speaks; we listen; we speak; God listens; and so on.

There is no "magic" or "six secrets to a fulfilling quiet time," but there are steps you can take--a template, as it were--to make the most of your time with God:

  • Pray for insight before you read. I usually use a guide; currently, I use the Radio Bible Class guide called "Our Daily Bread." It includes a daily Bible reading, along with a few explanatory insights, and then an application of the Bible passage to everyday life. There are many such aids to the devotional study of God's Word, though we are always free to "strike out on our own" and perhaps determine in advance to go through an entire book (or letter/epistle) systematically. The reading need not be a whole chapter, but only a paragraph. (In my NASB, paragraphs begin and end with verse numbers in bold print, although it's almost always a good idea to read a few preceding verses and a few verses that follow a given paragraph, to get the context and flow of the passage.)
  • Read a passage, slowly and reverently, knowing that very often there will be things that confuse you or that are not clear, which you can research later. Jot your questions down (that's where a blank journal comes in handy!). At this stage, however, the application of what you've read to your life should be your focus. Remember, if you think the words are escaping your mind as if through a sieve, don't fret; at least the sieve is getting clean as the water of God's Word passes through it!
  • Ask yourself a few questions about what you've just read. For example, "Is there a promise for me to claim as my own?" "Is there a sin for me to avoid or even confess right now?" "Is there a lesson for me to learn?" "Is there an insight the Holy Spirit is giving me in this reading?" There will not always be a clear application to your life. Furthermore, you may seem to "forget" what you've just read two minutes after you've read it. Sometimes you are helped by reading a short passage numerous times; I know I am.
  • Pray the scripture you've just read. That is, thank God for what you've read and for whatever insight you've gained, and if there is a clear application of the Word to your life, ask God to enable you to apply it to your life today. (That's one reason why a daily quiet time in the morning--or whenever your "day" begins--is a good idea.) A good pattern for prayer is the following: confession, worship and praise, thanksgiving, and intercession for yourself and for others.

The psalmist said,

"Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee" (Psalm 119:11)

For this reason, it's a good idea to memorize key verses. Print them on 3x5 index cards and carry them with you, so that you can consult them during the day. If you sense a lack in your life or a weakness that needs to be strengthened, with your own research tools or with the help of a mentor, memorize several verses that apply to that lack or that weakness, whether it's a sin that entangles us (Hebrews 12:1; 1 John 1:9; James 5:16), a doubt that plagues us (Mark 9:24; John 20:27), a burden that weighs us down (1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6,7), or an unforgiving attitude (Matthew 6:12; Colossians 3:13; Mark 11:25).

Nowadays, with so much information available to us with the click of a mouse, simply googling a few words such as "Bible verses about forgiveness," or "Bible verses about temptation," or "Bible verses about anxiety," and so on, can put a host of helps at our fingertips in seconds!

Electronic media are mixed blessings, to be sure. As helpful as they can be, they are not a substitute for both our one-on-one time with God, and our one-to-the-many (or at least one or two others; see Matthew 18:20) time with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are saved by God individually, but we grow in Christ both individually and collectively in fellowship with other believers of like-minded faith (Hebrews 10:25).

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Absolutely not.

Daily personal Bible reading is the number one way to grow as a Christian.

That's my summary of a recent survey by the Willow Creek church of over 400 000 Christians. Here's another comment on the findings:

Willow Creek Association confirms this finding with its research from the REVEAL survey. Over a period of four years, it polled more than 1,500 churches representing more than 400,000 church attendees at various stages in their spiritual journeys.

Scripture reflection, the REVEAL survey found, is the No. 1 way to help people grow in their love for Christ. “When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible,” wrote Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins in their book, Move.

So if spiritual growth is your goal, nothing can substitute for personal Bible reading, not even regular inspiring sermons. If you have a problem understanding the Bible, try a different translation. The Living or New Living Translation is particularly easy to read.

Personal footnote: many times I have heard people say that God speaks to them most through reading their Bible. I agree.

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Would there be some leniency for an illiterate person? –  Anonymous Sep 29 '13 at 0:09
    
@Anonymous: audio version?! –  Wikis Sep 29 '13 at 6:10
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@Anonymous: That's kind of how the early church was fed: by listening to the Word being read to them. Manuscripts of the apostles' writings were scarce; books (codices) were almost unheard of, unless you were wealthy! Consequently, local churches shared whatever "Scripture" they could get their hands on and, likely, would pass it around until it crumbled into little pieces! The wealthier Christians among them might also have copied the letters/Gospels shortly after receiving them and "shared the wealth." What a difference between then and today! To whom much is given, much is required! –  rhetorician Sep 30 '13 at 20:10

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