This past Friday, we said good-bye to arguably the most influential follower of Christ of the past century as Billy Graham was laid to rest in North Carolina. In the days between his passing and the services on Friday numerous reflections were offered on his life and ministry and there was a remarkable consistency to them. They all emphasized the integrity of his life and message, his gracious yet consistent presentation of truth, and above all, the simplicity of his message. Many of those who wrote or spoke of his passing would not have agreed with, or believed in the gospel that Rev. Graham preached, but they all articulated what it was clearly, just as he had done.
Such a testimony and life raise the question of how it was achieved. I do not profess to be excessively knowledgable about Billy Graham's life and habits, but it was clear that he was more than a student of the Word, he was a lover of it. The simplicity of the message he presented could easily be dismissed as an unintellectual faith, or as a rote formula. However, to maintain such a simple message so consistently over so many years suggests not a rigid dogma but a deeply planted reality that informed all of who he was.
I posted a couple of weeks ago about the significance of the spiritual disciplines for our growth as the first of a series that would explore the various disciplines as they have worked in my life. So often we approach the disciplines as ends in and of themselves, rather than as a means to achieving our ends. For instance, many of us have inherited the idea of maintaining a regular devotional practice, if we have been steeped in the American evangelical tradition. This regular time spent in God's word is a noble and necessary pursuit for the follower of Christ. Oftentimes, however, the task itself becomes the goal, as though the measure of how spiritual you are is how faithful you are with your "quiet times". This has the effect of producing either crushing guilt or unbearably smug self-righteousness. It's safe to say that if a spiritual discipline has these sorts of results, we are probably doing it wrong. Billy Graham's use of the Word reflected someone whose heart had been captivated by it as a great love, not enslaved by it as a great burden nor elevated by it as a badge of pride.
So how do we imitate that sort of discipline? For me, I have found that it starts with our goal. The goal of Bible reading is not to read the Bible. Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40) Scripture is a window that reveals God to us. Our goal in approaching any of the disciplines must be to encounter and know the living God so that we too might have life. Any other goal will result in dead religion. Scripture in this approach is the "living and active" word that becomes written on our hearts. It keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The result is that the more we know of Scripture, the simpler our message becomes and the surer we are of it.
In order to experience this powerful ministry of the word, we must move beyond simply reading to engage the person of Jesus in the word. In my next post, I will examine the different ways in which we can engage with Scripture that prevent it from being merely a dead letter, but rather the vehicle through which we hear and know the voice of our Shepherd.