Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Write On!

A while ago I wrote a couple of posts on the idea of preaching to ourselves (see below for links). This is where we seek to get into the habit of speaking to ourselves rather than listening to oursleves. It is cultivating the practice of reminding ourselves of and exhorting ourselves with the truths of the Bible. In this post I want to think about one practical way that we can help ourselves to become better self-preachers. One simple way I have come to find invaluable in this battle is to get into the habit of writing.

What do I mean by writing? What I especially have in mind is using pen and paper as we study the Bible, meditate on it and seek to apply its truth to ourselves. In this post I want to commend to you the practice of writing as you read the Bible, as you meditate on and think through the implications of the Bible. I want to encourage you to keep a notebook with your Bible and to take notes as you read.

I want also to suggest that writing is better than typing. I know that many people use laptops  iphones, ipad and many more gadgets and these, used rightly, can be extremely valuable tools. However, in my experience I find that writing better serves preaching to ourselves. There is something about the physical action of forming the words with a pen on paper that helps us in a way that typing words into a screen cannot (However, I'm well aware of the irony that I'm currently typing this on my laptop instead of jotting it down on a piece of paper!).

Getting into the habit of studying and thinking with a pen can greatly help us as we seek to preach to ourselves. There are a number of reasons why this is the case. Here are some of the great benefits that we gain from using the pen and paper in our Christian life:

1) Writing Helps us to Think Clearly
As we write we force ourselves to articulate clearly the thoughts that have been buzzing around in our heads. Thoughts that are not articulated can have the tendancy of being vague. Frequently I find when I come to write down thoughts, which seem clear in my head, I find that my thinking is not as clear as I think it is. Making ourselves write down the thoughts that are roaming around in our heads, as clear and simple as they may seem, greatly helps us to become clear thinkers.

Any preacher will tell you that one of the things that makes for a good sermon is the fact that it's clear and easy for the listener to follow. When it comes to preaching to ourselves, surely we want to be clear about what we are telling ourselves as we seek to press home Bible truths to ourselves. The discipline of writing will help us to do that. It will help us to think clearly about the Bible passage we're studying, and to think clearly as we seek to apply it to ourselves.

2) Writing Helps us Understand
This point is closely related to the previous one. The more clearly we are able to think about and express something, the better we understand it. I have heard it said that you don't really understand something, unless you are able to explain it to a small child. The more clearly we think about and seek to articulate something, the deeper we grow in understanding it.

If writing helps us to think more clearly about the truths of the Bible as we study it, it follows that it will also help us to deepen in our understanding of those truths because we are forcing ourselves to articulate as clearly and concisely as possible what we are seeing as we seek to mine the riches of Scripture in dependance upon the God who has given it to us.

3) Writing Deepens Impressions
It has often been said that "expression deepens impression". When we express the truths that we've heard to others, or simply on a page, it deepens the impression that the truth leaves on us.

Again and again I find that when I preach and teach the Bible I become more sure of those truths, treasure them more deeply and cling to them more tightly. This is because, in making myself think through how I might best and most clearly express those truths, they make a deeper and more lasting impression on me. I become more aware of the reality of those truths, and therefore I love them all the more.

The same is true when we make oursleves express on paper the great riches we are mining from the Bible as we study it. The more we seek to express the truths of the gospel using pen and paper, the depper the impression they will make on us. The more we express clearly the magnificence of Jesus as He is revealed in the pages of Scripture, the more precious He becomes to us.

4) Writing Helps us Remember
I suspect that I'm not the only one who finds that the physical action of writing helps me to remember things better. There is something about the action of going throught the actions of forming words on the page that burns them into my brain for longer. I'm in the habit of always carrying a notebook around with me. This is because I'm in the habit of constantly forgetting things. It has been my experience that I remember things much better if I jot it down in a notebook. Even if I don't come back to that page, I find that I'm more likely to remember because I've gone through the motions of writing it down which has burned it a little deeper into my memory.

5) Writing Endures Longer Than Thoughts in Our Head
It is a simple fact that something written down can have a far longer lifespan than a thought in our head does. A trip to the local library reminds us of this. There are libraryloads of books that have outlived their authors by hundreds of years.

Now I'm not suggesting that our aim in taking notes as we study the Bible is to create a Christian classic that will last for hundreds of years. What I simply want to point out is that getting into the habit of writing will serve us greatly as we seek to cultivate a lifetime of preaching to ourselves. I have no idea what I was thinking (or even what passage of the Bible I was reading) on the 23rd February 2008. However, because I've written notes as I read the Bible that day, I am still able to benefit from that morning's study of the Bible years later. The discipline of the pen and paper will serve us in years to come, it will endure in a way that our memories can't.

Now, we need to be clear, none of these five points are here to deny the fact that it is God alone who gives us understanding as we read the Bible. The best and clearest thinking, the most proficient writing and the most dilligently stored notebooks are worth nothing if He does not open our eyes, unstop our ears and  soften our hearts as we come before the Bible. we need constantly to pray with the Psalmist, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." (Psalm 119:18).

However, our thinking is not inconsistent with the fact that it is God who gives us understanding. Paul calls Timothy to "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." (2 Timothy 2:7). It it precisely because it is God that gives us understanding that allows us to think and work hard as we study the text of Scripture. It is through our hard work, and dilligent sweating over the text of the Bible, in humble dependance on Him that He gives understanding. Getting into the habit of writing can, under God, be a great means to us better grasping and applying the truths of Scripture to ourselves.

So, brothers and sisters, can I commend you to 'Write on'!

Previous Posts: