Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Ultimate Priority

Psalm 1:1-3

Delivered 08/27/2006

What would you say is the fundamental discipline of the Christian life? Let me put it this way: What is it that you as a Christian need in your life in order that you might live a healthy and growing Christian life? What is the number one essential practice for a vibrant spiritual life? I would say that beyond question it is Bible study. There are other important disciplines such as prayer, fellowship, and witnessing, but we really don't know about these apart from the Word. We see the importance of Bible study from:

Acts 2:41-42 (NASB) So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

These new Christians were "continually devoting" themselves to the "apostles teaching," which is the Word of God. Why is it important for us to devote ourselves to reading and study of the Bible? It is important because it is the only source of truth we have about God:

2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

Paul is saying to Timothy that the Bible comes from God. He is its ultimate author. Notice how the Bible begins:

Genesis 1:1 (NASB) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

"In the beginning God" ­ if you don't accept that, you don't need to read any further. The Bible does not try to prove but assumes the existence of God. The Bible provides information that is not available anywhere else. The Bible is divine self-disclosure. In it the mind of God is revealed on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture, we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is, and what He values. In the Bible, God reveals Himself.

It appears to me that Biblical literacy is at an all time low in our society. In spite of this, the Christian Bookseller's Association asserts that 90% of US homes contain at least one Bible; the average residence includes four. Also, the Bible is sold in more than 450 English language versions. The Bible remains the best selling book in the world. We own it, carry it, talk about it, but we don't really spend a lot of time in it.

Why do we need to know about God? A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, says: "Whatever comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you." What we think about God determines our response to Him, and our response determines our behavior. And we cannot think right about God apart from knowing the Scripture. We cannot worship Him apart from truth:

John 4:24 (NASB) "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

And we cannot know truth apart from the Scripture:

John 17:17 (NASB) "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.

If we are going to live a life of purpose and happiness, we must know who He is and what He expects from us. All the answers to life's important questions are found in the Word of God. Is there life after death? If so, how is it attainable? The only place that we can get the truth to these very important question is from the Word of God. The Bible teaches that man is separated from God by his sin and therefore under condemnation. Only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross, can we have eternal life.

I think that most of us understand that the Bible lays out the terms of salvation, but once we trust the Lord for salvation, does the Bible lose its usefulness? Not at all!

Close your eyes and just listen to what Peter says:

1 Peter 2:2 (NASB) like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
1 Peter 2:2 (GWT) Desire God's pure word as newborn babies desire milk. Then you will grow in your salvation.

Get that picture! Have you ever held a newborn baby? What does it do? It is constantly trying to nurse! We are to desire God's Word like a newborn baby desires milk - constantly! We grow in our Christian walk as we read and study the Bible.

Colossians 1:16 (NASB) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him.

Why do we exist? It is for Him. Now, since we were made for God, we will never live a purposeful and meaningful life unless we are rightly related to Him. And we won't be rightly related to God until we know what His manual ­ the Bible says. So, as we read and study His Word, we learn the principles by which we are to live. The only place where we are going to hear God's voice is in His Word. The world around us will always be giving us its view, but we'll only get God's view as we spend time in His Word.

When I was in the Navy I was an aircraft electrician assigned to a helicopter squadron. The manufacturers of the helicopter had put out a maintenance manual explaining in great detail how to fix and prevent problems. I was told by more experienced electricians that the book wasn't helpful, the folks who wrote it didn't know what they were talking about.

One day after replacing a landing gear switch, I was trying to adjust the switch so the landing gear indicators would work properly. In the cockpit there is an indicator that tells you when the gear is up, down, or unsafe. You can understand how important it is for the pilot to know if his landing gear is down and locked. I had the helicopter up on jacks and was putting the landing gear up and down to check the landing gear indicators to make sure they were working right. I adjusted and readjusted the switch but I could not get it to work properly. I kept making adjustments but nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, I got out the maintenance manual and carefully read the section under "landing gear switch adjustment." I adjusted the switch exactly as the book said to, and then ran the gear up and down. You'll never guess what happened, it worked perfectly! Amazing! The folks who built the helicopter knew how to make it work properly.

Does it make sense to you that the Creator would know how to keep His creation working properly? If it makes sense to us, then why do we try to live our lives without consulting God's owner's manual for life? Notice what God says to Joshua:

Joshua 1:1 (NASB) Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying,
Joshua 1:7 (NASB) "Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.

The Lord is telling Joshua if you want to be successful make sure that you walk in obedience to my law. Now notice carefully the next verse:

Joshua 1:8 (NASB) "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

What does Joshua need to do to be prosperous and successful? Well just like he was told in verse 7 he needs to walk in obedience to the law of God. But how is he to do that? If he is going to live in obedience to the Word of God what must he do? "You shall meditate on it day and night." He must know it if he is going to live it.

Please notice carefully that he doesn't say, Make sure you hear a sermon every week. He doesn't say, Have a daily devotion time. He doesn't say read your Bible when ever you feel like it, or have nothing else to do. He says, "Meditate on it day and night." Does that sound unreasonable? Does it sound unreasonable for God who created us and sustains us to expect us to take the time to learn the Bible that He gave us?

Notice what God told Moses to tell Israel:

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (NASB) "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 "And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

How are God's words going to be on your heart if you are not meditating on them? Wherever you go, whatever you do talk about the word.

Most Christians spend little, if any time, reading the Bible. The sad fact is many of us, even in the church, are Biblically illiterate. A pastor of a large suburban mainline Protestant church did a survey on his congregation's knowledge of the Scriptures. Here is what he found: a third could not identify Calvary as the place of the crucifixion; 43% did not know the significance of Gethsemane; 75% did not know the significance of Pentecost. He asked them, "How many people did Jesus baptize?" The answers varied from zero to 5000. The number, of course, is zero. Only 58% in that mainline church could identify the four gospels. Would we do any better?

Believers, please listen to me, the Lord tells Joshua if you want to be prosperous and successful in life meditate on my word day and night because it is my manual to you to tell you how I want you to live. God says this same thing in:

Psalms 1:1-3 (NASB) How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.

"Blessedness," as the Bible defines it, is the heart condition the whole world is looking for. You see, "blessedness," Biblically defined, is that almost indescribable, but very real, "inner sense of well being." It's an inner feeling of security and contentment, and a positive outlook on life. It's to experience an unusual level of joy. "Blessedness" is a calm assurance of self-worth. It's the vitality of spirit that comes when you know deep down that all is well between you and God. It is what many would call happiness!

There's one thing all of us have in common: the desire for happiness. It's the one interest that unifies the human race. Is there anyone here who would say, "Well, if I had my choice, I would want to live an unhappy life?" Is there even one person here today who wants to be unhappy?

In the seventeenth century the French mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker, Blaise Pascal, put it this way, "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."

That shouldn't come as a shock to any of us because we know that the pursuit of happiness is universal. Of course, happiness means different things to different people, but regardless of how each person defines it ­ we all want it. The question is, "How do we attain it?" Is true happiness even possible? It is, but only as we live as our Creator designed us to live ­ in fellowship with Him.

Psalms 16:11 (NASB) Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.

When David said to the Lord, "In Thy presence is fulness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever." he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe. God created us, and He created us to live in fellowship with Him. Only as we do that will we know true joy and satisfaction.

With all the knowledge and technology, and with living in the most modern, powerful, and prosperous nation on earth...you'd think everyone would be happy. But that's not the case. A recent study done by Psychology Today magazine revealed that only 30% of Americans say that they're happy. Only 3 in 10.

Everybody in the world has the same basic desire: we all want to be happy. There is nothing wrong with this desire. However, most of our problems are caused by pursuing happiness in the wrong way. We make the mistake of thinking that happiness is money, or power, or possessions, or prestige, and none of these things bring the lasting contentment that people want. The result is that many people spend their lives climbing the economic ladder, thinking things will make them happy, but they never really find true happiness. And no matter what you earn or what you own or who you are...if you're unhappy, you're a failure.

The key to true happiness is found in the next verse of our Psalm:

Psalms 1:2 (NASB) But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.

He delights in God's word, because it reveals God to him. He learns about his God from the pages of Scripture. Thus, he loves to spend time in God's Word. Listen carefully, whatever you think God is like, you should have a text to go with it. If you have views of God with no text, you are in danger of having created God in your own image.

The word "meditates" here is the same Hebrew word found in Joshua 1:8; it is the word hagah. Meditating means: "spending time reading and thinking about what you have read." It means: "asking yourself how you should change so you're living as God wants." Knowing and meditating on God's Word are the first steps toward applying it to your everyday life. If you want to follow God more closely, which will bring happiness, you must know what He says. Thus, you MUST spend time in the Bible.

God speaks through the Bible, His Word, but we need to be open and receptive to Him. As you read the Bible, ask God to show you His timeless truths and the application to your life. Then, consider what you have read by thinking it through and meditating on it. God will give you understanding. Do you know that we are commanded in the Bible to delight in God?

Psalms 37:4 (NASB) Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.

Would you be happy if you had the desires of your heart? It starts by delighting in God, which we can only do as we come to know Him through His word. Our problem is we try to find our delight in everything but God. Or we try to delight in the god of our own imagination instead of the God of the Bible. Meditating on God's law, allowing it to dominate our thoughts, gives us a delight in God. Emerson said that a man becomes what he thinks about all day long. This is why Paul said:

Philippians 4:8 (NASB) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Notice what God says about the person who meditates day and night on His word:

Psalms 1:3 (NASB) And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Now, that may not sound all that impressive, but to His people who lived in the parched desert climate of the middle-east it conveyed the idea of an oasis. An oasis where trees were lush and green because there was always an unlimited supply of fresh water for their roots.

Whatever else you may attain, it will eventually get old. And you'll find yourself saying, "Now what? What's next?"David cut to the heart of the matter when he pointed out what people really want; this thing called blessedness only comes about when a person knows and is walking in harmony with God.

Also, David says that a blessed person is like a leaf that doesn't wither. Blessed people have a God given inner resilience that enables them to keep rebounding from setbacks. They don't wither under heavy loads of responsibility. They don't wither in the face of ominous storms that blow into their lives. They have a divine source of courage and strength that empowers them to get up and keep going.

Blessedness comes from the confidence that God is in control of all circumstances. He causes everything that happens in your life to work together for your ultimate good. It's knowing that your life and your eternal soul are in God's hands, and that He's carefully watching over and caring for you.

If your delight is in God, and your happiness comes from your relationship with Him, how could circumstances ever affect it? Now, if your happiness comes from circumstances, you're in trouble, because they change.

The whole world is yearning for this thing called blessedness. Oh, they wouldn't call it that, but isn't that really what we all want? To find and experience a deep and lasting state of happiness?

"And in whatever he does he prospers." Success by God's standards is not success by the world's standards. When Scripture says, "all they do shall prosper," it does not mean immunity from failure or difficulties. Nor is it a guarantee of health, wealth, and popularity. What the Bible means by prosperity is this: when we apply God's wisdom, the fruit (results or by-products) we bear will be good and receive God's approval. Just as a tree soaks up water and bears luscious fruit, we also are to soak up God's Word, producing actions and attitudes that honor God. To achieve anything worthwhile, we must have God's Word in our heart.

The Bible doesn't promise a soft and easy life. It promises that there will be times when we must face the wind and rain, there will be days of drought when we must endure the scorching heat; there will be long, lonely winters that are cold and bitter. It is a fact of life that we will go through trials and tribulations and must endure seasons of pain as well as seasons of comfort. The happy person is the one who can weather any storm that life brings because He lives in fellowship with God.

Too many of us have bought the lie that the Bible really doesn't have the answers to life, so we don't apply ourselves to learn its truths. We listen to the voice of the secular world instead of the voice of God, and then we wonder why our lives are such a mess.

The voice of the world says, "Sex is simply a biological function; find yourself a willing partner of the opposite or same sex and have fun." What does the Bible say?

Proverbs 6:23-29 (NASB) For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life, 24 To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress. 25 Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her catch you with her eyelids. 26 For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life. 27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? 28 Or can a man walk on hot coals, And his feet not be scorched? 29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.

The Hebrew word for "touches" is naga', which means: "to touch, i.e. lay the hand upon (for any purpose)."

Proverbs 6:30-35 (NASB) Men do not despise a thief if he steals To satisfy himself when he is hungry; 31 But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house. 32 The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; He who would destroy himself does it. 33 Wounds and disgrace he will find, And his reproach will not be blotted out. 34 For jealousy enrages a man, And he will not spare in the day of vengeance. 35 He will not accept any ransom, Nor will he be content though you give many gifts.

In the New Testament Paul tells us what God's will is about sex:

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NASB) For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

How would we ever know the destructive power of sexual sin apart from the Word of God? Everything in our world goes against this teaching, but God, who made us, gave us His Word that we might live a prosperous life. Listen folks, we are all very forgetful and need to be reminded often of God's principles, that is why we must spend time in His Word.

The more time you spend in the Bible, the more your faith will grow:

Romans 10:17 (NASB) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The reading and study of the Bible produces and increases faith. Just the other morning I was struggling with some battles that I was facing, and I was greatly encouraged as I was reading through Exodus:

Exodus 14:10-14 (NASB) And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 "Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." 13 But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."

Can you relate to that story? I sure can. I have felt just like those Israelites at times. As I see God's provision for them, I also know that He loves and will take care of me. I have to constantly be reminded of the truth, "The Lord will fight for you." As we read the Scriptures, our faith is strengthened.

Not only is our faith strengthened, but we are comforted as we learn about our God and His love and care for us:

Romans 15:4 (NASB) For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

How much hope would you have apart from the Word of God? Ephesians 2 says that the Gentiles had no hope when they were strangers from the covenants of promise.

Romans 15:13 (NASB) Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God fills us with joy and peace in believing ­ in faith. And our faith grows as we learn of Him from His Word. The Bible being the Word of God and providing all that we need for life and godliness, shouldn't we be spending more time in it? I think many folks have the attitude: "I'm too busy, I don't have time to study." People take time to do what is important to them. If spending time with God through His Word was important to you, you would make time to study.

Our study of the Word is not to be for academic purposes, we're not to study to just learn facts and doctrines, but that we may grow to know God and know what He wants in our lives.

Let me give you some suggestions for spending time in God's Word. First, Have a set time. Maybe first thing in the morning, that way you know the events of the day won't squeeze it out. When you read is not the issue, just make sure you set a time when you can read without interruptions. If you don't have a set time to read, the chances are real good that you won't read at all.

Second, Have a plan. I have found that if you have a plan that you are using, you will be much more apt to do the reading. You could read through the Bible in a year. There are many Bibles available today that are set up to read through in a year. A helpful method that I have used is to pick a book, let's say James, read the whole book. Then the next day read it again. Do this for thirty days and then move on to another book. Divide the larger books up and read the first 5-7 chapters for thirty days, then move on to the next 5-7 chapters and so on. In two and one half years you will have read the New Testament thirty times. By the time the month is up, you will have a good handle on the book you are reading.

When you read, read actively. Active reading means underlining, making notes in the margins, asking yourself questions, and then rereading the book and writing out meaningful principles that can be applied.

If you have trouble being faithful to reading, ask someone to help by holding you accountable. Have them check up on you regularly to make sure you are spending time reading.

The next level of commitment to Scripture is studying the Word. Reading the word is preferably a daily activity, study may not be so regular, but when you have the time, get out a concordance and some study tools and do some digging. You should come across things in your reading that you can further search out when you study.

I would also suggest memorizing. In your reading, as you come across verses that are particularly meaningful to you or that convict you in a certain area, commit them to memory, then you can meditate on them any time and place.

Studying the Bible should be a way of life. We should always be seeking to learn something new and fresh every single day. We should have the attitude that Job had:

Job 23:12 (NASB) "I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.

I think this is why Job did such a great job dealing with the tremendous trials he faced, he loved God's Word. We don't like to miss a meal, and if we do, we can sure get ornery. We have to have our food. But are we that way when it comes to studying the Bible? I remember reading about one of the saints of old who had a principle that he lived by: No Bible, No Breakfast. That is a good idea. If you didn't eat until after you had read your Bible, you would either spend a lot more time in the Word or you would lose a lot of weight.

World starvation is tragic. Often we hear reports that thousands starve to death daily. Television specials on the trouble and tragedies of the world break our hearts. But as sad as this is, there is an even greater tragedy. We should be weeping for ourselves. The Christian community is a starving, illiterate people. Believers are living lives of frustration and discontent. The only cure is for God's people to take the study and application of His Word seriously. After all God has done for you, is it too much to ask that you spend a time each day reading and studying His Word?

Psalms 119:105 (NASB) Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.

The word of God directs us in our work and way, and a dark place, indeed, the world would be without it.

I want to point out two things that getting serious about Bible study will do for you:

First, it will drastically alter your own thinking. You cannot read this Book without being changed. You will think differently about yourself and others; you will regard your husband, or your wife, and your children in a totally different way. You will regard the frantic pursuit of wealth and pleasure, which the world goes in for, in a different light. You will make decisions on a totally different basis.

This Book will drastically alter the way you behave. I could tell you stories by the hour of how individuals started to read the Bible and had their whole outlook changed, sometimes within a short time. There is, for instance, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. A group of British sailors on the ship H.M.S. Bounty mutinied in the early part of the nineteenth century, seized the ship and fled to the island of Pitcairn in the South Pacific. There they hid from British justice for many years. But they were such a community of cut-throats that their life there was desperate and dangerous. They were so debauched and degraded that they started killing each other off, until it looked as though their colony would only last a few years before it would be destroyed by their own debauchery. Then, one of the mutineers, Alexander Smith, found a Bible which his mother had placed in his trunk. He began to read it, and soon his own life was changed as he came to know the Lord through the Book. He taught it to the others and, rather quickly, life on the island took on a wholly different cast. When the mutineers were discovered, they were found to have an almost ideal community. There was no jail, because there was no crime. They were godly people, every family among them transformed by the power of the Word of God.

That is the amazing quality of this Book. There is no other book in all of history that has that kind of a record. When you start reading your Bible, you will find your thinking changed. You will be enabled to live realistically, to adjust to reality, to detect the confusions and the illusions of the world around, and to correct the things that are destroying humanity. The truth of the Bible leads to life, not death. Anybody who believes that truth, and acts on it, will become enriched. Life becomes peaceful, calm, and joyful, even in the midst of trouble.

If you want to live a productive vibrant Christian life, spending time in God's Word is a fundamental discipline. If you neglect to spend time in God's Word, you do it to your own peril. How much time do you spend each day getting to know the God who you claim to love?

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