You might wish—as I do—that you could carve out the space to immerse yourself in hours of Bible study. And sometimes we can. The irony is that when life gets tough and you feel overwhelmed, that’s when you most need a transfusion of the Word of God. We tend, in such times, to wait for the golden opportunity.
Wisdom is to take the time you actually have and open the book. I want to suggest five effective ways to listen to God through his word, even when life presses in on you.
Let Isaiah Elevate Your Perspective
When the fog rolls in and you need perspective, there is one passage of Scripture almost guaranteed to lift you to a higher place where you can see the greatness of God again. Which, of course, is where we all begin to actually trust Him.
Isaiah 40–66 is a section of Scripture that’s roughly akin to gazing out from the top of a 14,000-foot-high mountain in Colorado. Here you will find the unparalleled combination of the majesty of God . . . and his personal care for you. When you are in a rough patch of life, I recommend taking just a couple of paragraphs a day until you make it to the last chapter of this Scripture passage. That will take a couple of months. It helps to write out the verse(s) that speak the most to you—and why. You’ll remember what you read hours—maybe even weeks—later!
I have returned to this portion of Scripture so often (maybe my life is more challenging than yours?) that I’ve had to have my Bible rebound twice because pages from the second half of Isaiah keep falling out.
Board a Psalm Train
The Psalms are unique in the whole panoply of Scripture. You can come to them at any point in your life and thumb through the pages, and you will find a psalm that matches where you are emotionally or spiritually. A psalm is really a cry of the heart put down on paper.
The magic is that you don’t have to come up with your own words. Maybe you can’t find them! But if you sit and pray a psalm, you’ll discover that it’s much like a boarding a train that rides you into the emotion—and back out again, to a deeper level of trusting God. It’s like your soul breathes out what’s bothering you—and breathes in the reality that God has you. He has not left you alone to figure things out. His faithfulness and his love are more real than the chair you are sitting upon.
In periods of particularly high stress, it’s helpful to choose three psalms: Pray through one in the morning and one at lunch and one right before you go to sleep. And the next day, pray through those same psalms again. After a while, those three psalms become trusted friends waiting for you to return. The beauty is that the words themselves become tried and true companions, a very real way in which God carries you in a hard time.
When you weary of those three psalms, pick three more.
Carry a Verse with You
One of the most effective spiritual practices is that of allowing yourself to notice a verse or two from the passage you are reading that has particular resonance for you. This morning I was reading 1 Corinthians. I’ve read those chapters many times before. But today I was struck by Paul’s words at the beginning of chapter 4: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” I’ve let that one verse follow me around all day, basking in the simplicity of the way Paul saw himself—as a servant of Christ and a steward of the beautiful depth of God’s revelation.
You can even put that one verse on a card and stick it in your pocket or purse. You pull it out at a stoplight or sitting in a doctor’s office or waiting for a class to end. Before you realize it, you know the verse. It begins to shape the way you think—and the choices you make. When you least expect it, the Spirit of God brings it back to mind.
I often think this is what Jeremiah meant when he said that God’s word is like good, nourishing food. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name” (Jeremiah 15:16).
Look for the Gospel Embedded
I just finished a book (with Connally Gilliam) called And Yet, Undaunted, where we looked at how the great themes of the gospel get woven into the actual story we are living. Creation, the fall, redemption, restoration—these are the four acts of the Gospel. When you read a passage of Scripture, consider what it’s saying to you about how life ought to be, or how it reflects the reality of being in a fallen world now. Ask God to use this passage to open your eyes to the redemption he has in mind. And take a few minutes to consider how this passage hints at the final restoration of all things.
Let a Familiar Passage Surprise You
Lastly, it’s incredibly encouraging to turn to a section of Scripture you’ve read too many times to count. Perhaps you only have a few minutes, so a familiar passage is a good choice. This time, though, ask God to show you something you haven’t noticed before. Open my eyes.That’s what you are praying.
There it is! A little nugget of truth and love waiting for you to discover on your hundredth reading. How have you not seen it before?
There is perhaps no greater testimony to the reality that Scripture is the living Word of God than this small exercise. The passage you’ve read scores of times opens up, new and fresh . . . waiting for you. Reminding you again, that there’s always more to this God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Of his Word, you will never quite plumb its depths.
Photo credit: Getty Images/graphixchon
Paula Rinehart is a counselor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was on staff with The Navigators for many years and now helps her husband with a leadership-development ministry called MentorLink. Her most recent book (with Connally Gilliam) is And Yet, Undaunted: Embraced by the Goodness of God in the Chaos of Life, coming in October 2019.