Bruce Cannon and his wife, Linda, served as church planters in Poland for 17 years before moving back to the States to lead SEND’s Personnel & Member Care Department. In this seventh article in our Flourish series, he shares about feeding on the Word.
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One man challenged another to an all-day wood-chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day.
At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.
“I don’t get it,” he complained. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest. Yet you chopped more wood than I did!”
“What you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “was that every time I sat down to rest, I sharpened my ax.”
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When we take the time to dwell on the Word, God shapes our hearts, minds, thoughts, values, motives and attitudes. The Word is not just text on a page. It is the living and active message of God. It’s his revelation to us. It’s power, it’s his presence, and it’s our encounter with that, that will help us experience the transformation that we so desire.
The Word itself testifies to its own power to transform.
- 2 Timothy 3:16 — The Word teaches, corrects and trains in righteousness.
- Psalm 119: 9-11 — The Word keeps us from sin.
- John 17:17 — The Word is truth.
- Psalm 19: 7 — The Word makes wise the simple.
- Hebrews 4:12 — The Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
God’s Word is not just a ministry tool
It’s so easy to treat the Word as a toolbox, as something we use in ministry. We study the Word, and we think, “Oh, this will really preach.” Or, “How will I outline this passage,” or, “There’s someone I’m discipling who could really use this verse.”
And these are good uses of Scripture! The Word ought to be an essential part of everything we do in our ministry. And yet we sometimes miss that the Word is also something God uses in us. It’s not something we master. Even though we’re to rightly handle the Word of God, we also want the Word of God to rightly handle us.
The press of ministry can so often push us toward the toolbox mentality. That’s why we must prioritize spiritual formation, because it takes us out of our ministry role and back into, “I’m an imperfect child of God and he’s working to shape me. I’m a lump of clay and God is still forming me into a beautiful vessel for his service.”
If he isn’t capturing our hearts, renewing us, then we’re doing good stuff, but we’re doing it in our own power and strength.
Hide it in your heart
One of the practices that was key for us when we were on the mission field was Scripture memorization. But, why bother, right? Especially in this day and age, when we all have a digital device that can pull the Word up at a moment’s notice. Why take time to memorize it when it’s right there, easily searchable?
- It’s how Jesus dealt with temptation. In the desert, when Satan was tempting him, Jesus didn’t say, “Wait just a minute while I look up my defense.” The Word was in him. It gives strength to stand against what draws us away from the Lord.
- It transforms our minds. There’s no way around it: What you spend time with affects you. The more you keep Scripture on the mind, the more it affects your mind. The act of memorizing moves Scripture’s truth to a deeper level within you.
- It gives guidance. Though you can’t open your Bible and find a verse that says, “On this day, this is what you should do,” memorizing the Word will help you think more like God. We have a better idea of what Jesus would do when we’re being shaped by the Word.
- It’s a resource for the Spirit. The Spirit brings to mind the things that you have learned – but if you haven’t learned it, he’s not necessarily going to put into your mind things you’ve never thought about before. Of course, he can do that — but more often, he’s bringing to mind that which is already there.
- It deepens our faith and provides encouragement.
What to memorize
Take a broad view of your spiritual life: Are there themes that God seems to be drawing you to over and over? Look for passages, verses, chapters of Scripture that speak to those themes, and start your memorization efforts there.
Our first term in Poland was particularly difficult. We were adjusting to a new marriage, a new team, a new culture, a new language, and a new child. The Lord brought us continually to Joshua 1. Memorizing it, dwelling on it, meditating on it, living it out — that’s what carried us through those difficult years. On our first home service, Joshua 1 formed the core of the sermon I would preach in various churches. God allowed us to use that passage to encourage our supporters, because the lessons God taught us through Joshua’s story weren’t just missionary lessons – they were life lessons.
We also appreciated the Topical Memory System developed by the Navigators, but we memorized these verses in Polish. Doing so helped us learn the language — we began to think and even to pray in Polish — and it also gave us the ability to share the truth with our Polish friends even before we’d mastered everyday language.
Spending time in God’s Word is never wasted time. When we sit at the Lord’s feet, memorize his Word, and let him shape us, that sharpens his work in our life. We end up refueled for the ministry he has for us because his Word gives us energy, vision, direction and encouragement.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” — Deuteronomy 6: 6-8
More in the Flourish series
- Step 1: Honest evaluation — Spiritual self-assessment isn’t about guilt. It’s a starting point for growing in intimacy with God.
- Developing a prayer life that goes beyond ‘popcorn prayers’ — On the field, a missionary learns the value of boldly praying God’s Word for confession, spiritual growth, protection and salvation.
- Sabbath: A gift that helps us set boundaries on our busyness and adds rhythm to our weeks — ‘Setting boundaries can be particularly hard for missionaries, because we’re also called to sacrifice. Sabbath helps us regain perspective.’
- A menu plan for staying spiritually fed — Ways to keep your devotional life fresh and consistent — especially when you can’t be part of a thriving church community.
- To connect with the Lord, you do you — Recognizing your spiritual temperament — and realizing it might not be the same as those around you — can make for a closer relationship with the Lord and with other believers.
- Your body, your soul: The health of one affects the other — Seeing health as something that includes the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical helps us correctly prioritize caring for our bodies so that we can serve.
Banner photo by Alina Chupakina, Unsplash