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Why I Stopped Reading the Bible

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

“Don’t depart from the Word.”

That’s the correct—and obvious—advice that all church planters, leaders, elders, and church-planting teams hear. No one in their right mind would contemplate trying to start and lead a church without being acutely aware of the importance of the Word of God. It must be central to every aspect of church life.

In fact, I’ve never met a gospel-centered church leader—or assessed a budding church planter—who didn’t have the Word of God at the center of their plans for their church. Isn’t that what the church is for? To showcase the wisdom and glory of God as we proclaim the gospel? To depart from the Word would be to drain the very lifeblood of the church.

And yet, there are many churches around the world for whom the Word of God is central, while they are led by people who leave the Word to the side in their daily lives.

How do I know this? Because I’m one of them.

Running on Empty

I love the Word of God. It’s a wellspring of living water for my thirsty soul. But sadly, there have been many moments in my life when I’ve attempted to lead people to this living water while wandering in the Sahara myself. Even now—as I reflect on those times—I can hear the justification and excuses rattling around my head.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide: I’m going to stop reading God’s Word on a consistent basis. It happened slowly over time.

Finding myself in the proverbial Sahara was something that crept up on me. I didn’t wake up one day and decide, I’m going to stop reading God’s Word on a consistent basis. It happened slowly over time. Other things became more urgent, even more desirable.

We’d replanted a church, and it was growing. Another church had been planted from that church, and we had a third church plant in the pipeline. On top of that, our family was growing. God had given us a surprise fourth child, so we were in the process of moving to a new house. We were also recovering from an emergency treatment that our eldest daughter had to have (oh, and the dog died in the middle of all this tumult).

Little did I know, I was running on empty. I’m not talking about a lack of capacity to live in the midst of the life’s difficulties; I mean empty of life. As I slowly departed from the Word of God, I was closing the conduit through which living waters were to flow to me. I was in free fall, trying to lead a church to Jesus without spending enough time with him myself.

Restoration

My co-pastor stepped in and, in love, confronted me. He’d been trying to catch my attention for months, but I was avoiding him (which was awkward, given that we share an office).

I was in free fall, trying to lead a church to Jesus without spending enough time with him myself.

When he asked me if I was consistently reading God’s Word, I think he already knew the honest answer. I’ll never forget what he said next: “Steve, you’re looking for life in the midst of chaos, but you’re avoiding the very place you know you need to go to find it.” He was right. I’d been running from God and his Word—not because I didn’t love him—but because I didn’t want to face my sin.

But God’s Word truly does heal and restore. My co-pastor and I spent weeks reading and praying through Psalm 119. By God’s grace, gospel wind began to blow in my sails again. I was on my way out of the Sahara, being brought back to the fountain of life.

As I was refreshed and restored by the Word, I was reminded how desperately I need it. I need to be reminded, every day, of who God is and who I am in Christ.

I even preached through sections of Psalm 119. As I did so, I shared my struggles, confessed my sin, and sought forgiveness from the flock that I’ve been given the privilege of leading.

Church planter: do you want to know the most important thing you can do in your ministry? Chain yourself to the Word of God. I know you have a million and one things to do. I know the needs of your congregation feel unending. But if the Word isn’t your lifeline, you won’t have anything to offer your needy people.

Fountain of Life

My time in Psalm 119 was life-changing. Here are a few things the Lord taught me during this season:

When trouble and anguish find me out, God’s Word is my delight (Ps. 119:143)

Trouble and strife will come your way, as they came to me. It’s inevitable, and it comes with the territory of being a believer (never mind a church planter). Life’s difficulties will expose what’s going on in your heart. The Word of God was the ballast that kept the psalmist steady—and it could do the same for me—in the midst of many troubles.

As I was refreshed and restored by the Word, I was reminded how desperately I need it. I need to be reminded, every day, of who God is and who I am in Christ.

God’s Word gives me understanding, that I may live (Ps. 119:144)

The temptation to quit will cross your mind at some point, even if just for a moment. I wanted to run away, and the thought of pressing on scared me. I needed clarity, truth, and understanding. The Word of God gave me language to make sense of what was happening. More than anything else, the Word showed me Jesus (John 5:39). I was reminded of him who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Because of Christ, the true Word, I can press on and have life to the full (John 10:10).

God’s Word brings comfort and joy (Ps. 119:76–77)

We all long for comfort and joy, but we often pursue it in places where it won’t truly be found. For me, the temptation was to run from the Word, thinking it would bruise and batter rather than comfort and refresh. But you won’t find true, lasting joy anywhere else. Psalm 119 is teaching me to cling to the promises of God’s Word. Only as I’ve held on to them have I experienced the comfort and joy that I so desperately need.

So church planter: don’t depart from the Word of God. Drink deeply from it, daily. It’s what you—and your people—need more than anything else.

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