Fact: Great athletes are made in the off-season.
While I never measured up to being a “great athlete”, I do remember the off-season being essential to my development as an athlete. As a lacrosse player in high school, I would listen to my coaches talk to all of the players at our year-end team party about off-season training. I remember, without fail, they would put some sort of material in our hands to help us with strength training, skill development, and information about playing in recreational leagues with other lacrosse players.
As a freshman on the team, I remember taking my commitment to train in the off-season seriously. At one point, my regimen included running a mile to a school near my house, practicing different lacrosse skills for another hour, and then running another mile back home. The investment of that time, day after day, compounded over a few months; and I began my sophomore lacrosse season as a completely different player.
When I showed up to practice as a sophomore with several other teammates who had trained seriously during the off-season, it gave our coaches the freedom to use practice to work on skills beyond the fundamentals. We no longer had to waste half of our practices on developing the basic skills of lacrosse; we were free to use practice times as an opportunity to improve each player’s ability to function as part of a team. Our diligence in the off-season didn’t make in-season team practices a waste; it actually made team practices more beneficial.
It Takes More than Church
Allow me to modify my opening statement to apply to believers: Growing Christians are made in the off-season.
The Christian’s off-season is the time between each church service. While the few days that pass between Sunday and Wednesday are much shorter than the several months that pass between the end of one lacrosse season and the beginning of the other, the time is just as valuable. So much of a Christian’s growth depends on their willingness to have meaningful communion with God between Sunday and the midweek service.
Church isn’t enough. If an athlete needs more than a few team practices to really develop their skills, doesn’t it make sense that a Christian needs more than a few services a week to develop as a Christian?
God had over 40 authors who lived over the span of 1500 years write 66 books in perfect agreement that have been preserved for thousands of years. Do you think God did all of that just so His children would interact with the Bible two days a week? Even in the Old Testament, when having a copy of God’s Word in one’s home would have been impossible, God inspired different authors to write statements such as this about God’s Word, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8). It was in the Old Testament, when one couldn’t even access the entire Word of God that the Psalmist wrote of the blessed man, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Apparently, the lack of your own copy of Scripture was not a good enough excuse to not interact with God’s Word daily.
God’s Word is like a hammer– the full effect requires repetition. There are no Christians who are changed every time they are exposed to God’s Word, but continual exposure to God’s truth sinks the nail deeper and deeper into your life.
Like many other Christians, I’ve had my fair share of struggles trying to read my Bible on an everyday basis. I remember one time several years ago that I took Bible reading seriously during my sophomore year of college. I decided to get a commentary that covered the book of Matthew and diligently study out each passage, which would give me a chance to make sure that I understood and applied every passage I read. I remember many mornings sitting in a cheap office chair reading my Bible on my built-in desk in my dorm room, feeling like God was right there talking to me! I’m not trying to be weird, I’m just trying to explain how God used those times to speak to me personally about many of the issues I was facing in my life. That sophomore year of college, along with all the other seasons in my life marked by consistent time in God’s Word, have always been the times of greatest growth in my walk with Christ.
If it’s not a part of your daily routine already, I’d encourage you to carve out a time every day to spend time reading the Bible and praying to God.
It’s Not Easy
If Bible reading were easy, then there would be no need for me write this post or for your pastor to mention it so often! There are plenty of factors that add to the difficulty of maintaining this habit: There are passages that seem boring because they were written to address situations unlike our own, there are times that we feel too busy to stop our day for several minutes; and some of us just plain struggle focusing long enough to read material of any kind. If that’s you, don’t worry; I’ve been there before, too!
I want to give you some principles that have helped me to stay in my Bible, even when it seems difficult to read.
- Some of the most special times in a Christian’s life happen during Bible reading.
Every Christian knows the feeling of hearing a sermon from their pastor and thinking, “How did he know that?” If preaching is done right, we ought to feel like we’ve heard from God. As special as those times are, it’s even more special when God speaks to you when it’s just you and your Bible–no pastor or preacher can take the credit. Sure, today’s reading from the Bible might have taken you through a challenging portion of Leviticus, or a family genealogy in Genesis, but hang in there! If you refuse to give up, you’ll soon be reading a verse and thinking I needed this verse at this exact moment!
- You have to accept the fact that reading God’s Word requires work and discipline.
When you read your Bible, there will be words you can’t define, cultural references you don’t understand, and words you can’t pronounce–that’s okay! The original readers of the Bible lived a couple thousand years ago, so it only makes sense that you might have to study the context of a verse to figure out what it means. On a positive note, you can trust that even the most difficult to understand passages have a practical truth that can help you!
Every Christian could benefit from buying a resource of some kind to accompany their Bible reading time. Often, when I am reading through a book of the Bible, I buy an easy-to-read commentary to go along with it. When there’s a verse I don’t understand, I look it up in the commentary, and I usually can move on with a basic understanding of what God was trying to say. Naturally, the more you slow down to really digest the truth of God’s Word, the greater the possibility you’ll put down your Bible having learned something.
- The Bible is a spiritual book, and it requires a spiritual person to understand it.
The Bible is clear to mention that the Holy Spirit is who helps us understand what the Bible is saying. As you read, the Holy Spirit illuminates that passage and helps you to understand how it applies to your life. I’ve discovered that many of my struggles with reading the Bible have to do with the fact that there is sin in my life that is hindering me from benefitting from the Spirit’s ministry. Before you start blaming the Bible or your reading skills for your difficulties with Bible reading, maybe you should ask yourself two questions: “Am I sure that I have been saved?” and “Is there sin in my life that is hindering the Holy Spirit from speaking to me?”
What if every believer in each church took the off-season seriously? I would imagine the effect on God’s team would be similar to the effect it had on my lacrosse team: The pastor won’t have to spend time dealing with issues that God could have dealt with on Tuesday morning.
Why wait? Carve out some time and get into the Word today!