I almost titled this blog post “In Defense of Daily, Dutiful Discipline” because 1) alliterations are awesome, and 2) I’m passionate about redeeming the idea of duty and discipline in the Christian life.
My generation has been taught, whether consciously or sub-consciously, that discipline is legalism. And I understand why, I really do. Coming out of an often-legalistic modernist period of the church, we fear going back to Egypt. We swing far to the other side of the spectrum–the side that shies away from anything that looks like “obedience out of duty” or “discipline” or “habit.” We want our obedience to the Lord to so much come out of the free and overflowing goodness of our hearts that there be not a speck of discipline in it.
That, my friends, is over-realized eschatology.
Here in this world, though the law of God is written on our hearts, we are still commanded to fear him and obey him, even (i.e. especially) when we don’t feel like it. That is duty, and it is a good and proper thing.
More on this another day. For now, let me commend to you a practice that I am one year into now, and which has blessed me tremendously. Please, do not hear this as braggadocios in any way, for I only turned to these disciplines out of emptiness and desperation, and the Lord has used it as a means of grace to teach me how I might boast of Christ in my weakness.
The Discipline of Writing out Scripture
In Deuteronomy 17 the Lord commands Israel’s future kings to, when they sit upon the throne, write for themselves out a copy of the Law of God. This becomes their own personal Bible, which they read all the days of their lives. Here are the reasons God gives for why he should write and read it:
- that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes (Deut 17:19)
- and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers (Deut 17:20a)
- and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left (Deut 17:20b)
The Lord commands the kings to write and read the Bible, that they may learn the fear of the Lord, godly humility, and rugged discipline. I love this.
I also know from personal experience some of the benefits of taking the time to write out passages from the Bible. It functions for me as a tremendous mnemonic device, helping me to remember specific phrases, and where different parts of the Bible are located. I struggle with knowing which chapters to turn to, and this practice has helped me.
Writing Scripture out has also helped me to notice patterns, repetitions, and key words and phrases. Once I’ve written out the phrase “the land which the Lord your God is giving you” in Deuteronomy for the billionth time, it starts to really sink in: this must be important! In the gospel of John, I began to notice the Apostle using “he said, then he said, then Jesus said” language, and slowly the implicit question grows: “What do you say? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”
Additionally, the method helps me seriously slow down, and go at a pace that helps me to make sure I am understanding the flow of the text, and it aids in fitting each phrase into its context.
In the last year I’ve written out all of the Psalms, John, Galatians, Colossians, James, 1/2 of Romans, and 1/2 of Deuteronomy, plus some miscellaneous texts. I estimate that it will take me about five years to get through the entire Bible.
To these ends, here’s a few steps of what helps me do this daily:
Five Tips to Writing Out Scripture
1. Invest in Gear you Love
Anything that’s going to help you be consistent and to enjoy the process when you don’t feel like it is worthwhile. So, I recommend finding a Bible you love (a calfskin ESV is wonderful, or a Reader’s Bible); a notebook you love (I am partial to Moleskines with graph paper, but Costco sells three packs of notebooks that have larger margins for $12); a pen you love (I use a $10 fountain pen from Amazon, and I love it. Or a Zebra f-301 stainless steel barrel, 0.7mm black ballpoint). Having gear you love and enjoy using will make it that much easier to get up in the morning and do it.
2. Write out Logical Pieces
When you write, I don’t recommend picking random passages or verses. Start in one book, and finish it. Write a paragraph at a time, or a chapter at a time, if you can. Starting and stopping at the logical breaks of the text will help you meditate on whole thoughts much better, and writing through an entire book will familiarize you with that book like never before.
3. Write in Cursive
I know, if you’re my age or younger you’ve probably lost all of your cursive. Well, here’s your opportunity to get it back. My handwriting has improved drastically in the last year, and it’s been a pleasure to re-learn cursive and see beautiful words on the page. Perhaps most importantly, cursive means I have to write very slowly and spend time on every word. This seriously helps me to chew on the text more, and not rush through.
4. Make Amazing Coffee
Perhaps the most important tip of all. As a work-from-home dad of two small kids, I knew that if I was going to read and write out the Bible daily, I needed to wake up before my family. My kids are up no later than 6:30 every day, so that means I need to be up 5:30 at the absolute latest. That was really hard at first. But other than going to bed earlier (duh), here’s the number one thing that helped me wake up early: I invested in the coffee gear I really wanted, and in amazing coffee. I basically bribed myself to get out of bed in the morning, and it’s so worth it. I won’t take too much time here, but here’s my coffee setup for the mornings:
- Chemex Coffeemaker
- Stumptown mug
- Hario hand-grinding mill with ceramic burr (for consistent grind)
- Bonus: this is a quieter method of grinding my coffee each morning, so it doesn’t wake my kids with the noise
- Hario goose-neck kettle
- Mistobox coffee subscription ($15 per bag — wanna try? Save with this link.)
5. Wake up Early
I mentioned it in the point above, but I cannot stress this enough. Waking up early has been a difficult thing, but ultimately a God-send for me. David prays, “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love.” There’s a reason he prays that. We wake up in the mornings and search to be satiated by something. What do you do first? Reach for your phone? Turn on the TV? For me, it was always Facebook and phone games. But, it sets the tone for my whole day. It sets the tone for me to have a day full of self-seeking, rather than God-seeking. So, now I see the sunrise each morning, and start the day in quietness before the Lord.
Of Puritan Joseph Alleine it is said that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?'”
A Challenge for You: Start in Psalms
In 2018, will you join me in writing out Scripture? Psalms are a wonderful place to start, as you can write most of them out in less than thirty minutes. One per day, for 150 days, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. If not, I’ll give you your money back.