Five years ago if you would have told me I would be susceptible to the black hole of social media and Netflix, I would have laughed. But these days I find myself increasingly formed by hours of screen time rather than God’s Word. I might spend ten minutes on Facebook or USA Today before I get out of bed to read my Bible. Or watch Netflix at the end of a long day in the place of meditating on Scripture. Or scan fitness blogs instead talking about God’s Word with my spouse. It feels harmless, yet these voices unconsciously shape me. More than any other time in history, God’s people are distracted by endless cultural noise in our limited 24 hour days. When we give thoughtless hours to these distractions, something will inevitably get crowded out. God’s Word is often the first thing pushed aside. Entertainment isn’t evil in and of itself; rather it’s a gift from God if enjoyed in a way that leads to worship. However, if we don’t intentionally prioritize biblical formation above other formation, these outside voices will unconsciously shape us more than God.
How Can We Recover Biblical Formation?
The Bible always has been and always will be formational for the church. God gave it to us that we might orient our lives, identities, and practices around the God who has spoken. Over and above every other word in our lives, God’s authoritative Word must form our lives, our families, and our missional communities. We must commit ourselves to not only hearing God’s voice but also submitting ourselves to obeying that voice. In a culture of endless voices ready to shape us in their image, we must fight to recover biblical formation.
1. Meditate on a passage for five minutes in the morning and night
Psalm 1:1-2 depicts a man who delights in the law so intensely that he pores over God’s words morning and night. This practice shapes him in such a way that he becomes like a deeply rooted tree which yields fruit in due season. Every single one of us (regardless of busy schedules) could set apart five minutes in the morning and evening to reflect on God’s Word. What would it look like for you to build this into your daily routine? What changes need to be made to reserve ten minutes for biblical meditation?
For me it’s easier to read the Word in the morning and then zone out to TV/phone at night. I’ve set a cut-off time for all screens and put my Bible next to my bed as the only thing within my reach. I’m not suggesting this as a “legalistic” boundary, but I am sharing what’s helped create an atmosphere that enables me to prioritize the word of God over other distractions. Examine your routine, decide where you could prioritize God’s Word, pick a passage, and ask the Spirit to shape your heart and mind through the Word every morning and night.
2. Talk about God’s Word with those around you
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 explains how God’s Word shapes his people as they talk about it with their children, as they walk along the roads, as they lie down, and as they get up. This wasn’t formal “theological training,” it was biblical formation as they went about their daily routines. God’s people today must learn to weave his Word into the fabric of our lives in this same manner.
This can be implemented in endless ways! Talk to your children about Jesus in the small tasks throughout the day, tell your family what God is teaching you through his Word, talk to your friends about what you’re wrestling through in the Scriptures, tell co-workers (even unbelievers) what verse you’re pondering that day. I find that people don’t naturally talk about God’s Word in informal settings. This isn’t a scripted gospel-presentation, rather it’s talking about God’s Word as you might your favorite TV show the night after an explosive episode. Perhaps, this would be the most formative change you could make.
3. Listen to the Bible during “empty” periods
Throughout history God’s people primarily heard his Word. As a matter of fact, many ancient texts were written to be heard rather than read. This should not replace Bible reading and study (praise God we now have access to many translations of the Bible!), but it’s helpful to hear God’s Word as its original hearers did.
Download an audio Bible translation and listen to it during “empty” periods in your day, times when you have tasks to complete that take little to no brainpower. These are the moments we are most tempted to turn on a sports broadcast, the TV, or listen to our own self-talk. Instead, listen to the Bible when you do laundry, exercise, mow the lawn, fix the car, drive to work, clean the house, or cook or bake. Don’t obsess about giving the audio 100% of your focus; just throw it on in the background. You will be shaped by it more than you think. This has been one of my favorite habits I’ve recently implemented!
4. Gather to hear God’s Word corporately
There’s a powerful story in Nehemiah 8:1-8 in which God’s people gathered to hear the Law read and interpreted. It changed them as they corporately heard and responded to the Scriptures. The practice of gathering to hear and respond to God’s Word has been an integral part of his people throughout redemptive history.
Today, we must be committed to gathering each week to hear God’s Word preached. This actually takes a small amount of effort (outside of getting ready and driving to church). Simply attend your local church gathering and actively listen to biblical exposition. A steady diet of the preached Word week in and week out has power to form you. Of course, there are times you just can’t get there but the norm should be gathering with God’s people on a set apart day to hear God’s Word.
5. Meet for regular Bible study
Colossians 3:16 exhorts believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” Meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly with other people to study the Scriptures is a formative practice. Many of my most fruitful relationships have been borne out of faithful Bible study.
Don’t overcomplicate this. Set a regular time and place to meet. Do it in a convenient place such as your home, a park, or your office. Build it naturally into your schedule—meet forty-five minutes before work with co-workers or during your child’s play date with another mom or thirty minutes before class with a fellow student. Pick a short book (e.g., 1 John) and commit to read through it separately then meet to discuss. Talk about points of conviction and how you will respond.1
These simple practices are the regular ploughing of our heart with God's word. You will be more apt to think God’s thoughts, challenge cultural norms, spot your own blindspots, feel spiritually nourished, and grow in godliness. As your appetite for and commitment to God’s Word grows, it will drown out the cultural noise all around you. Also, the recovered art of biblical formation in your life will produce marked transformation in the life of your community as you seek to make, mature, and multiply disciples.
1. For in-depth Bible study, download this easy-to-use guide will provide a solid launching pad (right-click here).
Whitney Woollard is passionate about equipping others to read and study God’s Word well resulting maturing affection for Christ and his glorious gospel message. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Masters of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. Whitney and her husband Neal currently live in Portland, OR where they call Hinson Baptist Church home. Visit her writing homepage whitneywoollard.com.