After he wrote his name on the top of his test, Howie’s eyes fell upon question number one: “Name the judge who vowed to offer up as a burnt offering, ‘Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me,’ if the Lord would give him the victory over the Ammonites.’’ Howie cringed! “If this is typical of the rest of the test questions,” he thought, “there is no way I can pass this test.” How it was that Shamgar popped into his head he could not tell, but Howie quickly scribbled (it was purposefully scribbled because he was not sure how to spell it) Shamgar in the blank. “Even if it is wrong,” he thought, “Mr. Ellis will think I know something.” Howie completed the rest of the test in like fashion. Though he managed to fill in all the spaces, there was no doubt in Howie’s mind, and soon Mr. Ellis would know too, that it was a disaster. “Oh well,” considered Howie as he handed in the test, “it’s not my fault. I just didn’t have time to prepare. There were so many other things I just had to do last night. Anyway, I passed the last test so I’ll get a passing grade on my report card.”
The next day, Mr. Ellis asked Howie to see him after the rest of the class was dismissed. “Oh no!” thought Howie, “Another sermon!”
Howie walked up to the front after the rest of the class had left. “You had only 36% right on your test yesterday,” said Mr. Ellis, “Did you study, Howard?”
Howie hung his head. “No,” he said, “I just didn’t have time; but I promise I’ll do better next time.”
Mr. Ellis frowned, “How many times have I heard that from you before? And how many times have I told you that you simply have to make time for the things that are important?”
After listening to the rest of what Mr. Ellis had to say about proper use of his talents and his responsibilities before God, Howie was dismissed. “You’re right, Mr. Ellis,” he said before he left, “but it’s so hard to do that. What do you suggest I do?”
Howard and Mr. Ellis have brought us over very familiar territory, have they not? Howie’s problem is our problem over and over again: it’s the age old “Battle of Faith” that confronts us daily. Yes, it confronts us — as it did Howard in school, but it doesn’t stop there. It involves our whole life. We, you and I would do well, I think, to address that question of Howard and make itour own: “What should I do to prepare myself to fight against Satan, this wicked world, and my own sinful flesh?” As we seek an answer for this question, let’s first look at some voices of experience. Others have faced the same questions that we have; what did they do?
One voice of experience we should consider is that of Enoch. Genesis 5:24 informs us concerning Enoch that he walked with God. Certainly evident here is the idea that Enoch was close to God. He communed with God. According to Hebrews 11:5, he even “pleased God.’’ Enoch was a hero of faith; he fought a good fight! If we were to ask our question of Enoch, he would likely tell us to Walk with God.
Hebrews 11 is not, however, an exhaustive list of the heroes of faith; there were countless others. Our history books do not tell us of all the faithful saints who lived and died in faith, but they do tell us about those of Martin Luther’s caliber. We all know something of the battle of faith which he fought, but where did he get the strength to fight it? The fact that Luther called Psalm 118 his friend, suggests the answer, I think. This sampling of that Psalm will explain Luther’s love for it: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?’’ (Psalm 118:6) Let’s ask our question of Luther, our second voice of experience: “What do you suggest I do as I am confronted with my “Battle of Faith’’? Doubtless Luther would answer that we should look to the Word of God.
For a third voice of experience, let’s each of us look to someone we know, or knew, personally. This could be a friend, a brother or sister, a parent, a grandparent, a teacher or a minister. The Lord still has His heroes of faith, and we should not overlook them as we seek help in answering our question.
Until March 12, 1982, one could have gone to the far northwest corner of the Allendale Nursing Home in search of an answer. Once there, your question would have been answered without the need of asking it. One could not visit with Mr. Richard Newhouse of our Hope Church of Walker, Michigan, without hearing his answer: The Bible and the songs of Zion were his meditation day and night: They were his life. Conversations with Mr. Newhouse never seemed very far removed from the Word of God. Obviously that was his strength!
With one accord, our voices of experience have directed us to God’s Word as the source of our strength to fight the “Battle of Faith.’’ The Bible itself bears witness of the correctness of their testimony. Consider, for example, Psalm 119:105: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’’
So, our question is answered: God’s Word is our sword as we fight the “Battle of Faith.’’
But that is easier said than done! How does one use the Word as he walks the path of life? Again the Word of God provides the answer: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15) The apostle Paul here enjoins Timothy, and us, to engage in personal study of God’s Word: call it personal devotions if you will. Since it is a personal study, we must continually ask during our study, “What does this Word of God say to me.
There are a number of available materials that can be helpful in this endeavor. Standard Bearer meditations and some of the Beacon Lights articles can be especially useful in personal devotional study, as can be some of the Reformed Free Publishing Association publications: the book In the Sanctuary by Rev. H. Hoeksema comes to mind. But we must remember, the focus of our study is to be the Holy Scriptures, and our study must be a regular, habitual activity. All habits are not bad! To establish a habit, good or bad, it must be done with regularity. To start with, a few minutes each day will suffice. Once the habit is established, let it grow. Remember, the beginning mountain climber does not start with Mount Everest! It’s time we begin the habit of personal Bible study if we have not already.
What shall we study? Maybe you have particular needs that would direct you to a particular book of the Bible or to selected passages that address your needs. The Psalms are especially appropriate for personal study. The Gospels, Acts, Romans, and Galatians come to mind as books for which Rev. Kortering has written Bible study guides in the Standard Bearer. Surely these would be useful in our study of these books. But I wonder if what we use for our personal devotions is all that important as long as it is God’s Holy Word. Notice in this connection II Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.’’ All Scripture is profitable! With that assurance, we need not be so concerned with what part of the Bible we use for our personal devotions: rather we should be concerned that we have a time of personal devotions!
The above mentioned passage from Timothy also has something to say about what our attitude towards the Scriptures must be. Notice, the Scriptures are for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. The emphasis here is on what the Scriptures have to say to us. God forbid that ever attempt to impose our ideas upon it! Rather, our approach to the Holy Bible must be that of a humble servant who bows before his master and says with Samuel, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.’’
We have come a long way together, you and I. From Howie we have learned of our responsibilities before God. We could empathize with Howie, for we are confronted with the very same struggle that he was. We called it the “Battle of Faith.’’ In looking for help in this struggle, we sought direction from those who have fought the battle before us, and with one accord they pointed to the Bible as the source of our strength. Further, we found that God’s authoritative Word says the same thing. So we looked at ways of approaching that Word in regular personal devotions.
Do we, you and I, have time?