There’s a poignant moment in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ saga when the young hobbit Frodo has been thrust into this epic battle between good and evil, and he’s the most unlikely and unsuitable hero; he’s more of a farmer than a fighter, he’s more used to carrying a walking stick than being a warrior and carrying a sword. And in the moment when the revelation of the battle that is about to begin is told to him and despair looms over him, the questions that start to come into Frodo’s heart are the same ones which come into ours when plunged into the middle of an impossibly daunting task, the questions of ‘why? why now? why this?’ and in the trail of these wishes and wants, Frodo wishes that none of this had happened.
Frodo is saying all of this to his mentor, guide and grandfather figure, Gandalf the wizard and Gandalf’s sage advice to him is one of Tolkien’s most memorable and wise quotes for those of us who find ourselves in desperate and unwanted circumstances:
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide,
all you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.“
With those wise words, Gandalf tries to lift Frodo’s eyes from wondering over the ‘whys’ he cannot understand or change, to the ‘what’ of what he can do. Gandalf is reminding Frodo of a message that we all need to hear, that though we cannot change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we can choose what to do with our time in those circumstances. Whereas in the days gone by we would have said that finding time was one of our greatest struggles, in the days to come our struggle will be that we have so much time that we don’t know what to do with it. In the moments to come, when every tick of the clock may sound like a gong and we may feel consumed with the cage of our circumstances and feel claustrophobic in our confinement, Gandalf’s words need to come back to us:
“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.“
What are we going to do with the time that is being given to us in the weeks, and possibly months, to come? What are you and I going to decide to do with the time that has been given us in quietness and isolation that we have never known before? Could this be a chance to get to know our God better? Could this be a time when we encounter the care, dedication and devotion of God the Father towards our hard hearts as prodigal sons or older brothers? Could this be a time when we are challenged, confronted and comforted by Christ as we see the Son on the pages of Scripture? Could this be a time when we find out what Paul meant when he said to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25)? Could this be a time when our reading of God’s Word takes on a new deepness and our prayer life soars as it takes on a new rawness, honesty and desperation that a life of comfort kept us from? Could this be a time when you lift a book on a subject that has bothered you for so long and learn something about God and yourself? Could this be a time when worship becomes a family activity done together, rather than isolated individuals standing and sitting in the same pew but consumed with themselves? Could this be a time when parents talk, read and pray with their children? Could this be a time when the greatest commandment spoken by Jesus to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength‘ [and to] ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ (Mark 12:30-31, ESV) finds a reality in our lives where it was once only print on a page?
This could be a time for all of those things and more if we make the most of the time that has been given us. There are great opportunities ahead in making good decisions with what to do with our time, both as individuals and as communities, and with that in mind, the blog posts that follow this one will be some practical guidance and direction to help with better Bible reading, deeper prayer, family worship and a variety of other topics so stay tuned for those.
But let me direct this thought to one aspect of the Christian life, Bible reading. For most of us our daily devotions and Bible readings have often been crammed and squashed into a hectic routine of life, if they have even been done at all, and our guilt at our lack of dedication and devotion has been absolved by the phrases, ‘I can’t find the time’ or ‘I don’t have the time.’
The brutally honest fact is that we always did have the time, a point easily proved by asking those of us with smartphones to check out our screen time only to be amazed and embarrassed as to how much time we have given over to a couple of square inches of technology. Now though the excuse of ‘not enough time’ will be stripped away and we will be challenged by how to fill our time and for many of us we will face the temptation to fill the time by finishing that box set, or starting that new series on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or cleaning and decorating the house when the time could be used enjoying God and His gracious gifts, making full use of his ordinary means in extraordinary times for an extraordinary purpose. We could use this time for an eternal purpose in reading the Bible and finding God’s words sweeter than honey in our hunger and a lamp for our feet, a light on our path, in the darkness through which now we all walk (Psalm 119: 103/105)
Crossway, the publishers of the ESV Bible and other books and tracts, produced some startling and sobering and yet very encouraging infographics about the time needed to read the Bible. Take some time to read over them below:
I haven’t put these infographics here to guilt any of us into realising how little time we have given over to God’s word in the past but for us to see how much we could actually achieve in the future if we give over this time to God’s word.
To try and put the infographics into perspective, if the social isolation and quarantine measures continue for 3 months you could read the whole Bible, cover to cover, in that time. You and I could both do that, and it would take 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening. I know that may sound daunting, but that is more manageable and possible than many of us think. That is the length of time needed to watch a general episode of any soap and it looks like even those are going to be in short supply in the coming days.
The time of confinement ahead may be unexpected and unwanted but that doesn’t mean that it has to be unprofitable for us, particularly spiritually. The time ahead could mean a deepening of a relationship long neglected and the fanning into flame of a love that had grown cold.
I know the task of Bible reading may seem as daunting as Frodo’s quest to Mount Doom, but it doesn’t have to be. The next post will be some practical guidance on how to read your Bible better and will hopefully allay some of the fears that many of us have as we open up its pages after a long time away.
Most of us are soon going to be without an extra excuse soon not to read the Bible because of the time that we are going to have on our hands, but we still face the question of whether we will make the most of the time that is given us. My hope and prayer for you, and for myself, is that we will make the best use of the time that we have been graciously given and spend it listening to our God speak.
Best and blessings,
Infographics are property of Crossway Publishers – You Can Read More of the Bible Than You Think