Soaking my soul -- dissolving my phobia
Here's why I soak my soul with God's Word each morning

Harold N. Miller

People of God through the centuries have witnessed the voice of God speaking to them in the Bible (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). One morning that voice brought remarkable healing and wholeness to my mind and emotions.

I have not done very well at "daily bible reading" most of my life. But at age 42 I unwillingly told God I would spend at least 10 minutes with the Bible each morning...for 30 days. Ever since then I have read and mulled on a passage in the Bible almost every morning.

I don't study the passage and try to figure out everything it is saying. That's important--I do that when preparing sermons and lessons. But my daily routine is more like going for a walk outside through the woods or by a stream, letting God's creation wash over my being. No binoculars, no Peterson guides. I read--maybe a 5 minute section-- anticipating that I'll receive something, see and hear some things that will delight. I'm looking for something that "hits" me as applying to my life. And then I interact with God (the author) in prayer. Again, I don't feel the need to understand everything I have read. As Mark Twain said, "most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture they cannot understand, but as for me, I always noticed the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those I do understand."

Morning after morning as I meditate on this book that has been the best seller through the ages, some of its spirit (Spirit) "washes over" me, enabling me to haltingly experience a bit more of God's love and joy and peace in my life. Most mornings any help I receive from my Bible reading is almost imperceptible. But one morning it was dramatic.

I had been chosen to represent a group of churches to which I belong at a denominational meeting for several days in Denver. As the week of the meeting drew closer, my anxiety level rose higher. About a hundred people were going to be at the meeting, many of whom I knew and admired...and wanted to impress.

I'm by nature a shy, fearful person. Arising out of that, I have struggled with a speaking phobia since junior high. If the thought comes that I may not be able to say a particular word in a sentence that is forming in my mind, I then may be physically incapable of articulating its sounds. About the time I began my pastorate in Corning twenty years ago, this problem was becoming less and less severe. But going to an important meeting with important people whom I haven't met yet is a situation in which my phobia can re-surface. So one of my main concerns as I prepared to go to Denver was how to avoid getting choked up by my fear.

In my devotional time the week before the meeting I came upon Paul's account of his "thorn" in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. I am so glad that I read that passage. So many elements hit me, things I knew before, but needed to hear again.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. I certainly, like Paul, struggle with "becoming conceited." The fear I wrestle with is actually pride: "what do they think of me? am I articulate enough to impress them?" I do have genuine abilities, but maybe I need my inarticulateness and phobia to keep me from being conceited.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. As we read on, we learn that after the Lord told him three times that the "thorn" wasn't going to be taken it from him, Paul stopped. But unlike Paul who stopped after three times, I was still pleading for my inarticulateness to be removed!

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Here was an incredible promise: God could do whatever needed to be done through me even if I was inarticulate. Somehow God's power even becomes more perfect in our weakness.

It was like a load was lifted from my shoulders: all my life I felt that I had to be articulate for God to use me. But here God was reassuring me that I can be used even if I sputter. Though the idea ran counter to logic, the Spirit somehow enabled me to believe it.

I spent the last couple days before Denver memorizing the passage. I would start saying it to myself whenever anxiety started hitting me.

And so I was pretty well anxiety-free the whole time of the meeting. You don't worry about something if it doesn't matter if you have it or not! ...And I no longer needed to be articulate. I think the last times I recited the passage were on the plane going there several times and maybe one or two of the mornings as I was getting up.

All my life as I would--on the conscious level--try to tell myself to obey God and relax and trust God, I was--on the subconscious level--telling myself the exact opposite. My pride and my belief that I need to be articulate for God to use me were saying: "you better not relax since you need to pull off some impressive articulate speech in this situation."

Ever since that blessed devotional time, I do have a new freedom and ease of speaking. Not totally, but a significant amount.

As I continue reading the Bible, most mornings nothing will strike me, just a bunch of thoughts that I already knew. When we take a walk outside, too, often nothing particularly delighting happens. Even so, soaking in the atmosphere rejuvenates us. I'm so thankful that God coaxed me into the habit of taking time each morning to allow the Word to wash over my being.

[I'm talking about a November 1997 Mennonite Joint General Board meeting in Denver.]
This article appeared in The Mennonite February 16, 1999