More details tomorrow… stay tuned!
I flipped open that ancient book. Found the passage for the day- something I’d already read a bazillion times before. Read it like a dry piece of toast. Put the book away, and started my day.
The thought crossed my mind, “Is it always going to be this way?” Is reading the Bible always going to feel like sifting through a bunch of red beads, trying to find that one ruby?
And there were days that I feasted. I read and was tremendously filled with truth. The thought occurred, “I must be doing it right now.” Days later, I’d be right back at the dry toast stage.
Highs and lows are part of the Christian life. I assumed it was true in all things- even looking at God’s Word. Passages I loved would always hit their mark, and books like poor Leviticus… well, I tried.
I tried doing different techniques- SOAP, Manna, inductive study, writing out Scripture, reading different books…. but the cycle remained.
When the kids started school, I decided to throw method out the window. I bought a new Bible in a different-but-reliable translation. One with no study notes. No cross referencing. Nothing to distract me.
Starting at Genesis, I decided to simply read the Bible as I would read a book. I put away all my preconceived ideas and approached Scripture as if it was my first time reading it. I started reading God’s word with fresh honesty.
I still have access to Bible helps, but only approach them as needed. A notebook and pen are at my side to “flesh out” what I see- writing solidifies concepts in my mind, so it’s a must for me.
Something has happened as I approached Scripture from this mindset- I am consistently overwhelmed in the best way possible. The overriding themes in the Bible shout at me. The tedium of the law shows me the character of God. The gospel has become more precious and applicable in ways I had never considered before.
This mindset continues. I am eager to dig into the Word and rarely leave the table of Scripture with out being satisfied. Usually, in those rare instances of continued hunger, it is more my heart or schedule or distractions that prevent me- God’s Word is not the issue.
Sometimes, I think we put a lot of pressure on our Bible reading time. That we can “get it wrong” and it has to look a certain way. If we aren’t sweating and straining over what we read, we are not doing it right. If we don’t feel different after devotions, we missed something. So we make it complicated, because adding unnecessary steps to a simple process is a virtue, isn’t it?
Another struggle in Bible study often comes in the mindset that we’ve read this all before, hear it preached every week, sing it in song even. We mistakenly think that this book is limited in scope and how it really pertains to our lives. We doubt it’s power.
Here’s the beauty of this fresh honesty approach: it doesn’t really require you to “try harder”, to “be more spiritual”, or even to spend extra time that you really don’t have. This teachable attitude allows the Holy Spirit to do the speaking- not your old Bible teacher or that trendy podcaster or that author you just read. They can still be helpful, but they are not the authority.
Shifting our view to make God’s Word the authority is vital. It helps our discernment- determining what is true and false. This notion makes us read with confidence in the truth that the Bible alone is sufficient- God gave it to us for our benefit. Cherishing the sufficiency of Scripture helps us bury the words deep within our souls, because we are getting the nourishment we need from the Creator and Keeper of our souls.
As for me, remembering that I am a life long student of God has dramatically changed my posture from one of duty to an insatiable desire. I want to know my Creator, my Savior, my King. So yeah, I read the Bible and listen to podcasts and read books and discuss what I am learning with anyone who will listen. I cannot get enough.
Why? Because I know that God is reshaping me through His Word. Sanctification is not always a pleasant process, but it is exciting and real and totally worthwhile. I am not a super Christian because of this- no, I actually see more of my own wretchedness. But I also see the transformation. And I want other people to experience what I have experienced. What I am still experiencing.
It is possible, friend. Changing how you approach the Word can make a marked difference in your life. It doesn’t require an expensive course, a new mentor or a major life change. Just sit, open that ancient book, and read with eyes of a devoted student. You will not be disappointed.
I was not well in January. While in bed, I watched the horrifying footage of Covid 19 in China. It became a subject I perked my ears up to, because it seemed like such a foreign concept. A regional quarantine? Hospitals built in 10 days? People stuck on cruise ships and shopping with masks on in eerily vacant markets?
I never thought some of these things would become a reality in my life.
But here we are. We are on Safer at Home protocol in my state. My kids are watching their teachers on Google Classroom. We haven’t worshipped face to face with our church family in two weeks. I haven’t seen my own family, who lives two blocks away, in several weeks.
There are several temptations during this time. We can complain. We can withdraw from the world around us. We can live in denial. We can swim in fear. It is extremely easy to justify each response, but none of these should be the Christian response.
I can give loads of verses about thankfulness. Wouldn’t that help? I’m not going to though. I’m going to give you context. Paul told Christians to be thankful in everything while sitting under house arrest. That’s right. He was under a quarantine that he could not be freed from. Christ broke bread and gave thanks at the Last Supper, fully aware of where he would be and what anguish would be going through 24 hours later.
Thankfulness is not something that comes naturally to us. We like our personalized comfort and self care. We give a token “shout out” to that God of all comfort who we are supposed to cast our cares onto. We become satisfied that this world is it for us, not remembering that our souls need something more eternal to be satisfied.
So thankfulness. God has a reputation for taking away the comfortable things to remind us about Himself. It isn’t punishment, but a communication. He’s still there. He still can satisfy in ways that all the stuff and events about us cannot. Yes, even all our churchy programs and buildings. Without God, the church means nothing.
Withdrawing is really easy to do right now. It is pretty much a government mandate right? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that. Gather my toilet paper, my Disney+ and one of those giant tubs of cheesy puffs and stay home to keep safe.
I mean, take advantage of this historic moment, by all means. But I am concerned that this time gives us an all too easy excuse to check out of life altogether. Forget about preferring one another and looking out for widows and fatherless.
Oh, you are an introvert? That’s great! It does not give you a pass to ignore the needs of others and hide in your shell for the next two months. You still need others, whether you want to or not. And others still need you. Be there. Make that awkward call. Stay part of the human race. You may need to be more intentional. It may be uncomfortable. But God never calls us to stay in our comfort zone.
Are you the extrovert? I get you. This staying inside away from others is just too… severe. So, you can justify anything as an “essential trip”. Besides, this is just the flu, isn’t it? You are building up herd immunity. You are a gift to mankind, really.
Say that to the mother and six children who just lost a husband and dad to this virus. Tell the nurse in NYC who is completely exhausted and overwhelmed because social distancing in a heavy populace is almost impossible. Tell the teacher who is struggling to adapt curriculum in the hopes that their kids continue to learn something through the rest of this semester.
Our small, collective sacrifice can make a huge difference and save lives. It is easy to discredit something you are personally not experiencing. But Christians, people who follow the example Christ set, are called to have compassion. Empathy. Thinking of others more than self. Putting aside our own needs- whether real or imagined- for the needs of others.
Concern is something we all should have right now. An awareness of danger to ourselves and those about us is a good thing. Fear is a different animal. It is an all consuming obsession with the “what if’s” and worse case scenarios.
I am pretty sure we have heard these verses too- that God has not given us the spirit of fear and fear thou not. But the reality of what fear implies makes those snippets of truth clearer.
Here is the deal: fear implies a lack of trust in God and His sovereignty. Fear is mentally taking control of circumstance because God is not trustworthy to do what is right for you.
I think the key is to remember the second part of God not giving us the spirit of fear- He doesn’t give it to us because He knows it is a tormenting spirit. God is not out to torment your soul. Does He give us difficult and uncomfortable situations? Yup. Does He do things that don’t make sense to us that are outside our control? Yup.
But our Creator has not lost control, and that is what matters. He is still using what seems awful to do a work in us. To draw us closer. To teach us to rest in His control. We must let Him do the work and trust the end result to Him as well. When we do not give our fears an audience, we show God that we trust Him. It’s a good place to be.
So Christian, let’s live in moderation. A balanced approach to this crisis- and all others- will help us to be the light we need to be in a world that is missing the comfort we have in the person of Jesus. This is our moment to show His power to all those who need Him.
It is entirely possible to live with someone and never see them. Most parents understand this to a degree. Our children often have no earthly idea who we are outside of being parents.
Discussing parent-teen relationships in Sunday school once, this truth bomb was dropped: your parents are not just alive for you. They will have a life before and after you. My teens were shocked. It never occurred to most of these kids that the center of the universe wasn’t (or shouldn’t) be themselves.
I’ve been guilty of looking at Scripture much the same way, and I suspect you have as well. We look inside this big Book and try to root around for a morsel that will help us, that will change us, that will teach us about us.
But that is so not what the Bible is about. Don’t get me wrong, we will find help and transformation and self-reflection as we study the Word. It is a wonderful by product of fixing our gaze on the main subject: God.
We must start reading scripture looking for God.
He’s on every page. He is in every account. His message is pressed into every word that was breathed out and inscribed (2 Peter 1:21). He didn’t have holy men write out His words simply to reveal the temporal world. He wrote it so we could know Him personally.
He made all this. Genesis 1 tells us so. He spoke and it happened. It all has purpose and meaning and worth because God declared it all good in those first six days of history.
If I want to know about a work of art, I must know something of its creator. If I try to interpret without knowing the of the artist, I am missing out on much of the significance in the message of the masterpiece.
Much the same is true of our Maker. He brings significance to creation. To know Him is to know more about… everything. And since He made mankind in His own image, when we read about God in His revealed Word, we actually do learn about ourselves in the process.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”Genesis 1:26-27
In Eden, we find that God had a close relationship with Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:8 implies that He walked with them on a regular basis or in a way that they were familiar with. We were intended to have a personal relationship with our Creator. But sin marred that once close relationship.
Part of God revealing himself to us in the Bible is the desire for a relationship again. Let me be clear: God did not make us because He needed us. He was not lonely. He was not needy. He made us because it delighted Him to do so.
It delights God that we hunger to know more of Him. The desire to study a person is a mark of a growing relationship with that person.
When my kids started in their new school, they didn’t know the other kids very well. They had not relationship. As the year progressed, I would hear all the information they learned about their classmates. Eventually those classmate became friends. They formed a relationship based on mutual knowledge of one another.
God has the upper hand in my relationship with Him: He made me. He literally knows my thoughts as I am thinking them. He is aware of my frailty and my secrets. He knows me on a personal level.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.”Psalms 139:1-4
Because of the sin that blocks my vision, I have more legwork to do to gain knowledge of Him. It’s not that God makes it extremely difficult to know Himself. I make it difficult.
Sometimes, I just am not motivated to pursue the knowledge, the relationship. Perhaps I have sin issues that blur my concept of who God is. A heart of pride can make relationship building hard, because we are so focused on self that we don’t have the capacity to see God until we remove ourselves from the equation.
The possibilities are endless.
But in the end, God wants us. He wants us to know Him so we can have a meaningful relationship with Him. And our knowledge of God comes from the source that He provides- His Word. His “Autobiography”. And since God is incapable of lying (Titus 1:2), we can rely on His accounting of Himself.
Jen Wilkin said it best in her book, Women in the Word. “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” We cannot truly love something or someone we know very little about. God knows that. He has given us these 66 books wrapped into one to show us Himself so we can truly love Him.
So as you read the Word, look for God. Look at His attributes. See how He interacts with His creation. Look for His plan of redemption stamped on every page. The gaze fixed on God puts everything else in the right place.