During my last appointment, my audiologist commented that she really liked my book on customer service. She then asked if I was working on anything else and I told her I was. “Besides working on a revision of the customer service book, I am working on a book about how to study the Bible.”
“Oh, that’s nice” she said. End of conversation.
When I talk to people—especially believers, about how to study the Bible they don’t get real excited. On the surface I suppose the concept is not real glamorous. It’s not like the Bible is a great mystery, a thriller, an adventure in a foreign land, or some enticing romance novel. Then again, the Bible is all of those things, we just don’t think of it in those terms.
One of the reasons we don’t think of the Bible in those terms is because we often don’t spend enough time with the book in order to see those kind of stories develop. We may spend an hour or two engrossed in a NY Times best-selling novel and ten minutes with the Bible in our morning devotion. Frankly, it’s hard to get a picture of anything significant happening in the pages of scripture with that kind of attention. And believe me, I can be as guilty as anyone of that type of imbalance.
Imagine getting a letter from a friend and reading a paragraph. You then set it down for a few days, come back to it, read another paragraph or two and set it aside again. That’s how we often read Paul’s letters to the early churches. It’s difficult to get a sense of all that’s going on when we read like that. On the other hand, when the early churches received those letters, they read them in their entirety—to the whole group of believers and often more than once. Then if appropriate, they would pass them on to other believing communities.
Why is it that the Bible, for many of us, gets so little of our attention? Really, once you put aside the genealogies, “…he begat so and so, and he begat so and so…” and even sequester the mysterious apocalyptic writings, why does the Bible garner so little attention in our daily lives? Is it that we don’t really see it as God’s word? Is it that we give a shrug to its authority? Is it that we simply don’t understand it when we do read it?
I consider myself a student of the Bible, but often I find myself reading more about the Bible then actually reading the Bible. There are occasional justifications for that, but not often. When I finally confessed that, I gave myself a good smack and decided that will change. How about you? Do you read more of Lucado then you do Luke?
What is it about us that will gobble up books about – but seldom read the actual biblical text? Are we not “inspired” by the text? Do we fail to grasp the significance of the biblical text for our life? Why do our hearts not burn within us when we read the Bible but we shed tears reading Lucado, Jenkins, Tozer, or Beth Moore?
I’ll be the first to admit, reading a text written to someone else, is not easy. There are times when I don’t understand how this could have possibly been written for me. It’s true, the easy passages we often hear quoted and have drilled into our memory can be pulled from our back pocket when we need them, but how many of us could actually explain the context of our favorite verse? If we could, perhaps it wouldn’t be our favorite verse any more. If we read our favorite passage, let’s say from Paul, in the actual letter he had written, perhaps we’d walk away mumbling, “What I thought he meant is not what he meant at all.” (Phil. 4:13 is a good example.)
There are significant challenges when it comes to studying the Bible. We have to traverse foreign soil, decipher ancient worldviews, and make sense of words that sometimes don’t seem to make sense. We have to sort out the poetry from the prophets, the stories from the sanctions. It’s not as easy as some folks would make it out to be. But it is valuable.
Our objective, as believers, is to hide God’s word in our heart, not simply hide it under the coffee table. We are called to make sense of the text for those who first received it. In addition, it’s our challenge to make sense of it for us—right here, right now in a modern world that often is at great odds with the Bible’s core teachings.
How do you do it? Well, that’s some of what we’ll be talking about over the next several posts. I’d love to have you come along and offer your thoughts and insight.